Monday, May 14, 2012

Seeking Donor-Conceived People in Washington DC for film

Susan Koster, a Washington DC reporter for Voice of America, is interested in speaking to people conceived through sperm donation. If you are donor-conceived, live within two hours of DC, and would be willing to appear in a TV feature story, please contact her directly at skoster@voanews.com. Thank you!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Loaner Donor

A few days before my conception, the nurse from the St. Luke's clinic, Mary Ann, called to confirm my mother's insemination appointment. With my mom's green eyes and my dad's blue, my mom had asked for a donor with blue eyes to ensure that I would blend in with my parents genetically. Mary Ann forgot this request, and, when reminded during the confirmation call, told my mother that she would need to "borrow" a donor as none with blue eyes were available. As a young child, I joked about having a "loaner donor." Sort of funny and catchy... Fast forward a decade and a half. Before beginning my search, my mom and I contacted the physician who performed the insemination. He told us that there was a 99% chance my donor had been a Baylor College of Medicine student at the time of my conception. The remainder consisted of University of Texas medical students, Rice University students, or residents. With this information in mind, I focused my energy on the 99% by writing all of the male BCM students. (Well, all heard from me except the handful I could not locate and over a dozen who were sadly already deceased.) Was this my mistake? Maybe my "loaner donor" is actually in the 1%. That kind of makes sense, right, since the nurse stated she would have to borrow one? For all I know, perhaps my donor was not even from any of those schools. My initial - and ongoing - reasons for searching were to give my paternal family the option of coming forward instead of being forced into anonymity as was the practice and for me to not live with regrets later. I wanted to say I tried. I have never feared rejection from any of my paternal relatives and simply valued truth. I was conceived in 1981, at a time when anonymity was enforced by the clinic regardless of the preference of the donor and the procedure was only available to heterosexual couples. Recipients were told go home, make love, and assume conception occurred through this encounter. Donors were encouraged to forget their donations, and some even signed contracts promising to never search for their donor-conceived children. Sperm was sometimes mixed prior to insemination to ensure anonymity while medical records were scarce, possibly nonexistant by the time I began asking questions. By searching for my family, I felt that I was finally putting that decision back in my donor's hands (ok, bad word choice there) instead of the clinic's. Now the question has become when is it time to say the search is over and when to continue. There will always be more avenues to explore. With my new discovery of my Ashkenazi Jew heritage, I could write the men with Jewish sounding last names from Baylor. That system has several flaws. Given that I have heard from a few Rice donors but not any from UT, I considered - for half a minute, if that - xeroxing Rice University yearbooks to contact only the Jewish men. But if my donor isn't in this pool, all of my efforts in the world will not get me anywhere. Maybe this is the meaning of the loaner donor crack I used to make.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

FAQs - Part 2

A few years ago, I blogged answers to questions most commonly asked of me. While my answers to those questions have not changed, the questions I am most frequently asked are now different. Increasingly, I am receiving more letters from donor-conceived people who come across my blog after hearing my story or by random google searches. Several now write me each week to ask where to begin a search for family. This FAQ post is intended to help those of you who may be too hesitant to write me directly. 1. Post your information on the Donor Sibling Registry, or DSR. If you were conceived anytime after the mid to late 1980s, you should have an assigned donor number from the clinic that will help you connect to your donor and your half-siblings. Your donor-conceived siblings will share the same donor number as you. You may also have helpful indepth non-identifying information about your donor including eye color, height, weight, heritage, education, and interests. The DSR enables you to post by clinic name and location, and therefore is beneficial even to those of us who are older and have no information to go on beyond the name of a school or a city. 2. Submit your DNA to Family Tree DNA (FTDNA) and/or 23andme. These are voluntary DNA databases that will connect you to both maternal and paternal relatives who have also submitted their DNA. Both databases provide information about your heritage. Some members are lucky enough to match to siblings, aunts, uncles, or first cousins; it is purely a matter of luck. These databases are incredible resources for those affected by adoption, donor conception, or any other issue (affairs or one night stands, as examples) that causes a complete disconnect between a child and biological relative. Each site has advantages and disadvantages. You are more likely to receive a closer match (for example, a 3rd cousin versus a 5th cousin) on 23andme than FTDNA. Through 23andme, you will also be tested to find your risk factor for developing various illnesses from mental health concerns to Alzheimer's to different types of cancer. The trade off is that many of your matches on 23andme (your relatives) may never release any information about themselves to you, including their names. Instead, you will oftentimes see a silhoutte with information about the degree of your relationship next to it and never receive a reply from them. All communication must initially take place through the site. In addition, there is an indefinite $9 monthly fee to continue to receive access to the updated database. In contrast, FTDNA members know in advance that all matches will receive their first and last names, any listed family surnames, countries of origin, and contact information. Most join FTDNA for the sole purpose of establishing relationships with newly found relatives. While your matches may be more distant, they will likely be eager to speak with you and to assist you in any way possible. All fees are paid upfront with no monthly cost. 3. If you were conceived through egg, sperm, or embryo donation and are above the age of 18, consider joining the online support group People Conceived by Artificial Insemination, or PCVAI. While this will probably not be helpful in locating family, it is a nonjudgmental, diverse group where you may safely discuss your thoughts and feelings.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

MTV Seeking Participants for Possible New Series

Joseph Van Harken and Lindsey Bannister are television Executive Producers who have produced many shows for MTV's News and Documentaries department.

They are currently in the development/casting phase for a potential new TV series that focuses on children of assisted conception, and are looking to tell the story from the POV of donor-conceived teens and young adults who fall in the (approximate) age range of 15-23 who are actively searching for (or have found!) their biological parent or half-siblings.

If interested, please email a bit about yourself to donorcasting@gmail.com and they will get back to you with more information!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Anonymous Father's Day

Jennifer Lahl, president of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network and producer of a film called Eggsplotation, has created another documentary exploring donor conception. The following is her description of the new film, Anonymous Father's Day. "Donor-conceived people are demanding answers to these basic questions about their origins, their lives, and their identities. This deeply emotional documentary illuminates the personal grief and distress that each individual is confronted by on a daily basis, as they struggle to discover their selfhood."

Several donor-conceived people, professionals, and recipients who are active in trying to promote change in the field of reproductive medicine were either interviewed or included through narration and photos. Stephanie Blessing (a donor-conceived blogger at Family Scholars), Elizabeth Marquardt (director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values; conducted study My Daddy's Name is Donor), Diane Allen (a mother and co-founder of the Infertility Network in Canada), Barry Stevens (a donor-conceived man/film-maker), and Alana Stewart/Newman (donor-conceived woman who created Anonymous Us) had filmed interviews. Lindsay Greenwalt (blogger at Confessions of a Cryokid), Wendy Kramer (mother and founder of Donor Sibling Registry, or DSR), Olivia Pratten (a BC donor-conceived woman who launched a ground-breaking court case trying to give donor-conceived people more rights), and I were also included in the documentary through pictures and writings. Many of the key players in this debate were interviewed for the first time together.

You may watch the entire film online at https://prescreen.com/queue. The documentary is also scheduled to priemere in New York City on Sunday, January 29, 2012.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Baylor College of Medicine Donor-Conceived

If you were conceived between 1988 and 1993 by a sperm donor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX and you are interested in finding paternal family, please email me privately as I am in contact with a donor's family searching for their donor-conceived relatives. I will forward any information you have on your paternal side to the family to see if you may be a match.

Monday, September 19, 2011

NPR's Donor-Conceived Children Seek Missing Identities

By Jennifer Luden
Audio available here: http://www.npr.org/2011/09/18/140477014/donor-conceived-children-seek-missing-identities

Sperm donation has long been shrouded in secrecy, and that seemed in the best interest of both the donors and the couples who used their sperm. But now a generation of donor-conceived children has come of age, and many believe they should have the right to know who their biological parents are.

Kathleen LaBounty is among the most outspoken to make this case. Growing up outside Houston, she knew she was different from the rest of her family. She pulls out a photo of herself standing with some cousins.

"The top of my head comes up to maybe their shoulders," she laughs. "I think I look quite ridiculous!"

Then there were her vivid blue eyes, her drawing talent and other traits that seemed to come from nowhere. LaBounty remembers the day her mom told her, at age 8, that "a nice man had given us his sperm." She says it actually made her love her dad all the more, since he was treating her just like she was his own. But she also grew intensely curious about who this donor was.

"Sometimes when I look in the mirror I feel like it's a reflection of a stranger," she says, "because there are just pieces of me I can't identify."

A Longing To Know

For a long time, LaBounty assumed the man wanted nothing to do with her — until she learned he'd had no choice. In the early '80s, some donors signed contracts promising never to search for offspring. The fertility clinic her mom used actually mixed sperm from two or three men, so no one knew which actually fertilized the egg.

The only thing LaBounty did know about her donor?

"He went to Baylor College of Medicine in May of 1981, when I was conceived," she says. "And perhaps he had blue eyes, but that's not even a guarantee."

In her guest room, LaBounty pulls down a big white box full of research. She photocopied six years' worth of Baylor College of Medicine yearbooks, tracked down all 600 men and sent them letters.

