This page is for prospective parents. It includes advice and resources to help you navigate the decision of using donor conception to build your family.
As you begin your journey to build your family with donor sperm, eggs, or embryos, here is some information you probably won’t find anywhere else. Sperm banks and infertility clinics have websites that are filled with marketing materials ... but may not tell the whole story. You can count on us to highlight all the important information you may not find anywhere else.
10 Things Your Doctor, Clinic, or Sperm Bank Won’t Tell You
1. Most donors* and recipient parents are not properly educated, counseled, or informed beforehand about the needs and rights of the children they are helping to create. This includes the importance of connecting with families to share and update medical information and the innate desire of donor-conceived people to know about their first-degree genetic relatives.
2. There is no comprehensive medical and genetic testing conducted by clinics and sperm banks. In the U.S., the FDA only mandates testing for STDs and a handful of other diseases. Some facilities test some donors for some diseases. Testing for STDs does nothing to prevent transmission of genetic illness. Proper genetic testing of all donors is critical. Hundreds of medical and genetic issues have been reported to the Donor Sibling Registry, many of them hereditary.
3. There is little to no regulation or oversight of the U.S. reproductive medicine industry, which ships sperm to over 50 countries around the world (so this is a global issue). This industry is not required to maintain or update records regarding genetic diseases transmitted to donor offspring. Information about inherited physiological and psychological diseases and predispositions is a significant element in obtaining appropriate medical care, including screenings and preventative medicine. Examples: genetic predisposition for heart disease, mental illness, or Cystic Fibrosis. A donor’s medical profile is merely a self-reported family health history, along with a snapshot of one day in the life of a healthy young adult. 84% of surveyed sperm donors and 97% of surveyed egg donors were never contacted for medical updates.
4. No accurate record-keeping exists about how many offspring are conceived for any one donor. Records, if any are kept, are incomplete regarding the number of offspring created from each donor, as all reporting is voluntary. There are many large cohorts of half-siblings, many over 100, and even over 200. If urgent medical issues arise, families cannot then be notified. Many families who are on file with the sperm banks claim that they were never notified about medical and genetic illness reported to sperm banks by donors and by families who used the same donor; they learn about the genetic and medical issues by connecting with other families on the DSR.
5. Around three-quarters of surveyed donor offspring advise that prospective parents not use “anonymous” donors. Many countries have banned anonymous donation, and we all need to ask the question “What is in the best interests of the child to be born?” “Anonymity” is never the answer. Many heartfelt stories and testimonials by donor offspring have been reported to the DSR. Many parents use donor conception instead of adoption because a genetic connection is important to them, but then negate the importance of that very same genetic connection when it involves their child’s relationship to the “donor” — the other half of their child’s genetic family, ancestry, and medical history.
6. Many donor-conceived children long to connect with their half-siblings and their donors long before they are 18. Age 18 is an arbitrary number set by clinics and sperm banks to protect their own financial liability. This age limit is not backed up by any psychological research. Quite to the contrary, research has shown that many wish to connect, and have made successful connections, long before the age of 18. Thousands have been doing so on the Donor Sibling Registry for more than 20 years. Many egg clinics (not one sperm bank) have been connecting donors and parents on the DSR (anonymously) from pregnancy or birth for years. This allows parents and donors to share and update medical information right from the start, and it allows children to have access to their biological parents from the moment they start asking questions.
7. DNA: Donors Not Anonymous. Anonymity is a thing of the past and shouldn’t be promised to any donor or to any prospective parent. Sperm banks and egg clinics need to stop the fallacy of selling “anonymous” donors, whether for 18 years or forever. Donor-conceived people have been locating their biological parents via DNA testing (along with Google and social media) since 2005, as reported in New Scientist Magazine, so this is not a new phenomenon. Donors do not need to test their own DNA in order to be easily found by offspring and/or their parents, and there is no law prohibiting contact. Donors must be willing to be known by any offspring they help to create — and long before offspring turn 18. If donors are not willing to be known, they just shouldn't donate.
