Can I donate sperm to my former girlfriend?
November 2, 2011 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Can I donate sperm to my former girlfriend?

My ex and I were together for many years and broke up about half a year ago. She wants to have a child, has wanted that for a long time, and does not want to wait. I have no doubt at all that she will be an excellent single mother. She will give her child all the love and care it could ask for, the two of them won't face any economic hardships and she has a lot of support, including friends and family nearby who are enthusiastic to help her.

She has the option of getting pregnant with sperm from an anonymous donor, that is the fallback way to do it. She would however very much prefer to mix her genes with those of someone she knows and likes, and that is where I come back in. Apart from the source, this would be much the same as with anonymous sperm: The plan is not that I would father the child, but be a donor for her to get the child she wants to raise. I can choose if my name is on the birth certificate but think it's better if it's not.

To a large part, I think this would be a beautiful arrangement, and something I want to do for her. I hope that kid would enjoy its life and be fine with the way it got started. It's a big decision though, and I have some concerns, of which I think this is the most important:

Although there is a clear difference to me between being a sperm donor and being a dad, I worry that the child won't see it that way, regardless of how well and how much my ex explains the situation. I fear that the kid will feel that it was abandoned by its dad, and take it personally and get sad and scarred. Unless we decide against it beforehand, I would get to meet this child, and the two of us would possibly even get to know each other. I figure this can make things more complicated, especially if he/she starts thinking of me as "dad". It would probably be best if we can avoid that, but can we?

Of course I can also not be sure what my own feelings will be in a few years time. I intend to move long distance quite soon, at least for a couple of years, so there would not be much contact initially.

Do you think we can make this work? What risks do you see, and what can we do to minimize them? I am especially interested to hear from those who didn't grow up with a father, grew up in unusual family constellations or who has children themselves under similar circumstances.

I want the child-to-be to have a happy life, and for both my ex and myself to be happy also. Please assume that there are no legal problems with any of this, and that religious arguments are of no consequence to us, just the well-being of everyone involved.

Throwaway address:

Thank you
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Our IVF clinic had counsellors. This is a very common question in lesbian relationships. Many of my lesbian friends have "known donors". That term might help your googling.

I reckon you should get professional counseling first. And legal advice, of course. But start with a fertility counsellor and go from there.

It's a beautiful thing you're considering doing. Yay for your big heart.
posted by taff at 7:49 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you really want to put yourself in a position where you could be sued for child support later on if she loses her other sources of financial support and feels that that is necessary for her child's sake? (Assuming for the sake of argument that she would never do that to you otherwise, of course.)

Other than that - well, the biggest risk I see is how things will go if you have problems with how she chooses to raise the child. You may feel more entangled and responsible than you expect to, and I can tell you from [different, but still relevant] personal experience that it is very hard to step back and remember that sometimes feeling responsible doesn't mean that you have the power or the right to jump in and make decisions and try to fix things. And that can be very hard to bear.

If you can maintain very clear and firm boundaries from the start, you have a chance. I've certainly personally known lesbian couples where the donors were sort of family friend figures, and it was fine. But it's hard and tricky.
posted by Eshkol at 7:53 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Depending on where you are, there are any number of potential legal liabilities you might be subject to. You really need to consult a lawyer familiar with family law in your jurisdiction. You will also want to consider how you want to handle things like who would assume responsibility for the child should the mother die or otherwise not be able to raise it.
posted by kjs3 at 7:54 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you really want to put yourself in a position where you could be sued for child support later on if she loses her other sources of financial support and feels that that is necessary for her child's sake?

In many locations known donor dads can do the paperwork to legally sign away parental rights to make this a non-problem. While I don't suggest going into this arrangement without sensible legal counsel and paperwork, it does not sound like that is what the OP is suggesting.
posted by jessamyn at 7:56 PM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Although there is a clear difference to me between being a sperm donor and being a dad, I worry that the child won't see it that way, regardless of how well and how much my ex explains the situation. I fear that the kid will feel that it was abandoned by its dad, and take it personally and get sad and scarred.