LaBounty included photos of herself and said she'd found a place to do non-legally binding DNA tests. She was astounded when 250 men replied. Some clearly freaked out, asking her not to contact them again. But to her surprise, most were incredibly supportive. One said he'd waited 26 years to get a letter like that and felt sure he was the guy. But a flurry of correspondence, then DNA tests, found no match. It was an emotional roller coaster.

"One man actually told me he was heartbroken," she says. "Another man started crying. And these are grown doctors, so I did not anticipate that reaction at all."

As test after test failed, LaBounty says, she felt a mounting sense of loss, as if the pain of her infertile parents had been transferred to her.

She also sees hypocrisy: Couples use donor sperm or egg because they very much want at least some biological connection to their child. And yet, she says, by using anonymous donors they cut off that child's other links.

"And not just with the biological father, but aunts, uncles, grandparents. It's half of the family," she says.

Not all donor kids are this curious — and certainly not all as persistent. But LaBounty is among an outspoken group publicly agitating for change. They speak at conferences. They wage impassioned Internet campaigns. And they're avidly following a landmark lawsuit in Canada.

"It was always just, 'Who was he? And how did it relate to who I was becoming?'" says Olivia Pratten, who's waging that class-action suit, even though she's discovered her own sperm donor records have been destroyed.

If genetics don't matter, she asks, then why don't they just hand out babies at random in the maternity ward? Like LaBounty, Pratten is haunted by her donor's absence, haunted by the fact that he could be anybody.

"My mom and I have said that we could all get on the bus, and him — the biological father/sperm donor — could be sitting there, and none of us would realize that they had a child together. It's a little unsettling, honestly," Pratten says.

Pratten notes that adopted children have slowly won the right to know their biological parents. Her lawsuit contends that donor-conceived kids should have the same right. After all, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Sweden and a handful of others have all banned anonymous sperm and egg donation.

"If that's the only way someone will do it," Pratten says, "then no, go away. It's unethical as far as I'm concerned."

A Donor's Take

In May, the court sided with Pratten. But the provincial government of British Columbia has appealed, arguing that what's paramount is a donor's right to privacy.

Many American donors, like 28-year-old Thuy, agree.

"Being identified as somebody's biological mom after this process seems a little silly to me," she says by phone from her office on the West Coast.

Thuy has donated her eggs four times. She feels it's nothing at all like adoption, in which a woman actually bears a child and gives it up.

"I feel like it's a little more sterile," she says. "It's a 10-day process at that, and it's just not really something that I'm emotionally attached to."

She finds it gratifying to help other couples, but says she'd never do it if she had to disclose her identity. We're not using her last name because Thuy hasn't even told her mom she's donated eggs and doubts she'd approve. And if Thuy faced a phone call or knock on the door in 20 years?

"I wouldn't know what I would say to that person," she says. "So I don't know that they would get a lot out of it."

This past summer, a watershed law took effect in Washington state. It says egg and sperm donors must release "identifying information" if a donor-conceived child requests it after age 18. But donors can easily opt out, so it's unclear whether the law will have much practical impact. Still, assisted reproduction attorney Mark Demaray says it's a step.

"At least it requires the clinics to have a conversation with any donor," he says. "So they need to think about what that means 18 years from now. And I think that's a good discussion to have for both recipient families and for donors."

'I'll Know Somebody'

In Houston, LaBounty now has two young children of her own and isn't about to give up her search for her biological father. She'd like to know her medical history more than ever, for her children's sake.

She recently had her 18th DNA test. No match. But through Web sites that offer genetic testing, LaBounty has discovered a series of distant cousins and learned her paternal roots are Ashkenazi Jew, from Eastern Europe.

"Honestly, I think that eventually I'll find him or a sibling. It's probably not today, or tomorrow, or a year. But I think 20 or 30 years from now I'll know somebody," she says.

In fact, she's tempted to write again to the Jewish men back in that Baylor class of '81.

This story was produced for broadcast by Marisa Penaloza.

Some children of anonymous sperm donors are waging impassioned Internet campaigns to change the donor system. Blogs about the issue include Kathleen LaBounty's Child of a Stranger, Confessions of a Cryokid and Donated Generation.

Top 3 Reasons Children Search For Their Donors

Curiosity about donor characteristics
Wanting to meet the donor
Medical reasons
Very few reported they wanted to form a relationship with the donor.

Source: "Experiences of Offspring Searching for and Contacting Their Donor Siblings and Donor" in the journal, Reproductive BioMedicine Online.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Life Goes On

Now that life is settling in with the two little ones, I am trying to refocus my energy (and blog!) - well, during their naps - on speaking to those who contact me with the desire to discuss gamete donation and working on my own quest. My sense of loss has gradually disappeared for the most part as life moved on and I accepted that I may never know any close relatives through the choices that were made in 1981, but I guess enough curiosity remains to continue exploring new leads.

A few months ago, I posted my discovery through Family Tree DNA that my paternal family is, at least in part, Ashkenazi Jew. This wasn't that big of a surprise after a lifetime of fighting my dark brown, curly hair. I then submitted my DNA to 23andme to obtain some limited health information and connections to additional relatives. Although I have not received replies from any identified 2nd cousins (and, until I receive responses, I cannot determine if these are paternal or maternal relatives), I have engaged in ongoing correspondence with several 3rd to 5th paternal cousins.

One paternal cousin, who lives just minutes from my home, suggested that we meet two weeks ago. Until then, I'd never laid eyes (at least to my knowledge) on a person from my biological father's side. Yesterday this cousin and his wife visisted us again, bringing Lexi two precious outfits and Trevor a stuffed duck as tall as he is! My cousin and his wife remind me of the kind BCM graduates who welcomed me into their lives and serve as another example of how many beautiful experiences have occurred through my search.

Whether or not I ever find my biological father, I am so grateful that I embarked on this journey. It's been rewarding to me, and hopefully has given me the insight to help others too as they travel their own path.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Anonymous sperm and egg donation banned for first time in North America!

by Alison Motluk
May 27, 2011

Olivia Pratten may never find out who donated the sperm that made her conception possible, but a case won by the 29-year-old journalist in the Supreme Court of British Columbia now means fewer people will face the same situation. In a 19 May ruling, the first of its kind in North America, the court sided with Pratten, who argued that the Canadian province's laws discriminate against the offspring of anonymous sperm and egg donors because, unlike adopted people, they have no right to know their origins or prevent the destruction of records that would help identify their biological parents.

The judgment puts British Columbia on par with the UK and several other European nations, as well as the state of Victoria in Australia, in banning anonymous gamete donation. It is expected to spur changes in other provinces and may galvanise the offspring of American donors to attempt a similar challenge.

Juliet Guichon, a lawyer and bioethicist at the University of Calgary, says it marks a new direction for North America. "This is the beginning of offspring asserting their interests before the courts," she says. "Their interests have been underrepresented."

Madam Justice Adair gave the province 15 months to come up with a new adoption law that recognizes the rights of those conceived via donors. Currently, people adopted in the province can know the identity of their birth parents at age 19. People adopted in British Columbia before 1996, whose birth parents were given the promise of anonymity, have the opportunity to approach their biological parents with the help of the government, though those parents retain a veto. Pratten's lawyer, Joseph Arvay, believes a similar arrangement will be put in place for people conceived via donor gametes and that records previously considered to be the mother's medical records will now have to be turned over to a central registry. An injunction has been in place since October 2008, when Pratten first filed her suit, prohibiting the "destruction, disposal, redaction or transferring out" of donor records.

The province has 30 days to appeal, and if the ruling were to be upheld in the Supreme Court of Canada, the entire country would have to comply. Alternatively, similar cases could be brought forward in other provinces, such as Ontario. Arthur Leader, a fertility specialist based at the Ottawa Fertility Centre, says doctors in other provinces should prepare for change. "The smart physician will not destroy records," he says.

Game changer
But what effect the ruling will have on the US is still unclear. "People have talked to me about bringing similar cases," says Naomi Cahn, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington DC. She says the Canadian ruling has infused the donor-conceived movement in the US with a lot of energy. "I think it is likely that someone will bring something forward in the US in the next five years." Several states, including Kansas, Alaska, Maine, New Hampshire and Oregon, allow adoptees to learn the identity of their biological parents, which could be used to advance the cause of donor offspring based on equal rights.

But the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), an advisory and advocacy group for the American fertility industry, says it will strongly oppose any move to ban anonymous donations. "We think that people ought to be able to build their families the way they see fit," says Sean Tipton, a spokesperson for the ASRM. "And you don't change the rules in the middle of the game."

One immediate effect of the British Columbia ruling may be a shortage of donor sperm and eggs. The province has no sperm banks, so fertility doctors mainly rely on two US sperm banks run by Xytex of Augusta, Georgia, and Fairfax Cryobank, near Washington DC. There are currently only 33 men in Canada who are sperm donors, and all of them are anonymous.

Carl Laskin, president of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, an advisory body to the Canadian fertility industry, is doubtful the province will be able to compel American banks to release the identities of men already promised anonymity. Sperm banks agree. "It would be quite a challenge to apply that retroactively," says Michelle Ottey, director of operations at Fairfax.