8. Because of this end to guaranteed anonymity, non-disclosure is no longer an option. Many people who swabbed their cheeks to learn more about their ancestry and family tree have been shocked to find out that they are not genetically related to one of their parents, because their parents used a donor, and kept it a secret. Many have also been shocked to connect with half-siblings. Finding out in this way that your parents have not been honest can wreak havoc on a donor offspring’s sense of trust and stability in the family. If you are a parent who has yet to tell your donor-conceived child that they were created with help of a donor, now would be the time to have that conversation, and we can help with that. It’s never too late to tell.
Family secrets can be toxic, and your donor-conceived child has a right to know about the methodology of their conception, about their medical background, and about their ancestry. If parents have not told, there is usually some grief or shame associated with infertility that is unresolved, or there is an unfounded fear about a non-bio parent’s relationship with the child being negatively affected by the truth coming out. If parents are not ready to tell, then they are just not ready to be parents.
Parents: This shouldn’t be about your unresolved grief, your hesitations, or your fears. This should be about what’s in the best interests of your child, and their right to the truth about themselves, their medical background, their ancestry, and their genetic relatives. After telling (or after your children find out via DNA testing), please do not ask your children to keep the “secret.” This may have been your secret, but it shouldn’t be theirs. This type of response could cause unnecessary resentment, anger, and upset. Secrecy implies shame, and donor offspring have nothing to be ashamed of, most certainly not the methodology of their conception. Get yourself some counseling to help work through your unresolved grief, fear, or shame so that you don’t pass it along to your children. You are, and always will be, your child’s mom or dad. You can work on becoming a more confident parent, secure in the knowledge that your child knowing the truth won’t rattle the strong parental foundation that you have built.
9. Telling is just the first step. Many parents think that just because they have told their child about their origins, this will be enough. Many then minimize the importance of the “donor,” thinking that because they don’t feel DNA is important, then their child shouldn’t either. Parents need to know that their child may view this invisible half of their DNA to be a very important part of their identity and they may feel an urgency about gathering information and also connecting with their previously unknown genetic relatives. DNA isn’t the only way to make a family, but the importance of familial DNA connections can’t be denied. Honor your child’s curiosity, and let them know that they have your full support as they venture out for more information. Don’t behave in a way that forces your child to search for answers behind your back, as that can only create more resentment. They need you to be on their team.
10. The choices you make early on about creating your family with a donor will affect your donor-conceived child for many decades to come. Try to think beyond your own needs, and educate yourself about what we now know to be true for donor-conceived people. NOTE: Your "open" or "willing-to-be-known" donor might not be so "open".
The Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) is a U.S.-based, global registry with a mission of connecting, educating, and supporting all those in the “donor” family. The 501(c)3 non-profit organization facilitates mutual-consent contact among donors, recipients, and offspring so that they can share important medical information and explore new relationships. Since its inception in 2000, the DSR has helped to connect more than 20,000 of its 71,800 members with their first- and second-degree genetic relatives.
*No one is “donating” anything — all eggs and sperm are sold.
Choosing a Sperm Bank or Egg Clinic
Many LGBTQ organizations, single mothers by choice groups, and fertility clinics/centers/attorneys accept payments from sperm banks in exchange for advertising/recommending them. We have never — and will never — accept payment from any sperm bank. We honestly share user experiences because we feel like our members deserve the truth so that they can then make fully informed and educated decisions.
If you’re choosing an egg clinic/agency, please choose one that writes the DSR into their recipient/parent agreement, like San Diego Fertility, Oregon Reproductive Medicine, Idaho Reproductive, Fertility Centers of Illinois, and dozens of others. Hundreds of parents and donors have connected on the DSR right from the start through their parent/donor agreement to join the DSR from pregnancy or birth. This is a win-win-win-win situation: a win for clinics that don’t need to act as a go-between for 18 years, a win for parents and donors who are empowered to be in charge of their own connections, and a win for donor offspring who aren’t deliberately kept from their ancestry, medical backgrounds, and close genetic relatives.
Future parents: Kudos to you for doing your due diligence. I know that choosing a sperm bank can seem completely overwhelming — hang in there!
