Thicker than water

We’ve started telling people about Tiny. Not the world, not Facebook, but our parents and some of the closer family members. And each time we have told someone, they have asked:

“Did you use the same donor as Ansel?”

It’s a question we expected, and we weren’t sure how to answer. Initially, we just awkwardly answered.

“No. We used an anonymous donor this time.” and, if they pushed, “It’s a complicated story, it was a difficult decision.”

It was a difficult decision, as you may remember. Ultimately, we decided the ‘pros’ on the anonymous donor list outweighed the deep emotional experience of wanting to use BFF and wanting our children to have a biological connection to one another. It was made further complex by knowing that – as it stands now – we are planning to have 3 children and, again, if things go as planned now, two of them would be biologically “full” siblings and one would not be (ie: we are planning to use one of the frozen embryos from my IVF cycle for #3) We each had to deal with a variety of feelings about the situation, even though we felt like it was the best decision.

And ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Because we believe that biology is not what creates a family. Its a fundamental belief, right? It really has to be, when you’re queers building a family. So if we really legitimately believe that, we can’t get hung up on those pieces. We have to behave in accordance with what we believe, and what we believe is that our children are related because we are their parents, and we are their parents no matter whose DNA they share or whose uterus grew them.

Once we got clear for ourselves with this, it followed that the question about donors stopped feeling awkward and started feeling offensive. Obviously, no one intends to be hurtful but, regardless, asking two parents about the biological make up of their children IS an offensive question.

In retrospect, we wish we would have kept the details of how we conceived Ansel more private. We shared almost every detail with almost anyone who asked – for a lot of reasons including wanting to connect with people, wanting to normalize alternative conception stories, and wanting to process our experience. But ultimately, it meant that lots of people who don’t have the skill or understanding about how to be thoughtful or sensitive with this information had it, and those people also feel more at ease asking us these details now.

We’ve decided that, moving forward, if anyone asks about Tiny’s donor, we are going to let them know that the question itself is problematic because it assumes we are not both Tiny’s parents, and it is not relevant information for them. We might also include something about feeling differently now about sharing this information than we did with Ansel. My guess is that people will end the conversation at that point and make their own assumptions. If they press us, we’ll likely answer honestly, but I don’t think many folks will continue the conversation. It feels hard to make this decision because it’s likely to alienate some people, but it also feels important to be consistent with our own understanding of our family, as well as maintaining some of the privacy we gave up with Ansel.

How do you handle questions about how you built your family, especially when you might want to both keep sensitive information in your control AND want to make stories like ours more normal and less scary?


19 thoughts on “Thicker than water

  1. Hey! So lovely, as always, to read your thoughtful, wonderful, careful way of thinking through your life. And, because I haven’t said it yet, CONGRATULATIONS!!! I was getting pregnant with my daughter at the same time that you were dealing with the agony of not-yet getting pregnant with Ansel. But… you guys have worked faster than us and we are now pregnant with a second, only about six weeks ahead of you two with your second. Hooray for all these gayby-babies!!!

    I have feelings about exactly this question too,
    now that we are onto our second. And my feeling, after lots of thinking, is that now is our time to be even MORE open, even more share-happy than we were with the first. Because having got their head around the idea of a known donor being part of our equation, I now want them to also get their head around whatever we did for a second. We got a lot of what felt like “social ticks of approval” for having a known donor, like “how wonderful for the baby, two loving mummies AND a donor dad”. I resented it. I’m not better than the lesbians up the road who have an anonymous donor. My daughter isn’t any luckier than the kid of the single mum who got knocked up to a hot guy she had casual sex with on her thirtieth birthday (I know – that baby is my god-son). Our family isn’t any more wonderful because it is more ‘straightforward’ than the seven boys who come from three different mums and five different dads in a spectacular constellation of relationships both close and distant (again, I know – those kids are my cousins… I come from a good strong line of queer women).

    I feel like for me, the answer is not to shut down the question about whose sperm made our second baby, not to make it about privacy…. but to use it as another, even more important soapbox on which to stand and say “here is my family… and no, it’s not “straight-forward” in the conventional sense. What is straightforward for us is that we will now have TWO very much loved kids under our one loving roof. Sure, let me tell you how the second baby got conceived. Isn’t our family AWESOME”.

    Of course, what works for you, La and Ansel is what will WORK for YOU guys. But don’t write off the possibility of saying as enthusiastically as possible “No! Actually, we DIDN’T use the same donor! Here’s the latest great twist in our complex, wonderful story of procreation!!!”

    I work as a teacher, mostly with 5 year olds. In one of my classes one year there was a little girl with two mums, brother, and donor/dad. When she started school I asked her mums what they would like me to tell her classmates when the question of her family structure came up, as it would at some point in the year, I was sure. They said… “just tell them how it IS. And anyway, XXX is pretty good at explaining the details herself”. And indeed she was. When it did come up (during show and tell, while holding a bagpipe, of all things) XXX well and truly held her own explaining the complex loving knot of relationship and biology that made her family. I was so proud of her.