Fairfax does have a class of donors, called "identity option" donors, who have contracts committing them to release identifying information when the child becomes an adult. But many banks have an opt-out clause for their open donors, which may disqualify their sperm from use in British Columbia.

Any new law may also decrease the number of egg donors. Many Canadian clinics that specialise in egg donation rely on US-based egg donor agencies to circumvent a Canada-wide ban on payment for gametes. Some 150 American women travel to Canada every year to anonymously donate their eggs to Canadians.

Wendy Kramer, founder of the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR), a website where donor-conceived people can find genetic relatives, says that the key is in education. "Sperm banks need to properly educate and counsel donors about what it means to be an open donor," she says. She points out that 1,214 gamete donors are currently on the DSR to find genetic offspring.

Pratten calls the ruling "tremendously gratifying," and a relief.

"There's nothing more frustrating and humiliating than to be told that 'We know who it is but we won't tell you,'" she says. "So much of the ability to create an identity for yourself is knowing where you come from."

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/110527/full/news.2011.329.html?WT.mc_id=TWT_NatureNews

Sunday, June 5, 2011

New answers to "Where do I come from?"

After submitting my DNA to 23andme and FTDNA, I discovered that my paternal family is Ashkenazi Jew and orignated from Poland, Hungary, the Ukraine, Russia, Austria, Lithuania, and possibly Latvia. Being in touch with distant paternal cousins (3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins) and having access to my ancestry feels absolutely incredible and refreshing. At least I know a little something that enables me to connect to the other half of myself and to pass on some information to my two children.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Baby Lexi

Our daughter was induced as a late-term preemie due to another blood clot that restricted her growth in utero. We're excited to welcome our petite but perfectly healthy girl into the world.

12 hours old!


2.5 days old and already getting bigger:

Three weeks old with mommy

Three months old

Monday, April 11, 2011

My Baby Turned One!

Pictures from Trevor's 1st birthday!

Seeking Documentary Participants

"Emmy-nominated producers are seeking members of the sperm donor conceived community for an upcoming documentary project. We are interested in meeting with individuals who are currently searching for their donor father and/or donor siblings as well as individuals who have made connections with their donor father and/or siblings. Anyone interested in sharing their story should please contact us at donorproject@yahoo.com."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Looking for Research Participants!

A research team at the State University of New York at Geneseo is investigating the communication dynamics in families formed through donor insemination. Of particular interest to the researchers are families that were created through the help of an anonymous donor. If you are the adult offspring of an anonymous donor or conceived a child with the assistance of an anonymous donor and are willing to participate in a face-to-face, phone, or Skype interview, please contact Meredith Harrigan at harrigan@geneseo.edu.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Inherited Danger? Fluke? My Experience with Blood Clots

Pregnancy and childbirth are two of the most exciting times in life. For some of us without access to our medical histories, however, there may be unexpected, and in some cases preventable, complications that potentially threaten the life of the mother and/or child.

During your first prenatal visit, doctors will typically ask you about your family history to check for a variety of conditions that would require more careful monitoring. Since I do not know half of my medical history, a large portion of my answers were blank. As far as I knew, my diabetes and maternal family history of Down syndrome were my only concerns. I anticipated a "normal" pregnancy and delivery.

Three days after I delivered my son, Trevor, earlier this year, I developed a blood clot that hemmoraged and required a surgical procedure to fix. Assuming the clot was just a fluke, I never researched it or suspected that perhaps there could be a genetic component. In my current pregnancy with my daughter, I again developed a blood clot right by the baby along with a condition called placenta previa. Curious as to whether this, too, was a fluke or perhaps something else had contributed to these clots, I googled blood clots and previa. Only a few risk factors were identified, of which genetics was the only possible listed predisposition that might explain my complications. (Other risk factors included history of cocaine use or cigarette smoking. I have never smoked a cigarette in my life, much less used cocaine. I did not have any of the other risk factors, either.)

If, by chance, there is a known history of blood clots in my paternal family, I could have warned the doctors and they could have taken extra precautions to prevent the first one from ever occurring much less hemmoraging. Once you develop one clot, I have been told that you remain more prone to developing additional clots - even those unrelated to pregnancy - in the future. Once you develop a blood clot that requires uterine surgery to correct, as mine did, you are also more prone to blood clots and previa in subsequent pregnancies. In worst case scenarios, both the mother's and baby's life is in jeopardy due to the risk of loosing a lot of blood quickly.

So far, I have had one healthy, happy baby. Until my daughter is viable, though, I may have to worry about how my little girl is doing and hope that she gets the necessary time to develop. If I hemmorage and it stops, my baby has a chance. If I hemmorage and it does not stop, my baby must be delivered, even if she is too immature to survive. Perhaps with access to my medical history, assuming that mine has a genetic component, this would never have happened in the first place and I would have more confidence that my children in the womb would be okay. Either way, this is just another example of why knowing our entire histories may help us and our kids stay healthy.

Update 1 - The previa is showing significant signs of improvement, and this blood clot has now completely resolved itself! Although I have been instructed to take it easy for my entire pregnancy to hopefully prevent another clot, the baby girl is in a much safer environment now and should be ok. (Thanks, Stephanie, for your thoughts.)

Update 2 - The previa eventually resolved completely. However, Lexi's growth percentiles dropped significantly and steadily. Another blood clot had gone undetected and hemmoraged during my induced labor. Due to her lack of proper growth in utero from these complications and the high risk of being stillborn, she was induced early and is now doing much better outside the womb.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Article in Vox Magazine - Anonymity Debate

Ending anonymous donation might help some but harm others

By Anna Gaynor
December 9, 2010

Kathleen LaBounty doesn’t know where her son got his dark blue eyes.
When she was 8 years old, LaBounty’s mother told her she was conceived by sperm donation. Not until she was a teen did she try to find out who her biological father is. She contacted the clinic but was told the files had been destroyed, so she began sending out letters to possible fathers. Six hundred letters later, the 28-year-old LaBounty still has not found him.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand because they see that we’re loved and we’re wanted, and what else could possibly be missing?” LaBounty says. “I think it’s very natural to wonder where you came from, your heritage, how are you similar to the person who helped create you.”

Now a research counselor at Baylor University in Waco, Texas (minor correction - actually at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston), LaBounty is a proud mother of an 8-month-old son, with a daughter on the way. Aside from doing research at the university, she has written extensively about her search on her blog Child of a Stranger. Through her blog, she has fought for the end of anonymous donations in the U.S. Not knowing her biological father has left LaBounty with many questions and no answers. On a practical level, she has no idea if she has a family history of cancer or heart disease. But there are personal, complicated reasons as well.
“I can see bits and pieces of my mom, but there’s so much of my face that I don’t recognize, like a stranger, and you want to know the other half of your face,” LaBounty says.

LaBounty and other kids resulting from sperm and egg donations have no easy answers. Just as many adopted children wonder about their biological parents, donor kids have questions beyond where their blue eyes come from.
Her attention was drawn to Missouri in 2009. State Representative Cynthia Davis (R-19) sought her advice on a bill that would give donor children the opportunity to find their biological parents. The controversial House Bill 355 would have ended anonymous donations, but it failed to come to a vote before the 2009 session was over. Alhough the bill is currently not scheduled for a hearing, it also would have allowed children at the age of 21 access to their genetic donors.

LaBounty says the current system’s priority is to protect the adults involved in the process, and the needs and well-being of the child seem to be at the bottom of the list.

Benefits of anonymity
Not everyone is happy with Davis’ bill. Marna Gatlin is the CEO and founder of Parents Via Egg Donation, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, Ore. It offers support and education to couples, families and parents who are choosing an egg donor. Gatlin started the organization after her own experience of conceiving a son with egg donation. She worries that making it mandatory to remove the donors’ anonymity could shrink the number of donations. However, Gatlin wishes she had been given the option to meet her egg donor.

“I’d just like to hug her and thank her because she has just given me an extraordinary gift,” Gatlin says.

The end of anonymity is not what bothered Gatlin most about Davis’ 2009 bill. It was the language. According to the bill, the donor parent would be required to be listed on the birth certificate alongside the names of the mother and father. Gatlin worries about placing such strong emphasis on the donor.

“I think folks who have not gone through this experience don’t understand how it feels for us to hear the fact that the baby we’ve carried and brought into the world is going to have somebody else as a parent,” Gatlin says.

She admits she gets irritated by the use of the term “donor mother” alone. Although her 10-year-old son knows how he was conceived, Gatlin wants him to know that parenthood goes beyond genetics — a real parent cares for and nurtures a child.

A choice versus a child’s right to know
LaBounty agrees. The man who raised her will always be her dad, but she adds that her biological father will always be more than just a donor to her. Unlike Gatlin, she supports the birth certificate provision because it prevents parents from misleading their children about their origins. LaBounty wants to prevent other donor kids from experiencing the pain of being unable to find their biological parents.

“I also just felt a lot of loss,” LaBounty says. “I felt (that)not just my biological father but the other half of my family had died. I really went through a grieving period.”

