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December 9, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Your homophobic uncle was right — sometimes lesbians really are looking for the right man.
For two women trying to start a family together, choosing the right sperm donor can have a huge impact. Some couples select anonymous donors from catalogues, as seen in the movie The Kids are All Right about a lesbian couple with two teenage children who decide to seek out their unsuspecting biological father.
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Other couples avoid these complications by using a friend or known acquaintance as a donor. In Columbia, two LGBTQ couples note the benefits — and the occasional drawbacks — of using a known donor.
Kate Randerson says lesbian pregnancy is never your traditional egg-meets-sperm story. Randerson, 29, a patient care technician at Boone Hospital, and her 33-year-old partner considered all the options before going the do-it-yourself route at home with a known donor and a 25-cent syringe. To everyone’s surprise, it worked on the first try.
“There’s no lesbian or gay version of ‘Oops!’” Randerson says of the improbability of accidental pregnancy. “But ours was the closest thing to a lesbian oops you can have. There was no thought in our mind it would work the first time.”
Books had prepared the couple for a long three- to 12-month emotional roller coaster before successful implantation. Fertility doctors had insisted that drugs would be necessary. But within weeks, Randerson’s partner knew she was pregnant, and all the shipping, dry ice and regulations associated with using a sperm bank would be unnecessary.
But here’s where strangers are initially creeped out: The superpower sperm came from Randerson’s brother. Randerson says she was hesitant about the decision at first but decided she would rather raise her child knowing his uncle is the biological parent than tell him his Y chromosome came from sperm donor No. 53592.
What people often misunderstand is that Randerson’s partner carried the child — not Randerson.
“I know it sounds weird and incestuous when you first hear it,” Randerson says with a laugh. “I tell people to take a minute, think about it, and it’ll make sense. There’s no gills involved or anything like that.”
Two months ago, a healthy, 7-month-old Eliot sat in a hollowed-out pumpkin so his adoring mothers could take Halloween photos. One day he’ll learn his origin story from a children’s book Randerson’s mother made for him that features a same-sex ladybug couple yielding to their biological clocks to have their own child.
Randerson’s entire family is glad to see their genetics reflected in Eliot. Her brother, who lives in Hawaii, is content to be known as merely an uncle and not some type of auxiliary parent.
“He likened it to Home Depot,” Randerson says. “Home Depot isn’t involved in the christening of your deck. You don’t send Home Depot pictures after you go and buy the wood. He said: ‘I just gave you the materials. You guys did everything.’”
But some queer couples in Columbia prefer their donors to have a more active role in their children’s lives. Scout Merry and Ginny Muller also opted for the do-it-yourself home sperm-implantation method. Merry, 44, carried both of the couple’s children — who are now 10 and 13 — because Muller was adopted, and they preferred knowing the genetic history of their offspring. This meant they wanted a known donor.
“We were pretty poor, so the long, drawn-out process of adoption would never work,” Merry says. “So it was about, ‘How do you get sperm?’ We really set about looking for a sperm donor. Someone would recommend someone, but it wouldn’t work out for whatever reason.”
Finally, friends introduced them to a heterosexual couple that lived just across the state border in Illinois. The two families immediately clicked.
“Family was really important to them,” Merry says of the couple. “It was more about who he was and who his wife was, but I also liked that he looked like me.”
As in the case of Randerson and her partner, Merry and Muller were surprised by how simple the actual implantation process was. They bought a cheap syringe, and the process worked on the third try.
One and a half years later, they all decided to repeat the process and have a second child.
To this day, the two couples remain in close contact and enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Merry and Muller’s children consider their donor family’s children to be cousins and have never had any issue with their unconventional arrangement.
“We never had to talk about it,” Merry says. “As the kids get older, they get more and more information, but it was never like, ‘Sit down, kids. Let’s have a talk.’”
Randerson’s and Merry’s stories show the benefits to using a familiar donor with known genetics and possible family involvement. But are there drawbacks?
In both situations, the noncarrying parent doesn’t have full legal status. Although both families are close enough to their donors that they’re not concerned the donor will suddenly claim legal rights to the children, there have been precedents for such betrayal in other states.
But Missouri makes getting a second-parent adoption, which protects the nonbiological parent’s legal rights to the child, difficult for same-sex couples.
Randerson says though there’s no specific law against second-parent adoptions for lesbian couples, most cases get deferred for months while judges keep passing the buck. Randerson and her partner are currently in the middle of the second-parent adoption process right now.
“In same-sex adoptions, it’s a little more complicated,” Randerson says. “Lawyers, home visits, etc. We’re getting a change of judge, so we’ll see. But it’s up in the air.”
While they wait for a judge who won’t defer the case, Randerson and her partner have no regrets about the process that brought them Eliot. They just feel lucky that Randerson’s brother was willing to provide the necessary resources.
“A lot of people aren’t as fortunate as us to have a known donor,” Randerson says. “If your only obstacle is the absence of a penis to get sperm, I would say try it without the doctors and the medical stuff and the expense.”