Love is Thicker Than Blood

when love is thicker than blood photo by Peter Werkman

Phillip Chesnut was asked this question by his wife, “If you were sterile and not able to conceive a child, but I could, would you want to utilize a sperm donor or just adopt?” Why was it so difficult for him to answer?

My wife and I have a guilty pleasure of watching MTV shows. We are devoted fans of Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant. I think we are infatuated with the drama of the situations and how they make the drama in our life seem pale in comparison. Trying to make up for the lack of teen mom shows this time of year, we began watching “Generation Cryo”. This is a show in which 17 year old Breeanna, a child conceived via anonymous sperm donation, logs into the Donor Sibling Registry and sets out on a journey to find her 15 half-siblings and, ultimately, her donor father.

My wife and I love drama shows, reality or fictional, and we usually end the episode with a lengthy philosophical discussion about the issues contained in the episode. In the latest episode, one of the half-sibling fathers discusses his feelings about the possibility of the donor father turning up. The dad breaks down into tears and explains that he has such strong feelings of sadness because his wife gave birth to the children and, therefore, shares something that only the anonymous sperm donor and her share with his children, DNA.

The question my wife asked after this moment was one of the most difficult questions I have ever had to answer: “If you were sterile and not able to conceive a child, but I could, would you want to utilize a sperm donor or just adopt?” Stating that she would want to be pregnant and have children naturally, her answer was easy, sperm donor. My answer was much, much more complicated to produce.

Yet, even though I was adopted by a loving family, when I pictured a scenario where my wife would share a genetic and emotional connection to our children and I would only share the emotional connection, I was completely saddened and emotionally destroyed by the thought.

I must add that I was adopted as an infant by my wonderful loving family. DNA is something that we will never share but the love that they showed me formed a connection that is stronger than anything a few cells can produce. My wife and I are also currently completing an international adoption, so adoption is something that is constant in our minds and conversations. I have always accepted that adoption is a very loving and strong way to build a family and that love can create a wonderful connection between a parent and child whether DNA is involved or not. Yet, when I pictured a scenario where my wife would share a genetic and emotional connection to our children and I would only share the emotional connection, I was completely saddened and emotionally destroyed by the thought. I couldn’t understand why. If I am so completely comfortable with the fact that neither my wife nor I will share DNA with our adopted daughter, why am I so saddened and emotional if it were only me?

Then I remember the connections that were made between me, my wife and my two boys in the delivery rooms at the hospital. The intense love and awe that I felt for my wife as she gave birth to our children and the love that I felt for my sons that moment I looked at them and held them for the first time. I realize that those connections are made by love, not DNA. Being a loving dad doesn’t require DNA, it only requires a big heart. I think I could be a good donor for that.

Photo by Peter Werkman / www.peterwerkman.nl / creative commons

 

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About Phillip Chesnut

Philip Chesnut is a Navy veteran, father, and writer.

Comments

  1. Theorema Egregium says:

    What I don’t like about that train of thought is the obvious implication, that if a wife cheats on the husband and gets pregnant from her lover, but does not tell her husband, he has no moral right to be angry if he later finds out he unwittingly raised his rival’s child. After all DNA connection is irrelevant, so no harm was done to him, right? So he better shut up and grit his teeth and be a good father figure.

    Also it reduces fatherhood to a mere social function that can be just as well be taken by anybody, an uncle, a friend of the mother, another woman, or a collective. Maybe in the future it could even be a robot. It makes me as a father completely replacable at a whim.

    The reason this makes me feel sad is the double standard of it. Because it does not apply to motherhood in the same way. Biological motherhood is sacred. That’s why we now often talk of “father figures” instead of fathers, but the term “mother figure” is uncommon. I am convinced, if there were a biological way of a woman unknowingly bearing a child that is genetically not hers, but another woman’s, it would be prohibited by law, in order to protect mothers. There is no way any woman could be expected to accept such a thing.

    It’s easy to preach how genetic parenthood is nothing, as long as it only concerns men.

    Then again, I am always open to being convonced otherwise by reality. So please, ladies among the readers, if you are sure you would accept a scenario where your child is not your biological child, but your husband’s alone, without feeling bad and set back for it, please drop a line here! Thank you!

