Alice Ellerby is an aerialist and performer and is making a collaborative show about lesbians' experiences of becoming mothers. www.aliceellerby.co.uk
I'd been with my girlfriend for about two years when it hit me that we might one day want to have children together. The realisation was terrifying – if one of us was going to get pregnant where on earth was the sperm going to come from? What would that mean for the family we were going to create? How was the child going to feel about it? It wasn't the way I'd grown up expecting to have children. It was a pivotal moment. We both knew we wanted children in the future and so it was clear to us that, if we were going to be together, we had to accept that our family would have a different structure to the one we'd always assumed, and would be conceived in a way we had never before contemplated. Scary.
We found a local fertility clinic and went to their open evening. We wanted to find out about the process of conceiving by donor sperm to decide whether or not we felt we could do it. It was quite surreal. And apparently easy. Here's the list of donors – pick one, have a course of insemination, done. Time was on our side: in our twenties, we didn't need to worry about their terrifying statistics about the drop off in our fertility for at least seven years. Yes, we could do it. We put it into the five-year plan box, knowing that we would be OK about it when the time came, and on we went with life.
Four years on and our desire to have children has come into sharp focus and the reality of the decisions we have to make looms large. Our main concern currently is who the sperm donor should be.I want to be able to leap into the future and ask the child what set up they'd prefer.We could go to a fertility clinic, chose one of their donors and eliminate the need to negotiate the involvement, or not, of a known donor. Initially this is what I wanted to do, so that we could have a family that was all our own. I think it's a really good thing that children conceived in UK clinics are now able to trace their donor when they reach 18 should they wish to, and we could support our child in this. But what if the mystery of those intervening years is too much? I would hate for them to feel displaced. Maybe it would be easiest for the child if we ask someone we know so that they are always aware of where they come from and there won't ever have to be a mighty and perhaps underwhelming reveal. But what if the proximity of the donor makes it harder for the child, as their alternative parentage is all too easy to imagine. Or if the donor wants to be more involved than we'd like him to be? Or if he thinks he won't but when the child arrives a primal love kicks in and everything changes? I realise we are asking a lot. Is it really possible that anyone could be so generous and altruistic? Maybe there isn't a right way of doing it. Maybe you just make a decision, talk about it endlessly with those involved and do your best to make it work. You can tie yourself in knots thinking about it or you can bite the bullet and give yourself the chance to be a parent. The advice I keep receiving is just to get on with it, leap off that ledge.
The prospect of meeting our child and working out what kind of parents we're going to be is incredibly exciting. Maybe being mum and mum parents is easier than being mum and dad parents – you don't have to negotiate existing expectations, except we'll both expect to be the mum. I told my partner that it's possible to breastfeed a child even if you haven't given birth to it. I thought she'd laugh but she jumped at the idea. Oh God. It seems getting pregnant is only the beginning.
With so many burning questions about our parenting journey I wanted to find out how this journey was for other lesbian couples. That is how my collaborative project, Mother Mother, was born.
Alice is currently interviewing women who have experience of donor conception and would love to hear from anyone who would be happy to share their story.
Alice Ellerby: firstname.lastname@example.org, 07930 371 059. www.aliceellerby.co.uk
To read more about Mother Mother click here
To read our articles on sperm donors for lesbians click here
To read about shared breastfeeding click here
*Images: Paul Ackerley / Paul Green