Real Life Kids Are All Right

updated 09/06/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/06/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

In the film The Kids Are All Right the kids of two lesbian moms (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore) opt to meet their sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo), leading to complications in the family: Is he now a relative? A pal? No more than DNA on a motorcycle? In real life "it's common for youth to want to find out about the donor," says Alice Ruby of the Sperm Bank of California. Doing so "didn't change my relationship [with my moms]," says Emily McGranachan. "It allowed another relationship to develop." Here, three families share their experiences.

THE BEST FRIEND

The baby talk started when Monica Hallinan turned 40 in 2005. She and wife Michele Gan of Los Angeles considered adoption or an anonymous donor but realized "we have everything in Daniel [Banchik]," Hallinan's close friend of 15 years. "I said, 'I'm game,' " says Banchik, 42, who lived nearby and liked kids, even if his partner wasn't ready to have them. Then it got complicated: After Hallinan gave birth, Banchik had to sign away his parental rights so Gan, 48, could adopt and become Olivia's other parent on the birth certificate. "We went to therapy to iron everything out," he says. "Worst-case scenario, they could say, 'We don't want you around her.' " Now he's around plenty, as a friend and babysitter for Olivia, 2, and the two moms buy him a card every Father's Day. Even though he's not legally allowed to weigh in on issues like medical care, education or religion, "we run things by him on major decisions," says Hallinan. Adds Banchik: "I feel very lucky to have this relationship."

ONE PARTNER'S BROTHER

Audrey Koh and Gaeta Bell's two sons look a little like both of them. How? Their donor (for Koh's pregnancies) was Bell's similarly featured brother. "I thought it would be nice for each of us to have a genetic link to the children," says Koh, 53, an OB/GYN from San Francisco. When they asked for his participation, the women made clear that they just needed some DNA-not another parent. As a result, "I think of him more as my uncle than my dad," says Anthony Koh-Bell, 14. Gaeta Bell, a retired naturalist, says she doesn't see their story in The Kids Are All Right, which she walked out of before it ended. "It struck me as too Hollywood," says Bell, 55, "and certainly not anything to do with our family." While her brother (who declined to be interviewed) lives across the country, the kids are close to him. But, she says, it is "because he's my brother," not because he was their donor. The kids have been told the whole story but are more interested in playing golf and Ping-Pong with their uncle than in his role in their births. Says Alex, 10: "It's good that I know. Then I'm not wondering."

THE ANONYMOUS DONOR

Emily McGranachan had long wondered about her earlobes. "Mine swoop underneath," says Emily, who thought she must share that trait with the donor her mom, Cathy, used to conceive her. (Cathy, 57, later met partner Nancy Smith, who adopted Emily at age 11.) Two years ago, after discussing it with her parents, Emily, now 20, asked for her donor's name via a health clinic. "I worried a little that he wouldn't be interested in meeting her, and she'd be rejected," says Smith, 54. But on hearing from Emily, Gerald Layden, 61, of West Deptford, N.J., says, "I felt honored she would want to know who I was." Soon after, they invited him to visit Boston. "I was nervous and grateful," says Cathy. "I wanted to see where the other part of her came from." Emily, who spotted Layden's similar earlobes, adds, "I was excited to finally see this person." She learned that she has two half sisters, both with lesbian moms-and amazingly, Emily and one of those girls each took the same guy to her senior prom. She and Layden keep in touch, but she says, "I know who my parents are. Meeting Gerald didn't alter that."

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