    • Hi Theorema

      ✺”I am convinced, if there were a biological way of a woman unknowingly bearing a child that is genetically not hers, but another woman’s, it would be prohibited by law, in order to protect mothers. There is no way any woman could be expected to accept such a thing.”✺
      Here a man writes a article about a fertile woman and a unfertil man, and ask if he could let her receive sperm from another man. They decides together .
      The man here know the sperm comes from another man. He can say yes,or no.
      But you write about a woman unknowingly pregnant with a child that is not genetically hers.
      That is not the same thing Theorema.

      • Theorema Egregium says:

        There are 4 different scenarios. Men/woman knows/does not know. The article is about “man knows”. I mentioned the other three, of which one is impossible. In the end I asked about the other one “woman knows”, which is symmetrical to the one in the article.

        • Hi Theorema

          Some societies today have death penalty for married woman that stray or worse are suspected to be unfaithful .
          Men in those societies seems to have solved the problem, they get rid of both the woman and any possible small fetuses inside her body that they have no control over.

          • Theorema Egregium says:

            Yes. And neither of us is living in any such society, or doing anything to promote or facilitate the existence of such a society.

            It kind of makes me angry and is very bad form of you to try to derail the discussion in such a blunt way. If your only contribution is to try to shame me into silence by implicitely blaming me for what happens in, say, Afghanistan, then we will not have a dialog. Call back when you are willing to talk in a respectful way, please!

            • Hi Theorema
              OK.
              But just remember that also women have feelings and emotional reactions when we often on this website read about men tell us women get pregnant with one man and let another man raise the child.as If this is how most women behave. I had emotional reactions when I read what you wrote! and wonder how much women has to feel guilty for.

              What you describe It happens . Yes it happens. And it is sad and terrible but you also write about women as if we are more protected by the law than men. I do feel I have right to respond to writing like that, since I am not a person with “special rights. ” as you seems to mean.
              If you think your writing above do not trigger emotions in women, then I am surprised.
              And I do not try to silence you Theorema, but stoning happens and here is a video from Norway this fall . It does not show stoning but the supports of stoning in Norway.You can watch or not, but there are many supporters for stoning in My country.
              http://www.bizpacreview.com/2013/11/05/video-moderate-muslims-at-peace-conference-unanimously-support-stoning-86606

            • Theorema Egregium says:

              Thank you for your levelheaded response!

              I never wrote “women do xyz”. I wrote, in fact, “if a woman does xyz”. I know very well it happens rarely (and I do not expect it to happen to me), but sometimes it does. I am afraid women have to train themselves to not take general statements like “if a woman …” personal; just like we men have to train ourselves to do the same. Let me tell you, I know it’s not easy; when I see subway stations filled with posters for women’s shelters with slogans like “when love hurts” or “when men strike”, I have to struggle hard to remind myself that they do not mean me, although those statements seem to include all men of my country. So I guess, after all, it is a human problem. Not a male or female one.

              As a matter of fact, I do indeed have the tendency, on the internet, to assume that I am the only one suffering at what I read. People always seem so self-assured and free of doubt, so unassailably secure in their fortresses of impenetrable sarcastic wit.

              I never intended to say that women have more rights by law (I know that Norway even has gender-neutral rape laws, unlike most other countries). I was posing an emotional question, not a legal one. I only mentioned the law thing as an (in hindsight, failed) attempt to emphasize my hypothesis that women generally put a high emotional value on biological parentship, just like many men do too, and which, articles like this tell us, we men are not entitled to. Or to put it in a different way:
              If it were possible for women to be deprived of biological parentship in cases where their male partner is not, it would be seen that the feeling of uneasiness at the idea is not at all restricted to men. Thus, being universally human, it could not be brushed off the table as childish male sillyness (like “just male ego”). It would be seen that it has to be taken seriously.

              Guess I was projecting like hell once again.

              Anyway, there are countries, where ova donations are legal and do occur. It would be great to have statements of such women, to resolve the question.

              P.S. I still refuse to be blamed for the shenanigans of Taliban and their brothers-in-mind, never mind where they live. In the same way as I refuse to be blamed for things in history (foul misogynists, those ancient Greeks were) or even the animal kingdom (dolphins are said to rape their females, lions kill their mate’s cubs by a different father). All three are used as rhetorical tools occasionally, and if it is done against me, as I said, it stops the conversation for me.

