20 years ago, in order to pay the rent, I worked as a messenger for a commercial production house, and a couple of times a week I donated sperm. While on my way uptown to deliver videotapes to the edit house I’d sometimes stop by the sperm bank to make a deposit. Despite the fact that I was a religious studies major in college I didn’t think too deeply about the ethical or long term implications of my second job. When I started donating I had the sense that the sperm donor was a pretty unimportant part of the equation. I donated on and off for probably a couple of years.
When I started to date my future wife in a serious way I just stopped going to the lab. I didn’t think about it too much after that. I got married and after a few years my wife and I had a red haired, explosively charismatic daughter. I spent a lot of time with her and was fascinated by the reality of watching her become who she is. There were things about my daughter that simply couldn’t have been formed or changed by my parenting style, skills, or lack of thereof.
When my wife was 6 months pregnant with our second daughter my father was struck by a car and killed instantly. I was very close to my father which made it a gut wrenching experience. His funeral, which brought many of my relatives together, got me thinking much more deeply about the nature of family.
Three months after my father passed away we had our new baby girl. Within weeks i could tell that she took after my wife, and not just in the way that she looked, but in her very presence. My older daughter has the hyper energy (that i inherited from my mother) while our younger daughter has a quiet reserved nature like my wife and my father. When she was a couple of months old I was showing her off at the hair salon on the corner when my friend Lois eyed me fiercely and harumphed, “Mike, you gotta go for your boy.”
“Hell no. I’m finished. I can’t handle the two I have.” I shot back.
As I left the salon I was struck by the thought that I must have a boy somewhere, probably a lot of boys and a bunch more girls to boot. I was dumbfounded by the reality of the situation. Some of them might be 18 years old I realized, and they probably want, even need, to know who i am.
An internet search turned up donorsiblingregistry.com. Wendy Kramer and her teen-aged son Ryan, who was donor conceived (DC), started the site in 2000 as a way to connect DC people with each other and possibly even their donors. If i listed my donor number i might be found by some of my offspring. It was a bit overwhelming to imagine having 5, 10, or even 20 new additions to my family but frankly, also kind of exciting.
I immediately called the lab that i had donated at in order to find out my donor number so that I could list myself on the site. 9 months and 15 to 20 calls later I was finally able to get the lab to give me my number, 67. I posted it on the DSR and waited. That was a year ago. I still haven’t been contacted, but I have been tracking the issue very closely.
Recently the Boston Herald ran an article about a 10 year old girl who was looking for her donor father for both medical and emotional reasons. She had a cyst in her brain and everyone thought it was in the best interest of the child to find out information about her biological father’s medical history. The girl was open in her feelings; she needed the medical information but she was also interested in knowing who this man was. There was a robust thread on the online comments section of the article. These comments were either empathetically informed, and supportive of her search, or combative and accusatory. The combative ones cried, “A deal’s a deal! How can this mother go back on her word… etc etc”. On the DSR listserve the girl’s mother expressed her daughter’s horror at the comments (she mentioned cradling her sobbing daughter). At this moment I moved from observer to advocate. I posted a comment which ended,
“I signed up as an anonymous donor- because really that was the only option at the time. Yes, I signed an agreement that kept my identity secret- but that was 20 years ago and I wasn’t given another option- things change- times change- people change-and as such, the idea that someone is at fault in the situation described in this article is ludicrous. I wouldn’t be surprised if this nervous 20 year old who said he wanted to be anonymous might not be a confident gregarious 35 year old who would love to meet his daughter.”
From my year of following this issue the “street chatter” is making it clear that children have a profound need to know about their biological background. As i former donor i believe it is their right. I am sure that there are some donors who want to remain anonymous, but going forward information needs to be put in place to facilitate better understanding of the implications for everyone.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.