There is only one sperm bank I can recommend: The Sperm Bank of California (TSBC). Maybe because they are a non-profit, they seem to try a bit harder than other sperm banks to keep accurate records and to act in a more responsible and ethical manner. TSBC is not perfect but does seem to try harder to contact donors when a child turns 18, unlike other sperm banks such as California Cryobank, Fairfax, and New England Cryogenic Center (NECC), who sometimes ignore or don’t respond to offspring inquiries or claim that the open or willing-to-be-known donor wasn't/isn’t open after all.
That said ... TSBC’s “informed consent” form (on our Which Sperm Bank page), which you’d need to sign, implies that you or your child shouldn’t contact donors or half-siblings outside the scope of the bank's mutual consent/age 18 recommendations. However, this is unenforceable because anyone can contact anyone, at any time — and your child is not signing or agreeing to anything. And, this October 2019 "Warning Letter" from the FDA (updated in 2020) is certainly unsettling.
We think that 18 is an arbitrary age, only in place to protect the sperm banks’ liabilities. That’s why any family (half-sibling and/or donor) can make contact at any time on the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR), although children under 18 do need their parent’s permission. There is no psycho-social research that recommends waiting until age 18, but quite a bit of published research does show the benefits of connecting early on in a child’s life. If a child could have the opportunity to grow up knowing their first-degree genetic relatives, then why deliberately keep those connections from the child?
Many egg clinics and agencies are now writing the DSR into their parent/donor contracts, so anonymous (if wished) contact is made on the DSR right from pregnancy/birth. Messages, photos, and medical information can then be shared freely. Parents and donors are empowered to decide exactly what type of communication they are interested in, without the need of a middleman who knows nothing about them or their family, or the needs of their child. Not one sperm bank will do this. Ask your potential sperm bank “why not?”
Some sperm banks claim to limit numbers of children, but the truth is ... you can’t limit until you actually have accurate records — which none do, because reporting births is voluntary. Some sperm banks have estimated that only 20%-40% of women actually report their births back to the sperm banks. The DSR has many half-sibling groups of more than 100. Xytex and Fairfax are the two sperm banks with the most very large half-sibling groups, with the largest Fairfax half-sibling group now at 216.
Because of little regulation or oversight, besides the FDA-mandated STD testing and testing for a small handful of other diseases, each bank can say whatever they want, and then do whatever they want. So, some banks test some donors for some diseases. You can read about all the medical and genetic issues on the DSR’s Medical Issues page.
Sharing medical information with half-sibling families and donors on the DSR is often the only way to know about this type of important medical information. Families should never rely on sperm banks to contact them when medical issues arise, because most often the banks are unaware — and even when they are made aware, we know that they frequently do not update the families.
I would definitely steer clear of the big banks such as California Cryobank, Xytex, Fairfax/CLI/Pacific Reproductive Services (PRS, now owned by Fairfax), NW Cryobank (now owned by California Cryobank), the U.S. “Scandinavian” sperm banks such as Seattle/European Sperm Bank/Cryos, or New England Cryogenic Center (NECC). I used California Cryobank, but I could never recommend them, because on many occasions DSR members, including myself, have found them to be dishonest. See the Johnson v. California Cryobank case (the sperm bank deleted Polycystic Kidney Disease from a donor’s profile), this O Magazine article, and my blog entry on the DSR. At least two sperm banks, Fairfax and NECC, have not let their donors know their own donor numbers, deliberately trying to prohibit the sharing and updating of information by donors with families on the DSR.
Read these NY Times articles: One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring and In Choosing a Sperm Donor, A Roll of the Genetic Dice. Also, see this (one of many) disturbing article about Xytex. Read this 2016 NY Times article: Sperm Banks Accused of Losing Samples and Lying About Donors. And this story regarding an NECC lawsuit involving a child born with Cystic Fibrosis.
You can read all the newest media reports and lawsuits here on our Industry Issues page.