            • Theorema, you actually derailed the conversation from the start when instead of talking about the scenario in the actual article, you wanted to talk about all the other ones. Especially the one where you feel men are most wronged. Yet, you didn’t want to hear anything about the ways women are wronged. And frankly, Iben was nothing but respectful to you. You however have not been very respectful to her. I think the conversation was stopped for you before it even began.

            • Hi Erin
              Hi Erin
              Thank you. :)

              Men are probably more worried in other countries than in mine. When I read up on laws and fatherhood I even found that here men get the money they paid for child support returned if they are not the biological father. Today it not at all difficult to identify a mans biological fatherhood , maybe the laws in other part of the world ignores DNA test.
              But I do react when some men are so focused on how women can fool them , steel the semen from the comdoms etc.
              I have never seen any documentation of how often that happens. It is an criminal act. We can all be murdred by our partner also. Life is full of danger……..

              Men feel vulnerable when it comes to reproduction . Well so do women .
              We are vulnerable , a seed can be planted inside our bodies against our will and grow to become a human being.

            • Theorema Egregium says:

              I guess I was not entirely on topic, as the article was about a very special, individual situation. I admit I have the tendency to read such articles as proposing a general rule. This was probably unwarranted, and a failure on my part. The general rule I saw was, “For fathers, biological parenthood should have no significance whatsoever”. What I wrote was about that general rule.

              I explained that I refuse such a general rule on two grounds:

              1) That in certain (rare) cases it victimizes men. To which I got an “shut up because Taliban” response, which you endorsed too. Though I give you the benefit of the doubt: Maybe you do not realize how painfully, crushingly hard it can hit a man who never hurt a woman in his life and does his best to make the world a better place, to be compared with, or made responsible for, the worst inhuman excesses of our times. It is so much more than just seeing the other side of the story — it will make any halfway decent guy immediately shut up in shame and guilt and leave the conversation hanging his head. I give you the benefit of the doubt that you maybe did not intend that to happen.

              2) It is unfair to expect of men what you do not expect of women. Here I stated that I believed that women would not generally accept the same scenario which men are expected to accept (knowingly having a child which is your partner’s but not yours, restricting yourself to a social role without any reservation), but stated quite clearly that I did not know whether it was so, and asked for female opinions, open to be educated. Neither you, nor Iben answered that question, by the way. It would have been the easiest way to resolve the issue in a moment, but you chose not to.

              It is not too late to have a real discussion on that point, if you want one.

    • Theorema

      One more thing.
      I know two lesbian women with a child.
      In my country married lesbians can receive sperm from an unknown donor.
      So here we have two mothers of a little boy. One gave her egg and carried him in his body and gave birth. The other mother has not given eggs. None of her DNA are in the son. They raise the child together.
      I have asked myself , what happens if they get divorced . Will one mother feel more rights and more connections to the child ,than the other mother ? I don’t think so.

      • Theorema Egregium says:

        Truth is, we just don’t know, and without asking those two women (or others in the same situation) we will never find out.

      • John schtoll says:

        @Iben:

        “I have asked myself , what happens if they get divorced . Will one mother feel more rights and more connections to the child ,than the other mother ? I don’t think so.”

        or they could be like this couple

        “Take the case of Virginia M. and Alison D., who had lived together three years when they decided to have a child through artificial insemination. At the baby’s birth in July 1981, they used both their last names on his birth certificate. Two and a half years later, the couple separated and the child remained with his birth mother, Virginia. Visitation proceeded normally for four years, was severely restricted for one year, and then, in 1987, Virginia denied Alison access to the child. Alison sued.”

        • @John Schtoll:
          There was a similar case here in Sweden not that many years ago.
          A lesbian couple had a baby with a male acquaintance as the sperm donor (as assisted fertilization was not allowed for lesbians back then), signing a paper that the two mothers would take full custody of the vhild and he would have no legal responsibilities for it.
          After a couple of years, they separated. And in the legal turmoil of the divorce, the sperm donor was assigned fatherhood to the child, and required to pay child support to the biological mother who now had full custody of the child…

    • Loved your comment. Exactly what I felt like imediatly after the article and couldnt put it in words so well!