I think this will depend a lot on how and when it's explained to the kid, which will, naturally, fall to his or her mother. Can you talk to your ex about your fears? Keep in mind that she probably won't explain the situation until the kid is old enough to grasp the situation. The thing to keep in mind is this: you aren't the child's dad. And it might be kind of a weird thing to take comfort in, but your ex's child will probably never see you as her dad. You're not going to inhabit the dad-space in his or her brain, and I think that'll actually make it easier. She's not abandoned by you; she was never yours to abandon.

(To this end, by the way, I agree that you shouldn't put your name on the birth certificate, because it's a boundary that needs to be reinforced in a few ways, including legally.)

I do think you should communicate your worries to the mother, keeping in mind that she also probably has her own fears and doubts about the process. It may be a good idea to go to some sort of counseling together, to work out issues around this and around how much and what kind of contact you might have with your ex's child later.
posted by kagredon at 7:57 PM on November 2, 2011

6 months after a breakup?

It's too soon to make completely rational decisions about this and there may be ulterior motives that maybe she isn't even aware she has (or you).

If you want to be a friend, be a friend. If you want to be an uncle, be an uncle. Just keep your sperm to yourself.
posted by inturnaround at 7:58 PM on November 2, 2011 [34 favorites]

What if s/he comes out looking exactly like you? There might be some emotional ramifications to you there.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:00 PM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

You may not be a dad to this child as you will not be in his/her life. However you will still be a father. Are you OK with this?
posted by Shouraku at 8:08 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I hate to say it, but I'm on the "don't do it" side here.

I'm going to bet that your ex has pictured having kids with you for a long time, and still can't get over that. If you give her your sperm, you are most likely going to be fueling an emotional attachment, and possibly an emotional dependency, that will last for the rest of your life.

At the same time, I can see her wanting to use your sperm because she knows and trusts you, and thinks that you would have great progeny. If I were in her position, I would much rather use the sperm of someone I knew and trusted.

If there are any lingering feelings between you guys, this has the possibility of ending up very, very messy, which will not be good for any of you. Since you can't honestly know her feelings, I would err on the side of preventing a lifetime of messiness. Sorry.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:09 PM on November 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

I grew up in rather unusual circumstances, although my father was not a donor. However, he wasn't around and there was a lot of ... misunderstanding being a neat way to put it, but at any rate, my perspective is such:

6 months post breakup is too soon for anybody to making decisions about something like this. I don't care if she's always wanted to be a mother. She needs to take some time to recover before making any steps in this direction. Your only input in this would be to say, take some time while we consider the options. I can understand why she would want to use your sperm. To be honest, I can't understand why you would want to give it to her. You're already thinking of this in much less detached terms than someone just doing someone else a "solid" and this might be problematic. You really need to have it set out before she gets pregnant what role you are going to have with this child and how you are going to fit into his/her life. If you feel ambiguous now, you may feel ambiguous later.

No matter what, it really doesn't matter how someone explains it to the child, there will be some lingering feelings of "what if/why" that are going to be dependent upon the environment the child is raised in to resolve. I'm not at all saying this can't work, just saying that I think there needs to be a lot more talking and clarifying first. My situation was such that these delicate issues weren't raised until they were too late, causing a lot of pain and resentment. I know you don't want that, since you raised the question. But as someone else said, you need to draw your boundaries and stick to them... and it doesn't seem like you know what yours are going to be quite yet.
posted by sm1tten at 8:24 PM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Nthing that it's way too soon to do this. After both of your feelings for each other have cooled and settled, reconsider it if it's still pertinent. Things can still get ugly or weird between you and your ex, and whether it does or not, you may view your ex differently in another six months from now, casting doubt on a decision that can't be undone.
posted by ignignokt at 8:25 PM on November 2, 2011

The "known donor" thing is certainly a feasible route in some cases. A wonderful woman I know has a child with a gay man. Their relationship since they were children has always been based on friendship. She shares custody with the father and his boyfriend :) The child is happy and the parents are happy and everything is going wonderfully well.

The father's relationship with the child is probably closer than the one you're proposing to have, so it's different ... But I'm a believer in "known donors". It can work.

