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To Allyson's biological father,
I think you'd like her. Allyson is a slim girl of about 12, with braces, blonde hair, and pretty blue eyes. She lives here in Winchester, Virginia. She's a little shy around strangers, but she shakes hands very politely and seems, sitting next to her mother, Dawn, at the north-side IHOP, to be the kind of daughter from whom any dad would love to get a Father's Day card.
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But you won't be getting one from her this year. Dawn knows how to find you, but Allyson doesn't seem all that anxious to meet you. So I thought you might like a quick update.
You've heard that Allyson is one of at least 13 children—most in California, but a few back east—who were born as a result of sperm provided by you, Donor #3066, to the California Cryobank. There are about 150 donor clinics around the country, a $3.3 billion industry that generates perhaps 30,000–60,000 new births annually. Some estimate that about a million Americans are, like Allyson, donor-conceived. In our community of 100,000 people, Allyson may be one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of donor-conceived people living here.
The Clincher Number
Dawn's ex-husband was unable to have children, so in about 1995 her fertility doctor recommended artificial insemination. "It made perfect sense to me," she said recently. "I could just never imagine myself not being a mother. If I'd never found anybody to marry, I'd have done it anyway."
After the first two attempts ended in miscarriages, Dawn turned to the California Cryobank, whose descriptions of the donors seemed more complete than the ones her doctor's supplier was offering. Apparently these sperm supply companies advertise heavily to prospective donors on the campuses of elite colleges. "Come get paid for doing what you're doing anyway," is the gist of their sales pitch.
Dawn found you: blonde and blue-eyed, like herself; with a BA in theater/voice; German/Norwegian; a six-footer, but still trim at 162 pounds; speaks Spanish; likes to bike, swim, work out. Catholic. Dimples, even. "It's kind of like picking from a menu," Dawn said.
The clincher was your number: 3066. Dawn was then 30 years old and born in 1966. "Here's somebody who matches myself, and here's this number that kind of corresponds to my life. It made sense."
Dawn found the process of artificial insemination tedious, between the test-induced cramping, the fertility drugs, and the daily visits to the doctor's office for blood work and hormone monitoring. But in the end, there was Allyson.
Meeting Some Siblings
Dawn and Allyson moved from Pennsylvania to Taneytown, Maryland, in 2005. While there, Dawn saw a story on the Today Show about how an organization called the Donor Sibling Registry (www.donorsiblingregistry.com) was putting donor siblings in touch with each other. She signed up, and within 24 hours had heard from two other moms who had picked you out of a line-up, so to speak.
Speaking of the Donor Sibling Registry, someone wrote the website saying that you donated sperm for eight years, from 1995 to 2003. Man, that could be a lot of sperm. Could you have more than 13 kids out there? These sperm banks say that they limit how many offspring you'll have, but some sibling groups on the registry have more than 50 members, and that's just the people who signed up.
How much did they pay you, anyway? These days you could make "up to $100 per donation and up to $1,200 a month by donating 3 times a week. We periodically offer incentives such as movie tickets or gift certificates for extra time and effort expended by participating sperm donors," says the company website. Wow. Gotta love those incentives.
By the way, the IRS classifies you as an "independent contractor." Dawn and Allyson were at first very excited to meet the half-siblings. "It was cool," Allyson said. "I've always wanted brothers and sisters." So she and her mother took some trips out to California to meet some of them, and they still get together with a few, sometimes. The kids look a lot alike, apparently.
Telling & Its Troubles
But as the group grew, their enthusiasm waned. Now Dawn and Allyson are settling into Winchester. Dawn, a counselor, has been telling Allyson what happened since she was old enough to understand. "I can't imagine not having her know that," Dawn said. "That's not information that you keep from somebody."
But many people don't tell their offspring, according to a study released a few years ago from the Institute for American Values, called "My Daddy's Name is Donor." (The report is available for download). In general, donor offspring aged 18–45 are a bit more likely to feel confused and isolated than those who were adopted or who come from biological families, and they are somewhat more likely to experience depression, delinquency, and substance abuse. Nearly half are disturbed at the thought that money was involved in their conception.
More than half say that when they see someone who resembles them, they wonder if they are related. Some worry about unknowingly getting intimate with a half-sibling. Other studies have found that donor-conceived people who are told about it later in life often don't take the news well. It comes as a shock, apparently.
But I don't want to worry you. Allyson seems just fine with it. Dawn calls it a "blessing" that this option was available.
Who Considers the Child?
Still, you should be aware that many donor-conceived people feel a real need to know where they came from. And despite the Cryobank's promise of anonymity, any one of your offspring could track you down—oh, wait, I forgot! One already did. One of your children's moms started with a mail-order DNA testing company called Family Tree DNA, matched up some genetic markers, and started making phone calls.
"There's no such thing as anonymity anymore, not with Google and [DNA testing]," Wendy Kramer, the founder of the Donor Sibling Registry, told me. "The [sperm banks] all say they're self-regulating, but there's really no regulation," she added. "So far, the industry has moved forward only considering the rights of the industry, the rights of parents, and the donors' right to be anonymous. But what's in the best interest of the child?"
Even Dawn seems a bit troubled that you were so, uh, prolific. "I just think it should be regulated as to how many children can be conceived by one donor," she said. "I'm not exactly sure why. The idea that there are 15 kids out there with the same donor is just disturbing."
Happy Father's Day, anyway. •
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