A parent for more than two decades, Melissa Etheridge has long been open and honest about her love of family, and the processes through which she achieved her dreams of becoming a mother in the LGBTQ community. Her candid demeanor and willingness to talk about once-taboo topics like sperm donation have proven to be a treasure trove of inspiration for others creating a family under similar circumstances. But more than that, Etheridge is a knowledgeable resource for anyone who wants an education and understanding of one type of modern-day brood.
Etheridge began her adventures in parenting when she and former partner Julie Cypher welcomed daughter Bailey in 1997, followed by son Beckett in 1998. The pair shared publicly that they conceived their children with a sperm donation from friend and fellow musician David Crosby.
"My partner Julie was adopted," explains Etheridge in an interview with Parents.com. "She spent her early twenties looking for her real parents, so she had that sort of issue in her life. She wanted her kids to know who their father was, but the father didn't have any parental duties at all. It was just to know where they came from. If you want to know, this is who it is. That was important to her."
Later, in 2005, the musician found herself hopeful to become a parent again, this time with partner Tammy Lynn Michaels, but the search for a sperm donor was vastly different from her previous experience.
"My next partner was not adopted and she didn't want anyone else to come into that parenting situation," says Etheridge, noting that despite each situation's unique circumstances, it has made absolutely no difference to her children.
During an appearance on the podcast Spit, which is co-produced by iHeartRadio and genetic testing company 23andMe, she delved into finding an anonymous sperm donor for her youngest two children, 12-year-old twins Johnnie Rose and Miller Steven, in more detail. In this case, Etheridge had the opportunity to create a self-imposed boundary for her family.
For example, the company she and Michaels used for the donation had a thorough vetting process and the donor had to provide a lot of records. While Etheridge is happy with their decision to keep both parties involved anonymous, she finds comfort in knowing that if anything comes up in the future, they have access to pertinent health information. And, interestingly, she was provided with the choice about whether to preclude him from giving the twins any additional half-siblings.
"I think they have four half-siblings we don't know anything about," she shared with spit host Baratunde Thurston. "But they gave me the opportunity to buy the rest of him (the sperm donor) out. I was financially able to do that so that they wouldn't have 20-30 half-siblings. So he's off the market now. There are no more half-siblings. To me, it was a protection. We take this fearful sort of stance that they're going to want something from you."
For those familiar with the raw, emotional music Etheridge delivers, her frankness should really come as no surprise. And perhaps this is what makes her so exceptional at explaining family dynamics to her kids.
"They know that there's a certain formula it takes to make a person, that you need some of that and it was given by an anonymous person," she tells us. "My kids will ask me about my family and I'll say, 'Well, I'm English and Dutch and French Canadian,' and then they'll own that. They'll say, 'I'm French Canadian.' I don't want to say, 'That's not in your blood.' They know that deep down inside [since Tammy carried the twins], but it's a legacy. We have been raised by certain people and it's so much more the nurturing than it is the nature. When their school would ask them to find out about their family tree, they absolutely took my side of the family tree, too."
In addition to maintaining open lines of communication with all four of her children, Etheridge credits raising them in a diverse, loving community with making her job easier.
"I think it really makes us strong," she says. "I love that my children's school, we go to a public school in LA, is just filled with every type of family, every color, every ethnicity, every religion—it's really beautiful."
For Etheridge, there are no regrets. She feels both donor situations were handled perfectly. And for those who need a little encouragement on their path to create a family of their own, she sums it up just as eloquently.
"There's nothing like taking the responsibility or creating the responsibility of bringing a human being into this world and helping it in its first years," she says. "It doesn't matter the equation that gets you there or what you are to that person. It doesn't matter at all. It is the bond between you and the child."