A topic I've explained a lot lately has been to answer the question "where is your sperm coming from"?
Since I'm currently obsessed, J usually has to stop me from rambling.
In Canada, there are three "types" of genetic material a family with no direct access to sperm can use: known donor, Identity Release donor and Anonymous donor.
I need to define a couple of terms before I launch into my explanation.
Parent(s): The people who take on full legal and financial responsability for raising the child(ren). Because it's my blog and J and I are parenting together, the word PARENT will almost always have an S at the end.
Donor: a man who gives his sperm to the parents to reproduce a child.
A known donor is someone known to the parents, a friend or family member (brother, uncle, whatever). A contract is made between the parents and the donor with regards to custody, visitation, parenting expectations, etc. There is a HUGE legal scary part right now that has the potential to blow up in your face, but I'll get into that later.
An identity release donor and anonymous donor both come from a sperm bank (in Canada, that would be Repro Med in Ontario, in the US it comes from a variety of sperm banks). ID release donors agree to be contacted by the children they helped produce once the child turns 18. Anonymous donors disappear into the void, all records are destroyed. There is currently a lawsuit happening in BC about this.
Donors that are from a sperm bank have a profile that includes race, culture, height, weight, educational backgound, family history, etc etc etc. You can sometimes buy baby pictures. Each donor can only produce so many children, and once that number has been reached the donor's profile is retired. Parents who use this method can re-access a donor for subsequent children, but new parents cannot.
The legal aspect is challenging. Family Law is governed by each Province, while Marital Law is federal. This means that whether you are married or not has no bearings on family court decisions, although they may take into account a marriage when faced with custody battles between parents and a donor (in that case, it's the intent that matters, it's assumed that a married couple intend to parent together).
Currently, the law in BC states that each child has the right to a Mother and a Father, not just 2 parents. In cases with 2 female parents and a male donor, the courts would award partial custody to the donor if he chose to fight for custody. In the case of divorce between the parents, or if the parents ran into financial difficulty, the courts could order the donor to pay child support.
This is very very scary. You can negate your risk by doing a couple things before you even begin trying to have a baby. The parents and donor can sign a donor contract outlining the expected involvement of the donor in the child's life (generally if you're using a known donor you are including him in your lives, otherwise you just use a sperm bank). Usually the agreement says stuff about who the child's legal parents will be, the expectation that the donor terminates his parental rights so that the non-birth mother can legally adopt her own children (this part kills me), how the parents won't seek child support, how the donor has no legal rights over his offspring, blah blah blah. It's not a legally binding contact, however, although the courts would take this into account when making a decision.
It does and has happened where the donor has sought custody after the birth of a child and been awarded partial custody. It can and does happen where the parents divorce, and they go after the donor for child support. Neither of these are in the best interest of the children, as it's just ripping families apart.
HOWEVER, after 20+ years, the Family Law Act in BC is changing. The new law launches sometime in 2011 (although with Gordon Campbell's resignation, it may be pushed back later, who knows). It drastically changes the rules for same sex parents, parents who use fertility services, surrogacy and people who are common-law.
The new law will define the legal parents of a child born in BC. The birth mother will be legal parent A (I'm assuming transmen who bear children will still be classified as "birth mother"), and the partner/spouse of the birth mother will be legal parent B. Any donor, known or unknown, does not have ANY legal claim or responsability to a child, unless it's set out ahead of time by the parents and donor. This means a donor can't come after the parents for custody, and parents can't go after the donor for child support.
The proposed changes are called the "White Paper", and a digested and summarized version of the White Paper can be found here, along with a link to the actual White Paper.
We want to use a known donor. Why, if after everything I've just outlined, would we want to bring someone into our lives who could totally change his mind in three years and demand custody?
There are many pros and cons to both decisions, and we had to pick which one was most important to us. We feel strongly about the importance of knowing your roots (that's what happens when a Pisces and a Cancer have a baby), and having an opportunity to develop a relationship with their biological father. Our donor gets to pick the name he wants to be called, we have no quelms if he wants to be called "Dad" or "Uncle S" or "Aunty S" (as has been suggested) or anything. He will love our kids, he will be part of their lives. He is a warm, funny and caring individual and I couldn't ask for a better influence for our kids. Him and I have been friends for 7 years and have joked constantly about doing this. After a whiny Facebook status post, he sent me an e-mail confirming that he was STILL interested and serious about his commitment to this project (which is nothing to sneeze at).
For some parents, this is not a priority, or the risk of losing their kids is too scary, so they use a sperm bank. Most queer parents are now using ID release donors, recognizing that humans want and need to know where we come from. I feel that, since we are choosing how to grow our families, that we have an ultimate responsibility to our kids to help them find their roots. J and I share identical values on this subject, so this was not something that took a great deal of effort to conclude.
It's only because of S that we are pursuing a known donor path. Known donor is much more complicated and possibly more expensive (we'll let you know when we're done with the lawyers).
I am, however, a sentimental Cancer who NEEDS her family structure.