And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families is a terrific collection of essays that belongs on every LGBT parent’s bookshelf, even if you did not use a known donor. I wrote about it last year when it first came out in Canada, and I’m pleased to say it has now been released in the U.S—just in time for Mother’s (s’) Day.
Below is the review I wrote for my newspaper column:
It Takes a Queer Village
The “gayby boom” is no longer news, insist Susan Goldberg and Chloë Brushwood Rose, editors of And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. “What is newsworthy,” they write in their introduction, “are the families and friendships that these babies have helped to create and that have, mutually, created them.” Rather than trying to show how queer families are “just like everyone else’s,” the book celebrates the variety of new and unexpected connections we create when we start our families in non-traditional ways.
Although the “known donor” theme unites the essays, they go far beyond the television cliché of two lesbians searching for sperm. The more than 20 authors include those who have used a known donor, those who have themselves donated sperm or eggs or been a surrogate, and the children created by these acts. They each explore what it means to be a family, the importance (or not) of biological connections, and the challenges of negotiating roles and responsibilities outside the traditional two-parent dyad.
Some of the donors, both gay and straight, are regularly involved in the lives of the children they helped create. Others are more actively co-parenting. Some are willing to be involved if the child wants that, but are for the moment keeping a respectful distance.
Several contributors write about how using a known donor, especially an involved one, may affect the non-biological mother’s sense of purpose and belonging. Rose observes that even friends who know her donor is not actively involved in her child’s life will refer to the girl as “Bob’s daughter.” Rachel Warburton writes of going to the park with partner, donor, and child, where strangers assume the donor’s place and deny hers. At the same time, she notes that many look at her in disbelief when she remarks on the resemblances among herself, her sister, and her sister’s mixed-race children. “People are keen to assert biological connections,” she says, “but only in certain contexts, only if they fit predetermined cultural narratives of racial and familial certainty.”
The donors themselves write of trying to find their way in that absence of certainty. “Luca is a different sort of baby for me, neither my child nor not my child,” writes Capper Nichols. “Something new seemed to have happened, something hard to explain. I have no familiar category for her.”
This lack of category extends beyond just the donor and child. Heather Jopling, a straight woman, served as a surrogate for two gay men after her husband donated sperm to a lesbian couple. The three families go on playdates together, but Jopling recognizes that the children must define their relationships to her, her husband, and their half-siblings for themselves. Several donors also tell of negotiating with their own parents about the degree to which they will be involved as grandparents.
The book does not shy from the bumps in the road. Shira Spector tells, in graphic-novel style, of her struggle with infertility. Dawn Whitwell writes of failing to produce a viable egg for infertile friends, and yet creating a relationship with the child they have through another donor. Annemarie Shrouder writes of her excitement at finding a fitting donor, and her crushing disappointment when he backs out. Most soberingly, Cade Russo-Young tells the tale of when she was eleven and her nine-year-old sister’s known donor (different from her own) sued for paternity and shared custody of the sister.
One message that comes through in all of the essays is the inadequacy of our language to name all of the various relationships that arise from this complex of connections. What does one call one’s sperm donor? One’s donor’s partner? The legal children of one’s married donor? The friend who brought donor and parent(s) together, and who remains committed to staying involved with the family she helped create? What happens when those people split with one partner and find another? What is the relation of the donor of one’s first child to one’s second child, conceived through another donor?
Despite the lack of language, the donor-conceived authors do not seem confused or maladjusted by the structure of their families. “I have never once wished that my parents were not gay, or that there were not three of them,” writes 15-year-old Hannah Sage Firestone, “or that they had arranged their lives any differently than they have.” Even Russo-Young, who might be expected to shy away from donors after her experience, is looking forward to using one to start a family with her own partner. “I want to recreate the family that I was raised in so that my children will know the love that I did,” she asserts.
Tobi Hill-Meyer likewise wishes to pass on her experience and pride in being the child of a donor dad. In her case, however, it is as a sperm donor to two lesbian friends. As a transgender woman who froze some of her sperm before she transitioned, she makes us think even further about the traditional categories of parenthood and our assumptions about gender roles.
And Baby Makes More is a thoughtful, funny, and poignant volume about the variety of ways we define families today. Rose explains, “Our family is an ongoing experiment in making words and experiences line up, in finding new words, in learning how to talk.” And Baby Makes More offers other queer families a beginning grammar to continue the conversation.
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