Choosing a known donor: How some same-sex couples decide to make their families

  • Dan Manseau, right, helps Lila Pearl Olander Flynn, 2, put crayons away Oct. 11 at the home of Jaime Olander and Kelsey Flynn in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Katrina Hull, left, and Hannah Karpman of Easthampton turned to Karpman’s longtime friend, Joel Gottschalk of Los Angeles, to donate sperm to help make their children, Eloise, 3, and Eli, 4 months. Shana Sureck/Smith College School for Social Work

  • Dan Manseau, left, plays with Gram Daniel Olander Flynn, 4, as Jaime Olander looks on Oct. 11 at the home of Olander and Kelsey Flynn in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manseau, right, plays with Lila Pearl Olander Flynn, 2, Oct. 11 at the home of Jaime Olander and Kelsey Flynn in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manseau, second from left, plays with Gram Daniel Olander Flynn, 4, as Jaime Olander, right, looks on. Kesley Flynn, center, plays with Lila Pearl Olander Flynn, 2, at the home of Olander and Flynn in Northampton, Oct. 11. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Manseau, who plays with Lila, above, lives nearby and spends time with her and her brother nearly every day. Jaime Olander, center, watches their tug-of-war one recent evening. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manseau, left, Jaime Olander and Kelsey Flynn play with their children, Gram Daniel Olander Flynne, 4, and Lila Pearl Olander Flynn, 2, Oct. 11 at the home of Olander and Flynn in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dan Manseau, right, says he was happy to father Gram Daniel Olander Flynn, who is on the floor above, and Lila Pearl Olander Flynn, who he is holding upside-down, with Kelsey Flynn, left, and Jaime Olander, center, of Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Hull, left, gave birth to Eil, above. Karpman carried their daughter, Eloise. Hannah Karpman—Contributed photo

  • Though Gottschalk lives far away, he visits and and video chats with Eloise, above, and Eli. Hannah Karpman—Contributed photo

Gazette Staff
Published: 10/25/2016 4:41:41 PM

Eloise Hull, 3, knows that her Uncle Joel provided the sperm that helped make her, but she is confused about what that means.

“Uncle Joel, I want to see my sperm,” she said during a recent visit. “Well,” he recalls responding, “it is part of you now.”

She looked down at herself, he said, and asked: “What part of me?”

Joel Gottschalk of Los Angeles, California, donated his semen to Eloise’s parents, Hannah Karpman, 37, and Katrina Hull, 34, of Easthampton. With it, Karpman, his longtime friend, gave birth to Eloise; Hull delivered Eli four months ago.

The women, who are married, wanted children, but the idea of using sperm from an anonymous donor didn’t appeal to them.

“When we were talking about having kids, I was looking at the donor bank profiles and I wasn’t super psyched,” Karpman said.

At $500 per vial of sperm, it can be expensive, and information about the donor is often limited and possibly inaccurate, she said. On top of that, she and Hull wanted their children to have a deeper connection to the man they selected.

“It is very interesting to see someone who isn’t your romantic partner, but who you love very deeply, in your kid,” Karpman said. “It makes you love that person even more.”

A not uncommon choice

Karpman and Hull are among thousands of same-sex couples nationwide who skip the sperm banks and choose donors they know. It’s nothing new, says Ginny Miller, a certified nurse midwife at Midwifery Care of Holyoke. Women — lesbian and straight — have been doing it for decades.

While her organization doesn’t track statistics, the midwifery’s records indicate that about 25 percent of women who are artificially inseminated choose known donors, she said.

“When we were trying to do this, there was no information out there, but it is way more common than you think,” Hull said. 

In fact, Karpman, a child and family researcher at Smith College, is conducting a study to provide more information about the process and the relationships to those seeking to do it.

“There is clearly a community of women who have chosen to have families in this way, but it’s been pretty silenced and pretty quiet,” she said.

She hopes her research and her family’s experience will help others with decisions, such whether or not to have a formal, written agreement defining the donor’s role — a route she and Hull decided to take.

A sperm donor does have parental rights if he wants them, Miller says. But neither Karpman, Hull or Gottschalk want to define Gottschalk as dad. So, the women had their lawyer draw up an insemination contract stating that he has no financial or emotional responsibilities.

“This was to protect him just as much as us,” Hull said. 

Still, Karpman and Hull, a pediatric physician assistant, see Gottschalk as family. Karpman and Gottschalk have been friends since their high school years in Arizona when they dated briefly before she came out as gay at 16. 