Gatlin thinks many parts of the system need to be changed, but she finds many state bills that are similar to Davis’ come from legislators who lack education about the process.

“This isn’t Star Trek,” Gatlin says. “It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a way for a woman to be able to carry a pregnancy and to be able to have her partner’s child, to have a baby you made out of love just as you would naturally, except that we have to use somebody else’s genetics.”A

Quick Updates

My 17th DNA test came back as negative last week, though I have gotten to the point that I am no longer surprised. In fact, I'd be much more astonished if I ever get a match. When I first began my journey, I truly - and naively - believed with each potential father or sister (no potential brothers yet) that I had located my family. Now, I assume that I haven't until I am proved otherwise. Nonetheless, I keep trying and I am about to begin my 18th DNA test very soon.

And, in terms of my own growing family, we are now 17 weeks pregnant with our little girl, Lexi Grace Johnson. Hopefully my son and daughter will some day meet the rest of their family, too.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cryo Kids Speak Out: Vancouver Sun

'Cryo kid' speaks out
Vancouver Sun, by Denise Ryan

Kathleen Ruby LaBounty, a 28-year-old "cryo kid," has spoken out in defence of Olivia Pratten, the B.C.-born journalist petitioning B.C. Supreme Court to change laws around anonymous sperm donation.

LaBounty, who lives in Houston, Tex., provided an affidavit in Pratten's case, and has followed news reports and online commentary about the trial. ( "Cryo kid" refers to her being conceived using sperm that had been preserved by freezing -- cryogenics.)

"I'm shocked by how negatively people are responding to her online, as if she's being self-centred," LaBounty said.

The lack of empathy she perceives points to an underlying issue: Children born of sperm, egg or donated embryos have a unique and often isolating relationship to one's self that others may not fully understand.

A study from the Commission on Parenthood's Future found children conceived by sperm donation are more likely to suffer from isolation and depression, and are roughly twice as likely as biological children to struggle with substance abuse.

Pratten is in B.C. Supreme Court arguing that every child has a fundamental right to know his or her biological origins. She hopes to see B.C. adoption laws amended to ensure that physicians keep permanent records of gamete donors and that offspring have access to those records when they come of age.

"There is a whole generation of us out there now," said LaBounty, whose parents chose artificial insemination with donor sperm when they discovered her father was infertile.

Both her parents are supportive of her quest.

"My mother saw the sperm donation as a medical treatment. She never considered the implications of how I would feel," LaBounty said from Houston, where she is a research counsellor at Baylor University in Texas.

How does she feel? Incomplete. Curious. Angry.

She's not angry at her parents. She's frustrated with a medical and legal system that don't support, or understand, the needs of donor children.

"I couldn't get records from the clinic where I was conceived."

She feels it's unfair that decisions about information concerning her -- and others conceived the same way -- are made by everybody but her.

When she was eight, LaBounty's mother told her, "There is something special about you."

"At first it was almost like a fairy tale, it was almost magical," she said.

When she got to college, she started to wonder: What was her heritage? Why could she draw almost photographic likenesses without ever having studied art? Where did her indigo blue eyes come from? Why did she develop diabetes when she had no risk factors?

She started to chase her medical records and discovered the men who donated to the clinic her parents used were promised anonymity. "It was a contract the donors signed with the clinic and my mother. I had no say in it," she said.

As well, it was common practice then for clinics to mix sperm from up to three sources to make it more unlikely kids could track down their origins.

LaBounty became preoccupied, and tracked down and wrote to all 600 male medical students who attended Baylor in the period when her mother was inseminated.

Vancouver adoption counsellor Lee Crawford said the preoccupation with solving the mystery is natural, and keeping information about children's biological origins away from them can be damaging. "That mystery takes up our time, we can become preoccupied, obsessed. We can't settle that internal sense of who we are."

She believes it is inhumane to bar human beings from knowing their origins.

About 250 of the men LaBounty contacted responded; many had donated sperm to make the $25 in pocket money as students. Many had spent a lifetime, like her, wondering about a mystery person they might be related to.

"I got one letter from a doctor who said he'd donated because he was gay. He said he'd been waiting 26 years to get a letter like this. He so wanted to be my biological father."

A DNA test showed he was not a match. So far, 17 men who were possibly her donors have done DNA tests, and she has developed close relationships with some of them.

"They've all nicknamed me their Baylor pseudo-daughter," she says with a laugh.

LaBounty wants more thoughtful regulation to protect children like her who "were created to fulfil a biological desire."

Her mother wanted a biological connection with her child, and chose sperm donation over adoption. "It seems like society recognizes women's biological desires, but not ours," LaBounty said.

Pratten's case is a human rights issue, Crawford agrees.

"This person that is created is not a sperm. Your child is connected by 50 per cent of its genetics to another person, and your child is going to have to try to reconcile that."

To live with the feeling of a missing link is psychologically distressing. "It transcends personality. It's a human need to know where the origins of the story are," Crawford said. "Nobody is thinking about these children that grow into teens, that grow into young adults living with that mystery."

What is more devastating, she said, is "the sense of powerlessness and lack of control they end up living with, not feeling heard or respected by society."

Crawford hopes reproductive medicine will eventually catch up with and protect the needs of the offspring it produces. "I like to call it 'person donor,' not sperm donor," she said. "We need to change the language to person donor and donors need to understand they are co-creating a child."

dryan@vancouversun.com

© (c) CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.

Friday, August 20, 2010

My Own Family

Here are pictures of my new family. My young son has inherited my uncommon dark blue eyes, which are a shade that never appeared in my maternal relatives and a hue that I have yet to see in anyone else. I suspect that the color is one clue that could help identify my biological father.

With my baby in August 2010


Trevor's eyes


Kathleen's eyes during childhood


All three of us


Our little, and clean, angel

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Just What are Choice Mothers Settling For? - Manhattan Moment/Washington Examiner

I happened to find this today. It is a nice article explaining why the current movies do not accurately portray the seriousness or reality of sperm donation, and my blog is mentioned at the end. This author also emphasizes the fact that the needs of the children produced have been an after-thought.

Kay Hymowitz: Just what are "choice mothers" settling for?
By: Kay Hymowitz
Manhattan Moment
August 18, 2010 In case you’ve been busy worrying about the economy, immigration, or a resurgent Taliban, let me draw your attention to Jennifer Aniston.

Promoting her new movie, The Switch, about a single, fortysomething woman who decides to have a baby with the help of a sperm donor, Aniston had this to say at a press conference: “Women …know that they don’t have to settle with a man just to have that child…Times have changed, and what is amazing is that we do have so many options these days.’” On his show, Fox News host Bill O’Reilly responded by calling Aniston “destructive to our society.”

Aniston hit back: “For those who’ve not yet found their [Prince Charming such as] Bill O’Reilly, I’m just glad science has provided a few other options.” The rest is P.R. history.

By “amazing” options, Aniston, who happens also to be a fortysomething single woman, was referring to sperm donation, an increasingly popular way to create fatherless families. O’Reilly’s charge to the contrary, most single women who have a baby through donor sperm struggle for years to find husbands so they could raise their children with fathers before finally concluding they had no choice but to go it alone.

Given the ranks of can’t-commit child men out there, you have to have some sympathy for their plight.

But choice mothers, as the older, more educated donor moms often call themselves, use a language of empowerment that lends some weight to O’Reilly’s accusation. Aniston herself is guilty of trivializing men’s role in children’ lives when she says that women “don’t have to settle with a man just to have a child.”

Notice the belittling words “settle” and “just.” The very term “choice mothers” frames artificial insemination as a matter of women’s reproductive rights; only the woman’s decision-making carries moral weight, fathers be damned. Similarly, advocates often cite the benefits of freedom from “donor interference” that comes with single motherhood.

Adding to the implicit father-bashing is anonymous sperm donation. Some choice mothers go to male friends to get the necessary reproductive material.

But most buy their sperm and eggs from banks committed to protecting the identity of the donors – or to be more precise, the sellers. Children grow up knowing the identity of neither their biological fathers nor, since the same sperm donor can produce a dozen or more children, their half-siblings.

To believe the title of another movie released this summer about sperm donor families, The Kids are Alright, this anonymity is nothing to worry about; the kids are better off not knowing. But if it’s true that people don’t care about the identity of the man whose DNA constitutes half of their genetic make-up, we should be ready to substitute the wisdom of Jennifer Aniston for storytellers ranging from Homer, James Joyce, and the writers at Marvel comics.

Ironically, choice mothers themselves are enacting the power of biological rootedness when they insist on bearing their own children rather than adopting an already motherless and fatherless child.

Up until now, no one has bothered to find out what children might think about the laissez-faire approach to fathers. But a first-of-its kind report from the Commission on Parenthood’s Future, “My Daddy’s Name is Donor,” compares a large sample of donor-conceived young adults with a group who grew up with their biological parents.

The report adds up to a troubling picture of adult entitlement and child confusion. While choice mothers have their way, their kids are more likely to suffer malaise about their identity, as well as to abuse drugs and alcohol and to have run-ins with the police.