    I have just really argued in the opposite direction of what you were talking about in your post. I hope hope hope that it’s not offensive to have done this. I love your blog so much and have learned so much from you. Anyway, I’m going to press send despite my misgivings about sticking my oar in, because after all, you can delete my comment if it shits you…

    Much love.


    • I actually really love hearing other perspectives – especially when presented as kindly and enthusiastically as you did! I like the way you are reframing, and I think it’s a good consideration for us. It’s so messy, wading through all of this, and were we err on the side of privacy and where we err on the side of openness. It’s really interesting to be on this side of things now, as well. Where as with Ansel, my connection to him was so clear from the start because I was carrying him and we used embryos made of my eggs. L had to bear the brunt of the weirdness when people knew our donor and referred to him as ‘dad’ or seemed more interested in giving him the ‘parent’ role than they were her. Maybe because of my experience and security, and because of how Tiny was conceived, I don’t feel as uncomfortable about people’s comments. I think what feels actually more significant, particularly to L, is that people might use the reality of Tiny’s (likely) being the only one of (maybe) 3 kids who has a different conception story to single them out in a negative way. This has always been the concern – not wanting one kid to feel like they were disconnected in a bad way. We were actually the tiniest bit bummed with the unplanned IUI being successful because doing IVF again gave us the possibility of using L’s embryos in my uterus for baby #3, which would have given each of them a slightly different story.

      Anyway, thank you for your thoughts. I absolutely appreciate them, even though they are different than what I talked about!

  2. Brilliant post.

    In answer to your question… and to be quite blunt… the situation around Tiny’s donor is no one else’s damn business but your own.

    Of course it’s complex and people are going to be intrigued and maybe even question why you did xyz but at the end of the day it’s your decision and quite often people cross the line from genuine curiosity to being bloody nosey. And I hate that. Why does being a same sex family give people the right to probe and question?

    Anyway. I can’t wait to follow your journey, guys. It’s going to be fucking awesome.

  3. Like you we are trying to normalize our different route to our family. Yet we also realize some details are no one business. So we’ve made the decision to protect large parts of our son’s storey and to let him tell the details one day should he want to. Almost all people stop prying for information when we say “that’s private information which we are choosing not to share”.

  4. I understand all the feelings that are involved with the decisions of how we create our families and the way in which people ask about it. It can feel so intrusive and exhausting, because we don’t always want to have teaching moments. That said, you’ve only told a handful of close people and so it makes sense that they are asking for more details, and there’s precedent like you said. For now you need to just be comfortable with how you respond but in a year or so, you will also need to think about Ansel’s understanding of and feelings around the situation and your response. By showing him that those asking are shut down, he might get the feeling that the subject is taboo. Though this is the response you need to have now, it might not be the one that works long term or in all situations.

    • This is actually a really helpful thing I hadn’t thought about – how being evasive might unintentionally send the message that something is shameful. Thanks for bringing that up so we can consider it moving forward! I definitely don’t want any of our children to feel ashamed of their biology or their family, and I want to give them space to create the narrative and experience that feels best to them. I think part of it just feels exhausting – to be so excited and have the very first question out of someone’s mouth be about someone who was imperative at the beginning but will play a minor role moving forward.

  5. This is how I would react if my friend’s partner was pregnant and I was basically told that’s none of my business when I asked questions, especially if they were super open with the first pregnancy. I would assume there is some sort of secret or shame associated with the pregnancy, and I would probably assume that the partner cheated and got pregnant or was raped and got pregnant.
    I think you should be just as open and enthusiastic about this pregnancy, otherwise you are setting up a really different dynamic for the kids.

  6. We obviously have a lot of feelings about this issue too. We tried HARD to use a known donor, and it just didn’t pan out. Now when people ask about our daughter’s donor, I share a lot of information, and after reading this, I realize that I’m trying to prove to them that the vials from the bank weren’t completely anonymous – we know a lot about the person. Though I’ve never realized it, I must be trying to prove something when I dish out his height, hair color, career, etc. I think I’m trying to prove that we are careful, thoughtful parents who overcame a biological hurdle (no sperm) in the best way we could. I need to realize that it is nobody’s business who the donor is and what his attributes are. And people need to realize that whether donor-created siblings share DNA is irrelevant to who they are as people.

    I LOVE Pot and Lid’s answer above! It’s hard to figure out polite, accurate, and private ways to answer offensive questions.

