What It’s Like When Your Brother Is Your Wife’s Sperm Donor

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Welcome to “It’s Complicated,” a week of stories on the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, always engrossing subject of modern relationships.

When my sister and Claudia started dating about 13 years ago, I could tell it was serious and they were thinking about kids. She’s 16 years older than me, and we share the same father but we have different moms. We had been developing a relationship as adults and were becoming very close. I threw it out there. I said, “Hey … if you guys ever want to have kids I’d love to be the donor.” I was in my early 20s. I thought: “This is pretty cool. I can have a kid and I don’t have to do any work or change my life.”

We talked over a couple of bottles of wine.  A few years passed and I got a drunk phone message. They said, “Hey, we need you to come down to Florida. We want to make a baby.”

They were shit-faced, demanding my sperm. It was hilarious.  

While we didn’t grow up in the same house or share the same mother, I was always very protective of Cody. When Cody was born I was totally in love. I went to college in Arizona to get away from my family and I wanted to kidnap him. I have always had this half-sister, half-mother feeling about him.

When I was in my late 20s, I wanted to have a kid. My stepmother, Cody’s mom, introduced me to two guys. We talked about it, and in the end I decided I didn’t want to share custody. I didn’t know them well enough to have them in my life like that, and I was single so it just didn’t make any sense.

About five years passed and in that time Claudia and I raised her nephew. He came from a very abusive background so there was a lot of damage to repair. We wanted to adopt him, but his mother was trying to get sober so that wasn’t really an option. When he was 12, he went back to her. I think that’s when we realized that we really wanted to have our own child.

He’s Wendy’s brother, not mine. So because of that she’s had more to worry about. She didn’t want him to get hurt. But it was very important to me that we have a healthy baby and part of that is really knowing the background of the donor. What if years later we had health issues? It was much more likely that I would get pregnant because I was younger, and also Wendy has had some health problems. When we decided to use Cody, that decision was kind of made for us.

Social stigma wasn’t a concern, and it made so much sense. The baby would be connected to them both and they knew who the donor was. We hadn’t heard of anyone else doing this.

They did IVF and it took the first time, which was a miracle. There were some homophobic restrictions, so in order to avoid all these ridiculous procedures my sister’s wife and I had to pretend that we were lovers. It was really awkward: I’m sitting there rubbing my sister’s wife’s back saying, “It will be okay, baby” while my sister — the real alpha — is arranging all the logistics, paying bills, signing forms, and booking appointments. She’s clearly the most invested in the whole process.

When we mentioned that we were using my brother’s sperm, doctors were all very negative. They said that it’s a terrible mistake and much harder emotionally. In retrospect, I might agree, but back then I didn’t. I don’t think we thought enough about the reality of the situation, and I do think Cody ended up feeling excluded and hurt.

I never really felt like, Oh, I am carrying Wendy’s brother’s baby. Wendy is my partner, and I carried a baby, that’s how I think about it. When Logan was born, Cody looked at him and said, “Oh, my gosh, it’s my son,” and he was crying. That was a strange moment for me. It wasn’t like he came and helped with the baby; Cody’s not that kind of person, but it’s great when he’s around. He’s very playful, but he’s not the sort who is going to come in and change the diapers.

For the first few years, things were very fraught. Conflicts started to arise when it came to parenting. I had to recognize I’m the dad, but I’m not the father. Things were really complicated by the fact that right after Logan was born, Wendy was diagnosed with lymphoma. We were navigating all of this, and then I had my own daughter and got married and moved to Belgium and my whole life was happening, too. I think the year we spent in Belgium heightened a lot of the concerns my sister had about how much of a father I should be. Would it be dangerous to identify me as his father if I was going to be disappearing for years at a time? I think she was confused about why I was having my own family so far away.

I bonded with Logan right away. And then, boom, when he was 3 months old I was diagnosed with lymphoma.