  2. You bring up good points, Theo. The double-standard on fathers is saddening.

  3. John Schtoll says:

    @IBen

    you said “What you describe It happens . Yes it happens. And it is sad and terrible but you also write about women as if we are more protected by the law than men. ”

    But IBEN , in Canada and the US women are more protected by law than men are. Right now in North America (not sure where you live) men have ZERO reproductive rights while women have many. Women are more protected by law.

    I would suspect that if you live in a western society Europe for example, you are also protected more by the law than men are.

    • Theorema Egregium says:

      Reproductive rights are a very tricky subject, because the realities of biology make it basically impossible to have a gender-symmetrical legal situation. I do hope we all agree that the possibility of a man deciding that his wife must have an abortion is completely unacceptable. Likewise forcing her not to have an abortion. That leaves the issue of what is commonly termed financial abortion which is very tricky too, because that money is not meant for the woman’s benefit, but for the child’s. Anyway, this is a potentially endless, painful discussion, so we better do not even start it at this place.

      Apart from that, gender-skewed laws can occasionally be found, but I admit that they usually are only on a local level or have no consequences in practice (at least in Europe). For example, in Germany the law that prohibits exhibitionism is unique among all laws in that it explicitely only forbids it for men. However, as enraging as that is from a symbolic point of view, in practice it is irrelevant, because a woman undressing herself in public can be charged under the gender-neutral indecent exposure law, which has the exactly same amount of punishment described.

      On a local level, e.g. one of my country’s states has a law which declares that only women have a right to counselling and sheltering in cases of domestic violence. It is such laws that have to fought!

      That the police occasionally will do things like put a battered husband in custody and leave the violent wife the house, because they simply cannot believe that it might be him who is the victim (stories such as these), is usually not the fault of the law. It is a psychological/social issue and must be treated as such.

      • John Schtoll says:

        The problem is that in LAW, the money is for the child but in reality it isn’t. The money is to supplement the custodial parent in raising their child. If you doubt this look at rich people, the amount of money a rich man will pay in CS far exceeds that which is necessary to raise and child and if he gets a raise, SHE gets more CS, even though it didn’t cost any more to raise the child since the increase in his salary.

        Also, there are ways to make it balanced, and yes , paper abortion is one of them. Men have ZERO reproductive rights in North America and biology can’t possibly justify that.

        • Hi Jonh S.
          ✺”Also, there are ways to make it balanced, and yes , paper abortion is one of them. Men have ZERO reproductive rights in North America and biology can’t possibly justify that.”✺

          Do you have any suggestions for new laws , or how men can get reproduction rights ?

    • Hi John Schtoll and FlyingKal

      It is hard for me to translate from Norwegian to English when they describe legal matters.
      But here is how I understand the law:

      http://www.farskap.no/no/lover-og-regler/

      In other words. A married man in this country is automatically legally the child’s father, just like in other countries.

      But the laws also say:
      this legal fatherhood can be changed later at any time by the mother, by the child , by the man himself or a another man that claims he is the biological father.

      It looks like both parents must agree and sign a written form if one of them want a test of the child’s DNA( up until the child is 15).
      I guess that is why they have to raise a case if anyone want to change the legal fatherhood. But since DNA test can give a result that is 99.9999% correct then no man will have to fight hard here.

      • Hi Iben,
        As far as I can tell from reading the link (save from any flaw in my Norwegian educatio), the law seems mostly identical to the one we have here in Sweden.
        (But the possibility for men to get their child support money returned if they’ve been assigned a “false” fatherhood was new to me.)

        And yes, with sufficient material provided, the legal fatherhood can be changed at any time.
        However, the caveat is (still) that to prove fatherhood, any man who is pointed out as a possible father is required by law to let himself be (DNA) tested for this.
        But a woman who is questioned for the fatherhood of her child by any man, has no legal obligations whatsoever to subject neither herself nor the child for testing of any kind.

        And this puts any man living in a marriage or what he thought was a sexually exclusive relationship with a woman at a clear disadvantage, should he discover reasons to suspect that he is not the biological father of a child he has already been assigned the fatherhood of.

        And the primary issue is not that the child is worth any less because of the absence of biological connection. But that he have been lied and cheated to, and have accepted to make a life-altering decision on false premises.

