Til kids do us part

There has been a lot of conversation in the press recently about sperm donors. First, there was the story about the designer sperm clinic that allows women to select from a list of donor’s personal characteristics. I have to say I found the idea of this quite entertaining.  There was another article (also in The Times) about an apparently growing trend for single women in their 20s and 30s to seek donors, sometimes using “private arrangements”, whatever that means; “once a week he visits her at home to provide a sample” – nice.

Generally speaking, it seems like a weird idea, deliberately becoming a single mother. Children are hard work anyway, and when the kids grow up, they may well resent you for depriving them of a father.

But then, maybe my initial reaction is  just a rigid social construct I have been taught about what constitutes a “natural” relationship, in which the mother nurtures and the father provides. It’s perhaps an irritating anthropomorphism to make comparisons to the animal kingdom, but it does remind me of an amusing story about emus’ mating habits. According to an Australian tour guide, emu females lay the eggs, and then strut away, leaving the emu male to incubate and raise the chicks. He will also apparently incubate eggs he didn’t fertilise, and subsequently bring up the family on his own, while Mrs Emu wanders off in search of a new mate. So maybe it’s perfectly feasible to produce a couple of kids on your own really early on, then meet your perfect guy, but fancy a bit of “me-time”, and leave him to sort out the kids for a bit while you do some travelling. You produce some more along the way, collect the brood, and move on again.

The trouble with that Desmond Morris type of explanation for human behaviour is that we do have a rather larger emotional component than animals, and those sort of set-ups always seem to be the ones you read about in the newspapers, after one partner or the other has murdered the children in a jealous rage. Children are a huge commitment, rather than the answer to the loneliness of Saturday mornings.

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