Read through the user comments about these and other banks on our Which Sperm Bank page. Ask your potential sperm bank the 30 questions we’ve provided on that page to see if they'll answer your questions. For the most part, these sperm banks only seem responsive to people before they sell their products. Please understand that the information you read on a sperm bank's website may not be accurate, since it's marketing material to help make a sale.
I hope that you’ll be using an open donor — please read through the 25 published papers on our Research page and the advice that donor-conceived people offer on the DSR’s Offspring page to better understand why using an open donor is SO important. The DSR has spent many years researching, listening, and responding to the needs and issues of donor-conceived people, and we know that they do not recommend that prospective parents use anonymous donors. Remember though, that without offering early connections (like the egg clinics/agencies are doing), all sperm donors are essentially anonymous, albeit some only for the first 18 years of a donor-conceived person’s life.
Also, I would suggest that after making a short list of possible donors, you check the DSR to see if any of the families who used those donors are already listed on our site. If so, you could reach out to them to see if there are any medical issues you should know about. Also, you can see how many families are already posted for that donor. Sharing and updating medical information on the DSR with other families (and the donor) can be important and even life-saving. Wouldn’t you want to know if the donor you’re thinking of using already has 30, 50, or 200 kids out there and that too many of them have autism, ADHD, or heart disease?
Please read ALL the articles in my Huffington Post blog; they contain a lot of information you won’t find anywhere else. I highly recommend reading Finding Our Families: A First-Of-Its-Kind Book for Donor Conceived People and Their Families. It’s everything I wish I would have known when I was beginning my journey as a parent of a donor-conceived child. My 2020 book Donor Family Matters and 2018 children's book Your Family: a Donor Kid's Story might also be helpful as you move forward with expanding your family and look toward creating open and honest conversations between you and your future kids.
Remember, the decisions you are making today will affect your child for decades to come. Please see our Counseling page for more information.
If you're not ready to tell, you're just not ready to have kids.
In 2000, when we started the Donor Sibling Registry (initially as a Yahoo chat discussion group), the predominant conversation was about disclosure. Back then, many — mostly straight — parents were invested in keeping the secret. They came from the point of view that as a parent, disclosure was their personal choice to make for their family. They did not like to hear about why not telling (lying) might be harmful to offspring and unhealthy for their family. They didn’t want to hear that secrecy implied shame.
Some felt attacked and offended when offspring or other parents gave reasons as to why lying to their child was not right. They stuck to their guns, even when they heard from offspring who reported feeling like their world had been turned upside down when they discovered the truth later on in life. These parents insisted that they were not telling their children because it would “hurt the child” to know the truth. They didn’t want to hear that non-disclosure was more about their own or their partner’s shame and fear and not at all about what was in the best interests of the child.
Why should a parent’s right to secrecy trump a child’s right to the truth? Healthy relationships are built on foundations of trust and honesty. We expect honesty from our children; shouldn’t they expect the same from us?
Telling is just the beginning, though. Just because a child knows that they were conceived with the help of a donor, doesn’t mean they will have peace with not knowing about one-half of their ancestry, medical background, and close genetic relatives. The conversations on the heels of disclosure are extremely important. These conversations should acknowledge, honor, and validate any curiosities that donor offspring have about their unknown first- and second-degree genetic relatives. They should support any desire that a donor offspring has to search for and connect with these relatives. The conversations should be ongoing and affirming. Telling is only the first step to creating healthy and happy donor families.
Many prospective and new parents struggle with when and how to tell. We noticed that the children’s books out there for young donor kids mostly ended with “and then you were born!” We felt that this shouldn’t be the end of the story, because it’s really just the beginning of their story. That’s why we published a children’s book for ALL family types to help you approach the telling and the half-sibling/donor discussions with your child: Your Family: A Donor Kid’s Story.
If you need help in supporting your donor-conceived child, including deciding when and how to tell them, read through our Counseling page.
For more in-depth advice from all of the stakeholders — offspring, parents, and donors — about disclosure and connecting, read Finding Our Families: A First-of-Its-Kind Book For Donor Conceived People and Their Families.
