DEAR ASK A THERAPIST: My partner and I are in the process of working with a known donor matchmaking agency, and after a few months meeting with different potential donors, we have officially chosen our known donor. We decided on this route because of all of the research we did and the stories we listened to from donor conceived people—we have found the community to be incredibly helpful and insightful. Thank you for all that you do!

The next step for us is to try to navigate the relationship and involvement levels we would ideally want with him, based on what would be most beneficial and healthy for our future children. When we interviewed him, he was so lovely and said he was open to whatever relationship we as the parents felt comfortable with (e.g., guncle-style very involved or just available if we need to reach out for medical info or if the kids are curious). Now we feel like, before we move forward with him officially, we want to be able to tell him specifically what we’re expecting in a known donor relationship so that he knows “what he’s signing up for” in a sense—and that everyone is aligned and feels comfortable. But we don’t even know what we want or what is “best” for the kids! It’s so hard to picture or predict how we will feel.

Are there any resources or support groups out there that might be helpful to us during this time? In-person support groups would be amazing, but we are definitely open to online groups too. We don’t know any other lesbians that have used a known donor, so even just chatting with some folks that have gone through navigating this and making these decisions would be helpful.

Since we haven’t known him for years like many other known donor situations you hear about, it’s been hard to find helpful information about what level of involvement is the “right amount” for the child to feel loved and know their identity, while also keeping some boundaries so as to not blur the parental lines and confuse the children. Any information, studies, articles, or perspective would be incredibly appreciated. — FUTURE RECIPIENT PARENT


Congratulations to you and your partner on this next step in building your family, and good for you for listening to DCP voices and centering the best interest of your future donor conceived child.

If you have not already done so, it is imperative that you consult with an attorney about the arrangements you’ve discussed with the sperm provider. This attorney should have experience with LGBTQIA+ family law and be licensed in your state Some online matching services require a legal agreement between parties, and certainly fertility clinics would require the same.

An additional requirement from many clinics is to have three meetings with a mental health professional who has expertise in family building/donor conception issues. One meeting with you as parents is educational to answer many of the questions you have now, as well as to learn more about what we know about the needs of many donor conceived people. The second meeting is with the donor and any partner he may have to help him process the consequences and obligations related to helping you become parents with his DNA. The final meeting is with all of you to ensure you are on the same page, and in many ways this will help to answer many of your questions about ongoing contact.

With regard to the relationship with the donor, you’ll gain an understanding of each other’s personality, and you’ll see how this relationship changes over time. You may want this person in your life more as a close friend, or you may really like them but they don’t really fit into the flow of your lives as much as you might have hoped. The relationship will have a life of its own, and you can only steer the ship so far. While you may want them super involved and very close, they will have different seasons in their own life that may conflict with yours, or they might not care to get so close to you over the coming months and years.

While we don’t have specific studies to quote, many donor conceived people tell us it would have been very beneficial to have “always known” the donor/genetic parent. If it is logistically possible for him to be an active participant in family events, and that feels right to all, great! Or it could be that cards and photos keep him present in your child’s life at a distance. On the other hand, as you said, he is a stranger now. You will have to do what is right for your family as each participant grows and changes.

Your goal will be to build a warm relationship with the donor so that this relationship is available to your developing child. Certain life events may impact this relationship. For example, your donor may become involved with a partner who is uncomfortable with the idea that he has biological children who were not conceived with that partner. And if they have children they raise in their home, how much of a relationship will they be comfortable with your children having with their children? All of this remains to be seen and worked out over time. And as in any family relationship, you do your best to be understanding and to communicate, mindful that as your child grows, you will be encouraging your child to express what he or she wants and needs from this relationship.

Both the donor’s feelings and the needs and feelings of your growing child will change over time. Keeping the donor’s feelings in mind will show him great respect, but at the end of the day it is your child whose needs should always be paramount. If you provide the option for them to know their other genetic parent, your child/teen can decide what they want that relationship to look like as they grow and mature. Open communication will be key to such an arrangement working for all.

Resources that might be helpful to you are COLAGE, your local LGBTQ Center, the support groups in Donor Conceived Community, We Are Donor Conceived, and of course USDCC.

With professional expertise from those who are familiar with such arrangements, as well as good communication with the donor and partner, this could be a beautiful arrangement for all of you. No decision that you make is going to be the perfect one, but many can be good. Maintain open communication with your donor and leave space for your children to express excitement, worries, fear, and curiosity, and learn to adapt with them. To have access to genetic relatives and medical information as your child grows is an incredible gift to provide from the start.

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