However, I agree with others: Six months is just too soon. For me, this alone is a sufficient condition to stop the idea. A many-year relationship is simply not entirely broken up, healed, or settled after six months.
posted by krilli at 8:26 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Depending on where you are, you could be on the hook for child support even if you do not have any actual relationship. Don't do this without consulting a lawyer, but really, just don't do it.
posted by spaltavian at 8:26 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

In a circumstance where the welfare of a child is concerned, the very fact that you are asking should tell you that the answer has to be no. There is a not insignificant risk of this working out very much worse than other options, and that risk is surely not yours to take. You are obviously motivated by kindness and love, but to do this would not just be foolish, it would be morally wrong.

If you want to do something for your ex and her future child you might consider being the greatest friend and best "uncle" that you possibly can be. Every one of us needs all the loving family we can find.
posted by howfar at 8:26 PM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think this could work. But you definitely need to consult with a lawyer and a counsellor - preferably one trained to work with IVF.

I donated eggs to a friend of mine. It didn't ultimately work out, as she was unable to get pregnant even with donor eggs. But we spent a long time hashing things out. We decided that I would play a role in the child's life - something like an aunt or close family friend. We figured out terminology we would use. We talked about what would happen if she and her partner died; if she wanted to have an abortion; if the child turned out to have genetic diseases or problems we didn't know I carried; if she wanted to have more children later; if I had kids who were biological half-siblings to hers and how they would interact...

There is so much to think about. We signed a lot of very detailed paperwork too. Our IVF clinic provided a standard contract, and we rewrote a lot of the clauses to better fit our situation.

The biggest difference I see between your situation and mine is that even to the child, I clearly would have been secondary to his/her actual mother (my friend). In your situation, there is no primary father figure, so the child is going to have trouble seeing why you aren't playing that role instead. This is something you want to think very seriously about. You and your FRIEND might agree that you are not going to play the role of Dad, but what do you say to a kid who wants to think of you that way, so that it doesn't come across like a rejection?

Finally, although it seems really silly, consider what your social circle will think. Ours is really progressive and liberal, and there were still a lot of people who really had issues with what we were doing, and who, for whatever reason, thought that was their business.
posted by lollusc at 8:27 PM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have heard stories (admittedly without any proof) that in many cases you can't sign away your rights or rather you can but that does absolve you of any obligations for support. Even in cases where the mother signs forms swearing you will never be asked for support, the courts have ruled that the mother can't sign away the rights of the child.
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:30 PM on November 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

This is such a personal decision. How can we, internet strangers, help with this? I think you should speak extensively with one of the counselors as mentioned by taff.
posted by sweetkid at 8:31 PM on November 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, and by "a long time hashing things out" I mean like a year between when we first considered the idea and when I did the donation. So don't let your friend rush you. Take baby steps. Think about it for a few months without doing anything. Then research the legality of it and other stuff. Then schedule some counselling sessions individually and at least one with your friend present. That will take a few months too. Then make an appointment with a lawyer, have him/her draw up paperwork, sign it, deposit it - that will also take a month or so. By that time, if you are still both on-board, it will be clear whether she really has healed from your break-up.
posted by lollusc at 8:32 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

IANAL, but I know some things about known donors and insemination. Please make sure that you, and she, are protected legally. She should pay for you to speak to a lawyer, and you should make sure that you do this with a lawyer involved.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:33 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think that it's way too soon (post break-up) to make this kind of decision. You can't ever unfather a child, and you're going to be involved, to a greater or lesser extent than you want (because life isn't perfect) forever.

I also think kids really do deserve a father when it's at all feasible, and I kind of don't like your plan to have the kid aware of who his or her sperm donor is but deny him or her that relationship. Forty years from now there will be a 39-year-old person who knows you're his or her father and that you didn't really want anything to do with him or her. I sort of suspect he or she will be making AskMe posts about how much that frustrates them, or how they can figure out how to be a good parent despite that, or how to get their absentee parent to just meet with the grandkids this one time because that's their fondest wish.

