Egg & Embryo Donation Families: Terminology

The mission of the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) is to educate, connect, and support all those in the donor family: parents/prospective parents, donors, other relatives, and most importantly, donor-conceived people. All connecting takes place on the DSR website, but our Facebook group helps fulfill our mission to educate and support because it’s where DSR families come to ask advice, share experiences, and educate themselves about donor industry issues and recent news.

A recent DSR Facebook discussion took a deep dive into the terminology used by some egg and embryo donor parents. This discussion highlighted some confusion regarding what a “biological” or “genetic” parent actually means. A few mothers chimed in:

“I used donor embryos to conceive my daughter. She is not genetically linked to me, but I carried her and gave birth to her. I’m her bio mom, and she has genetic donors.”

“I used a donor egg and donor sperm … I carried them. I am clearly their biological mother — just not their genetic mother.”

…biological mother and genetic mother are different, though.

It is also not uncommon for me to hear, when on a phone consult with an egg donor mom, “I carried and delivered my child, so I AM the biological mother.

To these women, I ask: When your children are older and have taken 8th-grade biology and want to know about their biological mother — the woman who contributed ~50% of their genetics, physical attributes, ancestry, and medical history — what will the conversation sound like? Will you tell them that even though you used an egg donor or a donated embryo, you are the biological mother and the woman who donated the egg isn’t?

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A biological parent is the same as a genetic parent. A biological/genetic parent gives approximately 50% of the DNA to a child. Each person has two genetic/biological parents:* One provides the egg and one provides the sperm. Yes, the woman who carries/delivers the child has some influence (epigenetics, diet, stress, etc.) but she is not the biological/genetic parent.

Only the biological/genetic parents can pass along ancestry, physical and mental traits, blood type, and medical and genetic diseases. They are also who the child will match with as “parent” on any DNA test. A surrogate who carries and delivers a child with someone else’s egg is also not the biological/genetic parent — and will not be related via DNA, either.

The person who carries and delivers a baby, whether it’s the mother or a surrogate, is not the biological/genetic mother if she didn’t contribute the egg. Her ancestry, physical traits, and biological predispositions are not passed along to the child.

I was stunned this past January when I was on a panel at an egg clinic in Denver and a mother in the audience stood up to share that because her daughter so closely resembled her, she simply didn’t believe the science. She asked how I might explain the close physical resemblance if her genetics were not passed along to her egg-donor-conceived daughter. Closely watching the clinic staff, waiting for them to gently step in and educate the woman, I was shocked when no one uttered a word. It was then that I understood how some of these mothers could so easily slip into denial, thinking that they were magically genetically related to their children even though their eggs were not used.

I know this discussion is often frustrating for donor-conceived people to hear, as they desire and expect honest communication from their parents. In the DSR Facebook discussion, one offspring explained exactly why proper terminology is so important for all donor families:

As a DC person, the amount of answers here trying to twist language around to make DC [donor-conceived] kids somehow biologically related to their non-bio parents is making my head hurt. The definition of biological parent is the person who supplied your DNA. That’s what it means. And in certain medical situations, accurate information about this and access to people you are related to can mean life or death, so twisting this around to support your own emotional needs is deeply selfish. If you were really all as ok with the DC process as you claim, you would be ok describing it as what it is, which is a very early form of adoption. There IS a legal process of transferring child custody over from the bio parent to the recipient parent, that’s what all those forms you filled out at the fertility clinic were. 🙄

Truly supporting your DC children means not stigmatizing, twisting, and being in denial about the basic facts, which includes not being so secretly bothered by the lack of genetic connection that you try to usurp and manipulate language to muddy and conceal the basic scientific realities of our bodies.”

“Parent” is both a noun (sperm and egg contributors) and a verb (parenting by the parents who raise you and who love you), so shying away from accuracy only indicates that there is something still unsettling about the reality that you don’t have a biological connection to your child. Not having a biological connection to your child in no way diminishes your role as a parent or the importance of carrying and delivering your baby. If you are a non-bio parent of a donor-conceived child it’s important that you work through any grief or sadness you may have about not having that biological connection with your child before you start having conversations with your child about the way they were conceived, which ideally should be when they’re pre-verbal. 

Ultimately, this discussion is about the children. We would never want donor children to be afraid to use accurate terminology for fear of hurting their parents. It’s important that as we talk to our children we use honest and accurate terminology and give them the freedom to try on and use whatever terms they’re comfortable with. We want our children to know that they’re a special and unique combination of both nature and nurture and how, through the use of a donor or donors, they came to be.

biological-parent noun (plural biological parents)

genetic mother – Legal Definition

  • The mother who provided the egg from which an embryo developed and, therefore, contributed to the genetic makeup of the ensuing child.

Image result for biological mother or egg donor?
Our children’s book can be helpful to parents struggling with terminology.
https://www.amazon.com/Your-Family-Donor-Kids-Story/dp/0692106936

*Except in the case of mitochondrial donation; then a child will have three people who contributed genetics.

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ALL in the Family: Navigating a Half-Sibling Group of 90

Guest Blog: by Lavon Peters

19 half-siblings and mothers
Photo above: 19 of the half-siblings in our group (and some moms), August 2018

My kids belong to one of the larger groups of half-sibs on the Donor Sibling Registry. You know the groups—the ones whose numbers make everyone say “OMG!” Our current count is 90* kids, but it changes frequently. A year and a half ago, we were at 68; I’m certain we’ll pass 100 this year. As you might imagine, navigating a group this large can be quite challenging!