        • Hi FlyingKal

          ✺”But a woman who is questioned for the fatherhood of her child by any man, has no legal obligations whatsoever to subject neither herself nor the child for testing of any kind.”✺
          Maybe it is so in Sweden, but in Norway she can not say no. If anyone refuses to take the test,the police will come and make sure they do.
          And anyone can send in test online. Today it is impossible for women to “trick ” a man to father a child not his own. Any man can find out if he is the father.
          So men are not as suppressed and helpless as many like to think, unless they live in a country with laws that are unfair. The laws in Norway is not unfair to men. They have all the rights they need.

          And I support this law.
          But it is also easy to imagine that many men will rather keep their family intact and not risk a dicorce. Think of the man that get evidence that the child is not his. Shall he stop providing for one child while he take good care of the other children. Few men are mean like that.
          Actually I think many women are open to their husbands when they are uncertain if he is the biological father . This gives him a choice, he can leave her or embrace the new child and love his family, in spite of the wife’s fling. I have heard of cases like that ,and the man never divorced his wife.
          . It can also be a rape that is the reason why she is pregnant . Not all women tell others after they are raped.

  4. Phillip Chesnut says:

    I am so happy to see that this article has spawned such a wonderful and opinionated debate. 21st century men are definitely stepping up more and the debate over reproductive rights for the father is a debate that must be held. Iben’s argument is very true in that women will always have an uphill struggle in society for equality to men. Especially in the workforce. I must agree with the opposite side of the argument though when it comes to reproductive rights. There are plenty of great fathers and great lesbian mothers that are unfairly punished in reproductive rights cases simply due to the fact that society has always assumed that it is in the child’s best interest to be in the custody of the birth mother. Common sense and historical cases should be the evidence that this is no way true.

  5. Frankly, in this article, I am less interested in talking about legal reproductive rights. I am way more interested in men answering the question the writer’s wife asked of him. Which was if you could love and care for a child that did not share your DNA. We all know there are many issues with legal reproductive rights and when topics like this pop up, that’s all we ever seem to talk about. I’m interested this time, in a conversation that has less to do with legal matters and more to do with how men actually feel about children who do not share their DNA. Emotionally. Spiritually. Independent of the law. Independent of anger toward women.

    I have been thinking about this more the last couple years myself. Hoping to possibly have my own children maybe and adopt. There are so many children out there who don’t have homes. So many children that needs someone who truly values them. If the only thing that allows us to value another human being, to love them, and protect them as one of our own, to give a piece of ourselves to them, is our DNA, what does that say about our humanity?

    I have extended family that despite the DNA we share, are more like strangers. Some of them I don’t even like or respect very much as people. And I have friends that feel like family and I love so much. Perhaps demanding that all those we love, want to protect and care for must share our DNA is simply our ego demanding the world be privileged with our “mark”. I know one thing for sure, love is not about DNA.

    • Phillip Chesnut says:

      Erin,

      Thanks for bringing us back to the topic at hand. This is a subject that I am planning on writing another post about in the future but I’ll share a few of my thoughts here. Having had two children biologically, I have experienced the instantaneous connection that takes place throughout the pregnancy process and at birth. It is an instant love connection that is nothing short of miraculous.

      On the other hand, for adoption families, I have heard from adoptive parents that this connection takes time. For our adoption, specifically, our daughter will be about 18 months old when are able to bring her back to the United States. She will have already bonded with her caretakers in China and will see us as someone who is taking her from her loved ones. She will, therefore, not feel that instant loving connection to us that our children felt for us from the moment they were born. Along the same lines, I’m only assuming that my connection with my daughter will not be the same connection that I felt with my sons at their birth. Not to say that it is not love, but just a different kind of love. I have heard from other adoptive parents that the connection to these children is one that takes time and is not instantaneous. I love my adoptive parents exactly like any child loves their biological parents but I was also adopted at birth so it feels as if I were there all along. Not to mention I am also a caucasian American male adopted to a caucasian American family. People don’t assume I’m adopted. My daughter will be of Chinese decent so she will look different from us and the rest of our family. She will also know that she is different from us. I’m sure that this will have an effect on her feelings.

      To summarize, I feel that there is a connection made and an instantaneous love that is produced that only pregnancy and a biological birth can create. The connection and love that adoption or becoming a step parent brings can definitely be as deep and fulfilling, I just think that it takes a little more time and a few more steps in the process.

