It has been my experience as well as that of others in the field that many individuals conceived through gamete donation are curious about their donor and the donor’s other offspring. They may fantasize about their genetic parent and siblings. They are curious if they look like them and have similar behavioral traits. They want to know why their donor donated. They almost ubiquitously are curious to meet their donor whether they may want to have ongoing contact or not. The degree of interest is variable where some may simply be satisfied with a picture and information, others may feel comfortable with maintaining anonymity whereas still others feel a strong desire to physically meet their donor. These feelings typically change over time and may become more significant during certain stages of life, such as at the prospect of an individual starting their own family.
Donor conceived individuals may be looking to fill in the blanks in their identity. Rebecca Hamilton, conceived through donation, wrote in Behind Closed Doors: Moving Beyond Secrecy and Shame, edited by Mikki Morrissette, “It’s not a ‘Dad’ I’m after. I had a wonderful Dad who raised me. I’m not looking for a replacement. Nor, incidentally, is any other donor-conceived person I have ever met….Wanting to understand one’s genetic roots is a unique longing that remains no matter how great life is going on other levels.”
Universally, it appears that those individuals who were conceived through donation do not look at the donor as a parent. The donor does not replace the role of the parent. Instead having an open relationship with a donor can provide answers to questions many donor conceived individuals have about their own identity.
So how do I answer the question, “should I help my child find her donor?”
Professionals in the field tell us that based on research, developmental theory, and my own clinical experience, that it is best for parents to be honest with their children about their origins. In some cases I may recommend providing them with options for obtaining information about their donor. Although many sperm banks and egg donor agencies only facilitate anonymous donations. Some sperm banks offer the possibility of working with a donor who is willing to be identified to your child any time after your child turns eighteen. The sperm bank stores data and provides it upon request. Your adult child is the only one in control of this information. If she wants identity information, it is available for her. If she does not desire to know her donor’s identity, the information is never revealed.
However, it is most common at least in the Northeast that a definitive plan is not established at the outset for how a donor’s identity would be released. Most programs maintain strict anonymity. There is no guarantee that this information will be available for their child. A third party, which could be an agency, medical office, or attorney must obtain the information, and a formal contract, signed by the donor, must state when and how identity information will be released to the donor conceived individual.
Ultimately, as future parents it is vital to examine your feelings and concerns regarding disclosure of the donor’s identity. Disclosure of the donor’s identity may affect the donor conceived individual and his sense of self. Though the donor does not replace the parent there is potential for creating friction in the relationship. There is also the donor’s family to consider which will also be impacted by revealing one’s identity to the donor conceived individual. One must weigh the potential benefit of satisfying curiosities with the risk of causing harm to the relationship with the individual’s parents as well the risk of causing harm to the donor’s family.