Growing Pains

One of the downsides of a large half-sib group is simply keeping track of everyone. After we’d found about two dozen kids on the Donor Sibling Registry, I created a spreadsheet to keep everyone straight. But now, that spreadsheet doesn’t even fit on my computer screen. We have a few kids with the same names, so it can be hard to know who someone means when they’re talking about one of those kids. Sometimes, all the kids’ names swirl in my head and it takes me a few seconds to connect a name with a face.

Planning get-togethers has also gotten exponentially more difficult as our group has grown. Between trying to account for everyone’s schedule and budget, it’s almost impossible to find a time and place that works for everyone. And then there’s the issue of accommodating different interests and planning for individual kids’ dietary restrictions, allergies, and medical conditions. I want every get-together to be open to everyone, but that just isn’t possible with this size of group. It’s sad when one of the kids wants to attend a meet-up but can’t make it work.

As we’ve grown, I’ve also found it hard to make the same connections with new parents that I once made—and in fact, new kids’ parents rarely reach out anymore, since many of the kids who now find us do so through DNA, without their parents’ help (and sometimes without their knowledge). That lack of parent connection means I don’t know some of the newer kids as well as I know many of the earlier group, most of whom we found on the Donor Sibling Registry and connected with when the kids were under 18.

I’ve been reading Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which documents the evolution of human species from our earliest ancestors to modern Homo sapiens. In the book, the author asserts that “most people [cannot] intimately know … more than 150 human beings.” I’m definitely finding this to be true.

My experience seems to be true for the kids as well. We have a pretty big age range, but the older kids are fairly tight-knit—and I’m sure it’s intimidating for a new half-sib to jump into their Facebook or Snapchat groups. Likewise, a certain amount of fatigue has set in, and the excitement level isn’t as high for everyone as it once was when a new half-sib joins the group. As one of the adult kids told me, “Every additional member makes it harder to have meaningful relationships with everyone.” I feel for new kids in a group this large, who deserve the same welcome and excitement that everyone before them experienced.

So far, the younger kids aren’t as involved in the group. A mom of one of the younger kids shared that her son is “uncomfortable with the idea of being related to SO many strangers.” It remains to be seen whether the younger kids will flock together the way the older group did and whether the dynamics will be any different as newly discovered kids join that group.

Our donor echoes the feeling that it’s difficult to connect with everyone. The sperm banks told him his donations would go to only a limited number of families (which wasn’t true), and they promised him anonymity (which they can no longer guarantee, in the age of commercial DNA testing). He told me, “I don’t feel like I can meaningfully connect with everybody; it’s just too big and spread out and still semi-secret” (semi-secret because some of the kids have found us without their parents’ knowledge, and the donor’s own family didn’t know he had been a donor until very recently).

An Emotional Minefield

I can’t imagine what it feels like to be one in a group of 90 kids, especially for the half-sibs who are only now stumbling into our group. My own kids were the first from our donor to learn about and meet a half-sibling, so they’ve been able to mentally assimilate the numbers as we’ve grown. Still, they sometimes feel lost in the crowd. Others, who found us at a later age, feel like “just another number.”

Some of the parents in our group have asked, “When will it end?” I don’t have a good answer for them. I’m not sure it will EVER end. Our donor donated at more than one facility, and although he thought that each facility had a limit, we’ve already passed those numbers. The truth is, sperm banks can’t adhere to any “official” limits that they promise donors or parents, because they don’t have accurate records of how many children are born. Although our group seems huge at 90, there are plenty of groups on the Donor Sibling Registry that number between 100-200. In a donor-conceived group, there is ALWAYS the possibility of another half-sibling surfacing. This knowledge can be unsettling, at a minimum. It can also cause serious stress and anxiety.

All families are complex, and not everyone in a given family gets along. The same is true in donor families—sometimes even more so, since all the kids were raised in completely separate families. Socially, there is no common parent or grandparent guiding the kids’ upbringing. In our case, multiply that by 60, which is our number of separate families. The kids in our group have all been raised differently, with different values and belief systems. This can cause conflicts in a group as large as ours, sometimes between parents and sometimes among the kids.

The Upside

In case it sounds like being part of a large half-sibling group is a negative experience, let me share the positive side of it. Our group has actually faced very few of the emotional downsides. Everyone in our group respects everyone else’s differences and opinions, and all the parents and kids are supportive of one another. One of the adult kids shared that “if someone in the group is going through a tough situation, I feel a responsibility to reach out and support them, because that’s what family is for.”

The feeling of community in a group like ours is unlike anything else. Every kid has literally dozens of closely related relatives who care about them. The kids have a Snapchat group that is constantly active. They talk to each other about their relationships, they trade memes and jokes, they share travel tips and stories, and they sometimes even help one another with homework! Regardless of where they are or what time of day it is, these kids have someone to talk to—someone who truly cares.

This is important to many of the parents, especially those whose kids are “only” children. Long after we parents are gone, the kids in our group will still have family. A LOT of family. If someone isn’t getting along with their full siblings, or if someone has a disagreement with a half-sibling, there will always be someone else to provide emotional support. In a group of 90(+), they will never run out of someone to talk to.

Back when we were aware of about 15 half-sibs, I used to joke that if one of my kids ever needed a kidney, I knew where to look. But in all seriousness, having a connection to so many biological relatives has clear medical benefits. Some of the kids have the same health struggles and can compare treatment plans. And (God forbid!) if anyone ever does need a stem cell, bone marrow, or kidney transplant, they are almost certain to find a match among their half-sibs.

I know it’s important to many of the kids to have a connection to one another, and it’s very important to some of them to have a connection to the donor. Likewise, it’s important to our donor to be connected to the kids. He says he is “constantly amazed by the kids’ accomplishments and travels” and that he thinks about the kids “every day.”

