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To be the biological child of an anonymous sperm donor today is to live in a state of perpetual anticipation. There are hundreds of biological half-sibling groups that more than 20, according to the Donor Sibling Registrywhere siblings can find one another, using their donor.
Groups larger thanthe registry reports, are far from rare. But he never really understood what that meant until he went searching for his half siblings — all 32 of them. Because of the increasing popularity of genetic testing sites like 23andMe, in the past two or three years a whole new category of people, including those who never knew they were conceived via donor insemination, are reaching out to half siblings who may have already connected with others in their extended biological family.
These individuals have no idea when the of their donor siblings will reach its final limit, or on which day an will arrive from yet another family member of sorts, someone who is looking for connection or nothing in particular or has an eerily similar birthmark in the same place on a cheek. Surprise starts with secrecy, which often starts with shame, a factor that clouds the history of anonymous sperm donation practically from its earliest days.
Inan older wealthy man and his younger wife sought treatment from a doctor at Jefferson Medical College because they were struggling to conceive. The doctor determined that the husband was infertile, likely from gonorrhea; but rather than explain that uncomfortable fact, he anesthetized the wife under false pretense, and inseminated her with the sperm of another man — a medical student deemed, in a vote held for this undertaking, the best looking in the class.
The doctor eventually told the husband, who kept that secret from his wife; but years later, inthe medical student revealed all in an article in the journal Medical World. The story could be seen as an early parable for the industry over all: Eventually the truth will out. Even after it became clear that the practice was medically simple, donor insemination remained suspect, associated with illegitimacy and tainted by notions of male inadequacy. In the early s, the first cryobanks, largely run by men, opened in the United States, offering frozen sperm from anonymous donors often college studentsmostly to infertile couples.
Doctors often advised them to tell no one about how they were conceiving and then destroyed documents that might have provided a paper trail. Others in the field seemed more concerned with protecting the privacy of the donors. That bank is the largest in the country.
I always knew I was conceived using a sperm donor. But I never really understood what that meant until I went searching for my brothers and sisters. In the early s, says Broder, now retired, California Cryobank started distributing short, printed catalogs of physical descriptions of the donors to doctors, who often did the choosing for the couples; anonymity was still the norm. So few doctors were willing to help lesbians and single mothers conceive with the help of donor insemination that a new bank, the Sperm Bank of California, founded by women, started specializing in that market in Almost from the beginning, says its current executive director, Alice Ruby, their clients could choose to work with a donor who was willing to have his identity eventually revealed, a service they offered because so many of their clients asked for it; the mothers intended to tell their children how they were conceived and suspected they would want to know more about their donors.
By the late s, as a result of the AIDS crisis, the business of cryobanks was growing; frozen sperm was safer than the fresh sperm that doctors often procured to help infertile couples. The industry continued to develop throughout the s as banks profited from global demand, a rise in single motherhood and the increasing acceptance of gay parenting.
At California Cryobank, the standard arrangement allowed for a description of the donor and an answered questionnaire; but for additional fees, purchasers of sperm could also receive a voice recording of an interview and more extensive profiles. Sperm banks started marketing more aggressively to single women and lesbian couples and possibly helping to normalize that parenting in the process. For many of those children, trying to reach out to their anonymous sperm donor was an exercise in frustration.
In fact, he later clarified, the effort to contact the donor often started — and ended — with a letter to the donor asking for an update of medical records.
Only if the donor responded and re-established contact with the bank would he then learn that a biological child was trying to reach him, which meant that both he and his biological child were Looking for male baring sperm donor left in the dark about who wanted what.
The possibility of making that connection was over before it started. What the banks did not provide, at that point, was a way to connect half siblings from the same donor. InRyan Kramer, a precocious year-old, along with his mother, Wendy Kramer, created what would become the Donor Sibling Registry, a place where children like him could enter their donor s, seek out their biological fathers and possibly their biological half siblings. They were following the lead of Jane Mattes, the founder of Single Mothers by Choice, who in the mids started a forerunner to the registry.
Unlike many infertile couples, these single mothers were hungry for openness because it provided community and family, Mattes says. Today, the Donor Sibling Registry matches about 1, people a year, a majority of whom are siblings. Countless parents have reared their children, from birth, with photographic look books of half siblings or regular family reunions. For others, who have come to the registries later in life, they function as online revelation factories, sites where thousands have learned not only that they had half siblings but also that they had, in many cases, dozens of them.
In the early s, California Cryobank offered, for a premium fee, an option for parents to choose a donor who agreed not just to be contacted when the offspring turned 18 but to respond in some fashion though still anonymously if that was his preference. Byexperts in reproductive technology were starting to note that internet searchability, facial-recognition software and the future of DNA testing would soon render anonymity a promise that the sperm banks could no longer keep.
SinceCalifornia Cryobank has stopped offering anonymity to its new donors. Donors now must agree to reveal their names to their offspring when they turn 18 and to have some form of communication to be mediated, at first, by the bank. It would not be unreasonable for parents currently using sperm from that bank to prepare for the possibility that their children would have upward of 50 half siblings. For the foreseeable future, then, every generation will include these sprawling half-sibling clans.
The original sperm-bank contracts providing for anonymity were made by institutions serving parents and donors; the satisfaction of the children conceived with their product had no bearing on their profits. But what the banks once withheld, technology has now delivered.
What looks like privacy to one person in a relationship may look like secrecy to another, unearned and undeserved. For sperm donors, their offspring, the half siblings, that distinction may become moot, in an era when both privacy and secrecy are aspirational rather than reasonable goals. Technology belongs to the young, and what the young seem to want, as ever, is to know — and be known.
I Have 32 Half Siblings. This Is My Family Portrait.Looking for male baring sperm donor
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