Saturday, December 16, 2006

My Life as a Sperm Donor Dad

By Mike Livingston
Washington Post
Sunday, December 17, 2006; Page B04

"Do you have any kids?"

It sounds like a simple question. But at the risk of sounding like Bill Clinton, it depends on what the meaning of "have" is.

I'm the biological father of a lesbian couple's children -- two beautiful daughters, born a year apart in the summers of 2004 and 2005. I love them. They love me. At least enough to fall asleep on my shoulder when I sing to them. They live in New England, and I visit as often as I can.

Am I their father or their sperm donor? The labels don't matter. The gift involved here is not a vial of protein strands. The real gift is the one I received: a family with a pair of little girls who are profoundly fortunate to have two devoted, strong, courageous moms. My daughters have three loving parents and live with two of them. I, for one, was not so lucky as to live with even two parents for most of my childhood. I turned out okay, but my daughters have a definite advantage.

I was 32 and single when an old friend invited me into this family. I had always vaguely assumed that I'd have a child eventually, but I thought I'd have a wife first, and neither was a front-burner project in the summer of 2003. I was busy with writing and politics. My friend asked me, out of the blue, whether I'd like to help her girlfriend -- her fiancee -- have children. (Plural.)

I didn't take the question too seriously at first, but she brought it up again a few weeks later, and then I took it very seriously indeed. Here were two bright young women, devoted to each other and financially secure in their careers (one is a nurse and one is a mental health caseworker; a kid could do worse for caregivers). I'd sign away my parental rights and responsibilities, but I'd have a relationship with the children. The kids would know that I'm their father and that we planned this family together -- that I'm not just some guy who got their biological mom pregnant and skipped town.

The prospective moms had looked into sperm banks and anonymous donors, but they wanted someone the children could know, someone who would stay involved but would also respect their right to be parents. They wanted their kids to have a dad.

A "known" or "open" donor is a daunting risk for a lesbian couple: Had I changed my mind before I formally surrendered my right to custody, many state courts would have sided with me -- then a single guy living from paycheck to paycheck as a freelance writer -- against a nurturing, stable, two-income household headed by a committed lesbian couple. They had to trust me. And they did.

When Samantha was four hours old, I had been holding her for half her life; I held Emily to look out the window at her first sunrise. My co-workers had thrown a baby shower, and Emily went home in a car seat they had given us.

Two years ago this month, I spoon-fed Samantha one of her first solid meals. At that point, I had already changed more diapers than some dads ever do, even if they live with their babies. Long before she could talk, people started asking me what she called me. I'd always shrug and say, "She calls me waaah, the same thing she calls everyone else."

Now she calls me Daddy. Sometimes she picks up the phone and says, "Hi, Daddy" into it until one of her moms dials my number, and then she talks to me for a few minutes, calling out the names of pets and sister Emmy and characters from "Shrek" and "Dora." I tell her I love her, I miss her, I'm proud of her, I'm looking at a picture of her giving Emily a big hug, and I'll see them soon.

"Do you have any kids?"

I'm the father of two smart, healthy, delightful daughters. They are not a political statement or a social experiment; they're little girls, with pretty eyes and mischievous smiles. They get their pictures taken with Santa. They're learning not to be too grabby with the cat. They love to take turns pushing each other down the hall in a laundry basket. They have two mommies who love them, are raising them well, love each other and keep a joyful house. It's a happy family and I give thanks to be part of it.

That's the answer.

mlivingston@greens.org

Mike Livingston is a freelance writer in Takoma Park and a child passenger safety technician.

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