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:

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.