We Are Family

For better or worse, my three kids each have two full siblings and 87 half-siblings (as well as a social dad, stepdad, and biological father). And, like it or not, the number of half-siblings will continue to grow. While it can be tricky to juggle such a large group, the rewards are worth it. The connectedness of a donor family is hard to describe, but it’s very real. As one of the (non-bio) parents in our group put it, “I don’t know the right wording for our relationships, but these kids feel like family to me. Love is the relation.”

*Our group was at 89 when I started writing this blog post, but we got a new 23andMe match in the meantime.

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When You Learn the Truth: 8 Tips for Donor-Conceived Adults Who Just Found Out

Are you a donor-conceived adult who has only recently discovered the truth of your conception? Perhaps your parents finally decided to tell you — or maybe you found out on your own (possibly through a DNA test). You’re probably feeling a variety of emotions, including uncertainty about how to talk to your parents in light of this new information. The following tips will help you navigate the discussion.

1. Talk to your parents.

Take some deep breaths, and try to relax. Many people have walked this path before you, and although the road can get a bit bumpy for a little while, they have all survived. Secrecy implies shame, and you have nothing to be ashamed of, so do not let the “secret” persist. Set aside time as soon as possible to discuss the situation with your parents. Talk with other close family members and friends who can provide good support.

2. Ask questions.

Ask your parents why they used a donor and what the experience was like for them. Ask them why they kept the secret. Most parents don’t tell because they’re afraid of how the truth will affect the family. Often, the non-biological parent is afraid of being looked at as not the “real” parent. You can assure your non-bio mom or dad that this news changes nothing in your relationship. Your parents will always be your parents. This knowledge doesn’t change that fact or diminish your love for the parents who loved and raised you.

3. Explain very honestly how this news has affected you.

Tell your parents what you are feeling. You might be experiencing a wide variety of emotions, including anger, sadness, confusion, or even relief. Understand and explain that your feelings are valid and to be expected — and that working through these emotions might take some time. Have patience with yourself. If you’re upset, don’t feel guilty. This was your information to have, and it was kept from you.

4. Listen.

Your parents may have made the best decisions they could with the information they had at the time. Many parents were advised to lie to everyone, including their children. Find out what they know about the donor or any half-siblings. Gathering information about the other half of your genetic identity and relatives may help you better understand yourself. Many offspring report feeling a sense of relief as they reassemble the puzzle of their physical, emotional, & intellectual selves.

5. Be willing to forgive.

You may never fully understand or agree with your parents’ reasons for keeping this information from you. However, staying angry doesn’t help you move forward. Empathy and compassion will be extremely helpful in repairing any damaged relationships. Work through your emotions, with the help of a therapist if necessary. Understand that forgiveness is the only path to true healing. It’s important for your parents to know that you can forgive them for not telling you the truth, even if this might take some time.

6. Continue the conversation.

This is not a one-time conversation. Let your parents know that you will ask them to continue the conversation as you process this new information, tell family and friends, and incorporate it into your identity. Invite your parents to walk beside you as you explore your genetic roots and figure out what it means to you and your life to be donor-conceived. There is great opportunity for a stronger family bond if you can keep the lines of communication open. Let your parents love and support you.

7. Accept your new reality.

Feel good about the fact that your family will now have a basis in truth. Understand that any curiosities you have about your half-siblings and/or your unknown biological parent, your ancestry, and your medical history are normal and to be expected. It’s an innate human desire to want to know where we come from. You can’t change the past, but you can control how you move forward. This is your story to own and share as you see fit.

8. If you are curious…

If you do desire to know more about your donor family, give yourself permission to search for the information and the genetic relatives you’re curious about. Your curiosity is not a betrayal to your parents, particularly your non-biological parent, in any way. Adding new family members or ancestral information doesn’t take away from or diminish the importance of your family of origin. Let your parents know how important it is for you to have their support as you look to discover more about your ancestry, your medical background, and your genetic relatives. Join the Donor Sibling Registry for connection and support.

More DSR Resources

For more offspring (and parent) resources, visit the DSR Counseling page and our other Support pages. If you aren’t already a DSR member, please join today (https://www.donorsiblingregistry.com) to connect with your (or your child’s) genetic relatives.

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When the Truth Comes Out: 8 Tips for Parents of Donor-Conceived Adults

Are you a parent of a donor-conceived adult who is only now finding out the truth of their conception, either because you put off telling them until now or because they’ve discovered the truth on their own? If so, you may be nervous about how to approach this delicate conversation with your child. The following tips will help you navigate the discussion.

8 Tips If You Are Planning to Tell Soon…

1. When is the best time to tell? Now.

This is not your secret to carry. There will never be a “perfect” time, so the sooner, the better. Make sure you’ve done the psychological work necessary to be emotionally capable to have this conversation, e.g., counseling or soul searching on your own. Take some deep breaths, and try to relax. Many people have walked this path before you, and they have all survived!

2. Tell a little about your story and how you came to use a donor.

You’re setting the tone. Try to keep the conversation light, and use some humor if you can. You need to be as grounded and as level-headed as possible for this conversation because it lays the groundwork for all future conversations.

3. Explain very honestly why you haven’t told before now.

Don’t be defensive, and don’t use your story as an excuse. “We forgot about it” isn’t a good excuse, either. Your child wants to hear the emotion behind why you didn’t tell. What were you or your spouse afraid of? This can help your child process through their own emotions, which might include anger, sadness, confusion, or even relief.

4. Let your child know that you made the best decisions you could with the information you had at the time.

Explain what you were told by your doctor, including anything you know about the donor. Tell your child how it has felt to carry this information as a secret. Tell them what you’ve recently come to learn about the importance of honesty. Tell them who else knows.

5. Most Important: Apologize. Own it.

This was their information to know, and you kept it from them. Keep apologizing. This can allow them to move freely through their emotions without getting stuck in anger. Do not ask them to keep the “secret,” because secrecy implies shame. The shame of infertility should not be passed along to your child as the shame of donor conception.

6. Be ready to continue the conversation.

This is not a one-time conversation. It’s very important that your child knows that this is a welcomed, ongoing conversation and that you will be there by their side as they process this new information, tell family and friends, and incorporate it into their identity. Gently broach the topic regularly if your child doesn’t, so they know you’re there to help them understand what this new information means to them and their life.

7. Telling is just the first step.

Make sure your child knows that any curiosities they have about their half-siblings and/or their unknown biological parent, their ancestry, and their medical history are normal and to be expected. If you are not fully comfortable with this, it’s important that you understand why, so that you can continue to evolve in this area. Be honest as you communicate to your child about it.

8. If your child is curious…

If your child desires to know more about their origins, offer to walk side by side with them to find the information and genetic relatives they feel it’s important to know about. Make sure they understand that their curiosity is not a betrayal to you in any way. This is especially important for the non-biological parent. It’s important for your child to know that many people have also walked this path before them. You can point them to the Donor Sibling Registry for support.

8 Tips If Your Child Just Found Out on Their Own…

1. Apologize. Own it.

This was your child’s information to know, and you kept it from them. Keep apologizing. This can allow them to move freely through their emotions without getting stuck in anger. Do not ask them to keep the “secret,” because secrecy implies shame. The shame of infertility should not be passed along to your child as the shame of donor conception.

2. Tell a little about your story and how you came to use a donor.

Try to keep the conversation light, and use some humor if you can. You need to be as grounded and as level-headed as possible as you lay the groundwork for every future conversation.

3. Explain very honestly why you didn’t tell.

Don’t be defensive, and don’t use your story as an excuse. “We forgot about it” isn’t a good excuse, either. Your child wants to hear the emotion behind why you didn’t tell. What were you or your spouse afraid of? This can help your child process through their own emotions, which might include anger, sadness, confusion, or even relief.

4. Let your child know that you made the best decisions you could with the information you had at the time.

Explain what you were told by your doctor, including anything you know about the donor. Tell your child how it has felt to carry this information as a secret. Tell them what you’ve recently come to learn about the importance of honesty. Tell them who else knows.

5. Be ready to continue the conversation.

This is not a one-time conversation. It’s very important that your child knows that this is a welcomed, ongoing conversation and that you will be there by their side as they process this new information, tell family and friends, and incorporate it into their identity.

6. Make sure your child knows that any curiosities they have about their unknown donor family are normal and to be expected.

Make sure your child knows that you honor and support their desire to know their unknown genetic relatives. If you are not fully comfortable with this, it’s important that you understand why, so that you can continue to evolve in this area. Be honest as you communicate to your child about it.

7. If your child is curious…

If your child desires to know more about their ancestry, medical background, and close genetic relatives, offer to walk side by side with them to find the information and people they feel it’s important to know about. It’s crucial that they don’t think of their curiosity as a betrayal to you in any way. This is especially important for the non-biological parent. It’s important for your child to know that many people have walked this path before them. You can point them to the Donor Sibling Registry for support.

8. Keep the conversation going. Keep apologizing for not telling your child sooner and for them having to find out in such a shocking manner.

Take some deep breaths, and try to relax. Many people have walked this path before you, and they have all survived! Feel good about the fact that your family will now have a basis in truth. Gently broach the topic regularly if your child doesn’t, so they know you’re there to continue to help them understand what this new information means to them and their life.

More DSR Resources

For more parent and offspring resources, visit the DSR Counseling page and our other Support pages. If you aren’t already a DSR member, please join today (https://www.donorsiblingregistry.com) to connect with your or your child’s genetic relatives.

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Curiously Not Curious

Illustration: Hannah Ekua Buckman

Sometimes, donor-conceived people claim that they’re not curious about or interested in meeting their half-siblings or their other biological parent (donor). I’ve found that when we dig a little deeper into the issue, we often find that this ambiguity (or outright disinterest) is sometimes rooted in:

  1. A feeling that any curiosity they might have will be perceived as a betrayal of sorts to the parents who are raising them, particularly to the non-bio parent
  2. Thinking that their parent(s) would disapprove of any curiosity and/or a desire to meet, or that parents would be disappointed in some way (especially if parents have minimized/negated/dismissed the importance /significance of the child’s unknown biological parent)
  3. Fear of not being good enough, or not having accomplished enough, or not being mentally stable enough, or just not being at the “right place” in life
  4. Fear of not being accepted
  5. Fear of learning that the biological parent who contributed 50% of their DNA will be flawed in some way, which might then impact their own sense of personal identity
  6. Concern that the sibling(s) they’ve grown up with don’t approve
  7. Fear that meeting genetic relatives will somehow take away from their current family relationships, family system, and family stability
  8. The clear message that offspring have received from their parents (both action and inaction can speak louder than words) that the donor or half-siblings would not be a welcomed addition to the family
  9. Worry that they’ll be disappointed with their new relatives
  10. Worry that they won’t have enough in common
  11. Concern about not having the emotional bandwidth to deal with a meeting, or with incorporating new relatives into their lives
  12. Worry that friends and family will be judgmental — e.g., “Those people are not your family”

When parents can’t easily talk about their child’s donor family in an inclusive way, the message sent can be that the topic is off-limits.

I encourage all parents to put their own fears and hesitations aside when exploring this conversation and emotional dynamic with your kids. We want our kids to have the space and support needed to explore this other side of themselves and these new genetic relatives.

We have too many donor-conceived people joining the DSR behind their parent’s backs and too many who call for phone consults after connecting with their donor family members via DNA, who feel that their desire to know more about their half-siblings and genetic parents would be too upsetting or hurtful to their parents.

If you have a young or adult child who insists that they don’t want to meet donor family members, I suggest opening up a gentle dialog with them, just to make sure that none of these deeper issues or fears are present. If they are present, I see that as an opportunity to dialog more deeply on the issues that can affect their relationships and their own identities. In the long run, these conversations can deepen and strengthen your relationship with your child as you support them while they explore their new familial relationships.

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Kindred Spirits


kin·dred spir·it /ˈkindrid ˈspirit/

noun “a person whose interests or attitudes are similar to one’s own.”

In both our families of origin (the families that we grow up with) and in our donor families (the family that we meet later on), we long for meaningful familial connections. We long to connect with kindred spirits. This is true for all donor family members: the parents, the donors, and the offspring. We want that feeling of being immediately comfortable. We desire those deeper connections—the feeling that another person just “gets” us.

I received this email from an adult donor-conceived person who has recently made several half-sibling connections:

“I had an immediate connection with one of my new half brothers, yet as we became closer he began sending me red-state bullshit, veiled racist emails, and other pro-Trump idiocy. He also would continually send me live streaming links to his religious right church’s Sunday service.

I began to go quiet and pulled back. A couple of ugly emails this past week provoked me to speak out and answer him. I tried not to edit my truth and I tried not to directly criticize him.

I can’t help but think that he and I are not the first new-found half siblings to suffer from the red-blue divide. Additionally, I can’t help but think that the below letter, with some edits, might not be valuable if out in the public. Any ideas?”

And so he began the following email to his half brother:

“I find the combinations of similarities and differences between the new half siblings, especially with you, extraordinary. On one hand (genetically), you and I are one-half the same. But on the other hand, different upbringings instilled different beliefs – spiritually, religiously, politically, and socially.”

Our newly found donor families can be made up of many people of varied races, family types, religions (including non-believers), academic backgrounds, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, cultures, political perspectives, nationalities, and personality types.   

Think about your own Thanksgiving table…do you want to hang out with everyone there? Sometimes not! Not all relatives are like-minded or have enough in common to desire extra time spent together.

But are these valid reasons to not seek out your (or your child’s) unknown genetic relatives?—We think not. Families don’t necessarily include only kindred spirits who think and act alike at all times. Just as we accept those in our families of origin who don’t share all of our interests or attitudes, we can accept and even embrace members of our donor families who are different from us. These differences make us no less “family”.

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Donor Offspring: Voices of the Disenfranchised

Over the years I have given a lot of thought to how the varied voices of donor-conceived people are heard and considered. While I do think that all donor-conceived people’s experiences and points of view need to be included in the donor conception conversation, I also think that they need to be weighed accordingly.

Here are a few analogies: comparing things that might, but don’t certainly, cause harm. If there is a potential for harm, there are precautions/warnings. To be clear: I am not directly comparing donor conception with any of these things.

  • 1. Seat belts. Some people drive around without using seatbelts, and they’ve never been harmed in an accident. We have seatbelt laws because many people who have not used a seat belt have been harmed. 
  • 2. Smoking. Many people who have smoked have had no health issues. But because smoking does cause harm to some, we give proper warnings on cigarette packages. Stories of smokers without health issues don’t factor into proper cigarette warning education.
  • 3. Alcohol. Many pregnant women have consumed alcohol, and their babies were born without any health issues. Stories of those women don’t factor into the proper warnings about consuming alcohol during pregnancy.
  • 4. Open Adoption. Decades ago people acknowledged the importance of adopted people knowing about their families of origin. Like donor-conceived people, not all adopted people were curious, but most were. Today, closed adoptions are all but extinct; it’s estimated that only 5 percent of modern adoptions are closed. Because of that, the adoption system continues to evolve.

Highlighting and equally weighing stories about people who smoke with no health consequences, or who don’t use seat belts and have never been injured in an accident, or who drank alcohol during pregnancy and had healthy babies, or who have adopted children who were not negatively affected by having no information on their families of origin is not just cause for not warning people about the inherent and potential harm in these situations.

So yes, some donor-conceived people are not curious, and some don’t care about meeting their genetic relatives or knowing about their health history or ancestry, but that doesn’t negate the importance of making rules that affect everyone, most importantly the significant number of people who are negatively affected by being kept from this familial information. As with auto safety, alcohol awareness, smoking, and adoption; new data, research, and information need to be acknowledged in order to be able to move forward so that policies can be set to protect all people.

“My Mom asked me years ago if I wanted to search for my donor. I did not and still do not wish to know who he is. I have never felt angry or betrayed and have never felt a sense of loss! As of now (I am 21) I have no interest in the donor. He was probably donating for the $ and wasn’t looking to create a child with a true connection to him, except biological. The donor has never used the DSR, probably because he has no wish to, or, has never thought about his “donation”. I don’t feel any sense of anger or loss. I’m happy they wanted me enough to use the sperm.”

Parents and the reproductive medicine industry can acknowledge the new data, anecdotal information, and research so that the ideas regarding donor anonymity can evolve accordingly. There is no data or psychological research that shows anonymity for 18 or more years is in the best interests of anyone. The data, anecdotal reports, and research clearly show that anonymity is harmful to a significant number of donor-conceived people. Anonymity might serve the fears, hesitations, and worries of uneducated and un-counseled parents and donors, and be in the best interests of the sperm banks and clinics, but that doesn’t justify the ethics of the practice.

“…the repeated assumption that simply telling your kids from the start is a magical elixir (not saying lying isn’t a big problem, but there are plenty of mixed feelings from people who weren’t lied to), the belief that because someone was “so wanted and loved” is a logical counter to losing half their bio relatives, that someone is “well-adjusted” because they don’t show interest in finding their donor, or that a parent is doing a great job for the same reason…it gets a little tiresome and turns people off from wanting to express their feelings.”

“I have always known that I was donor conceived. Since I can remember, I have been curious and excited to look for paternal family members. Never have I felt loss or anger. In fact, I can only imagine being angry if my mom didn’t tell me. I’m 33 and am just now starting to connect with half-siblings and it makes my heart explode. I also knew from the beginning that my Mom had an anonymous donor. “

“I know I don’t like the term donor. It’s our biological father. Many of us hear that we should just be happy to be alive. We are, but I think it’s more about validating our feelings. Most of us want to know about our background. What our other biological parent is/was like. Stories of our families. Also, the fact of missing out on childhood memories being made with siblings. Oh, and I think the thought of being bought and paid for. Not every day, but some days you just feel like a transaction.”

“I am unhappy with being DC. I actually do not even wish to continue to refer to myself as DC- my mother had a sperm donor, I have a biological father who I will never meet or know. I am constantly frustrated by the hypocrisy of people who believe biology is so important they buy sperm or eggs in order to have a biological connection to their offspring. These same people then deny the importance of biology by writing off the “unknown” portion of their child’s parentage.”

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From a Donor’s Wife

Many people (and certainly the sperm banks) often don’t understand why 20, 40, 100, or 200 kids for any one donor might be problematic. Besides the obvious medical and psychological issues for donor offspring, this perspective from a donor’s wife also needs to be included in the conversation.

“Hi Wendy,

I would like to ask you to share our story with others in the hope that all sides of sperm donation will receive the attention and respect every side deserves. I feel that if families want sperm donation to be an option, there needs to be education for all involved with regard to the emotional impact-not only at the time of donation/creation but in the years to come when the donor may be building a family in the more traditional sense and the donor-conceived have questions and are seeking the missing part.

I read frequently that the donor-conceived do not sign anything when they are created or born and do not have a choice in how they were created. I would also like people to understand and respect that I didn’t have a choice. I never signed anything that said I would be ok with the idea of blending 40 biological offspring and their families into my marriage. My kids didn’t have a choice either. They never signed anything that said they were ok with someday finding out they are one of 40, not one of four.

My wish is that women retain the right to have the child(ren) they desire, that any stigma over sperm donation is removed, and that greater consideration be extended because many people are affected by the decision to donate and use assisted reproduction. This consideration should be the dual responsibility of the donor and the recipient family. Let’s make these things happen.

Continued thanks for your work,”

The donor’s wife sent a second email message in response to many parents and offspring who commented on her message on the DSR’s Facebook page:

“My husband told me on our first date that he was a sperm donor. I asked him if any children had been born, and he said the clinic wouldn’t share that information with him.

Seven years into our marriage-we agreed to the clinic’s request for pictures and medical information for the very reason of giving kids who came forward a sense of coming from someone-not a vial. We graciously opened our lives as we recognized the psychological needs of others. The clinic still would not share how many children there were. I would also like to point out that at this point he could have asked to remain an anonymous donor-that would have been his right-but he/we didn’t. Yes, he said he would be open to contact if the child showed interest in meeting him-because we had children of our own at that time and could understand why knowing the person who contributed might prove healing. Again, he was thinking of the donor-conceived kids. Up to this point, we were both operating under the false assumption that it would be a handful of kids. Help me understand what “moral responsibility” my husband or I failed to recognize.

Three years after providing the pictures and medical information, a dozen and a half come forward. Today, there are now 40 (that we know of). Over two dozen of those were born before the birth of our first child. When we agreed that he would be open to meeting children who came forward, this is how we thought that would play out based on what we were told by the clinic. Child/parents/family would contact the clinic expressing desire to meet their donor. Clinic would contact us to see if we were comfortable with that. After three, maybe four, we could have decided that was enough and would not welcome further contact from any additional offspring. We would have been able to control the impact this had on our lives. But it didn’t happen that way at all. Social media, person searches, and genetic testing companies have made boundaries and protection of privacy virtually non-existent.

He wasn’t “shirking any duties.” He “didn’t forget he was a sperm donor.” He didn’t donate for “easy money” as one poster suggested, and he absolutely thought about his actions. And I am not “jealous.” He did not bring the donor conceived into the world. He brought our four children into the world. He stood by my side as I birthed each one of them. The families of the donor conceived are the ones who brought their children into the world. Let’s not muddy this important distinction-that we create our children with intent and love, that sometimes assistance is needed to make that happen, but as parents, we bring our children into being. From their first breath, we belong to our children and our children belong to us. Our children absolutely do not matter more as people, but they matter more TO US and their emotional health is more important TO US because they came from my body and were created out of our love. Wouldn’t anyone of you say the same thing…that your children rise above all others for one reason-you carried them, you raised them, you protect them? Who would we save first in a burning building? Exactly. Our own. But I guess in our case, I am made to believe that if my husband’s forty-four biological offspring were in that burning house, he would be expected to simply choose a child at random for they are all the same, right? They are all his biological offspring so he should treat them all the same. That is what is being asked of me, of us, of our children. Does anyone see the hurt and pain here?

Please don’t blame this completely lifechanging event on the fact that my husband donated, and as such, he should have been prepared. Please don’t tell me, that by marrying him, I agreed to let any and all families into our lives. Or that my children’s needs don’t count or are overshadowed by those of the donor-conceived because our kids got to live with their “bio-dad” all these years and the donor-conceived didn’t get to. We should not be made to feel guilty or indebted because we made our family a different way, and that yes, four people have the privilege of calling him dad or daddy. (We never refer to him as our kids’ bio-dad.)

As far as what number is acceptable, what would it be for you? Five? Ten? Twenty? Thirty? More than that? What difference does it make what the donor’s family feels comfortable with. We weren’t told how many births had happened. We didn’t control that number; the clinic did. And I agree with the poster who suggested this clearly demonstrates the need for regulation and more education for all parties.

Nobody is saying donor-conceived people don’t matter. I am saying that the best we can do with so many varying needs and wants in the sperm donation community is to respect each other and support each other to the extent that we are able. My experience is my experience. You haven’t lived it so how can anyone pretend to know what learning of 40 offspring has been like for our family? And on the flip side, how can I possibly begin to understand what it feels like to grow up without that sense of coming from an actual person? I think we can all agree that the starting point is changing the process of sperm donation. So let’s do that rather than pummeling each other in posts, placing blame where it shouldn’t be, and making statements about families and people we know next to nothing about. We have the numbers to make change. Until the industry changes, stories like ours will continue to happen and some donor-conceived individuals will continue to be met with rejection and silence.

On an ending note, stories of poorly mismanaged sperm banks will continue to come forward. At what point will enough experiences and opinions be shared that men no longer want to put themselves in these complex and sticky circumstances because they don’t want to deal with what other families have gone through? There will come a time at which monetary compensation for the donor will not be adequate for giving away total lack of privacy for the rest of their lives. How much money does my husband deserve for all the hurt feelings this situation has caused us over the years? And how sad will it be when a single woman or a couple who wants to have a baby can’t because men no longer donate?

Thank you to those who expressed empathy and understanding. Thank you, Stefani, for sharing your feelings when finding out your daughter had four half sibs. Shock, anger, betrayal, and bewilderment were your words. And she conceived with donor sperm. The fact that this woman could relate to these feelings when she herself carried a donor-conceived child warmed my heart. It tells me that our two sides of this situation are not that far apart. There is a chance to work together to bring about change…for everyone.

And here’s a little something for thought…when I donated eggs after we were married, I was required to provide an extensive medical background and pictures even before the process could begin. The recipient was also required to write a letter of appreciation, thanking me for my donation. It was a symbolic way of recognizing that what had once been mind was now hers. I understand when a man donates, there are millions of sperm, and when a woman donates, their might be twelve eggs. But I don’t see why the same standards don’t apply. I still have that letter. My recipient has never reached out, and the clinic shared there was more than one birth. But if she did want to reach out, she would be required to do it through the clinic as she signed a contract to that nature. So clearly I don’t have a problem with the fact my husband donated. I have a problem with the numbers we were forced to digest, after the fact, and the complete lack of oversight on the part of the clinic to address boundaries in a more organized way. I am not disrespecting the 40 children. I am disrespecting the government and state bodies that think that assisted reproduction is a business rather than the art of bringing families into being, and time and time again, operate without any regard for the humanity behind it all.

So let’s show them that there is no doubt-our families matter.”

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CBS News & the NY Times: Woman uses DNA test, finds sperm donor – and pays a “devastating” price.

CBS ran their story on the Northwest Cryobank situation I wrote about in my last blog post and the NY Times ran its story on February 16, 2019.

It’s my professional opinion that sperm banks’s attempts to keep donor-conceived people from their first and second-degree genetic relatives, by trying to prohibit mutual consent contact on DNA websites and on the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) has nothing to do with “protecting the donors” as they claim, but rather an attempt to keep their wrong-doing from becoming public.

Threatening parents for testing their child’s DNA and for reaching out to first and second-degree genetic relatives to learn more about ancestry, ethnicity and medical history, is a battle that’s already been lost and only a diversion to the real problems and issues at hand within the sperm banking industry.

It’s absurd that none of these critical items, (with real and devastating consequences) are in the agreements that parents sign:
* sending the wrong sperm (happens frequently, two such reports from NW Cryobank parents this month)
* changing donors from open to anonymous: this happens frequently, several reports from several of the large US sperm banks, including NW Cryobank, with the donor featured in this story
* keeping accurate records (no sperm banks have accurate records on how many children are born from any one donor)
* updating and/or sharing medical information (84% of surveyed sperm donors were never asked for medical updates)
* tracking or limiting the number of kids born from any one donor. The DSR has many groups of more than 100 half siblings, all the way up to around 200. Limiting the number of kids born to any one donor is also not in any the donor contracts, although many donors, including my own, have been promised no more than 10 kids. You can’t limit until you accurately track, which just isn’t done.

NW Cryobank is the only sperm bank threatening their donors into not signing up to the DSR to make mutual consent contact. This is deliberately keeping donors from sharing and updating medical information with the families, and visa-versa

The sperm bank’s reason for not allowing donors to make mutual consent contact on the DSR was to “protect the parents” and their reasoning for not allowing parents to “seek the identity of the donor” (DNA test) was to “protect” the donor. The director of Fairfax Cryobank told me that the reason they don’t allow donors from before 2010 to know their own donor numbers (thereby attempting to keep donors from connecting with offspring) was also to “protect the parents”. So it seems like these sperm banks are playing both sides of the field: threatening both parents and donors for their own “protection”. In reality, these policies mainly serve the interests of sperm banks.

“I get the distinct impression they are trying to limit my access to other families since my daughter was born with genetic issues.”

NW Cryobank/California Cryobank said in their response letter to Ms. Teuscher, “There’s a human being on the other side of the gift”, referring to the donor. Donors sell their sperm and parents pay a lot for a vial of it. No one is “gifting” anything. It’s a commercial transaction- a seller, a middleman, and a buyer. NW Cryobank has taken back the “gifts” that Ms. Teuscher paid a lot of money for.

Donor offspring of all ages are testing their own DNA, sometimes completely unaware that they are donor-conceived and they, along with all other offspring, never signed any type of “agreement” prohibiting mutual consent contact with their biological relatives, via DNA testing or via any other methodology. When you submit DNA, oftentimes you are told that you’re 15% or 25% related: so until you reach out to that unknown relative, you just don’t know if it’s a half sibling, a grandparent, a cousin, or an aunt or uncle.

It’s time that sperm banks shift their decades-long great effort and focus from attempting to keep donor-conceived people from connecting with their first and second-degree relatives to learn more about their ancestry, ethnicity, and medical backgrounds to understanding, acknowledging and addressing the needs and rights of these people. We invite the sperm banks to read the two-dozen research papers that we’ve published in peer-reviewed academic journals that address the psychological and medical impact of donor anonymity and the importance of these connections. 

Additionally, it’s urgent that the banks stop the practice of promising/forcing anonymity in all parent and donor sperm bank contracts. Donor anonymity ended in 2005 when the first donor offspring located his donor via DNA testing. We invite all sperm banks to act in a more ethical manner and call for honesty, accountability, and responsibility within the industry.

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DNA and Your Rights

We’ve been hearing disturbing accounts of NW Cryobank threatening donor families for DNA testing. In the past, this sperm bank has also prohibited its donors from using the DSR to make mutual consent contact, thereby prohibiting offspring from learning more about their ancestry, ethnicity, medical backgrounds, and close genetic relatives. 

Recently, one mom has been threatened with a $20,000 fine: $10,000 for testing her daughter’s DNA (“seeking the identity of the donor”) and another $10,000 for reaching out to relatives on the DNA website.   

Another mom found out via DNA testing that she was given the wrong sperm and was also threatened in regards to reaching out to her child’s genetic relatives on the DNA website.  Instead of acknowledging the serious error of shipping the incorrect sperm, the sperm bank instead told the woman that she could not use the DNA connections to try and piece together which donor’s sperm she’d actually been sold.   The​ sperm bank contract prohibits “seeking the identity” of the donor, so apparently, “seeking the identity of”  and DNA testing are one and the same to the cryobank.

People around the world test their own or their child’s DNA to find close genetic relatives, to get medical information, and to learn more about ancestry, ethnicity, countries of origin, and to build family trees. Why would donor offspring have fewer rights than any other segment of the population to test their own DNA?

Offspring of all ages are testing their own DNA, sometimes completely unaware that they are donor-conceived and they, along with all other offspring, never signed any type of “agreement” prohibiting mutual consent contact with their biological relatives, via DNA testing or any other methodology. Additionally, when you submit DNA, oftentimes you are told that you’re 25% related: so until you reach out to that relative, you don’t know if it’s a half sibling, a grandparent or an aunt or uncle.

Why are these moms being threatened for testing their child’s DNA when so many have already done so and reached out to their unknown genetic relatives? Many formerly anonymous donors welcome the contact, while others choose to say, “thanks, but no thanks”. But you just can’t know if the person that you match with is open to connecting until you actually reach out. Shouldn’t everyone be able to both make and explore their own and their child’s DNA connections?

The sperm bank’s reason for not allowing donors to make mutual consent contact on the DSR was to “protect the parents” and their reasoning for not allowing parents to “seek the identity of the donor” was to “protect” the donor.  So it seems like they’re playing both sides of the field: threatening both parents and donors for their own “protection”.  In reality, these policies mainly serve the interests of the sperm banks.

“I get the distinct impression they are trying to limit my access to other families since my daughter was born with genetic issues.”

All sperm banks have some sort of a clause prohibiting people from connecting as keeping genetic relatives from each other allows them to continue lying: about numbers of offspring per donor, about “lost” records, about sperm mix-ups, about reaching out to “open” donors, about medical information, etc. All appear to be unenforceable as people have been connecting on the DSR since 2000, and via DNA and via other search methods since at least 2005.

No such lawsuit with a donor who donated through a sperm bank has ever happened. My own son was the first donor-conceived person to locate his donor via DNA testing in 2005. Our sperm bank, California Cryobank who is owned by the same parent company as NW Cryo, and the sperm banks of many others, has never previously threatened people from DNA testing. We assumed that they seemed to understand that they would be trying to shut the barn door on a horse that got out a long time ago. Yet now Califonia Cryobank is also reaching out to parents, trying to enforce the “no DNA testing” rule on donor families of its sister sperm bank, NW Cryo. Why?

CCB’s Agreement: “Client agrees that Client will not, directly or indirectly, through a third party, make any attempt to contact a donor. Client acknowledges that Client has no right to learn the identity of a donor and that Cryobank will not disclose any identifying information regarding a donor. Any donor contact must be facilitated by Cryobank per the Anonymous and Open Donor Contact policies.”  

The Donor Sibling Registry currently has 3,570 donors on its website.

Donors from NW Cryobank are also threatened from posting on the Donor Sibling Registry in order to make mutual consent contact with the families.  They are the only sperm bank that has not a single donor posted, after one did so in 2007 and was threatened by the sperm bank, and promptly removed his posting.

Sperm banks continue to try and to enforce these self-serving rules to both the people desperate for children and the young college students needing money. For the sake of the offspring, it’s time for both parents and donors to be properly educated and counseled at the front door of the sperm bank or clinic. They need to know about DNA, anonymity, and the importance of making donor family connections, so that they all have the opportunity to make fully educated decisions.

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