it's all relative

All the Questions I’m Asked About Using a Sperm Donor

Photo-Illustration: by Stevie Remsberg/Photos: Getty

It’s All Relative is an exploration of all the different ways of being a family in the year 2019.

According to my 60-something-year-old Jewish mother, the first question everyone asks, when they hear I used an anonymous sperm donor to get pregnant is: Is she a lesbian? I’m not, and — with all due respect, mom — she’s wrong. In my experience, the questions everyone asks go like this: How did you choose the donor? What do you know about him? Do you want to meet him?

I’ve always been extremely proud and upfront about my decision to become a Single Mother by Choice. I’ve spoken openly about loving my donor, and reserving a warm place in my heart for him, while never needing to know his identity. My daughter is now 3, but when she was six months old, I met my boyfriend, and the three of us have been a family ever since. By all standards, other than that of DNA, he is her father — an amazing father. Our story sounds complicated but never feels that way, because everything I’ve ever done has felt natural for me as a woman and a mother. And that’s what I wish for all women.

In service of that, here are the rest of the questions I get asked about the process and my answers to them. These are my opinions and I can only speak for myself, but I hope my experience can help someone considering the donor decision, or those simply curious about the inner workings of it all.

When did you decide this was the right choice for you?

I had just moved back from Italy after a horrible break-up. It’s not that I was so in love with the guy (in hindsight, he’s the worst), but I was sickened by the idea of starting over again. I was 37. I had wanted kids my entire life; a childless life was out of the question. Shortly after my “reentry” into my New York life, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I wanted to have a baby on my own. I really wanted to do it on my own. I immediately made a coffee date with a close friend who was in the process of using a sperm donor, and she told me exactly how to proceed. Which doctors and sperm bank to use, how much money it would cost, etc. The decision felt overwhelmingly right. And it was …

Do you know the donor?

I don’t. There was a minute when I considered using my best friend’s sperm. He wasn’t ready for fatherhood, but he would have been thrilled to donate the sperm. My family — who supported me from day one — felt strongly that while this guy is the one of the best people on the planet, it would be smarter to go anonymous.

Personally, I’m glad I did. I think things might have gotten weird if I hadn’t. I imagine I would have resented his lack of emotional or financial involvement, and I think he would have been heartbroken witnessing the life of a precious child who was and wasn’t his.

I chose an anonymous sperm donor from California Cryobank. I went with the “open” donor option, which means that when my daughter is 18, the sperm bank can facilitate an introduction between them if both donor and child agree to it. While I never need to know his identity, I felt I owed my future daughter that respect.

How did you choose him?

Not unlike online dating, you can narrow in on your criteria pretty easily.

Some people want a certain race or religion. Some are focused on IQ. A close friend wanted a Captain of the Lacrosse Team type because that’s her dream guy, in general.

The most important thing for me was family health history — physical and mental. CCB offers an extensive look at all of that, and blood work is done before a donor is accepted into their program. They say it’s easier to get accepted into Harvard than it is to this particular sperm bank.

Beyond that, the way I put it to friends is like this: I knew I’d make my kid smart, kind, funny, and spiritual. Why not choose a donor who’s tall and gorgeous? If that sounds shallow, it is!

Where are you overwhelmed by the process?

You would have thought so … but, no.

I’m not an organized person. I hate paperwork and bills. It’s an expensive process with a million things to do, from doctor’s appointments to sperm bank contracts to insurance issues. I don’t have a lot of money or come from a lot of money, so I also had to figure out how to afford it all, and then how I would afford things if I actually got pregnant.

But as soon as I decided that this was what I was doing, that this was the right choice for me, I was all-in. ALL-IN. It was extremely exciting, and I was filled with hope. And that’s what I tell potential Single Mothers by Choice — you have to be all-in. You have to be sure.

Will you tell your daughter the truth?

Not only will I tell her the truth but I am proud to tell her all about her beautiful and unique creation story.

That being said, my daughter’s happiness is all that matters to me. So while I can talk about this freely and positively, even nonchalantly, I’m not pretending to have all the answers. I’m not pretending it won’t be hard. I’m not naïve to the fact that one day, my decision could cause her pain. I pray to God it won’t, but I’m not living in oblivion.

So in the near future, I do plan to consult with a child specialist on how much to tell her and when. The fact that she has a dad who she absolutely adores (as do I) might make things more confusing for all of us, so we will want some professional help in navigating all of that. But I’ll never keep anything from her. Never.

Does he have other offspring out there?

Possibly. There are websites and registries that can help you discover “bio-siblings,” as they’re called, but I’m not personally interested in it. We have tons of cousins and friends and an incredibly rich, family-oriented life — it just feels like enough. However, if my daughter is curious when she’s older (and she probably will be), then I’ll happily support her all the way.

Are you dying to meet him?

I’m not. I like to imagine him as some magical superhero who gave me the greatest gift — and you never want to meet your superheroes in real life. But for real, I’ve dreamed up a very specific image of him and a narrative about his life — and that works for me. I think there are some women who feel, deeply, like they need to meet their donor, or even like he’s their soul mate. I can understand how that might happen, and with 23andMe and the internet in general, it wouldn’t be so hard to go down a rabbit hole and uncover his identity. But I’m really comfortable with the anonymity of it all. I also feel like this is an unspoken contract he and I share — and I wouldn’t want to violate his privacy.

What will you do if and when your daughter wants to know his identity, or when she turns 18?

My partner and I will stand by her the whole way. Again, with 23andMe, she might not have to wait until she is 18. But we will follow her lead, as I try to do with everything.

Do you ever wish you had her “the normal way?”

Nope. Never. This is our story and it’s beautiful.

All the Questions I’m Asked About Using a Sperm Donor