      I hope all of that made sense, Erin. No matter what method you take in building your family, I can tell that you are going to love that child with every fiber of your being. That is truly all that matters.

      • Theorema Egregium says:

        Phillip, I am honestly sorry that the discussion became kind of ugly earlier.

        I concur with your summary. However I feel that with adoption a difference has to be made whether non or one parent is the biological one. I personally believe that both-parent adoption is easier, as it puts both parents in the same situation and is always an act of deliberated choice. In fact I sometimes consider it as a possiblity for myself (even thought my partner and me can probably get natural children, we haven’t tried yet).

        It is the inherent asymmetry of one-parent adoption that can pose a problem. It is probably no coincidence that there is the fairytale archetype of the evil stepmother. Also it has been found that when small children are mistreated or killed it is more often at the hands of stepfathers than biological fathers. This is not to imply that all or even most one-adoptive parents have problems loving the child, but clearly it is more difficult than in other constellations.

      • Thank you for sharing Phillip! Yes, that makes total sense. I look forward to other pieces you may write.

        I never heard anyone explain it like you have and your insights are really helpful. I never even thought about what the child would feel being old enough to understand that she is being taken away from people who have been taking care of her to a different home.

        I think the idea of loving any of your children differently can be scary to parents. It’s a little scary to me and I’m not even a parent. Especially those that pride themselves on wanting to be good and fair ones. But I think by the way you described it shows that different kind of love do not have to be bad or less then one another.

    • Theorema Egregium says:

      Alright. If you want it all, here is my answer:

      I could, if
      1) the child was conceived/adopted with my informed consent (which is the scenario we are talking about) and
      2) I were reasonably sure that my wife/partner would feel the same if she were in my shoes.

      If 2) were not the case, I would likely feel cheated and used and refuse my consent for the use of a sperm donor (in our scenario). You can call it petty, but quid pro quo is a principle I passionately believe in. If my wife excludes in principle that she could accept a child as her own, which is only mine and not hers, then I will not be the father of her child which is not mine. If she thinks she could love such a child, then so could I.

    • Hi Erin,
      There is a vast amount of children all over the world being adopted or taken care of by others than their biological parents. And even if it may take time to connect, as Mr Chesnut points out above, I’d be hard pressed to say that adoptive fathers love their children any less than the mothers do, on a general level.

      On the contrary, since adoption requires so much more planning and preparation than having a biological child, I would guess that adopted kids are actually more anticipated and “loved”, in general.
      (Adoption rarely happens by accident, IME…)

      But WRT the question in the article, I think I would be most curious as to why she would want to use a sperm donor. And I don’t think I could exfoliate any further before that question was answered.

      • Oh I never doubted that a father was capalbe of just as much love as a mother. I was just interested in men’s thoughts on the concern Phillip brought up.

        Thank you for sharing yours as well.

        I can not answer for all women but in the case of the woman being able to be pregnant and the man not being fertile, if she wanted her own DNA used and to have the experience of being pregnant, I can understand woman choosing this option. Of course, there also are situations where the woman is infertile and the man is not and they may use his sperm with another woman. I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting your own children. Clearly this is a key component in our survival. But I also don’t think that some people realize that they are capable of loving children who are not their own DNA as well.

        It’s a very heavy topic and I am actually having a hard time expressing exactly what I mean. So I hope you kind of understand what I’m saying.

  6. FlyingKal says:

    Hi Erin, and thank you too.

    It truly is a heavy topic, it’s hard to express thoughts and feelings exactly. So I hope I get across somewhat coherent, too. :-)

    Yes, I understand that bringing forward your own DNA is an important issue for a lot of people. But it’s a multi-faceted issue, lots of reasons and feelings are involved, that’s why I was curious to hear a particular person’s reasons before taking it further.
    Since I imagine it is that much easier for a woman to get pregnant with a sperm donor, by IVF or by “natural means”, than it is for a man to rally up a stand-in child-bearer, there is also the a gender complicayion to the issue. And straight off the bat, if they’ve found out that the man is infertile, to me it seems a tad egotistical for the woman to press the issue of a sperm donor instead of adoption, unless the man is totally comfortable with it.

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