There is a difference between sperm and egg donations which are utilized in assisted reproduction to enable a couple to become parents. A man donating sperm can father a lot of genetically related children – which is now becoming apparent to many of the maturing individuals who owe their lives to that process. It is a lot more complicated and involved for the woman who donates her eggs. Generally, she is never going to be involved in the number of offspring that a man donating sperms can theoretically create.
Donor conceived persons do have some concerns in common with adoptees as it relates to their medical family history and cultural genetics and the unknowns that such conceptions entail. Therefore, my blog today is inspired by a story in The Guardian about Chrysta Bilton. Her father was a prolific sperm donor. In her 20s, she discovered that she had dozens, and most likely hundreds, of biological siblings growing up all over the US. That the man she knew only as her dad, the one who struggled with homelessness and drug addiction, was secretly one of the most prolific sperm donors at the California Cryobank.
Chrysta’s story is complex, worth the time to read it, if it interests you. I was a young adult in the 80s and settled down into the married life that is mine late in that decade but I have some sense of what it was like. My life does not resemble Chrysta’s in the least really but there were the unconventional choices that I made as well – to leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother (I was already divorced from her dad) while I tried out driving an 18-wheel truck, which I found I could do. That led to taking off to live without much of a safety net in the marijuana growing region of Humboldt county. We had some bags of dried beans and the guys (I was the only woman and did the cooking and cleaning up afterwards) shot critters for us to eat. We also got some Salmon from the local indigenous people. Those were my wild days.
I do have some understanding of the issues related to donor conception. With the advent of inexpensive DHA testing, something that seemed like it could be kept private within the closest family, is not something that can or should be kept private today. I’m grateful my husband and I have always been open, honest and transparent about our own choices regarding how we became the parents of our two sons.
Chrysta ends her story with this contemplation – What is family? What does it mean to be in someone’s family? What responsibilities do you have to those people? Meeting her 35 new siblings, she realized “something shared between all of us is that we all had a mother who desperately wanted us to exist.” That is a truth, children born by assisted reproduction are not accidents. They were intended. I believe that is an important factor.
In Britain today, donor children born since 2005 have the right to find out the identity of their biological parents when they reach 18. This “removal of anonymity” law came about after studies found that adopted and donor-conceived children benefited emotionally from knowing who their biological parents were, regardless of whether or not they had any contact with them.
As of late 2021, in the US, it is still technically possible to have anonymous donations. There is a Right to Know movement that is seeking to unseal closed adoption records but that has only been accomplished in about half of these 50 United States jurisdictions.
Chrysta’s book about her experiences is titled – A Normal Family. Her book is available in the US at all the usual booksellers.