I have some parent issues - my case is there are lots of them and the relationships are all weird because of divorces and cross-country custody stuff - that probably play a role in how I feel about this. Also, somewhat ironically, my parents got together because my mom went around making declarations like "if I don't have a husband by the time I'm thirty I'll just have a baby alone" and my dad went up to her and said "I don't think that's right" and, well, now look at how many stepparents and half siblings and stories about how they only talk when something really awful happens to me I've got.

Why buy that kind of drama for someone who isn't even born yet? At least give it some real time and consideration.

(And the "she doesn't want to wait" thing is a huge red flag on it's own, for me. This sort of endeavor is going to require loads of patience and understanding and thoughtful discourse and thorough planning.)
posted by SMPA at 8:46 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

While I am absolutely for known donors (check my history, I'm currently pregnant through this method), I think that doing this with an ex, 6 months post breakup, is asking for major drama.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:47 PM on November 2, 2011 [10 favorites]

Boy, there are resources out there for navigating the legal aspects of this and having a known donor is not terrifically uncommon, but if you guys have been together for years and it's only been six months since the break-up that seems awfully sudden. Wouldn't that mean that she wanted kids while you were dating, so you were a consideration for the Dad position, even if only fleetingly? There's a lot of emotional baggage still going on that will take time to work through.
posted by schroedinger at 9:01 PM on November 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You haven't been broken up long enough for either of you to be thinking rationally about this.

(I have 3 adopted siblings. 2 are open adoption, 1 was closed adoption and doesn't know she has a twin that was kept by her birth parents. I have a few friends that were adopted and definitely had deep desires and made efforts to connect with birth family. I have a few friends (lesbian couples) that choose anonymous donors. I am close with one couple's grandparents, who speak ALL THE TIME of the similarities between their grandchild and his donor father. Who they only know from his bio.


You will be a big part of this child's life. That is a fact. I worry about my younger sister and her twin, too. Secrets always come out.

Birth issues are issue filled. This is not as easy as you are thinking.)
posted by jbenben at 9:03 PM on November 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

Please assume that there are no legal problems with any of this,

Before you make this assumption, talk to a lawyer.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:27 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow, I am amazed that anyone thinks this is a good idea.
I totally respect that you want to help your ex out, and in principle sperm donation and even known donation is a completely awesome and lovely thing to do for someone, but:

She's your ex! You just broke up!!

This is a crazy, crazy idea! I can imagine 7856432 ways this can go horribly wrong, and like, 3 where it wouldn't.

You don't say what happened with the relationship, and I can only imagine that it was a friendly breakup, but still. Don't do it. People's lives are complicated enough.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:34 PM on November 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

One more for YAY for your BIG heart.

Take the right legal steps, and go right ahead.

FWIW, I know several folks who grew up in the situation you and your ex are contemplating creating and they grew up just fine, with healthy relationships. In 2 cases the mother later married, one 'step' dad remained a step dad (and in that case he is known as Elliot (his name) to the child, and the natural father is John), the other adopted the child. All are reasonably happy, functional families.
posted by zia at 3:48 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

She should stay a former girlfriend. Like a few others have expressed, anything involved with an ex, especially of this caliber is asking for serious trouble. This isn't a feel good comedy or Hollywood movie. This is reality. The reality is that she has a selfish agenda. I'm not judging it to be good or bad but think about it before you pop your load. Would you have sex with her to produce a child, at this stage? Let's say she didn't have money, and she pulled one of those "oops condom ripped" or "let me turn used condom inside out" trick or let you hit it raw then... surprise! You ARE the father. Well, these ghetto examples are pretty much the same thing what she's asking for. Nthing one of the previous posts, you don't know her intentions and whatever it may be, I feel sorry for the kid. Hate to sound harsh but if you're asking these questions this is a perfect sign you shouldn't do it. You're thinking about the kid's welfare too much, so there will be some attachment. My vote is sure, you CAN donate sperm but you shouldn't.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 5:19 AM on November 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should know that you may be sued for child support, and not only by your ex-gf. If your ex-gf receives public support, the state may sue you.

This is fatherhood in some sense. The child is likely to want to know you and may have the legal right to know you. Many 'anonymous' donors are no longer anonymous, due to changes in the law. And you are thinking of voluntarily helping start a child's life, which is a serious responsibility.

