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 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:

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."

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"

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