I received an email from a mom with a donor-conceived child who was reeling from being publicly embarrassed when trying to get a passport for her 17-month-old son. She asked that I spread awareness of this situation.
Jodi is a single mom of a 17-month-old son conceived via donor sperm. Prior to his arrival, she was a frequent traveler, and is now looking forward to sharing her wanderlust with her son. First he needed a passport.
The “authorized passport application acceptance facility” where she lives is the post office. She made an appointment, then showed up with her baby, the passport application, and a copy of his birth certificate, and waited in line, along with others mailing letters and parcels, to submit her application.
Where’s the Dad??
When she finally got to the head of the line, the Post Office employee said “Where’s the dad?” In fact, the passport application for a minor requires that both parents must appear with the child. If one parent cannot be present, they must submit a notarized “Statement of Consent” form. The reason for this requirement is to prevent one parent from “kidnapping” the child to another country without the other parent’s permission. However, in Jodi’s case there was no father – ever. There was no person to fill out the Statement of Consent.
Jodi explained that she was a single mother by choice. She showed the birth certificate to the postman and pointed out that no father was listed. He said there had to be a father, and kept asking, “But where is the dad?”
Jodi bucked up her courage and said, “I used a sperm donor, so there IS. NO. FATHER.”
She explained that families can be created in many different ways, including sperm donation. When she had her son, she was prepared to explain this to him, not realizing that she would need to use the same language she prepared for a preschooler with an adult working for the US Postal Service.
Court Papers or Note from Your Doctor
The post office employee kept telling her that if the “dad” was not present or she did not have a notarized Statement of Consent from “the dad”, she would need court papers to prove that her son was conceived via donor sperm. Jodi explained that there was no court proceeding surrounding sperm donation, thus no papers. He replied, “then maybe you need to get a note from your doctor!”
Keep in mind that this conversation took place in front of all the other people in line and at the counter.
“May I Speak to the Manager?”
Jodi asked to speak to the manager. He arrived, but rather than come to the counter where she was, he stood two aisles away forcing Jodi to speak louder ensuring that even the people at the very back of the line would hear the details of how her son was conceived.
She told the manager that the postman she was dealing with had been rude and had publicly embarrassed her. The manager said his employee had not been rude, and she needed court paper to prove what she was saying. Jodi went back through her different types of families and no court is involved with donor conception speech. The manager clearly did not believe her. Finally, he said that the birth certificate needed to be an original, not a copy, and that she would need to make another appointment.
At this point she was embarrassed and worried about her son witnessing this encounter. She left in tears and sobbed all the way home.
Never Felt so Vulnerable
She told me that she had never felt so vulnerable.
“For the first time since his birth I felt that our family was wrong – that there was something less about my family.”
More devastating was the realization that had her beautiful son been older, he would have been made to feel lesser and that he and his mom were the wrong type of family.
Several weeks later she brought the original birth certificate to a post office in a neighboring town, hoping for a more receptive employee. The postal employee wasn’t rude, but told her that it used to be that an original birth certificate was enough, but now single mothers would have to fill out another official form explaining why there was no father.
Jodi has always been open about how she became a mom, but wasn’t sure how she felt about sharing on a US official form that her son was conceived by donation. She didn’t see any other way to get the passport, so she officially stated for the US government that her child was donor conceived, and turned in the form.
Last week she received her son’s passport in the mail, and the saga was over–for her, but she has heard that other single mother’s through sperm donation are experiencing the same thing.
Was This Situation Necessary?
I’m not an expert, but when I read the State Department website for applying for a passport for a minor, it seems clear that all this public humiliation was unnecessary.
Minors under age 16 cannot apply for a passport by themselves.
Both parents/guardians must appear in person with the minor and provide consent, authorizing passport issuance to the minor. If one parent/guardian is unable to appear in person, then the DS-11 application must be accompanied by a signed, notarized Form DS-3053: Statement of Consent from the non-applying parent/guardian.
If the minor only has one parent/guardian, evidence of sole authority to apply for the minor must be submitted with the application in the form of a:
- U.S. or foreign birth certificate, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or adoption decree, listing only the applying parent
- Court order granting sole legal custody to the applying parent (unless child’s travel is restricted by that order)
- Court order specifically permitting applying parent’s travel with the child
- Judicial declaration of incompetence of the non-applying parent
- Death certificate of the non-applying parent
If the minor has two parents/guardians, but one is absent and cannot be located to provide parental consent in a timely manner, the applying parent must submit Form DS-5525: Statement of Exigent/Special Family Circumstances. The statement must explain in detail the non-applying parent’s or guardian’s unavailability and recent efforts made to contact the non-applying parent. The applying parent also may be required to provide evidence (e.g., custody order, incarceration order, restraining order) to document his/her claim of exigent or special circumstances. To protect against international parental child abduction, the Passport Agency processing the application may ask for additional details if the statement is determined to be insufficient. [Red highlight added.]
What You Can Do
Please help spread the word to other single moms so they will be prepared and bring with them a copy of the State Department statement that an original birth certificate listing only the mother and no father. Also let them know that if their child is old enough to understand, they may need to be prepared for having their family questioned.
Have you heard of this happening? Do you have a similar story?
Image credit: TiggerT