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Thursday, December 8, 2011

What Do I Want the Sperm Donor to Say?

The search for my biological father has entailed writing some extremely awkward notes to potential matches. Via DNA testing, I recently discovered the best potential match I’ve come across to date. Since e-mailing him yesterday I realize that while I often contemplate my initial contact, I rarely think about his response. This time around, however, I find myself asking, “What do I WANT him to say?”
I'm expecting the worse case scenario: no response. Imagining total rejection is relatively easy but envisioning a correspondence with him is more complicated. What am I expecting from this person? Will I be disappointed? What if rather than silence he returns anger or aggression?  To distract my attention from an empty inbox I decided to have a go at the "best case scenario." His note would read: 
Dear J----,
In response to your question yes, I did donate sperm in 1980 at Lenox Hill Hospital. Perhaps we should talk about what steps are involved in confirming our relation.
If we are related I am very glad to hear from you and see your picture. After donating all those years ago I’ve often wondered if you were out there and what you looked like. It’s a delight to find out you are a beautiful and successful women.
I was young and inexperienced when I donated and in retrospect I may not have made the best decision. My thinking was that I was helping some great couple have a family at a time when having my own children was far off.
I now have a family and my wife is aware I donated sperm when I was young. If we confirm our relation I’d like very much for you to meet my family down the road after I have explained this a bit to my children.
All the Best,
Your Sperm Donor
Of course, the chances of receiving such a positive response are slim. I was surprised I was comforted by the idea he had thought of me and wondered what I looked like. One of the most troubling aspects of anonymous sperm donation is that it’s possible he may not know I exist. On the bright side, even if he chooses not to respond I will know he is  at least aware that I am out there.
Also, while I don’t feel that I am personally “a mistake“ I would be moved if he admitted he had not made the best decision. This is not because I am looking for someone to blame, its because hearing him take some accountability for the effect his decision had on my life would be validating. Half of the tumult of being the product of an anonymous donor is that its somewhat socially-unacceptable to mourn or be angry. As a result, we are awash in emotions for which we feel great shame .

I think wanting an apology is not about being ungrateful for the gift of life but having your loss and pain acknowledged.   Sometimes I think my mother feels that if she admitted her choice to be inseminated by an anonymous donor wasn’t the best idea, it means she was directly responsible for her child’s pain. I can’t speak for all donor-conceived adults out there but  at least for me this isn’t how I would perceive an apology. I would feel relieved and acknowledged if she told me “while I have no regrets on having you, it might not have been the best idea to use an anonymous donor. I didn’t realize at the time you would want to know him.”
Finally knowing that his family is aware and comfortable with his donation would be heartening. Based on the donors I have come to know and have read about,  it is not likely the donor will have shared the truth with his family. I wouldn’t expect him to have told his children unless they were my age but I would hope his wife was aware. I often wonder how a donor rationalizes anonymous donation as ok if it’s not something they are comfortable sharing with their family. If an act is so troubling and or shameful, you can't share it with your spouse or parents it’s likely not the best plan of action.
My inbox is still empty, which is troubling.  I'll keep my fingers crossed for the best case scenario....or close to it.


  1. From what I understand of when clinics pass on letters to donors, it can sometimes take quite awhile before they respond. It may come as a bit of a shock hearing this news after 20, 30 or 40 years. So it may take time to process the information. Don't give up hope yet or get too despondent.

  2. i think how the donor feels or reacts depends largely on who they have been in contact with and what, if any, information they have processed on the matter in the ensuing years. i met an 'educated' donor the other day, by educated i mean he has been informed by a donor conceived person who is lobbying for rights, and he thinks about his donor kids all the time, he has prepared his family for any possible additions to the family and yearns contact. i think how the donor reacts dpends a lot on the type of exposure they have had to the whole issue as well, of course, on the type of person they are. current considerations towards rights for donor conceived people are still superficial and if you couple that with a superficial person, you have disappointment. but thats, largely, the way of the world. i hope your biological father is an informed, intelligent man with a passion for human rights. that would produce a win win situation all round! bestvof luck with it. i've got my fingers crossed foe you!

  3. I've quite a few thoughtful e-mails and in some odd way those notes felt like a response. One note in particular from a sperm donor really moved me. He spoke of wanting to know if his biological children were out there and sharing his donation with his wife and family -- which was heartening. I guess it all depends on the person.

  4. I'm sad to read that you're looking for an apology from your mom. Sounds like she had a desire to have a beautiful child to love and it's you. She sought out to have a baby and it's not an easy process. Don't lose sight of how much effort, love and desire to bring life into the world must have meant to her and the family you have. Sperm Donors to me, are just that "sperm", they didn't set out to have families in the true sense of the term or usual process. I understand the need to want to see or meet the donor, but remember family comes in many shapes...not always the birth parents. Take care of your heart, truly think about what it is that you may need to have answered....these and adoption situations can have tough outcomes; but love your mother for wanting and being blessed with you~

  5. Hi Anonymous - I genuinely appreciate the comment. It's important to note that loving your parent and disagreeing with decisions they have made are not mutually exclusive. You can love your mother deeply, as I do, and still disagree with her actions. Your comment so poignantly illustrates the root of so much conflict in the donor conceived experience. We find ourselves with feelings of loss, pain and confusion that other's perceive as a lack of love for our parent's or the absence of gratitude. We feel shame for innate feelings resulting from a situation we did not choose. What I find the most perplexing is that while it is considered selfish to feel pain for the complete loss of your genetic parent, no shame is tossed to the hands of those that conceive anonymously because they want to experience the bond of a genetic link to a child. You request, "love your mother for wanting and being blessed with you" is reasonable but would be just as valid to request "love the donor conceived child for the blessing they are and for valuing, and therefore mourning the loss of, the very same genetic connection that inspired you to conceive them."

    Girl Conceived

  6. Hello -- I'm Vinnie, a "DI Dad" who is always trying to keep current with how the DC set feel so that I can relate to my son when he gets older and thinks more about it (he's just 5 now). I wanted to say that I hope you have better luck than a straight no-response, and to offer a story about my search on my son's behalf. I ordered a Y-STR 67 marker test on my son and got a 66 marker match with a 70-year-old man who was investigating his family tree (he contacted me first in fact, thinking I might be a relative). I googled him and found that his son was born the same month and year as the donor (I did not know the day), but it appeared that too many other facts did not match the donor's questionnaire -- he was from a different part of the country, his son was a lawyer and not a filmmaker like the donor said he was, there were a different number of siblings, etc. So I just came out and told the guy what I was up to and apologized for the confusion. He was very nice and we exchanged photos (of my son and his grandson of similar age) because we kind of figured they had to be distant cousins. But it was clear his son was not actually the donor; just tantalizingly similar. Ultimately a year later, I DID find my son's donor's identity -- simply by doing a google search using some facts the donor himself had supplied on his questionnaire! I am safeguarding this info for my son should he ever care to know more or to consider making contact (right now he knows his donor's first name and that he can talk to me about the issue if he ever wants to, but he rarely does). So, maybe your best match is just not the donor and future additions to the database could refocus your search, or maybe you did find him, but for some reason right now he just does not feel that the time is right. I am grateful to have read about your feelings and others', so that I learned why it was important for me to find my son's donor lest the trail run dry by the time he decides whether it matters to him. And I wish you luck!


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