Secret Land Mines

Jennifer Lahl

Anonymous Father’s Day “Should be required viewing for anyone considering donating or selling their sperm, as well as for anyone contemplating using this method of conceiving a child.”
  — Kevin D, Sperm Donor

On Father’s Day holiday, we can’t help but think of those who do not know their fathers.  Some don’t know their fathers because they are adopted, because their fathers walked away, or because their fathers have died. But others do not know their fathers because their families have been intentionally structured so that they cannot know him—they were conceived through anonymous sperm donation.

It’s easy to think of sperm donation as nothing more than a way to help infertile couples have a baby.  It can be difficult for those of us who were not conceived this way to understand what it’s like, and how Father’s Day is a time of mixed emotions.

Hundreds of thousands of donor-conceived people have been born, all around the world, in the two hundred plus years that sperm donor conception has been going on.  Only recently have the ethics and the effects of donor conception begun receiving close scrutiny.  Often the questions are being raised by those who know they were donor conceived.

What is it like to grow up not knowing who your biological father is or if you have any half-siblings?  What is it like to find out that the man you thought was your dad is not your biological father, that your biological father donated his sperm and is known only by a number?  What do donor conceived people think about their conception stories, the money aspect of buying and selling sperm in order to conceive them?  And how have the anonymity and secrecy involved in donor conception affected them?

These are the questions that spark the conversation in our film Anonymous Father’s Day.

In the film, we state that it is difficult to know just how prevalent the practice of sperm donation is.  In fact, the latest research shows that it is simply impossible to know how many children are born from sperm donation each year.  The number most often cited is 30,000 per year, but that number is based on an estimate from 1988.  There is do doubt that the practice has increased since 1988, but there is almost no tracking or monitoring of donors or of the children conceived through sperm donation.  We cannot not know the true number.

In addition, sperm donation is a global enterprise.  Sperm from a man inCaliforniais used to fertilize an egg from a woman who lives inEastern Europe.  The resulting embryo is transferred into the womb of a woman inIndia.  A couple travels from their home in London to India for a vacation so that they can be nearby when “their” baby is born.

This convoluted scenario is now commonplace.  Sadly.

Many donor-conceived children are never told their conception story and are not able to be a part of the growing conversation about the practice, ethics, and impact of donor conception.  Those who do know speak of “genealogical bewilderment,” attempting to describe the feelings that come from having little or no information about their donor parent.  They have a deep longing to know where they come from, who they look like, who they belong to. It is a longing to know the missing other half of them.

Unfortunately, when it comes to infertility, family building, and reproductive technologies, the focus is often on those wanting to have a child rather than on the child they want to have.  Reproductive technology has advanced without enough serious reflection on the health and the well being of the children created.  These children wonder if anyone considered them, their needs, their desires.

The conversation around donor conception is growing.  Many donor-conceived people maintain their own active social network communities through blogs and Facebook groups.  Studies such as My Daddy’s Name is Donor and work being done with the Donor Sibling Registry are gathering and examining the experiences of large groups of donor-conceived people.

Donor-conceived people scour the Internet and school yearbooks and cold call fertility doctors and clinics looking for any information or details on their beginnings, their family tree, and medical history.  Many use DNA testing as part of the search for their unknown parent.

While their stories and family situations may be different, the issues surrounding donor conception in the lives of those created this way are often similar.  Many talk about secrets and mystery, about feelings of loss and abandonment, and about wanting to know their biological fathers and that whole side of his—of their—family.

Barry Stevens, one of the donor-conceived people interviewed in Anonymous Father’s Day, captures it well when he says, “Secrets are like land mines, you know.  They can go off at any time, but until they go off you’re sort of treading around them.”

Donor conception impacts not only the donor conceived person, but his or her entire family, and ultimately, all of us.  This Father’s Day let us consider those who have been intentionally separated from the man who gave them life.

Matthew Eppinette contributed to this post; he is the associate producer and co-writer of Anonymous Father’s Day and new media manager at The Center for Bioethics and Culture.

4 thoughts on “Secret Land Mines

  1. I posted you a comment that was in line with your published comment policy, i.e …

    1.Avoid derisive language, ridiculing and name-calling. Avoid cynicism and sarcasm. Cursing, caricaturizing and mocking are not permitted; validation, compliments and empathy are encouraged.
    2.Phrase your point with clarity and charity. Disagree with respect and reason.

    My comment was intended, as your article is, to raise awareness.

    May I ask you, if a Woman was to give birth outside of her womb .. if her egg was fertilised when it was not in her, and grown in a seperate chamber, would she still be the mother – physically/naturally? I suspect the answer to that would be the same as it is – as I explained to you – when man ejaculates his semen into a receptacle and that fluid (it is nothing more in that circumstance) is wrongly used to fool an Egg.

    It seems that when it becomes difficult you enjoy debating with yourself. Look at the world around you and decide exactly what the problem is?

  2. If I am understanding correctly, you are asking if a woman uses her egg but the womb of another woman (not sure what you mean by separate chamber) is she the mother? She is the genetic/biological mother and the surrogate would be the birth mother.

    • My Question …

      ‘if a Woman was to give birth outside of her womb .. if her egg was fertilised when it was not in her, and grown in a separate chamber, would she still be the mother – physically/naturally?’

      The separate chamber? It could be another womb .. maybe even a man made incubator such as that into which premature babies are placed. The point being the genetic/biological mother – would be mother, i.e. supplied the ovum that united with a sperm which grew into a child – only in a technical sense.

      To be the natural mother the Ovum must be in her womb at conception; for then she will activate the egg with here mind. As my previous comment explained a human being is constructed from physical and extra-physical components, dedicated by both parents to each new individual. As said, the female activates Childs “Spirit”, where Spirit is derived from the microcosm – by the release of quantum energy from the first few carbon particles constituent to the ovum; and the male introduces Childs “Soul”, who is introduced from an extra-terrestrial (macrocosmic) source.

      This is not a religious notion or some fanciful idea. At the peak moment of sexual activity the individual brains of mother and father are using massive amounts of otherwise seldom used capabilities; their brains become focused on an altogether different purpose than everyday living and dying, that being reproduction, the primary motive for existence.

      The terms Soul and Spirit are not intended to cause offence or to confound people, rather they provide the correct interpretation of knowledge, which in the course of several Millennia became absorbed into various theological concepts; they are states of microcosmic and macrocosmic existence that are essentially relevant to living and dying, as flesh and bone are relevant to the animal form.