“When he comes to stay with us it just feels like my brother is visiting,” Karpman said.

Feeling their way

Gottschalk, a freelance musician, is married. His wife, Rachel, is pregnant and the two families plan to spend vacations together each year so that the kids will know each other. They say they don’t know yet how those relationships will be defined. 

“I definitely want to be open about it,” Gottshalk said.

Agreeing to donate his sperm to Karpman and Hull was not a decision he took lightly, he says.

“When you tell someone you want to be involved in their life in that way, it’s like a big deal. It’s not like you are giving them the sperm and that’s it. There is a lot of emotion attached to it.”

But Gottshalk says he didn’t hesitate when the couple asked him to do it.

“I just didn’t have any fear around it,” he said. “I thought it was a really cool gift that you could give someone.”

For the inseminations, Karpman and Hull flew Gottschalk here once a month for a few days each time until there was a pregnancy. The process entailed two separate rooms, cups, syringes and whichever woman wasn’t being impregnated serving as go-between.

“It’s a lot easier if the person lives locally,” Karpman said.

There were some awkward moments.

Gottschalk met his wife right before the baby-making got underway and he worried about explaining the circumstances. The conversation went better than he expected. 

“Her reaction was beautiful,” he said. “She had such a positive take on it. She is very open and cool.”

Gottschalk’s relationship with Eloise and Eli consists mainly of annual visits to the opposite coasts by both families and video chats in between.

Though Eloise is just 3, it is already obvious that she and Gottschalk are related, the parents say.

They eat cantaloupe in the same way, by first stripping the rind away with their teeth before chowing down on the meat. When they go to farmers markets, they both love to taste everything.

“When I see the two of them together, I can tell that their brains work the same way,” Karpman said. “It is nice for her to have that.”

Gottschalk’s mother is another grandma to Eloise and Eli, giving them toys and playing with them on vacations.

“I think for the most part, people are like ‘Wow, this worked out as well as it could,” Karpman said. She admits, though, that it would be nice to have Gottschalk closer. “The more help you can get the better.”

Another approach

Kelsey Flynn, 45, and her wife, Jaime Olander, 42, of Northampton get that extra help from the man who fathered their two children. Dan Manseau, 46, an elementary school teacher, lives just a few streets away from them. In their family, Manseau, who is single, is embraced as 2-year-old Lila and 4-year-old Gram’s dad. Though Flynn and Olander don’t ask him to share financial responsibilities, he does share parental rights with them. They don’t have a contract with him.

He is at their house nearly every day. They eat dinner together as often as they can.

“Just having someone who can be there, you feel lucky,” Flynn said. “It is a big help.” 

Since Flynn works full-time as a communications consultant and Olander is a part-time skin care esthetician, they appreciate that Manseau pitches in.

On a recent weeknight he was at their home playing tug-of-war with a couch pillow with a giggling Lila while Gram ran around, occasionally tossing a pillow at the two of them. After the game, Manseau bathed the kids, tucked them in bed and read them a story.

“It’s the best part of every day,” he said.

When he walks through the door, they always run to him for hugs.

“The way it is right now feels right. I can’t imagine life without them,” Manseau said.

Flynn said that when she and Olander talked about having children they knew they wanted them to know their father.

“We started looking at the people we spend a lot of time with,” she said.

Popping the question

About a decade ago, at a New Years Eve party, they were standing at the kitchen sink with Manseau, who is one of their best friends, and popped the question: Would he consider being their sperm donor.

“I’d be lying to say that there weren’t drinks involved,” Flynn said.

Manseau loved the idea and when Flynn got pregnant with their first child, he was with the women at some of the birthing classes and at the hospital when Gram was born.

He says that when he dates, he is up front about the fact that he has children who are a part of his life.

“It was a dream come true,” he said of the arrangement with Flynn and Olander. “I always imagined having a family of my own, but hadn’t had a relationship that was moving that forward,” he said.

“The whole idea is that we wanted the kids to have a dad,” Flynn said, “and have somebody who they could look at and say ‘oh yeah, that’s my dad.’ And someone who is there not just for holidays and birthdays, but for family dinners,” Flynn said.

“It’s just more family. Some people would be like ‘eww, more family,’ but for us it has definitely been a positive.”

Lisa Spear can be reached at lspear@gazettenet.com.

 




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