Meanwhile, donor children are speaking up on websites like A Tangled Web and Child of a Stranger. In Canada, a class-action law suit against the anonymity policy of sperm banks is winding its way through the courts. The legal struggle is reminiscent of similar efforts by adopted children to open up the records of those agencies.

If the donor kids are successful, will their efforts also open up a more serious discussion about fathers? Not if Jennifer Aniston has anything to say about it.

Kay S. Hymowitz is the William E. Simon fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal.

Vial of Tears - The American Interest Magazine

My story and blog are very briefly mentioned in American Interest Magazine (September/October 2010 issue) on newstands later this month. The article addresses the three big screen donor conception movies currently in movie theaters, Anne Catherine Hundhausen’s thoughtful documentary exploring the many sides of donor conception, and Elizabeth Marquardt’s/Karen Clark's study called "My Daddy's Name is Donor." It is already available online at:
http://www.the-american-interest.com/article.cfm?piece=875

My Search for My Sperm Donor Father (Spanning 1.5 Decades!)

When I began my search for my missing family, I could not have imagined the journey ahead. Despite numerous attempts to gain access to the medical records that possibly contained information about my sperm donor/biological father, I discovered that they were either nonexistent or worthless. Several times I was told that all records were destroyed; other times, when sperm donation was not mentioned, I was told that they did in fact exist in storage and would be provided in 30 days under HIPPA law. Then they magically disappeared again when I would follow-up for the records. In fact, donor-conceived people I know have sometimes been told their records were destroyed by flood, by fire, or even by both flood AND fire! Even if records were kept (but withheld from me on purpose) after all of these years, however, sperm from more than one sperm donor was mixed prior to the insemination. In other words, it is likely that not even the clinic knows the identity of my biological father. Unfortunately I was conceived prior to the assignment of donor numbers, which further complicates an already complicated quest.

With no other options and with only the information that my biological father sperm donor attended Baylor College of Medicine in 1981 at the time of my conception, I decided to find the one man with a familiar face - my face, but with more masculine features - out of hundreds and hundreds of black and white photographs in old yearbooks. Changes in appearance from year to year and men who were listed but never photographed made my search more complex than I had originally realized. To solve this problem, I googled all 600 men to obtain recent pictures and to hopefully narrow in on the most likely candidate. Instead, I saw my lips in one man, my eyes in another, and my checks in someone else. My friends and family reviewed my binders - in which I devoted one page per Baylor graduate that included his yearbook photos (if any), recent pictures through online searches, and contact information - and used sticky tabs to mark those who most shared my facial structure. I nervously sent my carefully crafted letter, along with my pictures from infancy through adulthood in case I resembled him more at one stage of life than another, to the 20 men selected by all of my friends and family as looking like me. I explained what I was wanting, disclosed what I was not seeking, and offered to take a non-legally binding test to prove that I was not pursuing money. My 20 letters expanded to an additional round of 20 letters, then 30 letters, 50 letters, 100 letters, and 200 letters, until I eventually wrote 600 men through snail mail and email to find out if anyone recognized my face. I signed all of them in blue ink, hoping that I, as a person, would stand out beyond the black ink, and that therefore my letter would be at least somewhat harder to ignore. To me, this was a real-life mystery that I hoped to solve.

After sending a letter to every man who attended Baylor College of Medicine from 1979to 1984, I was pleasantly surprised to hear back from 250 graduates. The responses came in the form of snail mail letters, emails, cards, phone calls, messages, and even unexpected gifts. 40 men admitted to being sperm donors; others who never wanted to donate their gametes simply emphatized with my search and encouraged me to continue looking for my family. Some even had suggestions of men I could contact who had once bragged to classmates about donating sperm. A few nasty responses arrived, too, but these were in the minority and did not discourage me. Some donors admitted to having forgotten about their sperm donations over two decades ago, while others confided that they had always hoped to locate their donor children. Other donors called, only admitting after a long conversation that built up a little trust that they did indeed provide sperm to the clinic where my mother had gone. I discovered that these men had been told to forget about their children through sperm donation, since the parents/recipients were encouraged to keep it all a secret forever. In fact, parents were even encouraged to go home, make love, and assume that conception occurred through that romantic encounter. The more I learned, the less I liked the fact that a clinic had the right to decide that we could never find each other. I wanted him to make that determination on his own.

Out of those 40 donors, we were able to deduce that only 14 were possibilities in terms of matching me due to various logistics. Over a 14-month period, all of those DNA tests were negative. My life was an emotional rollercoaster as I waited for one, sometimes two, paternity test results each month. I oftentimes felt that I had some sort of understanding of what it must feel like to have bipolar disorder (without actually having it), only I felt that my life had the disorder instead. Eventually I grew very numb, and even the excitement of an upcoming test lessened to protect me from another possible negative paternity result. The kindness of the men from the yearbooks also helped reduce the sadness and frustration of each test to some degree. In fact, I have stayed in contact with most of the donors who agreed to a paternity test with me. In addition, several men, who I have termed non-donors (men who never donated sperm), grew into friends. Not only did some attend my baby shower, but I have also met their partners and children (and they have met mine), seen one as my new opthamologist, gone to their homes for lunch, attended their performances, met for dinner, and participated in media together. They affectionately refer to me as their collective pseudo-daughter. Likewise, I feel that I have gained a new nonbiological family that made my entire search worthwhile.

Some people are surprised by the bonds formed in my search. In terms of the donors, I think it has made them realize that they have children like me out there. It is no longer such an abstract concept for them and my letter brought their past to the forefront of their minds. Many probably have grandchildren as well. My biological father has a 4 1/2 month old grandson through me. My son already has two grandfathers in his life, but I would not mind if he had another. There is no limit when it comes to the ability to share love. For the men from my pursuit who never donated their sperm, they are interested in me as the daughter of their former classmate. Either way, we have formed an attachment that I think will last our lifetime.

I was initially devastated that my biological father never came forward. My donor father entered my dreams at times, sometimes reassuring, sometimes disheartening. I never viewed his lack of contacting me as a negative reflection of me and I did not take it personally, but I assumed there was some issue that he must be battling himself. Perhaps he had never told his wife of his prior donations; maybe he could not get past his concern that I would ask him for money; perhaps his wife viewed me as a threat and did not want to share his love.

People sometimes assumed that I was only upset and searching for him because I must idealize my sperm donor father. I did not care what he did with his life in terms of profession or accomplishments (or lack thereof), nor did I expect him to be a perfect person. Perfection is boring anyway. I simply wanted to know that I had reached him and had given him the opportunity to know me, which had been taken away from both of us. And I wanted to know the other half of me.

With time, I agreed to share my story publicly. My hope was to increase public awareness of donor conception as well as the issues stemming from it. In addition, I hoped that perhaps my biological father or someone from his family would see me and contact me. I have continued to discuss with my story with journalists for these very reasons. Even with media, which had to have reached someone related to me, I got no leads.

Without him in my life, I initially felt as though he had died. Not only did I miss him, but I longed for my half-brothers, half-sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles. I wanted to know who I looked like, where I belonged in the world, who contributed to half of who I am, and how I was similar to those relatives. I wondered about my heritage and I had no access to my medical history, despite being diabetic. My parents had fulfilled their dream of a child, but I would never know a significant portion of my own family.

I now accept that my biological father probably knows of my existence. Between my media and letters, I am quite confident of this. With a lot of time and thought, I have developed a sense of peace with my situation that has replaced a lot of the sadness. I still do not think anonymous donations are fair to the produced children and I hope that my sperm donor/biological father will eventually come forward, but I never wanted to force him into a relationship that he did not desire. I instead focus on people who care for me without any sense of obligation, including my family, husband, friends, and Baylor College of Medicine former students.

I have also searched through my half-siblings. I suspect that I have some through my donor's other donations as well as through his probable marriage. I know for a fact that I have a donor-conceived, maternal half-brother with Down syndrome who was put up for adoption, but that is another story in itself. I have grown accustomed to the frustration of knowing my family exists yet they somehow elude me. If you have any other ideas for locating my biological father, donor-conceived half-sibings, or my maternal half-brother with mental retardation, please email me. I even wrote to The Locator (you never know!), but never heard back. I actually never expected to, as I figured that there was too much legal risk for the show. I considered placing an ad in a newspaper explaining my situation and showing my face with the hopes of being recognized by someone, but this seemed more than pathetic and too much like a lost dog sign.

