How to Pick a Donor Daddy
Ideas for finding the ideal donor daddy
I began thinking about having a child on my own after a very serious relationship ended. I was 37, a critical time for my fertility. I considered every option. I talked to a friend about donating his sperm, and I considered coparenting with an ex-boyfriend. In the end, I decided to go with an “open identity” donor whose sperm I purchased through a sperm bank. Open identity meant that my child could meet his or her biological father when he or she was 18, but not before.
I decided to go this route because I didn’t want a known donor who would be a sort-of father—someone who could swoop in and out on his own terms, or even my terms, but nonetheless not be 100% my child’s father. To me, fatherhood is defined by the emotional connection, physical affection, advisements, and daily consistency of a man in a child’s life whom that child calls Daddy. I don’t believe this relationship has to be biological, and if it is biological, then I don’t believe that a donor, even if he has a connection with the child, should automatically be able to claim parental rights. There needs to be strong evidence of deep commitment.
I very consciously chose not to use a known donor because of the potential legal ramifications but, more importantly, because of the emotional ones. I decided to conceive with a donor whom my child could meet someday to inevitably satisfy any curiosity about his or her genetic origins, but I didn’t want to confuse the child with a “minimally viable dad” (see my article on Medium about the Jason Patric case to understand what could go wrong if you’re not legally covered) whom the child couldn’t necessarily call Dad.
Of course there are many options that work for different people, but my advice would be to figure out the least legally complicated situation, and if you choose a known donor or to coparent with someone with whom you are not romantically involved, deeply research the laws and put everything in a contract using a lawyer or mediator.
With so many options for sperm donors these days, it can be confusing. You can choose from donors who have taken personality tests to celebrity look-alike donors. To make things simple, choose a donor with the traits you find attractive and would want in someone whom you are dating. He is, after all, the “donor daddy” of your future kid. But also remember what author David Plotz wrote in his book The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank (Random House, 2005): “There is serendipity in DNA. A great donor can pass on a lousy set of genes. Women shop carefully for sperm in hopes of certainty. But there is no certainty in a baby.”
See our resource pages for a list of sperm banks and family lawyers who can help you navigate paternity laws and, if necessary, help you draw up a donor agreement.
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Rachel Lehmann-Haupt is a Solo Mom by choice and the author of In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment, and Motherhood, she is a leading expert on the role of science and technology in fertility and pregnancy. You can follow her on Twitter at @rlehmannhaupt.
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