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."

© (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:

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:

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 My story is under the pseudoname "Rose."


"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! "What 'The Back-Up Plan' Gets Wrong About Single Mothers"

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

(To view the trailer to her documentary, go to To read the article, see below.)

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)

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: .

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.