Nonetheless, I have had some activity with legislation with the hopes of helping to end anonymity in egg, sperm, and embryo donations for future generations. I wrote an affidavit, along with a lawyer, to be used in Olivia Pratten's court case in Canada. I also agreed to have my story presented in a public hearing in Missouri. Cynthia Davis from the Missouri State Legislature was attempting to help end anonymity in her state. This determination is made on a state-by-state basis in the US, but surprisingly no state has yet to end anonymity. In contrast, many other countries determined that anonymity was a violation of rights and ended it decades ago. In an ironic twist, I have also been employed at Baylor College of Medicine (the institution responsible for my existence that also trained my biological father) conducting research for 1 1/2 years. Sometimes as I walk through the hallways, I cannot help but realize that I am sharing the space where my biological father once stood during the years of his donations that brought me into existence.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thank You

I just wanted to thank you all who send me personal messages. Each week, I receive at least one email in which someone shares his or her own story or struggle after relating to my life. These letters are mostly from families considering sperm or egg donation to create a child, prospective donors themselves, donor-conceived people, and even parents of donors. Almost all are from insightful, compassionate people who want to prevent situations like mine from unnecessarily taking place. Despite the very different circumstances of the people who write, some of which involve terrible, unfair events, the common theme is that the letters prioritize the well-being of the donor-conceived and show incredible selflessness. Thanks to all of you for trusting me enough to share your lives with me and for touching me as well. Receiving these letters and having contact with people impacted by my story is another unexpected, but appreciated, outcome of my search.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Searches for biological fathers don't always have Hollywood endings

Read the full article at: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10207/1075077-51.stm?cmpid=lifestyle.xml

Monday, July 26, 2010
By Emily Fuggetta, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Connecting with sperm donors isn't always as easy as it is portrayed in "The Kids Are All Right," a film starring Julianne Moore, Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo, which opened in Pittsburgh Friday after early success in other cities.

In the movie, the children of lesbian partners (Ms. Moore and Ms. Bening) find the man (Mr. Ruffalo) whose sperm was used in their conception. Mr. Ruffalo's character and the children attempt to forge relationships, but the experience is not entirely what the parties involved had hoped.

The film's director and co-writer Lisa Cholodenko, who is raising a child conceived through artificial reproductive technology with her partner, said she wanted to explore the idea that a donor might not live up to a child's picture of her biological parent.

"There's always that kind of first blush of fantasy about who that person is, and nobody lives up to that," Ms. Cholodenko said. "Everyone is human and ultimately falls from grace in a certain way when they're held up to some kind of perfect ideal."

The topic of artificial insemination also surfaced in the movie "The Back-Up Plan," released in April, and is part of the plot in "The Switch," set to debut in August. The films highlight the growing number of offspring of sperm donations who are trying to find their fathers. Dozens of websites and online groups have formed to help donors and offspring connect.

Although the U.S. does not keep records of births from sperm donation, experts estimate that anywhere from 4,000 to 40,000 births occur annually through this process. Unlike some countries, the United States does not require that donors' names be released to their offspring, and there is no national donor registry. In recent years; however, many U.S. sperm banks have given donors the option of agreeing to have personal information or even their names released when their offspring turn 18.

Whether donors should be required to disclose their identity is becoming a heated issue, and groups have formed on both sides of the debate. So far, no legislation has been introduced. Wendy Kramer is the founder of Donor Sibling Registry, a Nederland, Colo., nonprofit group that matches sperm and egg donors with their offspring.

"It's a free-for-all," she said in an e-mail. "Sperm banks can do whatever they'd like."

Several countries have laws or guidelines that require donor information to be released to offspring. As of 2007, these included Austria, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, South Africa and the United Kingdom, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Betsy Cairo, a University of Northern Colorado professor who founded the CryoGam Colorado sperm bank in Greeley, about an hour north of Denver, fears the implementation of a law or policy that would ban anonymity in the U.S. would create a shortage of donors. She has already seen an increase in overseas sperm sales to countries that have required disclosure.

"If they don't remain anonymous, we will lose our donor pool," she said.

Cryobiology began moving toward more open agreements in the past five to 10 years. About 95 percent of donors are agreeing to release baby photos, audio recordings, silhouettes or all three, she said. Cryobiology pays about $40 per sperm sample, and donors generally agree to provide six samples per month for about a year. Donors who agree to release extra information receive slightly more -- up to $55 per sample.

One sperm bank in Los Angeles is now comparing its donors with celebrities through its "Donor Look-Alikes" service, which allows interested people to select celebrities they would like their donors to resemble and then produces a list of donors with similar features. So far, options include hundreds of actors, sports stars and other stars from Zac Efron to Taye Diggs.

The Donor Sibling Registry reports that more than 7,400 matches have been made through the service since it was founded in 2000, and nearly 28,000 donors and offspring are registered with the site. Ms. Kramer said whether a relationship is formed through a connection depends largely on the age of the donors and offspring and how far apart they live.

"Some jump on planes the next day to go meet each other; some just share medical information," Ms. Kramer said. She added that many banks ship sperm all over the world, so extended families are likely to live in different states, countries or continents.

Ms. Cairo of CryoGam believes the likelihood of a failed attempt at bonding between the donor and offspring is more likely than success -- another reason she supports donor anonymity.

"What we've discovered and heard from other sperm banks is that the donor [identification] is released and the children get doors slammed in their faces," she said. "It doesn't mean they're going to go to lunch and have picnics."

Those who wish to remain anonymous should be able to do so, she said.

"Sometimes these donors are 19 or 20. They don't think that far down the road," she said. "Some might even forget they were a donor in college, and then suddenly there's a person on their doorstep. They're not family. They're genetically linked."

But some are fighting for the U.S. to require disclosure. The Institute for American Values, a nonprofit group in New York "whose mission is to study and strengthen key American values," released a study called "My Daddy's Name Is Donor," which outlines what it deems the negative effects of anonymous donation.

The Web-based study of more than 1,600 people found that 65 percent of donor offspring agree with the statement "My sperm donor is half of who I am" and that "family relationships for donor offspring are more often characterized by confusion, tension and loss." The study also found that 53 percent of donor-conceived respondents agreed that "It hurts when I hear other people talk about their genealogical background," compared with 29 percent of those who were adopted.

Kathleen LaBounty, 28, of Houston, hopes the U.S. will require disclosure to prevent others from experiencing the pain she has felt during a so-far-unsuccessful search for her biological father.

She learned when she was 8 that she was born through artificial insemination and over the years began feeling that a side of her family was missing. In her early teenage years, she contacted the clinic where she was conceived but was told her records had been destroyed.

"I didn't know what to do," she said. "I felt like it was a dead end."

She didn't drop the search, and in her 20s she began compiling all the information she could find of the men who attended the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where she was conceived.

She sent letters and e-mails, along with photographic timelines of herself, to all 600 men who graduated between 1979 and 1984. She received 250 responses, and many of the men offered support, she said. Several, who affectionately refer to her as their "collective pseudo-daughter," attended her baby shower and have met her 3-month-old son.

Still, after half a decade, 16 DNA tests and interviews for "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and other national shows and publications, her father has not come forward.

"I hope with time he decides to know me," she said. Although she is at peace with the idea that she may never find her father, she hasn't given up her search. "I don't like to live with regrets."

Monday, May 31, 2010

"I just want more information about who I am" - New study

Below I have pasted the abstract to a new study on donor offspring. The full article is available at http://informationr.net/ir/15-2/paper428.html. My story is under the pseudoname "Rose."

Abstract

"I just want more information about who I am": the search experience of sperm-donor offspring, searching for information about their donors and genetic heritage"

Amber L. Cushing
School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

Introduction. This paper discusses the findings of a qualitative study of sperm-donor offspring conceived in the United States who have searched for information about their donors and genetic heritage. It explores how these individuals search for information and the characteristics of such searches.

Method. Sixteen telephone interviews were conducted with sperm-donor offspring who had engaged in varying levels of search for varying amounts of time.

Analysis. Interview transcripts were coded with codes initially developed from the interview guide.

Results. Results indicate that sperm-donor offspring often begin their search by talking to their mother and then trying to contact their mother's doctor, very soon after being told that they were donor-conceived. Next, individuals use University yearbooks to find "look-alikes." Eventually, some donor offspring attempt to contact prospective donors.

Conclusions. Overall, this research demonstrates the sometimes intense, emotional and personally driven nature of search. Many participants engaged in search to gain a greater sense of their identity and self.

Friday, April 30, 2010

We're on Newsweek.com! "What 'The Back-Up Plan' Gets Wrong About Single Mothers"

Anne Catherine's documentary is discussed on Newsweek.com! Way to go!

(To view the trailer to her documentary, go to http://childofastranger.blogspot.com/2010/04/documentary-preview.html. To read the article, see below.)

http://www.newsweek.com/id/237178

What ‘The Back-Up Plan’ Gets Wrong About Single Mothers
Women who decide to have children without a partner don't fit into rom-com cliches.

By Claudia Kalb | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Apr 30, 2010

I was sitting in a darkened movie theater waiting for Jennifer Lopez's new movie, The Back-up Plan, to start, when I got an e-mail on my BlackBerry. Subject line: "Breakthrough Egg Freezing Technology Offers Women a New 'Backup Plan.' " The press release, from Shady Grove Fertility in Rockville, Md., was touting a technology that "flash freezes" a woman's eggs until she's ready to conceive. It was a classic moment of life imitating art.

The two seem to be inextricably linked these days. The insemination of single women is an ever-growing reality in the world of reproductive medicine: births to unmarried women shot up 26 percent in just five years, between 2002 and 2007. So it's not surprising that single motherhood is part of the current Hollywood zeitgeist. Turkey basters and morning sickness—what could be better entertainment? The J. Lo movie, which features an unknown sperm donor, had its debut last week; in The Switch, scheduled to be released in August, Jennifer Aniston plays our heroine, an unmarried 40-year-old woman, whose donor is a guy named Roland. (Or is it her best friend, Wally?).

