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So What If Our Child Has 87 Siblings?

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Written by Aela Mass for

Since I started wanting children -- which hasn't always been the case for me -- it's always been more about being a mother, however that happens for me, and not necessarily about birthing a child, although that never was out of the question. Maybe I'd carry, maybe my partner would carry, maybe we'd adopt, maybe we'd foster -- as long as in the end I was a mother, nothing was a game-changer for me. Until a few months back when I saw PBS's "Donor Unknown." And how can you not be further concerned when stories appear about a single donor fathering 600 children?

For months after watching the special, my wife and I both agreed that we would NOT be using a fertility-center sperm donor to conceive our child. I don't think PBS ever intended for anyone to come away from its special changing their minds about anonymous sperm donation for the reason my wife and I did. After all, the documentary was an overall positive story about the healthy and productive and typical lives donor children lead. So maybe the donor himself was a bit out there -- OK, let's be real: By the standards of the vast majority of fully functioning members of society, the donor would be considered completely off his rocker. But hey, donors have nothing to do with the nurture part of a child's upbringing. So at least for my wife and me, we weren't totally bothered by the fact that some donors are a bit out there and we'd never really know if ours was one of them. We were bothered, however, knowing that our child could very well have dozens of half-siblings out in the world.

Neither of us had ever thought about or even considered that before. Maybe it was naive of us, but mostly it was just our own ignorance. How would we know that sperm-donation limits practically don't exist? How would we know that there are virtually no federal guidelines that address how many times one man can donate sperm and that, according to a 2009 Duke University report, FDA regulations "do little to control the number of births per donor"?

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We walked around for days completely discouraged. We already knew our family was going to be non-traditional, that our child or children were going to face unique circumstances that come with having two mothers and no father. But we were ready and confident that we could handle that. We had expected it and grew comfortable with our ability to face those challenges. And we discussed the day our child might come to us wanting to search out his or her donor, and how that would feel or what that would mean to us. But dozens and dozens of half-siblings? Siblings that may come looking for our child or that our child might wish to go looking for? The chances were slim, but what if our child had a local half-sibling that went to the same school? Or worse: What if our child dated a half-sibling later in life? How could we ever avoid that? Would our child have to ask prospective sex partners if they, too, were a donor child, just as one of the girls in the PBS special had? This was a curve ball we weren't prepared for.

It was upsetting. Not only because it threw us for a loop, but because we were forced to recognize our own limited views on what family is and means -- views we so often associate with those who wish to deny us rights, or who think we're sick, or who condemn the way we live and the "choices" we make. Those are the people who judge. Not us. Yet here we sat, questioning the definition of family. How dare we. Had we not just been immersed in a battle in our own home state of New York about the definition of marriage? Had we not just sat at the opposite end of it, proclaiming that our marriage wouldn't change straight marriages? So why were we now thinking that someone else's family was going to change ours? Coming from a loving and accepting family of halves, steps, and full-blooded relatives, I know firsthand that love really is what makes a family a family. Why was I now questioning that very definition of family?

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It took a while to work through our feelings that came from this discovery. And in the end, it was hard to admit that only one of us, either my wife or I, would share a blood connection to our child while complete -- for all intents and purposes -- strangers, possibly more than 50, would share his or her other half. There was no amount of love that we could provide, no amount of baths we could give, bruises we could kiss, or nighttime stories we could tell that would change the fact that our child would have a connection with dozens upon dozens of other children that the three of us would never share.

We had to face our own insecurities, and that's never easy. But we did. And I'm glad to say, like so many bumps in the road, we got over it. After considering other sperm-donation possibilities, Sara and I plan to go ahead with choosing a sperm donor from the fertility center. We'll go in armed with our new knowledge of unregulated donation guidelines and let it help in our decision. And we'll raise our family like all people do: as best we can. We'll prepare ourselves, as best we can, for the many obstacles that will come our way. And we won't let someone else's family define ours, or take away from the strong bonds we'll form. No amount of love can create something that isn't, this we know. But that won't stop us from loving anyway. Nothing ever has.

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