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A gay man reflects on his decision to become a known donor

by Andrew Berg
for Alternative Family feature
She is a part of me in so many ways. I can see it in her smile and the funny curls in her hair. I can hear it in her voice as she sings the ABCs. I can feel it as she sits in my lap gazing sleepily into my eyes. And I can sense it in the little things she does that make me laugh.

Pictures of her brighten both my home and office. Her beautiful little face sits perfectly framed on my dresser. She is the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing at night. But she doesn't call me daddy or uncle or grandpa. I am not her parent, yet I am more than just a close friend. I am her biological father. I am also a "known donor."

In the fall of 1995, my cousin introduced me to a lesbian couple who was interested in creating a family. They had decided that a sperm bank was too anonymous, yet none of their friends at the time seemed appropriate as a donor. So, they set out looking for the right "candidate." They didn't want a third parent, but rather a father figure the baby could come to know and love. And then I came into the picture.

I was 25 years old and gay. This seemed like the perfect opportunity. It was a way for me to experience the wonderful bond between a father and child. At the same time, I could retain what I considered at that time to be my freedom—the ability to pursue my career, to date and to travel, to be selfish with my time and spend my "disposable income."

It was an experience that I knew I had always wanted, but the most difficult decision I would ever have to make. There was very little literature addressing the issues that surround "known donors." I turned to friends and family with mixed results. Many of my gay friends didn't quite understand what I was doing or why. My family, although supportive, was worried that I wouldn't be able to handle the emotions that might arise out of having a child who really isn't mine. I received conflicting advice from almost everyone. Even the potential mothers wondered if I had ulterior motives. Why would I want to do this knowing full and well that the child would be theirs and not mine?

To be absolutely sure that I truly understood the ramifications of this decision, the potential moms decided to spell everything out in black and white. They presented me with a contract—and had I been trained in either law or business, I surely would have backed out.

Understandably so, with the kind of family they were choosing to create, they wanted to safeguard themselves against my becoming too involved. So the contract explained that I would have "no expectation of a relationship with the child." This denied me decision-making ability on every level when it came to the life and well-being of the baby. I would have no say in his or her name. No say in how the child would be raised, and no say in his or her education or religious upbringing. The contract made it clear that, for my protection, I had no financial obligations to them, ever. And finally, that the child would one day come to know that I was his or her father. They would control the scope of that relationship as well.

The thoughts that entered my mind and the soul searching I endured over the next few months were incredibly difficult.

She was born in October of 1997. However, I wasn't invited to her birth. It was the first test of my emotional strength. I had anticipated this event for over a year—envisioning myself in the hospital waiting room, jumping up with tears in my eyes as the doctor came out to tell me if it was a boy or a girl. And now my giddy excitement had quickly turned to a quiet disappointment.

For the new moms, the birth of their child and the creation of their family were experiences that they wanted to share only with each other. Their concern was that my presence at the hospital might result in some awkward moments, perhaps a doctor referring to me as the father, unaware of the fact that this baby had two mothers. These are the issues that arise when one creates an alternative family in a "heterosexual world."

A compromise was reached and I was invited to visit them in the hospital the day after the birth. There is so much I could say about that day, but one very special moment will always remain. I sat alone with the precious baby for about five minutes, telling her that I loved her and that I always would. I stared down into the bassinet and marveled at how amazing the creation of a child truly is. Wiping the tears from my eyes, I got back into my car and started the three-hour drive back to my home. Leaving the hospital that day was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do.

Two years have now passed, and the road has been fairly smooth. I visit them almost every five weeks. We talk on the phone. We exchange photos and e-mails. I've developed a very loving and warm relationship with all three of them. I sometimes tell people that my experience being a "known donor" is much like being married to two people and a baby. We have built a relationship based on trust, caring and most importantly, honesty. But there will most certainly be awkward moments on the road ahead, and times when I wish things were a little bit different.

The mothers graciously accept presents from my friends and family, even though it might sometimes make them feel uncomfortable. They've kindly allowed time for my family to get to know their daughter, even though she already has two sets of grandparents and many aunts and uncles. They have spent holidays at my parents' house, and I would imagine that seeing pictures of their daughter on the refrigerator there might make them feel a little funny.

Awkward little moments continue to arise even today. We're now at a time where we're discussing whether or not I'll be referred to as "Dad," and how to explain this relationship to a two-year-old who is quickly figuring out that not all kids have two moms.

My relationship to her is sometimes difficult to explain to strangers. But whether or not she calls me Dad isn't really all that important. I've slowly come to terms with and understand that there won't necessarily be a call or a card on Father's Day. I understand that I will probably miss her first step and her first word, her first piece of birthday cake and her first time down the slide by herself. I have come to terms with the fact that my parents can't treat her like their other grandchildren and that I won't always be able to see her when I want.

But sometimes the seconds are just as good as the firsts. And everything I don't get to share with her makes the time I do have that much more special. I do my best to look at the big picture. And when I do, I see that the only thing that is important is that I continue to have a loving relationship with this special child. That I have the chance to watch her change and grow, discover and learn. That is my reward for all of the things that I miss.

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