His Sperm, My Choice

Mother and Child
iStock Photography

Our conversation this week about children born through artificial insemination was very close to home for me.

I’m one of the tens of thousands of women who became a mother using a sperm donor.

With the high range of estimates finding that 60,000 American kids are born through donor conception each year – representing less than 2 percent of all births - I had hoped it was still too rare to draw the kind of Fox News debate that rages around issues like gay marriage.  And so I’ve watched this issue become a hot topic in the culture wars with dread.

But that didn’t stop me from reading “My Daddy’s Name is Donor,” the report compiled by our guest Elizabeth Marquardt and her organization.  It’s crucial for me to have the best possible understanding of the situation I’ve brought my innocent child into, so when it was first released, I spent hours reading every word, checking every number, studying every comment. And it confirmed that bearing and raising kids this way would be tough.  But it also confirmed on every measure of dysfunction, a majority of these children turned out just fine.

As a consequence, I’m not sure why there are so many grave predictions for families like mine.  And I reject the idea that most mothers conceive this way because they’re ignoring the difficulties. When I decided to have a child using artificial insemination, I knew I would have to find a way to deal with all those old fashioned folks who believe that a happy marriage provides the best home for raising children. That was especially tricky, because I was - and am - one of those people. I know what kind of challenges children face in single-parent homes. I was raised in one.

But I also know that being married when your child is born is no guarantee of a stable, two-parent home forever. Before I decided on artificial insemination, I pictured my alternatives: going on a mad hunt for husband with a one-item agenda and  a stop-watch; or trying to convert a friend into a baby-daddy, a life-time partnership with no rules, blueprints or history of success. And even if that search panned out, I saw a 50/50 chance of ending up in the exact circumstances that faced my mother and so many other single and divorced moms: raising a child with a ghost dad.

For me – and for so many other kids I knew whose fathers weren’t around - what did the most damage was the emotional whiplash of having your dad there one day, and gone the next.  On your 5th birthday, he’d swoop in for a weekend of ballgames, movies, gifts and pizza, and then do nothing for your 6th, a card for your 7th, a gift for the 8th, and back to nothing for the 9th.  The suspense injects a little bit of poison into every celebration, every milestone, and every holiday.

If on one of those occasions, my mother had handed me a folder and said, “Listen, the reason your father didn’t show up is that - before you were born or even conceived - he signed this piece of paper agreeing to have no contact with me or with you until you turned eighteen,” that would’ve been better than what I had.  And even with those issues, my mother provided a good home and raised my brother and me to be good and decent people.

I have faith I can do the same.

As an African-American child of a single mother, I’ve been hearing about the inevitable failure of my family and everyone in it for years.  And thanks to endless web of relationships, I’ve gotten a front row seat to dysfunction that can develop despite the best of circumstances, and success that can grow, even under the worst.

Given what I know, I believe I can give my child a life worth living. And if I can do that, I don’t think it’s the government’s – or the culture warrior’s - business to tell me I can’t.

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