  7. We have a foster child that we would love to adopt but have NO idea whether we will be able to or not. The advice we were given was to not reveal the story of why B came into care to many people. The thinking is that it’s unfair for the wider family/friends to know their “story” before they do. The “story” can be passed (however well meaning) to younger family members/friends or less sophisticated family members/friends who can potentially misuse the information. I think this same thinking might apply to different donors or any form of alternative family building. No matter what, I’m sure you’ll manage the queries and protect your kiddos. 🙂

  8. With Callie and I, we sorta guage who this question is coming from and we kinda “feel” what the intentions are. Are we being asked to be berated, delegitimized as the other parents, gossip purposes? Are they asking because they are curious about their own journey? Is it just curiosity? What’s the atmosphere like? Is there a group od 50 people and are we shit faced, or are these questions presented over an intimate dinner with sorta close friends? I think all of those things matter. Are we feeling like educating people about reproductive medicine or is this more of a conversation about all types of feelings associated with parentage/reproduction/family life? It makes a huge difference in the TONE of the conversation. SOmetimes we engage and the conversations are really lovely, and sometimes, it’s like, “I ain’t even going there cuz old boy is about to try and go in and he don’t know shit!

  9. Before our kiddo was born, I was really nervous about the questions we were going to get about how she was made and who her donor was – especially as the non-gestational parent and because we used a known donor. Much to our surprise, we’ve had very few questions about him (other than from our parents). I think this is maybe partly politeness, but also a weird allegiance that people have to a nuclear family narrative – we encounter more people who find it weird that we consider KD family than we do people who consider him some kind of parent. We’ve only had one person ever call him ‘dad’ and we shut that down pretty quickly.

    When people ask questions about how our family came to be, I answer them, usually in depth because I like talking about my kid and our queer family and its layers of blood and glitter. The only question that I really detest is why I didn’t carry and if I will in the future (people usually assume I carried J, because, you know, hair length determines fertility). We’re not 100% sure how we’ll make our second kid (same uterus, though) and have some anxiety about using an anonymous donor and how they’d feel about not having a biological connection to our donor – but ultimately he’s in our life because we love him, not just because he gave us his sperm, and he’d have a relationship with our second child regardless of genetic connection.

    I totally get where you’re coming from with not wanting to answer people’s questions, and I think that is a totally valid response. But if it’s more about the fact that people are too invested in Tiny’s genetics than it is about not wanting to share the information, maybe you could answer and then also explaining why you resent being asked?

  10. Once, while we were sitting down to eat at a restaurant, a server pulled up a chair at our table and began asking us a series of questions about conception, how that happens, how we chose a donor, etc. At the time, I answered the questions because I wanted to offer a positive experience and explanation of our family: Look! We’re gay people and we’re SO NICE! And informative! Spread the word!

    It was so bizarre and in the moment, I worried more about their feelings than our own.

    When I got home, I thought how invasive it was and how inappropriate it was, even though it wasn’t coming from a malicious place. We felt like awkward celebrities.

    Suffice to say, after that, I started giving as little information as possible. “They have donors.” “My wife carried them.” “Yes, they are all ours.”

    Whenever people try to inquire more, I inform them it’s just not my story to tell. “It’s really their business to divulge information about their donor”. It gives a firm “not really your business” without turning it into something secretive or negative. I’ve never had anyone overstep this response, though I’ve had them overstep many other responses.

    We’re very open with the kids about donors and we discuss having donors with close friends and family in front of them. It’s something that’s been normalized very early and often. We don’t give out much personal information surrounding the donor (except to select family members who are in the need to know – legal guardians, for one) but have always encouraged the kids to do with the information what they feel personally is right for them. At this point, with the oldest child at only five, we haven’t had any in depth revealing of information. Whether we ever do will be their decision.

    On the flip side, I say this from the perspective of always having one parent carry the child, so the desire to ask the questions is lessened some I think by not also having to discuss my long forgotten and totally useless uterus. 😉 I imagine there would be many more questions if I had a child – not the least of which would be how we intend to have six kids – and I think I would continue to respond the same way: They have donors. I’m carrying the baby. It’s not my story to tell.

  11. We used the same donor and I carried both time, so I can’t really offer too much to the conversation. However, we have received a few questions about if we used the same donor. It’s weird that people ask that, but I think that the people in my life who ask are coming from a positive place and are genuinely interested. If I felt the tone was judgmental, I’d probably be more protective with how much I shared about our conception process. My spouse and I have always been very open about it- everyone wants to know if we did IVF or it’s an unknown vs known donor. Our goal is just to normalize it. Ultimately it’s really no one’s business and it’s up to what you both feel comfortable with being the public narrative of your family. We have to put up with so much more than hetero cis-gendered parents. I would never ask a woman how she conceived, but for us it’s fair game.

  12. This is such a tricky question for me. Because inevitably people will ask “Oh so who’s the dad?”

    Me. I’m their dad. Have been since before they were born. I could rant for paragraphs but I will spare you that.

    But as you know (or maybe you don’t) our family genetic make up will be the same as yours if you have 3 babies. If the kids ask in the future or anyone we feel comfortable with sharing that information with we are completely honest and say that it was all about logistics and moving from the mainland back to island. It was too difficult to coordinate timing and ferries and lodging etc etc

    – Cade

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