Jo and I sit side by side on a small twin bed in a London university dorm and listen to the familiar Skype tune starting up.
We’re in uni halls because they’re cheap accommodation in London in summer, and considering our Bourn Hall clinic visit has already cost us so much, we’re travelling low-budget here.
It’s early in the morning, and neither of us is particularly in the mood for this. But there’s not a lot of choice, if we want to use a sperm donor in a UK clinic, then we need therapy. Or well, an hour through Skype will do the trick apparently.
Jo clicks the little icon, we connect to the Skype chat, and there is the face of the therapist.
“Hi!” We both smile and pretend to be enthusiastic for yet another round of proving ourselves.
The therapist introduces herself. She writes our names down and what we’re interested in – both using donor sperm and potentially being an egg donor.
And then she goes through a list of questions. It’s not counselling like I have ever experienced, but that clearly isn’t the goal. She has a piece of paper in front of her where each question needs to be ticked off like a scoring card.
Do you understand what using a sperm donor means? Have you considered that your child will be able to find out that they were conceived this way? What are you planning on telling them? What if they want to find their donor?
Do you understand what egg donation means? Have you told people around you? Do you feel you could handle it if the person you donated to becomes pregnant and you do not?
Then about our relationship. Jo, are you jealous that Nele would be the one carrying the child? Does not having a genetic link to your child worry you?
And then, the question we were dreading all along. Will there be enough of a male influence in your child’s life?
Jo and I quickly and concisely answer it all – practise does make perfect in this case – and our planned one-hour session is over in less than thirty minutes. The counsellor says that we are clearly well informed and gives us her stamp of approval.
Still, we’re both annoyed about it afterwards. Why do we need to prove time and time again that our child will have enough men in their life?
We make each other laugh with other potential answers we could have given, such as “No, we’re planning on raising this baby in a separatist feminist community. It’s important to us that they won’t see a male until they’re eighteen.”
Or “Of course, I make Jo call me ‘Daddy’ all the time!” *g*
But laughing doesn’t fully take the sting out of it.
I’m reminded of that study into lesbian parenting that found that on average the children of lesbian parents do better in life. One of the factors they believed made a difference was the absence of a toxic male figure.
Following that reasoning, the therapist should be asking us “How will you ensure that your child has no toxic male figures in their life?”
But that’s not fitting with the heteronormative ideal I guess.
Another question I would love to hear, to straight couples then, is “Will there be enough LGBTQ influences in your child’s life? If they identify as such, will they have immediate role models?”
Again, that’s a fantasy.
We have answered the male influence question several times by now and we will continue to do so, because we want to be approved and that’s what you do, you conform. But it does make me sad. I never quite felt it as sharply before we started this journey, but now we’re trying to break through all the red tape and are dealing with the policing around gender and childbearing, it seems obvious how many little ways we are still being discriminated against.
Even if it is only a question through Skype.