One Donor, How Many Siblings?

My hubby sent me an article, One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring in today’s New York Times (thanks Mike!). It highlights a problem I worried about when I became an egg donor twelve years ago and when we chose to use a sperm donor eight years ago. When I became I donor, I stipulated that I donate only to people from out-of-town. I didn’t want to see my offspring in the grocery store or worry about them going to the same high school with my children. As a result, I only donated to families from Canada and other counties in the state.

We chose our sperm donor from a bank in California. At the time, the clinic only noted that at least one child had been born by our donor, not how many. But I saw it as a positive, demonstrating the sperm’s efficacy. I assumed the sperm would be sold to a few locations throughout the country, making the odds that my children would bump into one of their few half-siblings statistically unlikely. But ten years ago, I didn’t realize that sperm could be frozen indefinitely, that more and more people would take advantage of the advancing fertility technology, and I trusted that the sperm bank would use good sense and limit the number of offspring produced by any one donor. But reporting of births by parents is voluntary and as this article points out, this area of the fertility industry is not well-regulated.

My boys already have half-siblings that we know about: twin girls born from my donated eggs, Ruby and Raven, who live two counties away and our unique relationship has formed the basis of my memoir. The boys also have a non-biological half-brother born in my husband’s previous marriage. But what about the unknown half-siblings born from their sperm donor?  What if the sperm donor had children of his own? Is it important that we know of their existence? Their geography, sex, and age?

When I asked these questions of our sperm bank, they directed me to their sibling registry. We’re listed there, but as of this writing no other siblings appear there for our donor. A search of the Donor Sibling Registry shows no other siblings by our sperm donor either, but the site has an annual fee of $75, so it’s still quite possible that my children have many other half siblings across the country.

Will my children yearn to meet their unknown half-siblings and donor someday, a situation happening all over the country and chronicled in the forthcoming documentary about which I blogged, Donor Unknown? If they do, I hope that we’ll handle the situation with the grace and understanding that our children deserve. But let’s face it, we’ll probably make some mistakes, because we’re human, and we’re slogging into uncharted waters.

The article also mentions the modern sex education a parent must share with their teenagers born from donor sperm. The teen must know and remember their donor number,  and they must assess the birth status of each of their future partners. I think we all remember those awkward junior high/high school conversations leading up to a first kiss. Can you imagine the dialogue a teenager born from donor sperm must have in this modern day?

“So…umm, well…so your parents…umm, when you were born…umm,…so, there’s, like, no chance you were born from donor sperm is there??”

With this extra monkey on their backs, my boys won’t have their first kiss until they’re 25! Maybe that’s a good thing for my blood pressure, but seriously, I want them to be happy, and although the odds still seem in their favor, who knows what the climate will be like in the next ten, twenty, thirty years when they’re searching for a companion? Nowadays, and in the future, the geography that I thought would protect them has been made insignificant by the age of computers and technology. Most of my single friends use web-based dating sites. Will these sites incorporate a check box for “conceived from donor sperm or eggs” as a screening option or conversation starter? Will it be part of their dating profile? Probably someday. It’s only a matter of when.

I’m trying not to worry too much about this dilemma, for their sanity, and mine. My hope is that we, as their parents, will have educated our boys enough, and raised them with enough confidence and openness to approach these new dating experiences with only the usual amount of awkwardness. It will be tough no matter how we prepare them, but hopefully, being born from donor sperm won’t be the factor that keeps them from finding and feeling the love, security, and contentment that we all seek, and that they definitely deserve.

Do you think the number of offspring from each donor (sperm and/or eggs) should be tracked? Regulated? Or should we just print the donor number on our Facebook info page so we can avoid those potentially awkward moments?

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4 responses to “One Donor, How Many Siblings?

  1. Wow Lorraine. What potentially murky waters lie ahead. The other consideration, of course, are the donors themselves. Perhaps they never told their kids they were the product of donated sperm? Maybe if the question comes up, and they ask their parents, this could lead to a breach of what they took for honesty. Granted, I would assume, that most parents would eventually explain to their children, for the sake of medical histories and what not, but still.
    The discussion might seem awkward in the abstract. But when and if the time ever comes, perhaps it won’t be a big deal. Maybe donor information will become more transparent. Which would you prefer?

  2. Kim! It does feel murky, and of course I didn’t have the foresight to think of all these issues years ago. My understanding is that a lot of parents don’t tell their children that they used a donor, but I think that trend is shifting toward openness. As numbers increase over time, the fear of social stigma must lessen. I think donor information is becoming more and more transparent, whether donors want it or not. The internet and the fact that teenagers know how to use it well to find information is sparking a revolution of openness in this regard. They want information and now it’s so much easier to get. I think it’s harder and harder to be a donor and NOT want to be found. Lately I’ve been torn about which I would prefer. I think our privacy is harder and harder to come by, but I also think that if we want to change American culture to become more open and accepting of alternative family, then we have to lead the way and show others that unconventional families are just as wonderful and dysfuncitonal as any other.

  3. How can one be a non-biological half-sibling? The very term half-brother/sister is defined biologically

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