New Families in All Their Infinite Variety?

Back in March I put up a post about a column by David Dodge, who is a sperm donor for lesbian couples who are friends of his.  (The idea is that he will be known to the child but will not function as a parent.)   It was on the Motherlode blog (run by the New York Times).

Well, now it turns out that this is to be a weekly series under the name “Sperm Donor Diary.”   This in itself is probably a sign of the times.   Last week he posted about euphemisms, describing a conversation about what he was doing he had with, among others, an 11 year old brother.   I didn’t comment on that, but it is surely worth a look.  (It also strikes me that each of the first two columns in the series have a great deal to do with language–a reminder of how important the words we choose are.)    One thing notable (and also carried over from the first entry) is the degree of openness in the process underway.   This, I think, bodes well for the future.  No secrets means no tension about letting secrets out.

Anyway, here is this week’s post and it has prompted me to write.     Tori and Kelly are the lesbian couple involved.   Kelly is pregnant (and the baby is due in July.)   That’s as much as we knew in the past, I think, and it really isn’t that unusual.  But it turns out that both Kelly and Tori provided eggs that were fertilized in vitro using Dodge’s sperm.  Two embryos were transferred to Kelly’s uterus–and no one knows which woman’s egg created that embryo.  Thus, while we all know that Kelly will be the gestational mother of the child, we (and they) don’t know who the genetic mother of the child will be.

In thinking about this, I’d make a couple of points.  the first has to do with language yet again.   There’s an interesting comment on the Motherlode blog post objecting to the use of the term “biological mother” to describe the egg provider.   While I think commenter makes a good point, I’d not go quite where Daleth takes it.    The woman who provided the egg and Dodge did the same thing–they provided genetic material.   My preference, of course, is to call them genetic parents–genetic mother and genetic father.  That, it seems to me, clearly expresses their similar positions.   Kelly–who will give birth to this child–is (in my terminology) a the gestational mother.

If pressed I’d call them all “biological parents,” I suppose, because all of these relationships are (to my mind) grounded in biology.   But perhaps it would make as much sense not to use that term at all.   Do we need it?   I think Daleth’s objection is based on the assumption (which I do think is generally shared) that a person only has two biological parents–one male and one female. If you start there, then making the egg provider a biological parent does read the gestational parent out of the picture–something I am not willing to do.

Anyway, that’s all part of the first point I’d make and is actually of general importance.  I do think we need to consider what we call various relationships–there is power in that language.

The second point is more specific to this arrangement–and this is a arrangement  I don’t think I’ve seen before.  What lead Kelly and Tori to do what they did?   Why choose such an expensive and intrusive high tech route?  Providing eggs for IVF is no picnic.

Of course, this is really none of my business.  I do not really mean to inquire about the particular motivations of these women.  They made their own choices for their own reasons and I wish them well.    But does their choice enforce or undermine the importance of genetic connection?    Does it tell us anything about the depth or our cultural attachment to genetic connection?

I don’t know the answer to this–I’m just thinking about it.   It’s not that uncommon for the woman who won’t be pregnant to provide the egg for IVF.  Sometimes that is because the woman who will be pregnant cannot produce eggs and sometimes it is to ensure each woman some biological connection.   But that’s not this.   This reminds me of when gay men using a surrogate mix their sperm for IVF or insemination.  Why do that?   Is there something appealing about leaving the decision of who gets to be genetically related to chance?




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