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Modern love: The consequences of saying, ‘yes’

By Lisa Schlesinger
New York Times

When my husband’s friend Maggie asked him if he would donate his sperm to get her soon-to-be wife pregnant, he said he had to ask me first. It’s the kind of hypothetical question one might pose at a dinner party: “If your friends, a lesbian couple, ask your husband to donate sperm so they can have a child, would you agree?”

Hypothetically, without hesitation, I would.

My husband called me at work, excited about the prospect. Perhaps he sensed the couple’s desire to get started right away. I hesitated. I had questions: “Will you go to a clinic and do it into a test tube? Or are they asking you to have sex with her until she gets pregnant? Because one is very clinical and the other seems potentially problematic.”

“No,” Ben said. “I give it to them in a Baggie and they use a dropper.”

My husband is the kind of man (like many, no doubt) who is flattered to be asked. What, he might wonder, does the couple find biologically appealing in me?

I can answer: He has a great sense of humor, even if his timing isn’t always good. He’s tall, sturdy, healthy, intelligent and warmly good-looking: in other words, a good biological catch.

I should know. One night, a few months after we started dating, in the light of a streetlamp, I saw my daughter’s face inside his face, and I knew he would be the man to give her to me. Four years later, our daughter was born.

Maggie’s request elicited in me an oddly powerful response, the kind that sometimes happens when something feels right even if you don’t know why. Ben and I don’t have a traditional family. When we met, he was a 20-year-old undergraduate theater major and I was a 29-year-old graduate student. I was also a single mother with two boys and no child support. We stumbled into a wild love affair.

A few years later our daughter was born, and a few years after that, we were married, surrounded by our three children. For 19 years he has steadfastly loved us all.

So when the sperm donation proposition came up, it seemed to strike a beautiful biological balance. But instead of following my immediate impulse, I answered, “Yes, but we must first ask the kids.”

We said, ‘Yes’

One evening as we all sat around the dining room table, my husband explained the situation.

Our daughter, 14, said, “Cool.”

The boys are in their 20s but live nearby and sometimes join us for meals. Both shrugged.

Perhaps our daughter would be most affected because of her biological relationship to my husband. What if, one day, this child wants a relationship with our daughter because he is as much half-sibling to her as the two half-brothers she’s grown up with?

Even as we acknowledged there was much we could not know about the implications of the decision, we agreed to tell the couple yes.

Once the pregnancy took, more questions arose. What would my husband’s legal responsibilities be? (None.) What would his rights be? (None, but he would be welcome to hang out.) Who would he be to this child? (A friend.)

All these agreements were made with no witnesses, no contract, not even a glass of whiskey. There was a discussion about confidentiality. The mothers wanted to keep the paternity secret for the time being.

“Yes, of course,” we agreed.

Saying yes

Sometimes you have to leap into the “yes” and let life’s mysteries play out, not knowing all the consequences and outcomes. The fact that my husband and I share this perspective might be one of the reasons we have stayed together.

I remember when Ben’s parents met me for the first time, the 29-year-old single mother with two kids at their son’s college graduation. Instead of sitting him down for a serious talk, they let him live his life. They treated me with kindness and respect. Most important, they loved my boys.

For all these years, they have been there in ways their biological father’s family was not able to be. It’s hard to predict who will become a part of your extended family.

A few weeks before the baby was born, the mothers invited us over to hear his heartbeat. The birth mother was glorious in those last weeks of pregnancy. When she stretched out on the couch, I saw a foot move across the moon of her belly. The midwife placed the ultrasound wand near the boy’s shoulder, and the beating heart emerged: my husband’s biological child in another woman’s body.

There was a little boy in there whose face was inside my husband’s face. And I realized there was one question I hadn’t considered: What happens if I fall in love with him?

Two weeks later, when I held the baby in my arms, I did. I looked into his face, his eyes, his lips, his tiny breathing nose, all entirely his own, and I fell in love with him. I whispered in his ear. I wished him a long, happy, healthy life and all the blessings and mysteries that come with saying yes.

Lisa Schlesinger is a playwright and professor in Chicago.
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