It was shattering. We all had different reactions and expectations for each other. Cody wanted to take more of a care-giving role. I ended up having major reactions to the treatments and the cancer came back very quickly. I had 19 bouts of meningitis in two years.

When Wendy got sick, things were so tough, but I knew I had this little baby to take care of. I tried to take care of myself as well as Logan. It was good for me to be alone. I developed a new community with friends outside of the family. It helped with the fear that Wendy might die. I think Cody was very scared, too.

Cody’s mother passed away while Cody was in his first year of college. I always had somewhat of a maternal role with him and here I was letting him down. I got sick just like his mother did. I felt guilty at times, and then there were times when I felt so angry because I needed help from people around me.

A few years ago, we really had to hash it out. I think I was acting like more of a father than my sister had anticipated. She thought I’d be more like an uncle, or a donor. We had to set boundaries. I also think that when I had a child and graduated from law school it was easier for me to step back a bit. I was able to focus on my own family.

They are the parents. They are the ones on the birth certificate. They are the ones who did and do all the work. To be honest, that’s something that I had to really adjust to. Intellectually, I knew I had to just shut the fuck up but … emotionally … when you disagree with the way your kid is being raised, you have an instinctual response to stand up for him! In those moments I don’t care what they say. I don’t care about my relationship with my sister, my duty is to my son. I’m a particularly opinionated guy: I am vegan, I’m a lawyer, I am hella political, which is a good thing until you tell someone how they are supposed to raise their children. Kids need to be raised in a community; I think that’s a huge thing we have lost from society and it would be nice to bring it back. That said, I know firsthand that it is very hard for three parents to agree on how to raise a child.

It’s very hard having three people involved in raising a child, especially when one is my brother whom I care about and don’t want to upset. But at the same time, I didn’t want him to come and live with us. I didn’t want to marry my brother and I didn’t want him to be more than my brother.

Logan and Cody have a very unique relationship, it was major love right from the beginning, which I think is beautiful, but it does get complicated. When Cody has to discipline him, Logan comes home crushed. It’s not the way he’s used to be spoken to and then that’s uncomfortable for Cody and we all have to have discussions that we don’t want to have.  

We clash about ideological stuff. Cody’s vegan and we aren’t. Once Cody told Claudia off for giving Logan a hot dog. I was like, “What the fuck, is it his business?” Cody would freak out even if we were playing him educational stuff for little babies on an iPad or TV. Another thing we used to argue about was Logan’s health. He was diagnosed very low on the spectrum. He’s completely functional, you wouldn’t notice, except if he’s overstimulated, he’ll freak out. Cody would be like, Well, I just don’t see this! And I was like, I don’t give a shit, you haven’t seen him freak the fuck out when someone touches him during a train dance.

Our father was old-school. You know, kids should be seen and not heard. I’m different. I talk to Logan about emotions. We have conversations. I think that we were too loosey-goosey for Cody. Despite his veganism and all his political ideologies, he was like someone from the 1950s when it comes to fathering.  

It came to a head and we had it out through days and days of private Facebook messaging. Had I deceived him? I was very sensitive about that. There’s a big difference between being a parent and being a donor because you are not living with the kid all the time. But at the same time you can’t deny that there’s a very unique closeness and true love between them. I guess I was pushed enough, or pissed off enough, to say whatever I had to say. So I did. I told him I don’t want you to be his parent, which I am sure stung like fucking hell. But at the same time maybe I gave him permission to go, “Oh, I don’t have to be responsible here.” It was never that we didn’t want him around, we absolutely love having him around. It was more a question of: Do we want him to be another parent? And the answer was no.

Also, Claudia and I were having our own problems because of my illness. I was so sick and distant. I was worried about what would happen if we split up. I didn’t want to lose Logan. At times I thought Cody and Claudia were a little closer than I was to either of them. I do think part of me was jealous. I didn’t want to be his aunt.

We told him, “You are the donor, you are not a parent. You can have a part in his life, but we are making all the decisions. You can’t say where he will go to school, you can’t tell him what he can and can’t do.” We are there 24 hours and Logan knows we are his parents.

