As we corresponded, I read between the lines of their emails, and I liked what I saw. Jenny and Erin were unique in many ways, compared to other couples who had written to me. One big difference was that they were the only couple where both the potential birthmother AND the other intended parent both wrote to me, seperately and together. With all the other couples, only the person who hoped to carry the baby ever emailed me.
Jenny even apologized at one point because she thought she had mistakenly sent us a draft email she had not yet cleared with Erin. She had not done this -- my wife and I had used the exact same concepts in our email as in Erin's draft email. We all described our ideal donor-recipient relationship using the same phrases. As Erin put it "at least we're on the same page".
I also noted that Jenny and Erin had been brought up in very different family circumstances. One had been raised in what sounded like a very close-knit Norman Rockwell-like family. The other partner's family faced more difficult circumstances. It struck me as highly positive for a child's parents to have differing life experiences. Their children will interact with both sides of the family and see that not everyone lives the same way or does things the same way. Jenny and Erin will have somewhat different approaches to issues like allowance, chores and so on. It can benefit a child to have both perspectives.
While I liked what I saw from Jenny and Erin, I needed to make sure this was the right couple, and soon. It was not fair to string them along if I needed to end our correspondence with a negative decision.
To this end, I had asked the potential recipients the final questions which would help me determine whether or not to go forward with the next stage of negotiations.
They had just the right answer to my main concerns:
"Erin's blood type is O+....she is the picture of health, as is most of her family, with the exception of low ovarian reserve, which is why all this was so shocking! I on the other hand do have [a chronic, potentially serious, yet controllable condition] as does my mother and grandfather. This was another reason, even if I could get pregnant with PCOS carrying the child may prove difficult. We do not smoke. Erin has an occasional glass of red wine but I do not drink at all."
I appreciated their honesty. The drinking and smoking questions got an A+ (one glass of wine or beer per day has been proven healthier for most non-pregnant adults than not drinking at all). Blood type incompatibility would not be an issue threatening the health of their child from these embryos.
Because I feel it is morally wrong to lie to children about their conception, I asked Jenny and Erin directly what they would tell people who asked "whose are they" about their children.
I thought that people's rude curiosity would not be the same issue for them that it is for me and my wife. She and I picked a sperm donor who resembled her, since we used my eggs to conceive our children. The kids look mainly like me, but they have her coloring, thanks to the donor. That creates a visual link to both of us when people look at the children. Those who know me well see my features clearly reflected in the kids, but people like that know our story anyway. Strangers aren't so sure and they are actually rude enough to ask "whose are they?" I doubt they ask heterosexual couples how they created their own children, even though, according to the US Census, only a tiny minority of families consists of two parents never married to anyone else and children genetically related only to them.
Questions like these de-legitimize gay and lesbian families. The answer to "whose are they" is "both of ours". We even have a t-shirt for our son that reads "They're BOTH my 'real mom'". This is one reason we chose to use one partner's eggs and have the other partner carry the pregnancies. There is then no clear answer to that obnoxious question.
In the case of Jenny and Erin, I look a lot like Erin and nothing at all like Jenny. Everyone who sees their children will correctly assume that Erin gave birth to them and incorrectly think she is also their genetic mother. I wondered how they would handle the assumption that Erin, but not Jenny, was genetically related to their children from these embryos. Here's what they said:
"Erin is of course excited to know that you share similar features but is now dying to know what you look like! When you feel comfortable would you be wiling to share photos with us?"
I thought this was a very respectful way to ask for my photo. These women wanted to know more about us, but they were not prying like the recipient candidates I had rejected.
"As far as people being curious about our children, our close friends and family all know that we are doing embryo adoption so that's not really going to be an issue. If a stranger asked,
"whose is (s)he?" we would happily tell them that the child is ours and they can wonder all they want! We will have to go through second parent adoption so that I can be a legal parent. Currently there are no laws that forbid that in [our state]."
This was the perfect answer. They have been open with everyone important to them and everyone else can mind their manners. Their answer got bonus points for noting their concern and plan to protect their family through second-parent adoption. But there was a better, if inconvenient solution to this problem. I wondered if I should mention it and if they would be open to it. And I pondered everything I knew about these women as a tried to decide whether or not they were the right ones.
It seemed like the right time to try to find out where they were at with this process. I asked Jenny and Erin what questions they had for me.