Maybe you should actually have a child with her, and help support the child, and be a father, in whatever way would work best for all of you.
posted by theora55 at 7:31 AM on November 3, 2011

I agree with the previous posters that six months after a break-up seems a little soon to be considering something like this, what with the possibility of unresolved feelings complicating both your life and your kid's life. It sounds like you're on pretty good terms, but it may be a good idea to agree to wait another six months or so before pursuing this any further.
posted by defreckled at 7:43 AM on November 3, 2011


Do NOT choose to have a child that you know beforehand that you are not planning to have much or anything to do with.

You can provide sperm ONLY, and NEVER let that child know that you knew of its existence but decided that you wouldn't want to bother loving it enough to be a real father (an imaginary interpretation that the child would have). But you could never guarantee that. Children find shit out. The mother will get angry at you and blurt it out one day. You will change your mind and decide to confess everything (and then change it back and skedaddle?).

Definitely do NOT decide to dabble in and out of this child's life, saying essentially "Hey, I thought it'd be neato to have a kid but I only want to have this much interaction with you. Oh what, you're having a hard time, you need some love and support? Sorry, sperm-donor-time is over. See you in two months!"

This is making me really angry. My parents did something similarly selfish and irresponsible when they decided to have me. If you are not planning to be a father then DO NOT BE A FATHER. There is no benefit to using your sperm over that of someone who is and will remain anonymous (and mostly blame-free in the child's eyes), except for your imagined tiny little forays into being involved in this poor child's life.

Please don't do this. I am literally begging you.
posted by thebazilist at 7:45 AM on November 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

you were with your ex for many years and never had a child and now you only consider it because you (believe) you may do so without incurring any responsibility on your part. i don't think you should do this.
posted by elle.jeezy at 7:59 AM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

From the OP:
Thank you all so much for the answers so far, I hope there will be more. I just want to gently steer you away from legal issues and please assume that there aren't any. That doesn't mean I make the same assumption, just that I know how to work with them. We are also not in or from the US.

My ex and I were more friends than lovers already long before the end of the relationship, and have done things the practical way. Six months may still be too soon, but it's nice to bring all potential issues up already. If I can conclude that I will say no also in the long term, it's best if I can tell her that, so she can investigate other options.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:49 AM on November 3, 2011

I had a friend who did this. He even signed a piece of paper, he was not liable, and the mother never came after him for child support.


14 years later he finally met his daughter, and realized he could not be emotionally detached from her. It didn't help that her mom was not mentally well (hopefully unlike your ex). He ended up parenting her part-time but it was very hard to establish a relationship, but harder to walk away. Then he died unexpectedly when she was 16, and she is now dealing with that loss (not very well).

The thing about kids is, they're long-term. For the rest of your life, there will be a person walking around that you helped create. A person who may want to get to know you, and 10 or 12 years down the road, you may find keeping your distance very painful, especially if you and your ex have very different ideas about what the kid needs at any point, which is likely.

It's not impossible or anything, but it's not trivial. You're not just giving someone sperm; you're becoming responsible for bringing a human being into the world.
posted by emjaybee at 12:51 PM on November 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

There are legal and personal issues and they overlap.

You can disregard the legal issues, but don't minimize them. This entire area of law is new and the rules are being written by a million arrangements like the one you are considering. In the end analysis, you can sign away all the parental rights you want to, and your partner can, too, but neither of you can sign away someone else's... i.e., baby's. Nuff said.

Regarding personal issues, you are getting your friend pregnant. If you don't think that's emotional, you are in for a surprise. Baby making isn't all that complicated, but it doesn't always go right and your opinion of Mom's parenting quality aside, she's got to make it through morning sickness, potential problems, birth, and post-partum alone. I love my friends, and would be by their side in times of trouble, male or female. Take that feeling and attach it to your pregnant friend and enter an exponent.

I think it's wonderful you are willing to help. You DO get something out of the deal, though. You get painless propagation.... or maybe you do. It's dicey territory.

memail for additional relevant info, and good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 3:58 AM on November 4, 2011

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