The Back-up Plan opens with Lopez, playing the single, pet-store-owning Zoe, with her legs high in the air immediately following her insemination. Moments later, she meets Mr. Right, a cheese-making hunk named Stan, when they happen to jump into the same cab at the same time. Aside from the usual rom-com high jinks, though, the most ridiculous portrayal is the "Single Mothers and Proud" support group that Zoe joins, with its pudgy tent-dress-wearing leader and hippie, man-hating, tattoo-laden gal pals. They look like they haven't showered in weeks. "We do what we have to when we don't have a penis partner," Mama Tent says to the group.

The film isn't getting rave reviews. In Roger Ebert's words, "It plays like an unendurable TV commercial about beautiful people with great lifestyles and not a thought in their empty little heads." It also bears no resemblance to what single career-minded women go through when they reach what is often a heartbreaking revelation: if I wait to meet the right guy, I may be too old to have a baby. Anne Catherine Hundhausen, 38, is living this reality now. "I wanted the dream: the two kids, the husband," she says. "I've had a lot of wonderful relationships. I dated creative, interesting men. But nothing's ever panned out in terms of marriage and a family."

For the last two years, Hundhausen has researched every aspect of single motherhood. She's interviewed her ob-gyn, visited a sperm clinic, and had long, involved conversations with single women who've done it on their own. She trekked to Texas to talk to a 26-year-old woman who is determined to find the anonymous sperm donor her mother used to get pregnant. And she flew to Colorado to interview Wendy Kramer and her son, Ryan, who launched the Donor Sibling Registry to connect offspring with their donors and their half-siblings around the country.

Hundhausen, a freelance media producer and independent documentary filmmaker in New York City, chronicles all of this in Single Choice: Many Lives, which is scheduled to be screened next week in New York at Hunter College's Reel Dialogue documentary series. Where The Back-Up Plan has "the approximate depth of a cookie sheet," in the words of one reviewer, Single Choice walks viewers through the sticky ethical and practical challenges. Single motherhood is about so much more than the path from insemination to birth. It's an emotional lifelong journey filled with unknowns: Should I really go ahead with this? Am I equipped to take this on? When's the best time to tell my child?

There are no guarantees when it comes to baby making, no matter how it happens. But the use of donor sperm ups the complexity in spades. In Hundhausen's film, a professor who got pregnant with donor sperm at 40 talks about her son's diagnosis with autism, a diagnosis that several other boys conceived using the same donor have also received. This raises all sorts of questions about how much sperm banks really know about their donors' medical histories, and what we can ever really know about a sperm donor. The banks test specimens for infectious diseases like HIV, and some genetic disorders, including cystic fibrosis. But there are no gene tests—yet, anyway—for autism and other developmental disabilities, such as ADHD.

Learning more about their health histories is one reason offspring may want to track down their donors. Some feel it's also their right to know where their DNA came from, and they may want to meet their genetic relatives. The young donor-conceived woman from Texas says donors shouldn't be allowed to remain anonymous. She's happy to be alive but says, "I feel like my biological father sold me for $25." And there's an ethical debate, too, over how many is too many. An enthusiastic 21-year-old sperm donor interviewed on camera says he'd be fine with about 100 "little mes" running around. Ryan Kramer says the limit should be five.

All of this leaves Hundhausen, who bookends the film with her personal story, confused. "I don't know what I'm going to do," she says. The pendulum swings continuously: "There are days when I'm thinking, 'I've got to do this,' and other days when I think, 'What if I did this and something horrible happens or I'm not happy?'" Recently, she bought some books on the advantages of being childless and started envisioning a life of travel, including trips to France with her beloved nieces. She didn't give up on single motherhood, but decided to put the overwhelming feelings aside and thought she'd found some peace. Weeks later, she went for a routine ob-gyn appointment and her doc said bluntly, "Don't wait."

That is reality. The romantic-comedy genre doesn't need to be laden with the complicated details of real life; movies are, after all, a getaway into fun and fantasy. The problem with The Back-up Plan is that it goes overboard on the stereotypes, it's agonizingly predictable, and it's annoyingly Hallmarky. There is one part that gets it right in an artistic kind of way. During the opening credits, an animated female character walks through life with baby-tinted glasses. A couple in a restaurant clink glasses, which morph into baby bottles; TV screens in a shop window air fetal ultrasounds; a policeman's whistle turns into a pacifier. Yes, it's chick-lit sappy stuff, but plenty of women will identify with it. When you want to get pregnant, big bellies and babies are suddenly everywhere—the stuff of reality and the stuff of dreams.

© 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Great DC Article With Two of My Friends - To Google or Not To Google?

This article was written by a journalist and friend, Alison Motluk. "Michael," discussed in the article, is also a friend of mine.

The anonymous donor dilemma: To google or not to google?
In the Google age, there’s no longer a guarantee of 100% anonymity for egg
or sperm donors. But what’s a parent to do with what they find out?
(By Alison Motluk. The Globe & Mail. April 18/10)

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/family-and-relationships/the-anonymous-
donor-dilemma-to-google-or-not-to-google/article1538635/

Friday, April 16, 2010

Movie Trailer: "Single Choice Many Lives"

I wanted to share a link to a trailer for an insightful documentary exploring the various sides of donor conception:
http://singlechoicemovie.com/ .



The documentary includes interviews with Wendy/Ryan Kramer from the well-known DSR, current and former sperm donors, staff at cryobanks, women who pursued sperm donation to create families, me (along with one BCM donor who went through DNA testing with me), and the filmmaker herself as she learns about the process of donor conception.

The full documentary will be showing in May in NYC. The filmmaker welcomes anyone, but she is also hoping that some donor-conceived people might be able to attend and express their feelings. Also, if you know of any professionals in the field of reproductive technology in or near NYC (i.e. ethicists, etc), please pass this information to them as well.

Here is the press release:
Join us for the exciting peak preview of SINGLE CHOICE: MANY LIVES, as part of REEL DIALOGUE, a free, ongoing documentary series presented by The Hunter College Department of Film & Media Studies and the IMA/MFA Program.

The event kicks off with a reception on Monday, May 3, 2010 at 6:30pm followed by screenings beginning at 7pm and a panel discussion with Q&A post-screening. REEL DIALOGUE will take place in the Lang Recital Hall at Hunter College, 695 Park Avenue, 4th Floor, North Building (69th Street between Lexington and Park Avenues, NYC). Filmmaker will be present. Refreshments will be served.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Welcome, Trevor! March 26, 2010








































Our baby, Trevor, arrived on March 26, 2010. Here are some of his pictures from the first two weeks of his life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sperm Donation from the Perspective of a New Parent

With my own son on the way, I find it even more difficult now to understand how an egg/sperm donor can accept money in exchange for creating a child and relinqushing contact. From the moment I found out about my pregnancy, I felt protective of my baby and I developed an enormous attachment to him. While I am at peace with my own situation, that is only because I did everything humanly possible to locate my biological father and offer him the opportunity to know me. I strongly suspect that he knows of my existence from my efforts, but either does not care or has other obligations that outweigh me. So why put emotional energy into someone who does not want involvement in my life? Not only is he missing out on the chance to know his daughter, but now he'll likely never know his grandson as well. If he changes his mind, it's up to him to find me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

We're Having a Baby!

Here's our sleeping baby at 12 weeks old!







My husband and I are expecting our first baby! Now that we've told our family and friends, I thought it was time to post a few pictures on my blog.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Look-a-Like Sperm Bank: Searching for the Perfect Genes

This article discusses a new service enabling women to select donors based on the celebrities that they look most like. Although some positive changes have been made in recent years at sperm banks, I think the one below is completely outrageous.

By Kimberly Papa Wolfson, AOL News

Choosing the biological father of your child from a catalog filled with statistics ranging from eye color to ethnicity can make an intensely personal decision seem awfully impersonal. In hopes of helping clients feel more of a connection with a potential donor, Los Angeles-based California Cryobank has developed a new service called Donor Look-a-Likes, which allows women to search for potential daddies based on which celebrities they most closely resemble.

“The toughest thing to do when choosing a donor is to make a personal connection,” says Scott Brown, California Cryobank’s communications manager. “It’s easy to look at stats like eye color, hair, religion, ethnicity, and height, but without a tangible person to see it is difficult to emotionally invest in a donor. Because we can’t provide photos of the donors themselves, this is a way for clients to connect and for us to personalize the experience and give them a better idea of what the donor looks like.”

The service, which the company launched several weeks ago, has quickly become a huge draw for heterosexual couples, single women and lesbian couples looking for donors. California Cryobank has received 300 percent more inquiries since debuting Donor Look-a-Likes.

So which famous faces are the most popular among popular for donor-searching moms? “Fast and Furious” hottie Paul Walker is the most searched, followed "Heroes" star Greg Gruberg, Scott Caan, Ben Affleck and "Private Practice" actor Paul Adelstein.

