DEAR ASK A THERAPIST: My wife and I are going down the route of trying to decide between using an Open-ID-at-18 donor via a sperm bank or using a “sperm matchmaker” company where we would be able to know the donor and build terms around a relationship before our child turns 18. I’ve been trying to find specific research for lesbians that compares the impacts of both options—on parents psychologically, and separately, on the children—but we are having trouble. 

Do you have recommendations for articles about this specifically? Or do you have a point of view? What are the potential pros and cons and psychological impacts of “humanizing” the donor in a way we previously had not considered when we were approaching it with a sperm bank? We just want to set our children up for success and happiness and as little trauma as possible (at least in what we can control). It feels like at every turn in this process as LGBT people that there’s a huge decision that could potentially make or break all of our psychological well-being and have ripple effects for the rest of our lives. It is so daunting. – INTENDED PARENT

DEAR INTENDED PARENT: I understand that you and your wife are facing a decision between using an Open-ID-at-18 donor from a sperm bank or going with a “sperm matchmaker” company that allows you to know the donor and build a relationship before your child is 18. This is a challenging decision that may feel overwhelming for prospective parents, especially with a lack of information on the topic. As you have discovered, there is not a lot of recent research directly comparing these options for lesbian parents, and older articles on similar topics may not provide practical insights due to the rapidly changing landscape of donor conception. 

Although the idea of knowing your sperm donor may initially appear unfamiliar and intimidating, especially when anonymity until the age of 18 is a more conventional model, the advantages of knowing the donor outweigh any potential drawbacks for all members of the family.

First, knowing the donor helps you address concerns about the donor’s role in your child’s life. Essentially, recognizing that the donor is a genetic connection and not a replacement for you as parents can instill confidence in your own parental position from the start. This approach also allows you to support your child as they navigate changing relationship dynamics with their genetic connections, empowering them to manage these relationships in a way that suits them as they grow into adulthood.

Secondly, knowing the donor removes the mystery and uncertainty surrounding their identity, which can alleviate confusion and anxiety for young minds.

Lastly, having access to evolving health information and genetic insights can contribute to your child’s identity development. While it is possible for children to develop a healthy sense of identity without knowing their genetic background, it may require additional parental guidance and support.

Regarding the concept of “humanizing” the donor, it is important to acknowledge the donor as a complex individual rather than just a source of genetic material. Avoiding discussions or downplaying the significance of the donor can be ineffective in shaping your child’s long-term perspective. Instead, engaging in open and age-appropriate conversations about their biological origins from an early age can strengthen the bond between you and your child and prepare you for more in-depth discussions as they grow older.

Regardless of the choice you make, it is essential to approach the topic of your child’s genetic parent with openness and acceptance. By engaging in open and honest conversations with your child, you can help foster their sense of identity and create a supportive environment for their emotional and psychological development. Ensuring they feel comfortable exploring their origins can help them form a positive self-concept. If you would like to learn more about how to do this, you can use a resource such as Fostering Your Child’s Genetic Identity, which is a digital parenting guide.

Wishing you the best on this journey.

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