The “unauthorised reproduction” bill from Indiana bothers me for one very specific and personal reason, as well as a whole host of more general political reasons that have been well covered elsewhere. Preventing unmarried women from conceiving by any means other than sexual intercourse can only encourage those unmarried women who, like me, badly want a child to conceive via sexual intercourse – in other words, to do what I did.
I’ve alluded only vaguely to the circumstances that led to my becoming pregnant, but the short version goes something like this. A long-term relationship came to an end, and the manner of its ending made it very clear to me that making plans that depended on my having a partner would only set me up for more disappointment. If I wanted to achieve any of the dreams or ambitions I had – including the dream of becoming a parent – I would have to do it alone.
I considered various means of fulfilling that dream, such as adoption or conception via a sperm donor, and realised most of them would be made unavailable to me – fertility treatment was beyond my budget, and I had a sneaking suspicion that my gender dysphoria would disqualify me as a potential adoptive parent. I finally settled on the old-fashioned method of having unprotected sex with willing men, in the belief that this was the simplest method.
Perhaps it was the simplest of the available options, but it was far from simple. To begin with, my desire for a more or less anonymous sperm donor led me to have sex with the kind of men who have unprotected sex with women they’ve just met and ask no questions. I put myself – and my baby – at risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and although I’ve since tested negative, the guilty awareness that I was one of the lucky ones will not leave me. Not every woman who takes this route will be as fortunate.
Finally, I abandoned my pursuit of anonymity and turned instead to a trusted male friend. I got pregnant at the first attempt, but that was only the beginning of the difficulties. When I said, “I want to get pregnant,” he understood, “I want to move in with you and submit to your authority on all child-rearing matters,” and became frustrated and angry when my behaviour didn’t bear this out. The wrangling over this destroyed any chance of a continuing friendship between us, but worse, he is legally entangled in my life despite neither of us desiring this. Had I used an official sperm donor, he would have remained forever anonymous and legally unconnected with me and the child; since I did not, my baby’s father has a legal obligation to pay child support and a legal right to turn my life upside-down by applying for custody of a child he’s repeatedly told me he doesn’t want.
It’s hard to say whether I regret the choices I made. I certainly don’t regret the pregnancy, and I’m still looking forward to the birth of my baby. Is it regret to say that I would have preferred a clean, safe encounter with a turkey baster to the current tangle of uncertainties? Is it regret to counsel any woman in the position I was in last spring to think long and hard about the disadvantages of this supposedly simple route to parenthood?
I don’t know whether anyone, married or single, has a right to a child. I don’t know whether some barriers to parenthood are justified in the interests of the child, or who should have the authority to decide what’s in a child’s interest. But I do know that some people are desperate for a child. If one possible route to parenthood is blocked, they will switch, as I did, to an unblocked route, even though it might be more dangerous for them and for any children produced.
You might believe that a straight married couple make the best possible parents for a child. But that isn’t the question you should be asking. Single women and lesbian couples will be parents whatever you try to do. The question is whether they would make better parents if they were free from HIV and untroubled by legal entanglements with the biological father. Which do you think is in a child’s best interests?