Choosing a Donor

You might be surprised to find more average-looking actors topping the list instead of, say, Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp taking the top spots. Brown says the reason regular guys do well is because heterosexual couples looking for donors, which make up 40 percent of their clients, often search for a donor who looks like dad. “You have to keep in mind that most guys look more like a James Gandolfini than Ben Affleck.”

Choosing who a donor’s celebrity look-a-like isn’t a scientific process. About ten staffers at the bank take photos of the donors and comb the internet in search of potential matches. Together they share their suggestions, and if everyone in the group agrees, they have a match.

“We look at specific features like noses and smiles, but also overall look and what type of guy there are, whether it’s an athlete, actor or a musician,” Brown says.

New clients aren’t the only ones interested in finding a look-a-like. Brown reports that over 50 former clients have contacted the company since the program launched asking who the look-a-like for their donor was, years after being inseminated. “That lets us know this is something very personal.”

So if you’re hoping your artificially inseminated offspring will be the next Tom Brady or Will Smith, choosing a donor based on their look-a-like may seem like a good bet. However, Brown warns, “Genetics is a tricky thing. We have Ph.D. scholars and athletes, but can’t guarantee a child will have those qualities.”

Friday, August 7, 2009

Upcoming Donor Conception Movies in 2010!

It looks as though several big movies to be released in 2010 may bring attention to donor conception. Thanks to a fellow donor-conceived person for the following information.

1. The Back-Up Plan: An upcoming romantic comedy film in which a single woman Zoe (Jennifer Lopez) conceives twins through artificial insemination by donor, only to meet the man of her dreams named Stan (Alex O'Loughlin) on the same day.

2. The Baster: An upcoming romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman. A man's friend is intent on having a child through artificial insemination by donor. He secretly replaces the sperm donor's semen with his own. He is forced to live with the secret that he is the child's real father.

3. The Kids Are All Right: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska are set to star in the movie revolving around a brother and sister (Hutcherson, Wasikowska) who set out to find their same-sex parents' sperm donor. The donor totally upsets their family dynamic once he enters their lives.

Perhaps 2010 will be a year of greater understanding of issues surrounding reproductive medicine through these movies and future media/discussions surrounding them. I also hope this may spark more media for donor-conceived/their families and help our cause.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Happy July 4th!

I typically restrict my entries to donor conception. However, last night's fireworks in downtown Houston were too pretty to not share them!


Saturday, April 25, 2009

"Who's Your Daddy?" - Article by Lori Andrews

(May 2009, published in a leading men's magazine)

In 1981 a sperm donor entered a small room with erotic magazines at the back of a staff lunchroom at Baylor Medical Center. He ejaculated into a plastic cup, opened a small door in the wall and pushed a buzzer. The cup spun out of sight, with $50 in an envelope returning to its place. Like other men in his position, the donor probably spent the money taking his girlfriend to dinner, getting high or - if he was a frequent enough donor - paying tuition. He was promised anonymity and told not to give a moment's thought to what would happen to the sperm once it left that hole in the wall.

Now the result of that sperm donation, a 27-year-old graduate student named Kathleen LaBounty, is looking for her father. And depending on his own beliefs and life circumstances, the possibility that she will find him is either a modern Hallmark moment or something that will scare the bejesus out of him.

Since its inception more than a century ago, sperm donation has been shrouded in secrecy. In 1884 Dr. William Pancoast, a professor at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, treated an infertile woman by putting her under anesthesia and inseminating her with sperm from his best-looking student. Only when he realized that the child looked just like the donor did he inform the woman's husband. The man said, "Fine, but don't tell my wife."

Even today donor insemination is conducted clandestinely. Couples who create children using donated sperm generally do not tell the child of his or her unique conception. Instead, they let the child, relatives and friends assume the baby is the infertile husband's biological offspring. But changing social norms - including the use of donors by single women, cheap genetic testing and the sleuthing power of the Internet - have created a fissure in the wall of secrecy. About 10 percent of the million children who have issued from donor insemination know a sperm donor seeded their life.

Single women usually tell their child at an early age that his or her biological dad was a donor. College professor Leann Mischel created a quasi-family by getting in touch with 18 other women across the country who, like her, used donor 401 from the Fairfax Crybank in Virginia. With 26 children under the age of seven among them, they are now a support group that shares family photos and child-rearing tips. Once a year many of them gather at a theme park for a unique family reunion where the children, who are half-siblings, can get to know one another. It's only a matter of time, though, before one of the women or children decides to find donor 401.

Technologies that were not anticipated when Kathleen LaBounty was coneived have helped children sneak up on donors. An enterprising 15-year-old tracked down his anonymous sperm donor dad by matching his DNA to that of the donor's family on a genealogical website. The boy paid $289 to familytreedna.com for a genetic test that compared his Y chromosome with other Y chromosomes in a genealogical registry. He found several males with whom he had a biological link. By using the last names of those men, the known birth date of his biological father and country birth records, he was able to identify his donor.

An internet registry that allows recipients to share information about donors also makes it easier to identify them. Wendy Kramer, whose son Ryan was conceived through donor insemination, started donorsiblingregistry.com, where donor-conceived children can find their half siblings. Moms and kids write to ask questions like, "Who else has used donor 2064?" So far, more than 23,100 people have registered on the site, and 6,162 siblings have been matched.

LaBounty's mother was not given a sperm-donor number or any facts about the donor, other than that he had been a student at Baylor Medical School. Undeterred, Kathleen recently wrote to all 600 men who attended the school at the time of her conception. Amazingly, 250 wrote back, and 40 of them had been donors. Some of the men were as eager as she was to make contact. One wrote, "I've been waiting 26 years to get your letter in the mail."

That donor was not alone in his longing for information about the child he'd created. Kramer was shocked when the donors themselves started joining online conversations. More than 750 sperm donors have registered on her website to contact their "children." Other donors have hired private detectives or stolen a peek at private medical records to find out about their biological offspring.

Why would a man who was paid to masturbate now want a relationship with the child? Perhaps the experience of being a sperm donor is not always the lark the infertility industry assumed. Men usually donate sperm when they are young and haven't had children themselves. Later when they marry and become fathers, some begin to wonder what happened to their other children.

And who wouldn't want a beautiful, talented daughter like Kathleen LaBounty without having to go through the stages of colic, potty training, second-grade recitals, and driver's ed? But would donor 401 of Virginia be equally welcoming if 26 young offspring showed up at his doorstep?

The tens of thousands of men who serve as sperm donors each year may soon have to come to grips with those questions. Consumer's demand for more information as they choose donors may make tracking them easier. While LaBounty knows only the date and place of the sperm donation, women seeking sperm donors today receive anywhere from five to 20 pages of information about each potential donor. Although donor 1049's name is not included in his profile, a clinic's entry on him includes a photo showing a clean-cut, cute Californian. He says he's a member of the Clean Oceans Campaign and the Surfrider Foundation. He describes himself as secure, sensitive, innovative, intelligent, creative, thoughtful, ambitious, competitive, respectful, comedic, and optimistic. His SAT score is 1355. His 54-year-old mother is a healthy, intelligent and adventurous painter who wears reading glasses. His brother is a developer. How hard would it be to track down this man?

Searching is not without risk. Jeffrey Harrison, a hot catch as donor 150 in the late 1980s, was described on his donor form as a blue-eyed, six foot-tall lover of philosophy and music. Three years ago two of his sperm-donor children, daughters born into different families, found each other and began their search for him. Instead of encountering a superstar philosophy professor or symphony conductor, they found a man who lives in a trailer and supports himself doing odd jobs.

And what about the donor's current family? Not all donors' wives are pleased when they find out about other children. Some understandably feel threatened.

So far, none of the Baylor donors who have undergone paternity tests have provided to be LaBounty's biological father. But even when connections are made, not everyone proceeds with the same speed, desire or level of interest. One donor wrote on the donor-sibling website, "I flooded my biological daughter with photos of me and her cousins and grandparents. But just as a example, last night, as I was sending off a quick e-mail to her, my wife reminded me that my son was upstairs vegging out on the Discovery Channel instead of brushing his teeth and reading. The clear implication is that time taken to interact with donor-insemination children kids is time taken away from the regular kids, and I parent them less because of it. It's a rearrangement of the social order to have relationships established this late in life."

Kirk Maxey, president of a chemical company, served as a donor for more than a decade at the behest of his then wife, a nurse. Happily married with children of his own, he reached out to two daughters he created through sperm donation. And now he's helping other donors. He created a nonprofit genetic-testing center where donors and children of donors can have their blood tested for genetic markers to see if they match. He is also pushing for laws that would allow children to learn the identity of their donor, even if he had been promised anonymity. Such laws already exist in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the UK. In early 2009 a Missouri lawmaker introduced a bill that would allow children of sperm donors to learn the donor's identity when they reach the age of 18.

As a result of this social movement, American donors are preparing to deal with paternity tests that finger them as fathers and potential laws that may identify them to their donor children. A California doctor who created 33 donor children while in medical school has rewritten his will. If his donor children sue his estate after he dies, they will each get $1. While it's a lot less than he received for the contents of that little plastic cup, it's still a lot more than he ever bargained for.