Pregnant belly in stripes.

How to Manage Known Sperm Donors During Pregnancy

By Heather Osterman-Davis
Reviewed by Jessie Everts, Ph.D.
June 07, 2022

When my husband, who is transgender, and I decided to start our family, we chose to use a known sperm donor—a person who would be in our child’s life but not considered a parent. My friend Chris donated sperm for our first pregnancy, while his husband, David, was the donor for our second.

Prior to conceiving, we all discussed expectations for everything from financial obligations to who got to go on each child’s first trip to Disney, but it never occurred to me to discuss things related to the pregnancy. When I started spotting a few weeks into my second pregnancy, I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I wait and see what happened? Was sharing my symptoms with David, the donor, a courtesy or a burden? Would he want to know what was going on?

Pregnancy with a known sperm donor wasn’t easy to navigate, and I found information on doing so to be sparse.

What’s Different When You Use a Known Donor?

When using a sperm bank, donors automatically give up rights to parentage (visitation, child support, etc.); but, when using a known donor, it’s usually only after birth that a donor can officially relinquish rights. Though you can sign a known donor contract that helps prospective donors and recipients outline expectations for involvement post birth, including agreeing to relinquish legal rights to any child produced by donation, these documents don’t always hold up in court. This is especially true when insemination is done outside of a physician’s office.

Laws for sperm donors, and especially known donors, vary greatly from state to state. In many cases, known donors retain all of the rights and obligations of a genetic father unless those rights are legally terminated post birth. The pros of using a known donor are obvious—a greater understanding of the donor’s family history, more of a potential relationship for the child involved, and less money spent on the initial donation. But the cons can give anyone pause. Think: Conflicts over parental decisions and pressure/expectations for the donor to perform/act as more of a parent than they expected to when the agreement was set.

This can be a stressful factor of pregnancy for those using a known donor’s sperm and, possibly, for the donors themselves. In addition to protecting yourself as much as possible in the legal sense, from an emotional perspective, it may be helpful to set up expectations for pregnancy-related communication with the donor ahead of time. This may include setting parameters for what you feel comfortable sharing, as well as agreeing to clearly and openly communicate your needs during pregnancy and in the first few months after a child is born. Here are a few stories from people who have gone through this process.

Setting Boundaries Up Front

The issue of boundaries came into play for Elaine M., from Los Angeles. Elaine and her co-parent intended to use a close friend for their sperm donor, but ended up using the friend’s husband for logistical reasons.

During the pregnancy, their donor started offering to send family pictures, and sent a quilt made by his mother for the unborn baby. Elaine and her co-parent didn’t expect these gestures and it was a little unsettling, making them wonder if the donor wanted more involvement than they’d agreed upon and if he’d be able to manage his mother’s excitement and expectations. These feelings were exacerbated by the fact that Elaine’s co-parent had a very difficult pregnancy.

While Elaine now has a great relationship with their donor, whom she now considers family, she believes it would have been helpful to have been more open about their needs and expectations from the get-go. “I wish I’d been a better communicator with the donor in the early days, by being direct about how things felt and asking for what I needed, instead of trying to avoid conflict and then being resentful because he could not read our minds.”

Establishing What “Parent” Means

For Sarah Prager, of Sturbridge, Massachusetts, having clear boundaries and communication with a donor made her feel extremely secure during pregnancy and after. She and her wife both conceived using donor sperm from the husband of a close female friend.

According to Sarah, both their donor and his wife were “adamant about their respect for us as the only parents, which made us feel safe and respected throughout.”

In fact, the donor’s wife was halfway through her own pregnancy when Sarah conceived, so they all three shared pregnancy-related updates and it felt more like updating a friend than a donor.

The Importance of Clear Communication

For many people, feelings and expectations can change between planning for conception and the birth of a child and open communication can be critical to working through these shifts.

For Rachel and Nora P., from Boston, choosing what to share with their donor during pregnancy was fairly easy. Their challenge was that their donor hadn’t shared his sperm donor status with his parents or sister. His parents aren’t supportive of his being gay and haven’t been receptive to hearing about related parts of his life, so he didn’t want to burden his sister with keeping it secret. Rachel and Nora say they respect and understand that telling or not telling is his choice, but at some point they know it’s going to be a conversation they have to have with their child.

They see clear communication as key, especially for the sake of the kids. Nora shared that they never wanted to have issues because either they or the donor failed to communicate their needs. “It’s important to be able to have conversations proactively rather than people feeling that they can't, then the feelings doubling up down the road as resentment, which can hurt the relationship” Nora says.

Taking Care of Legal Issues

Choosing a known donor might mean having another person in your life for the long haul. It’s important to identify what feels important to share and what needs to be kept private. Before entering into any agreement, it is wise to consult an attorney who understands the laws in your state. If an attorney isn’t in your plans, look into how your state addresses the Universal Parentage Laws, the implications of conceiving with or without physician assistance, and seek out state-specific Known Donor Contracts. Be clear, direct, and share your boundaries and expectations. Ask the same of your donor. Pregnancy is the beginning of a long journey and it’s nice to start off on the right foot.

Finding Help

If you’re considering using a known donor, it’s important not to go it alone. There are many resources that help people find a donor and navigate the issues that can crop up along the way. For more information about finding a donor, or donor laws, check out:

  • Known Donor Registry: This is a place to connect with egg and sperm donors and learn all about the process.
  • Sample Known Donor Agreement: This is a good place to start when drafting your agreement with your donor and legal counsel.
  • Questions to Ask: This is just a good list of questions to ask yourself before using a known donor.

Being Open to Adapting the Arrangement

In the end, my spotting turned out to be nothing to worry about, and I didn’t end up telling David and Chris what was going on. During pregnancy, I focused on the sweet moments with David and Chris, from seeing ultrasound pictures to listening to the baby’s heartbeat over the phone. But there were also harder moments; and, in the end, those conversations and resulting actions are the ones that truly brought us closer.

During that same pregnancy, Chris’ mother developed terminal cancer and her last wish was to meet her biological grandson. Even though we’d previously agreed on no contact, when Chris shared how important it was to him, we went gladly and without question, on a trip that was hard, but in the end, also magical. And as the kids grew, there were moments when I felt like our donors weren’t as invested as I hoped they would have been. Instead of letting it simmer, we discussed it and became closer in the process. Now, if anything were to happen to us, Chris and David would be legal guardians of our children. This is our choice and not an automatic thing that happens in these arrangements.

While it might have been simpler to choose an anonymous donor, knowing that there are additional people in the world that love our children deeply, fiercely, and strongly, makes the challenges worth it.

Note: The author(s) of this article are not attorneys and do not intend to provide legal advice. The information contained in this article should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and readers are encouraged to consult their own attorney regarding specific legal questions.

You May Also Like: