Frequently Asked Questions

Following are some frequently asked questions, with answers that may be able to help guide you through what can be an exciting, but sometimes confusing, journey. At the bottom of the page are some sample letters to guide you through acquiring your donor information from a sperm bank or clinic.

For donor conceived persons, parents of the donor conceived, and donors themselves, making these connections is uncharted territory. Please know that these questions have been asked by many members, and as we fine-tune the questions, hopefully we can all figure out some answers together here on the DSR. (I have partnered with Liz Margolies, a licensed psychotherapist, to answer some of these questions.)

Watch the 2014 video webinar we did for the Family Equality Council!  Wendy talks about the DSR, who were and why we do what we do, what we have learned over the years, moving the industry forward in a more ethical and responsible manner, and how to create healthy and happy families.

NEW BOOK FOR DONOR FAMILIES!!!  In 2013 we published a book for donor families. It covers everything from disclosure, donor offspring's curiosities, connecting with donors and half-siblings, to redefinining these new relationships.  Order Here!

Please consult the Site Help section if you have questions about how to use the site.


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We Just Made A Match With A Half-Sibling/Donor. What Do We Do Now?

First, take a deep breath. This moment is likely to bring up feelings you had not anticipated when you first registered on the website, and, therefore, you may no longer be sure about what you want to do next. Try to have no expectations of yourself for action. Allow yourself or your child enough time to figure out what you are seeking at this point. Are you interested in a simple exchange of information? Are there questions you want to ask? Is your desire to be "known" to the donor? Do you hope to meet in person? My best advice is to follow the old carpenter’s adage: "Measure twice, cut once."

It is perfectly normal to feel ambivalent, meaning that you may experience two simultaneous and contradictory feelings. The strong desire to find a half-sibling or donor can exist alongside the equally intense fear of the unknown changes this can bring about in yourself, your child or your family structure. After having hoped that a match would be found, you may now have a strong urge to back out. The same holds true for the donor or half-sibling who came forward.

If you decide to move ahead with contact, go slowly. Email is a good way to begin. You can offer some information about yourself and see what kind of response you receive. If you ask questions, frame them gently, allowing for the other person’s ambivalence about contact and exposure. Allow yourself time after each exchange to assess your comfort level and that of the half-sibling, parent or donor. This is a process, and sometimes patience is needed. Donors are often especially cautious because of the possibility of multiple offspring. I recommend permitting donors to take the lead in determining the speed and depth of the communication.

NOTEWhen you match with your donor on the DSR, we recommend asking a few pieces of information from the donor profile that have not been posted, that only he would know. 

And some more advice on contacting your donor:

All you can do is reach out to him, preferably in writing, so that you don't put him on the spot. Tell him that you would like to gradually initiate a relationship; you don't expect him to turn his life upside down, you simply want to ease into some communication, if he's amenable. Be thoughtful in your note: Let him know how you feel, what you need and why this is so important to you. Make it very clear also about the things you are not looking for, i.e. money, great demands on his time, disruption of his family, etc.

Before you send the letter, it's critical that you adjust your expectations so that you aren't setting yourself up for failure. You are opening a door, but that doesn't mean that he'll come through it. As difficult as it may be, you have to remember that he may not be in a position to react in a way that may satisfy you. There could be any number of reasons that he is not prepared to connect at this point in time. At the very least, you will have opened up the possibility of communication, be it immediately or when the donor feels ready.


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What Can I Expect From My Contact With The Other Families I Meet?

I think you can count on finding another family who is also experiencing deep feelings, but just as the circumstance surrounding each child’s conception are unique, so are the variations in family structure and reactions to the match. Try to be open to who the new family is and what they are looking for now. If you can’t be, perhaps this is not the time to make contact.

Many of the donor-conceived children have lesbian parents. While the actual numbers are not known, these families are more likely to share the facts of their conception with their children and are, therefore, well represented among the members of the DSR. Similarly, many single mothers by choice are interested in expanding their families through the DSR. For some heterosexual families, this may be their first exposure to different kinds of families, adding an extra stress to the anxiety and excitement of making a match. It is OK to be nervous or unsure about the terms or language that the other family uses. But, heterosexual families that are not open to contacting lesbian, gay or single-parent families, due to religious or other values, may want to think about that before making a match.

In addition to family structure, there is a large range of expectations among DSR families. Some are interested solely in information sharing with the parents of their child’s half-sibling. Other families desire a limited exchange of photos and email, but not face-to-face contact. And some families are hoping to develop an ongoing relationship that will become a friendship or resemble extended family. It is best to be clear about the level of connection you are seeking when you make a match, and try to express that early on to the family of your match. Understand, too, that comfort and expectations often change over time.


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When Is The Best Time To Tell My Child That She Is Donor-Conceived?

It is never too early to begin telling your child the circumstances of her conception and birth. Small children love to hear the story of their beginnings and often ask to have it repeated. Don’t worry about having the right language or perfect terminology. The way you tell this story should reflect the way you always speak in your house, with the same tone, length and level of seriousness. When the story of the donor-conception is told from the beginning of your child’s life, the information becomes embedded in the relationship between your child and you. It is shared and it is a non-event, compared to the experience of disclosing the information for the first time at a later date.

It may at first seem odd to be talking about issues of fertility to a young child, but remember that children only absorb the parts of the story that are meaningful to them at their current age. They simply disregard the information that is too advanced for them. When told about their donors, young children tend to ask very practical questions and usually show little emotional response.

The story should grow with your child, increasing in detail as she is able to understand more. In response, the questions you are asked will also change as your child develops. Children vary greatly in how important this information feels to them. Some children show little interest for years and then have a period of time where they are thinking about the donor or possible half siblings all the time. There is not one way that all children respond and even the same child reacts differently over time. So, even if your child does not bring the subject up, you should do so from time-to-time, reminding her that this will always be an open topic for discussion between you.

Oftentimes, telling is not the end of the story. Many donor children are very interested in learning about the other "half of themselves" and may have a strong desire to connect with their genetic relatives. Please be careful not to minimize this desire for connection, as your child could end up feeling resentful or guilty if they have therese curiosities that you ignore, minimize or negate. To you, the donor might just be a "piece of genetic material," but to your child, it is one half of their genetics and their ancestry.


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Why Should I Tell My Child He Is Donor-Conceived?

It is wise to disclose what cannot be concealed - Johann Friedrich Von Schiller

Some parents are reluctant to tell their children that they were conceived with the aid of donor gametes (eggs or sperm). They view this information as "private" or "confidential." According to the research, married couples are more likely to feel this way than either single women or lesbians who use donor sperm. In some cases, heterosexual couples have not shared the information with any close friends or family.

Parents who believe their children deserve to know their genetic origins tend to frame the issue in terms of "honesty" versus "secrecy." They value openness in the family and believe that secrets are dangerous and uncontrollable. For example, in cases where there are some other people who do know the circumstances of a child’s conception, there is always the risk of unplanned disclosure by someone besides the parent.

I believe that children need to be told about the circumstances of their conception for two primary reasons: they have a right to know their genetic origins, and it is damaging to family relationships when important information is both withheld and/or revealed too late. It can damage trust between family members.

Some children who had not yet been told that they were donor-conceived reported that they already felt different within their families, based on either physical characteristics or personality. They lacked facts to substantiate their strong feelings. Even without being told, children often pick up hidden clues from the family. In the studies that have been completed with donor-conceived children, many reported a powerful sense that some valuable information was being withheld from them.

The ability for parents to find half-siblings through this registry raises new issues about disclosure. Parents who have always told their children that they were donor-conceived have to now decide when and how to tell their children about the new relatives that have been found.

A great article from Family Circle Magazine about being honest with your children: What Secrets Should You Tell Your Kids?


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Is It Too Late To Tell Our Child? We Haven't Told Her Yet.

It is never too late to be honest with your child.

If you have waited this long, I recommend that you now allow yourself ample time to carefully consider what you will say. It is a good idea to get professional help in preparing for the disclosure and determining how best to phrase your ideas in language that is tailored to your child’s current age and developmental stage. We are always available to help you through this process.

The talk you have with your daughter should have several components. First, you need to convey the facts you want your child to know about the circumstance of her conception. This part may include some science about sperm and egg, and almost always stresses how much you wanted a child like her. Second, you may want to explain why you did not tell her previously. Did you believe it was best for the family? Were you protecting her father? Third, it is a good idea to let her know why you chose to tell her this now. Does she now seem old enough to know? Did you change your mind about disclosure? Is there something about to happen in the near future that makes this telling essential now? Finally, allow room for your child to express her feelings about this news. She will probably have many contradictory feelings and it can be extremely hard to hear them all.

Remember, disclosure is not a one-time act. The meaning of the news will change over time for your child. The first few weeks will bring many changes and then, as she makes important transitional steps in her life, she will keep reassessing the meaning of being donor-conceived. The only thing you can count on remaining constant is your willingness to be there with her and listen to her feelings as she expresses them.


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My Child Just Found Out He Is Donor-Conceived. How Can I Best Support Him?

The new disclosure has multi-layered meanings for your child. He will likely experience complicated and even contradictory feelings as he tries to assimilate the new information. Give him plenty of time and a willingness to hear what he has to say. Expect confusing feelings at first and don’t mistake today’s expression for the long-lasting impact of disclosure. Certainly, how you handle this next phase will have an enormous impact on the duration and outcome of the disclosure in your family.

First, your child needs to adjust to the fact that he was living under false assumptions about his biological origins. Everything he understood about his genetic continuity has to be rewritten. This is not easy work for your child. The best way you can help him through this is by allowing him to feel his entire range of feelings, including anger, confusion, liberation and shock. Offering some information about how you came to choose donor insemination will help him as he struggles to rewrite his past.

Second, your son must make sense of the fact that this information was kept from him for so long. He is likely to focus his feelings about this onto you. He may feel deceived, mistrustful of you, extremely angry and accusatory. In a family with a mother and a father, you can expect that a child will have altered feelings about BOTH parents. Again, you can best help him through this by a combination of explaining why you originally decided not to tell him about his genetic origins and, more importantly, allowing him to express these feelings without becoming defensive or distant.

This could undoubtedly be a hard storm, but the key to weathering it is to stay connected, remain open to what your child needs to say or ask and, ultimately, show him through your consistent behavior that your are the same mother and father who have always loved him and always will. Many donor offspring back off from moving forward with the conversation because they fear it will hurt their non-biological parent too much. Make sure he knows that this conversation is safe and that you are open to discussing these issues whenever and however your child wishes.  Be aware that the pain they are feeling might be hard for them to articulate. Most importantly, your child needs the freedom to express all of their conflicting emotions without any fear of judgement. Staying connected is not limited to talking. If your child won’t speak about the subject, be open to alternative forms of contact that he may prefer, like email.

Honor and support any desires they have to search out their biological family. Even though you may have a very close relationship with your child, they may wish to to learn about and meet their unknown genetic relatives. This doesn't mean that you will be any less their parent, it only means that they desire to connect with others with whom they share genetic ties. There can be great satisfaction for them to see some of their physical characteristics, personality attributes and academic and artistic interests reflected in others.


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I Want To Tell My Child That She Is Donor-Conceived, But My Husband/Wife Doesn't Want Me To. What Should I Do?

It is very difficult to feel torn between the needs of different members of your family. You love them both and want to do what is best for each of them, even when those needs seem to be at odds. Up until this point, your family has "protected the privacy" of the donor and "maintained the secret" from your child. The difference in opinion you and your husband now have can be a source of conflict in your marriage.

In some families, spouses place a different importance on the facts of conception. Most women, however, have not disclosed in order to protect their husbands. Male infertility brings with it a social stigma and, in many cases, shame. Fathers often fear that their children will feel differently about them once they learn that there is no genetic connection between them. I recommend that you speak with your husband lovingly and respectfully about his feelings and concerns. I also recommend that your husband take a good look at whether or not he has sufficiently dealt with the grief of not being able to give your child a genetic connection. Many men do not adequately process through this grief before their child is born, and then have difficulty not passing this along, in some way,  to their children. When this grief is not verbalized, validated and fully processed by both parents, every member of the family can suffer.

Some dads are also fearful that their kids might look at them differently and that their parenting might come under much more scrutiny. They worry that they maybe have not been perfect parents, and if their kids knew that there wasn't a genetic bond, that they will view them as less of a parent. It's important for these men to know that all of us worry about our parenting at some point! Until these issues are addressed sufficiently, your husband is less likely to change his mind about disclosure.

Parents will also need to put aside their own feelings of guilt. If parents are feeling guilty about holding "the secret," they may be incapable of dropping their defenses to be in an open emotional state to honor and acknowledge their child's pain.

The two of you have to weigh his strong feelings against the potential problems you will encounter from withholding the information from your daughter. Should you decide to ever tell her she is donor-conceived or should she find out through someone else, there is a great likelihood that she will be angry at having the information withheld until now. This feeling will be directed towards both parents, not just her father. Your ongoing conversations with your husband must foccus on your child’s needs as well.

In lesbian families where donor sperm was used to conceive, the non-biological mother may also feel insecure about her lack of genetic connection to her child. While the facts surrounding the child’s conception are more likely to be shared in that family arrangement, the non-biological mother may, like the heterosexual father, be resistant to searching for a donor who might threaten her role in the two-parent structure.

After telling, some parents may feel the need to minimize the genetic connection between their child and the donor. If a child grows up in a family where half of their genetic, ancestral and medical backgrounds are minimized or negated, they can feel a lot of guilt if and when they do become curious. Parents need to be very careful not to put their own biases onto children and allow them to process and define these connections for themselves as they mature.

 

My Teenager Is Planning On Contacting Her Donor When She Turns 18. How Can I Assist Her As She Prepares For This?

I think we need to be very careful when our donor children are curious and plan on reaching out to their donors. Children have the tendency to idolize their donors and think of them as perfect people. Donors are just regular people. If you make someone out to be perfect, you are guaranteed to be disappointed. People can get hurt when they have unrealistic expectations – our hopes must be realistic when connecting with donors.

When reaching out, you can tell the donor that your door is open and that you hope to get to know each other so that you can build a friendship/relationship. Be very sensitive to his needs and boundaries as he might be unsure about what you actually want from him. You will need to respect his life and his right to put up some boundaries.

Because they have not been adequately educated on the reasons that donor children wish to connect, some donors might be fearful. They may even turn away because they feel inadequate and think they won't be good enough for the kids. And there might be other reasons why donors might not be open to contact - they may not have told their families that they donated, and they might be ashamed that they were sperm donors.

Remember that prior to contact, your donor most likely had no idea that you existed and he may now be doing all that he can mentally, and emotionally, to adjust. For donors, it's not like there is the bond created when you hold an infant in your arms, and watch the first baby steps or have been through ups and downs together.  There might not be an immediate social, psychological, emotional, or behavioral bond. You might have to grow into to it and build it. 

After meeting there can be a "pain of adjustment" (thanks, Dr. Phil!) as everyone has different lives and different agendas. The challenge is to acknowledge where they are at emotionally, and respect their limitations and boundaries. These connections work best when we come with few expectations and an open heart as to how the other person is supposed to behave. Meeting a donor (or a half-sibling) is a major event, but the relationship is a process that needs time and patience to unfold. It's good to start out at a place where everyone is comfortable and then build from there. Take it slow and expect bumps in the road. Be patient and let it unfold naturally. It's a marathon, not a sprint!

Sometimes people pull back after a connection. Communication is cut off and leaves people wondering what they did wrong. Sometimes people pull back to re-group. And sometimes it's because they feel like they need more control in the situation. Again, patience is needed. 

It seems that the people who are best able to move forward in a connection are those who are able to be honest with each other right from the start about their fears and hesitations, instead of pulling back without warning or explanation.


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Do You Have Any Sample Letters To Clinics, Doctors And Sperm Banks To Help Me Acquire More Information?

Sample # 1:

Dear (Sperm Bank),

I was inseminated in 1986, via your office and am delighted to have the chance to thank you again for your help in conceiving my precious son, who now is 18. Through a bit of detective work, I recently was able to find you.

When I called to let your office know that I was pregnant, I received some information about the sperm donor, but it was very limited. My son very much would like to know more. Basically, all we know about the donor is his height and coloring. Now that I have found you, I'm not quite sure how best to phrase this letter so that I don't come across as someone who wants to violate the donor's privacy. Of course, my son and I would like to meet him - if that is an option. But, our primary interest is in learning more about the donor's ancestry, looks, talents and interests. We would also like some sort of medical history and an approximation of how many pregnancies were conceived using this donor.

Any help you can give us would be tremendously appreciated. The keys to have my son's genetic identity are in your hands.

Sincerely,

(Name)

Sample #2: 

Dear Dr. (Name),

I conceived two children through artificial insemination by donor sperm with your help, my daughter in 1988, and my son in 1991. I have been trying to get you to give me my donor number and the lab that you purchased the specimens from for a few years now, but so far my attempts have been unsuccessful. I really feel that I need to have this information, as my son is autistic, plus I need to see what else might be on the donor's side as far as medical history. Certain conditions can run in certain families. Medical histories can be passed from generation to generation, and my children are entitled to have access to that part of their life. They can avoid the things that may be present in the history by knowing about them in advance and taking precautions necessary in that situation.

This is something that should have been given to me years ago without me having to ask or beg for it. It is non-identifying information that is available to all recipients of donor sperm (I have talked to a lot of people who have used a donor to become pregnant and none of them have had this problem of the doctor not wanting to give them their number and/or place of purchase), and I feel I am being prejudiced against by you not making it available to me and my children. I am only asking for a donor number and the sperm bank or lab used, I will contact them to see if they still have a history on file. They will gladly give me a history as long as I have a number. My children's doctor even feels that I am entitled to this information, and he has recently given me information on who to contact for help if this request is not met by you or your clinic.

Please give this request your utmost consideration and send me my donor number and where the specimen came from. Perhaps you did not use a sperm bank but used a college student instead and have no donor number. I still would like to know if this is the situation. You should have access to the information in your archives or in my medical file that is kept off-site. Thank you very much for helping me and my children with this matter. You may contact me by phone, e-mail, or snail mail. I expect to hear from you shortly.

Sincerely,

(Name)

Sample #3: 

(Have a lawyer put this version on their legal firm's letterhead for more of an impact factor.)

As a matter of record, {Name of Patient} completed and submitted a written request to receive a copy of the medical records that you maintain in (his/her) name on (date.) Inasmuch as this request complied with applicable law, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), you are legally obligated to respond to this request.

For purposes of clarity, {Name of Patient} is requesting a copy of all medical records relating to the patient care, fertility treatment, and endocrinology evaluation that you have performed. This includes the name of the corporation or institution that provided the donor semen, along with the anonymous donor number assigned by that entity to identify the human source of this product.

Sample #4, Letter to Doctor or Clinic:

Date:

Dear Dr.

First, we are so grateful to ***, to you and to our donor. As you know, we have a gorgeous baby girl who is the love of our life. We still can’t believe it.

We had three items we wanted to run by you:

First, would you be comfortable delivering the enclosed letter to our donor on our behalf? I don’t know what your policy is on this type of thing, but we have left the letter open so that you can see that its contents do not in any way attempt to compromise her privacy or burden her with any information about our family beyond the fact that her gift resulted in a successful birth.

Second, can you let us know if any other births resulted from our donor? We are not particularly worried that our child will one day marry a half-sibling as some people are (!), but are more interested in knowing if our daughter actually has any half-siblings who we might want to connect with one day through the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR). We understand if you don’t maintain such information or, if you do, you are unable to release it.

Third, we wanted to see if you would be willing to maintain brochures about the DSR in your office and/or link to it on the ----- website so that other recipient families can know it exists. We are finding it to be an extremely helpful resource for things like contemplating how to share information about birth circumstances with our daughter. Not everyone chooses full disclosure, but we do; the research shows that children who never recall a time when they didn’t know about their birth circumstances actually fare the best. Needless to say, this is not an aspect of parenthood we anticipated when we sat in your office for all those months trying to conceive!

As it happens (and you may already know this), there is a wealth of global resources to turn to for support for donors, potential donors, recipients, potential recipients and donor-conceived children and their families, one of the best of which is the DSR here in the US. I enclose their basic brochure which you can also download from their website, where in addition to the registry, they also have a wealth of articles and information, links to a multitude of global resources, and even a psychologist that people can contact.

Please let us know your response to the first and second points, either by email or phone (contact info below). We leave the third point up to you and the amazing staff at ----- to determine.

Thank you so much for everything!

Sample #5, Letter to Donor:

To: Donor ###

Dear Donor:

First of all, thank you for your priceless gift, which resulted in a child for us. We feel so unbelievably lucky and grateful. Our child is very healthy and happy, thanks in great part to you.

We write because we have registered anonymously at the Donor Sibling Registry, a private non-profit organization which assists individuals conceived as a result of assisted reproductive technology (or their parents, on their child’s behalf) to make mutually desired contact with others with whom they share genetic ties. We want to offer you anonymous registration, as well, at our expense (info below). Please consider this offer at your leisure. We have a lifetime membership to the DSR, so this offer will always be open to you.

The reason we have done this is that we would love to receive any relevant medical updates about you which may have implications for our child, and similarly, at some point down the line you may want access to medical information about our child that may have implications for you or your children. Our research has shown that the DSR is the best way to facilitate this exchange of information.

Beyond that, we have read that donors and children sometimes choose to share more personal information with each other, anonymously or not, once the child turns 18. We are completely open to this development, and leave it up to the two of you to determine what is right for you both when the time comes. Ultimately, please know that we completely respect any level of contact that you may choose now or in the future, which we understand may include no contact of any kind, not even anonymous contact through the DSR.

With infinite gratitude and respectfully yours, we are

The parents of a beautiful baby born ***

PS If you would like us to set up anonymous registry for you at the DSR, please email us a username and password (via a new email address set up specifically for this purpose). Once we receive your info, we will submit and pay for a lifetime membership for you, and email you back via your anonymous email once your membership is activated. At that point, you can change your password so that it is truly your own account. As an example, we use **** as our DSR logon and have set up the below gmail account **** specifically to facilitate communications between us.

DSR link: http://donorsiblingregistry.com


 


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