This year it is ten years since the laws changed around sperm and egg donor anonymity. Where all sperm and egg donors had been anonymous, they are no longer. Donor-conceived children now have the right to trace their biological donor once they turn 18.
So if our sons, who are 5 and 2, had been conceived through one of the four inseminations with donor sperm that I had at a clinic, in 13 years time Noah, our eldest, would be able to look up his sperm donor and get in touch with him. Noah is intensely curious about his parentage and family. We regularly have conversations about his dad – a sperm donor we found through a matching website – as well as questions about my parents and Rowena’s dad all of whom died before Noah was born or consciously aware. We’ve also had to navigate how we refer to ‘Daddy Jerry’ along the way – do we call him ‘your Daddy’, ‘Donor Daddy’ or just Jerry? We’ve changed our responses as our family has grown and our relationships with Jerry have evolved. We feel lucky that he’s a flexible guy willing to be involved on our terms so we see him regularly. We’ve encouraged the boys to get to know him knowing to the best of their understanding who he is. We’ve explained as much as we can so far (simplifying home insemination with donor sperm into terms a five year old understands is quite tricky)!
We’re relieved we’re not by contrast faced with another 13 years of unanswerable questions about Noah’s father. Noah is a thoughtful and inquisitive boy - a promise of being able to find out the answers when he turns 18 would be frustrating for him and a continuous source of guilt and anxiety for us. But this is based on us as individuals. Noah could be a different child, one who is satisfied with his family around him, not interested beyond that. Our second child, Eli, strikes me as less sensitive in that way – he has his brother and his mums and his Daddy Jerry, Noah’s querying has set the pay of the land for him.
Then there are our histories that come into play. Rowena’s father died when she was 6. The thought of deliberately denying her children the father figure that she lost was difficult for her (but it didn’t stop her agreeing to have donor insemination at a clinic). My feelings are more mixed – my father was a destructive alcoholic. To me it’s important for my children to have positive male figures but they can find these in uncles and family friends.
According to Progress Educational Trust, opinion on the law change is split and I can see why. While some people feel this was too much, others feel it was not enough. In my work at We Are Family magazine I have met many lesbian couples who feel that they are the parents and that is all that matters. The last decade has seen some phenomenal law changes recognising their rights as equal parents. I respect their right to have their children in a different model to my family.
A major problem with all of this is that the person it most affects has not been born. The decision is an emotive one but one that is not made by them and is made hypothetically. None of us can know how it’ll turn out. The law was changed with the child’s rights in mind. Should it have changed? Should it have been taken further?
I’m attending a debate at Progress Educational Trust next week exploring this charged and emotive subject. I’m looking forward to it.
For more on Progress Educational Trust's event click here