Sometimes I feel bad, because I know he’s Wendy’s brother and when they argue she gets very upset. I feel like it should be between them, I do not want to get in between family. I come from a very large Catholic family in Colombia. I am here alone. My father did not like that I was gay, he told me I would go to hell. I still haven’t told my father about Logan. The only person who knows is my mother.

When Cody had his daughter, we were so happy. I’ll admit there were some times where I felt like, “Good, now you have your own baby, you can stop bothering us,” but it did make him more understanding about what it’s like to raise a kid.

We live in the Hamptons and he lives in Brooklyn. And now he shares custody of his daughter, so it’s weekend on, weekend off. I think we are all happy with the way things are, but it took a lot of work. We are always busy and Cody doesn’t understand. He will call at 10 p.m. and say, “I am coming to visit tomorrow, can I see Logan?” I have to say, “Cody you have to give us notice because Logan has auditions! Logan has classes. I am not going to stop my life because you are coming.” We can be so open, though, which I think is good.

From my point of view, there was no sacrifice. I got to have this extra person in my life. No matter what happens, I know I have this little person who can look up to me as dad and someone who connects my family together in a really rich, weird, multifaceted way. I enjoy hanging out with him and then the diapers need to be changed and I pass him off!

Logan is into Star Wars and superheros, but he’s also into ballet. He wants to be on Broadway. He’s very free to explore his identity and do what he wants. I don’t think he’s at the age yet where he will be teased for having two moms, but then again, it’s 2016 so things are not like they were 20 years ago. But then I am not there day-to-day, so his moms certainly will know more about those kinds of issues.

This week has been kind of rough. Someone teased Logan for having two mommies and that’s the first time it has happened. Logan is trying so hard to fit into a community that can be so closed-minded. When he claims proudly, “I dance!” he gets called gay. I feel sorry for him because he’s not accepted. Logan longs to be on Broadway. I try to tell him each day that these other boys are just jealous. “You are talented and beautiful and when they get older they will have a boring life and you will be shining. Maybe you can’t see it, but I am telling you this is true.”

If we had to do this again, I know we would make the same choice because it’s the only way we could have Logan. He is so special. You can see my family in him and you can see Claudia in him. There is so much love for him. There’s no question about it, yes we would do it again.

Cody really did change when he had his daughter — instantly. He grew up and completely got why we might, you know, pull out an iPad in a restaurant when we wanted to occupy an impatient child. And the tables were kind of turned on us, too. I often wanted to comment on his parenting decisions. But we just spent a week with him on vacation and he’s doing such a great job as a dad, he really is.

I don’t feel motherly to Cody’s daughter but I certainly feel like her aunt, and do think it’s interesting that Cody has this dual relationship with Logan that I do not have with his daughter. I was not involved in creating her. I think I feel kinda like how my mom feels toward Cody. She has always had a very special feeling toward him. She has always loved him, felt respect for him, but at the same time she’s not his mother. Before she died, Cody’s mother (my stepmother) told me, “You know, I’m gonna be your kid’s grandmother.” She was saying that she loved me so much she felt like my kids would be her flesh and blood. What I realized later is that Cody and I fulfilled that prophecy! Logan is literally her first grandchild. I think that’s so fucking trippy.

Family is whatever you want it to be, and that’s what I say to Logan. Family can be just one kid and a mommy. It can be a dad and a kid, that’s family. You have to see it in different colors and different ways. I try to explain to him that the TV and the magazines show you the picture of a man and a woman and a kid, but that’s not always reality. I was raised by my aunt and I called her my mother. I hate when people say, “Oh my god, two women raising a kid? That’s disgusting!” I say, Why don’t you look around? Maybe you were raised by your grandmother and your mother. Family is exactly what you want it to be.  

Interview has been condensed and edited.

When Your Brother Is Your Wife’s Sperm Donor