Semantics

I’m in a lot of facebook mom groups. Hippie moms of the hippie town, hiking group, babywearing group, ect. A friend recently added me to one that I am unsure about and I encountered an issue there that I have encountered in other groups but never taken the time to dissect.

The practice of calling a deadbeat dad a sperm donor.

The post normally is looking for advice on something and goes something like this: “Hey mamas, I need your help. My son’s bio dad, or sperm donor as I like to call him, showed up and wants contact with my son…” It’s meant to be harmless and I see where the mom’s posting are coming from. It’s not ill intentioned but whoa does it irritate me. Today I thought about (and googled about) why.

A deadbeat dad is not a sperm donor. A deadbeat dad is someone who had a child with someone and decided not to raise that child. Even the term deadbeat dad is harsh at times I think but for the sake of clarity I’m using it here. When people use the term sperm donor to refer to a man that did not fulfill his obligations it is an incorrect use of the term. In reality, a sperm donor is a man you had an agreement with and that man was to provide a service to you.

My son has a sperm donor. That sperm donor is someone who was paid for a service he provided. We are all following the terms of our agreement. To use the term sperm donor in the capacity these people use it in gives it a negative connotation that makes me uncomfortable. A sperm donor is not a bad thing, he is a biological fact for some families.

So I commented as much. I told her I was sorry for what she was going through and wish I could help but I wanted to point out that using sperm donors in that way is hurtful to families who choose sperm donors. That by giving it a negative connotation you are doing a disservice to my child and his peers. Your son was not conceived via sperm donor. Your son was conceived by someone who turned out to not want to be a dad. The poster apologized for offending me – I told her I wasn’t offended just asked that she think about her words.

A few others in the group thanked me and told me they hadn’t thought about that before. I really believe this is what it is – not thinking about the words you use. Not thinking about how it could be hurting other families. I’ve heard these comments for years and it has always bugged me. My goal is to not build our sperm donor up to be something he’s not. We will not tell Gus that he is an incredible man who gave us a gift. We’ll tell him that he is a man, a set of three numbers and a letter to us, and that because of him we were able to have Gus, our biggest treasure. We are forever grateful to him and hope that he is happy and healthy. But in that I do not wish to demonize him either. He did not desert his son. Gus is not his son. Gus is our son, mine and Lesley’s, and this man did not let anyone down.

And so, I commit to standing up to this verbiage when I see it. It’s seems so small, yes, but by giving these words negative connotations people are placing value judgements on my family. And that’s not small at all.

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Posted on September 9, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I’ve actually seen these comments too and I never really thought about the connotation in that way before. Thanks for the difference in perspective. I mean, we have a “sperm donor” in a completely different path – but I really like how you put this into words. And it’s always great to give a different perspective to those who may not think about word choices. Well Said!

  2. Well said. It wasn’t until we acquired a sperm donor that I started thinking about the connotation of it when used in that manner. Thank goodness the poster took it well and didn’t get defensive about it.

  3. Definitely one of my pet peeves as well. It takes a neutral description and turns it into a pejorative of sorts, like “gay” used to mean stupid. I love how you articulated it.

  4. Well said. We understand our donor to be a generous man. Even if the money might have been a nice incentive for a college student, it still is a very generous act to donate your genetic material so families may grow. I’ve never paid it much mind when I’ve heard frustrated moms refer to their children’s fathers as sperm donors. I would hope it’s typically said out of earshot of the child, but children pick up on a lot, and their dads are still their dads and it’s a very complicated, lifelong struggle those children cope with when they have an inconsistent or absent parent. Calling a father a sperm donor is also minimizing the very real feelings of his children.

  5. I feel exactly like this. Especially as our donor was a known donor who put a lot of effort into being there and helping us every single month for FOURTEEN of them. Although he’s not part of Eden’s life and won’t be, what he didn in spending that time helping us and donating wasn’t “deadbeat” in any way. Funnily enough I voiced this to someone who used the term “sperm donor” about an absent father and she said something along the lines of “I can call him whatever I like, thanks”. Charming…

    • “I can call him whatever I like, thanks”. Charming…

      Ugh, how obnoxious. I think that type of reaction is pretty common too, unfortunately.

  6. I’ve had this conversation a few times. I am so grateful for our sperm donor everyday that I hate to hear the term used as a negative. Way to say something!

  7. This is something I have had an issue with for a while now and have also encountered in online groups. I’ve only had a couple times when people tried to insist their choice of words was fine and not ignorant and demeaning. I’m pretty sure I’ve written on this before. I have had people, many times, think that when I say “Wallace’s donor” that I mean deadbeat dad or absent parent. That gets me worse than someone else saying it about their ex because they are making assumptions about my life and my family. I don’t want Wallace to ever feel that being donor conceived is a negative thing. People are so unaware of the language choices they make and how they effect their own experiences as well as the people around them.

  8. The opposite happened to me this weekend. When we were sharing the news with M’s family, we showed her mom the childhood pictures of the donor and she took them and showed them to people saying look this is the baby daddy. I was irate! I calmly said not baby daddy the donor. I don’t think anyone caught on that it upset me. Later down the line I can see having to have a conversation about such semantics!

  9. Ugh, I am with you on this. Because we have a known donor with whom we have an excellent relationship, it is important to me that people see that relationship as a conscious choice with clear parameters, and that they recognize that difference between him and an intended parent who refuses to parent is significant. I feel like I spend so much time these days reminding people that words matter in relation to our family structure. Tiring, but I think it’s important. Great that you were able to reach so many people by commenting on the Facebook post.

  10. I am surprised this has never occurred to (come up around?) me but I am very glad you articulated it. Good stuff (the standing up, I mean, not the verbiage).

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