Language is a pretty powerful thing, at least, I believe it is.
It’s a tool we use to order and make sense of the world. It’s the medium of our communication and interpersonal human connection. Using the right words, or the wrong words, can drastically alter the meaning of what you’re intending to convey.
The Doodle’s KD (known donor) came for his regularly scheduled visit this past weekend. During his time here we undertook a state of the union exercise, or rather, revisited the contract we drew up before the Doodle was conceived.
We’ve done this activity once before. I was pregnant and we were all anxiously awaiting to meet the baby. We realized that we had forgotten to include some things in the first iteration of our agreement – like, what would happen if KD had a long-term partnership or wanted to have kids of his own – and there were some clauses that it became clear we were interpreting differently.
Our KD is a wonderful and lovely human being. We adore and respect him.
The thing is, by having a KD that you want involved on a regular basis in your life, you and your spouse develop a very different relationship with this special man. He occupies this liminal space that is more than a mere friend, but not at all in the realm of an intimate partner. You’re really invested in making your friendship work and this means you’re invested in communication, and the compromise that comes from this communication, in the best interests of the child.
What am I getting at? You and your spouse likely share a value system and your thought processes and decision-making making is clearly understood by the other. You and your KD likely share a value system as well, but maybe you have entirely different approaches to decision-making.
This presents one of the biggest points of negotiation in our relationship with KD. Otto and I tend to be pragmatic, hyper-cerebral folks. We think things through, we lesbian process them to death, we analyze and plot out every possible scenario before arriving at an agreed upon decision. Our KD on the other hand, tends to be of the school of organic thought. He likes to wait and see how things will develop. He doesn’t want things to be pre-defined. He wants to try things on and just let them naturally evolve, especially when it comes to relationships.
Three years later I’m not quite sure how we managed to write and come to agree upon the same donor agreement in the first place, but we did, and this is something that really works for us.
So aside from our different approaches to decision-making, it’s also become clear that as time has passed that we’re both is very different schools of thought around language. Otto and I tend to be more particular about words and their conveyed meaning. Our KD likes to take a relationship focus and doesn’t really care what words are used by himself or others to define a relationship.
We had a very specific discussion in our negotiations around whether or not he would be ‘Dad.’ In the end, all of us were in agreement that he would not be called ‘Dad’ and what we called him organically evolved to us settling on a name we created after the Doodle was born.
We live in different cities, five hours away from one another, and in the early days of the Doodle’s birth it became clear we had a problem.
Actually, the problem cropped up in the weeks before she was born – our KD’s colleagues held a baby shower…for him. He hadn’t necessarily told people he was having a baby, but he did tell a few colleagues about his contribution, and somehow it got blown up and it went all over the news wire in his very large organization that he was expecting a child.
He didn’t really clarify, and frankly I didn’t expect him to issue a memo, but I also wasn’t entirely sure he was being explicit about the situation when it was appropriate to do so. When we asked how he was explaining this to friends and family, he kind of got vague and referred to “our situation” or “are agreement” but never really fully recounted the words he used to explain this.
We did a little more digging as we suspected he may have been using the ‘Dad’ word. It turns out he was.
While we had agreed to not call him Dad, or have the Doodle call him Dad, our KD was really struggling to explain this relationship particularly in a professional context.
I get that. I can totally relate.
He’s a lawyer and I can’t imagine being out at a lunch with clients and somehow having to explain that you donated sperm to a pair of lesbians, one of whom you’ve known since university, as you’re asking someone in a suit to pass over the bread plate. Not talking about our family of choice wasn’t really an option for him, as it’s incredibly important to him, and he didn’t want to necessarily get into all of the specifics.
I gather that the only way he felt he could explain the Doodle’s existence was to use the ‘Dad’ word and we weren’t okay with that. Not at all.
We sat down and had a very long, respectful conversation about using ‘Dad;’ we explained our position and he explained his. We referred back to the agreement again, our different interpretations of the ‘Dad’ clause, and we all came to the mutual understanding that ‘Dad’ wasn’t going to be used in any form by any of us going forward. We also proposed some language for him to use to help him use in his everyday life.
Nearly two years have passed since that conversation.
There’s no right or wrong way to name KD’s in the lives of kids they helped to procreate.
Some lesbians we know call their KD ‘Dad,] and the KD has no parenting role at all in the kids’ life, and rarely sees the child. Some lesbians call their KD Uncle (or Spuncle) or have created some entirely separate name for their KD.
I’ve also had it where I met the KD of a couple’s kids outside of the context of that friendship and I didn’t know what to call him. We’ve never talked about him more than being their donor. When I stumbled for words he threw “Dad” out there and I thought it was egregious. Only when I talked with my friends, it turns out they’d never given a thought of what to call their KD or what the kids would call KD as they grew up. They didn’t care about having, or not having, a ‘Dad’ label.
Until this weekend, we hadn’t given much thought to the word ‘daughter.’ Dads have daughters and since Dad wasn’t part of our familial lexicon, I never thought we’d have to have a conversation about the colloquial use of daughter. It never actually crossed my mind that it was a word that was used in our family’s story of creation by our KD.
It turns out, while KD isn’t necessarily using the word ‘Dad’ to describe himself, when people stop by his office and see a picture of the Doodle and ask who she is, his simple reply is, “my daughter.”
We were simultaneously floored and totally unsurprised by his admission. Our positions on language and how it defines a relationship are polar opposites.
Again we talked it through and these are incredibly complex, emotional, yet rationale, conversations. They sort of seem 2 vs 1, so I can’t imagine they’re easy for KD.
The use of the word daughter totally minimizes Otto’s role and erases her as a parent. Daughter for KD is, in part, about that genetic connection. It’s a word that implies a parental role that our KD doesn’t have in her life and I’m not okay with that. Daughter misrepresents our family. There are no other words in our language that explain the relationships we’ve constructed. Daughter helps people to understand KD and her have a relationship and that he didn’t photograph a random kid. Daughter doesn’t at accurately explain the relationship KD and the Doodle have now, or will ever have. If we’re not all using the same words, this could be incredibly confusing for the Doodle, particularly as she gets older.
I get where he’s coming from, and I know where we’re coming from. We’re all listing and understanding one another. We’re able to see the others’ perspective, but there’s no intersection of perspective. There’s no way you can convert someone to your side in these discussions. So someone has to compromise.
In this case, like before, we came to the agreement that he wouldn’t use daughter any more.
I share all of this to highlight the complexities of KD relationships and how things you never would think about pop up over time. I share this because it’s important to be open and transparent about the complexities of lesbian reproduction and how we chose to create and define our family. I share this because dialogue is important and that investment in a relationship with a KD is so important and vital to making it work. I share this also because I’m constantly looking for new ways to describe our KD and the role he plays not only in the Doodle’s life, but the role he plays in the lives of all three of our kids.
Words that might perhaps do us all justice.