Single Mothers by Choice
Around 50% of all parents that use donor sperm are single mothers by choice. As a result, thousands of families on the DSR have created wider single-mom family circles. These connections can be incredibly supportive and comforting to moms raising children alone.
Inside the Secret Sisterhood of Women Who Share a Sperm Donor: “Tales of sperm banks and donor-related families usually focus on the kids or the donor himself. But what about the mothers?”
"When Gabi was born, the very idea of donor-related families frightened me. Not that I scare easily. But the thought of other families using my sperm donor? I blocked it out. I didn’t want my daughter to feel any less mine.
So when I registered with the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) in 2007, I was hesitant. Gabi was 15 months old and I’d just ended my marriage. It was just the two of us now — if she had more family out there, I figured I owed it to her to find out. I signed up, noting my sperm bank (the California-based Pacific Reproductive Services) and donor number (527). Three and a half years later I heard from Marianne, a single mom from San Francisco who’d used Donor 527 and found me on the DSR. She was a cultured corporate exec raising one donor-conceived child and adopting another. She seemed fabulous. Still, I wasn’t ready to meet. After all, I’m a type-A, neurotic Jewish New Yorker — I had to research the hell out of this subject before diving in. I had questions: At what age would it be best for donor siblings to meet? And how? And was I crazy for even considering it? (The latter question my parents answered with a resounding yes.) I was undeterred. I needed stats, graphs, bar charts.
Several weeks later my world shifted even more when Emily — a teacher from Atlanta with four kids and a female partner — signed on and sent that picture of her eldest. Seeing that image changed everything. She and Gabi were clearly sisters. It seemed unfair to stand in the way of their knowing each other.
Biology connects the children, but fate brought us mothers together.
The traveling began, Gabi and I to their homes, and they to ours. By 2014, when we found Dana — a boisterous, bawdy stay-at-home mother of two from St. Augustine, recently separated from her partner — it was clear we had a clan, of sorts (and a matriarchal one — no dads in the mix). I began pushing for one big “extended family reunion” so we could see all the children at once, and compare notes. I figured the kids would find ways to amuse themselves. I just worried we moms would run out of things to say.
We never stopped talking. Seeing the children’s physical resemblances, and the shared behavioral tics, had us jabbering for days. I felt that electrical tingling just under the skin, like on a really good first date. How long, I wondered, would this feeling last?"
Around one-third of all DSR families are LGBTQ.
The Challenges of the Non-Bio Parent: How to Create More Openness and Healthier Donor-Conceived Families
Many of us who are considering having a child face the possibility of not being genetically related to that child. Whether you’re a man, woman, or couple dealing with infertility or a genetic abnormality that makes it impossible to have a biological child, or you’re a gay couple, and you choose to use donor eggs or sperm, someone in your family equation will be in the position of being the non-bio parent.
Over the years at the Donor Sibling Registry, we have learned that many non-biological moms and dads have not been adequately counseled or educated before using donor conception to create their families. It is vital that these parents deal with any grief and shame that they may have around their own infertility, work through any emotions they might be experiencing from this lack of biological connection, and educate themselves all about the needs and issues a donor child might have. If this doesn’t happen, there’s a good chance that this parent will pass this discomfort and shame along to the child.
Often the couple or individual will choose an anonymous donor as a way to ignore or negate the fact that the donor is a real person. Choosing an anonymous donor will feel less fearful to them because they might think that the chances of their children being curious about, searching for, or finding their biological parent will not be as high.
Many will withhold the truth from their children. And even if they decide to disclose, many will risk passing along their insecurities and fears with regard to their child having any type of curiosity about, and wishing to connect with, their unknown biological family. Not making peace with your lack of biological connection may create discourse within your child, when any natural feelings of curiosity arise within them.
Through our experience running the Donor Sibling Registry, we’ve learned that all these approaches can have very serious ramifications for the donor-conceived child, and in fact for the whole family dynamic. Family secrets are toxic, and these parents, expecting honesty from their children, owe their children the same. In these families, all too often the “secret” hovers just beneath the surface, creating distance between family members who don’t have a clue as to why and where this feeling of distance is coming from.
Sometimes offspring learn or figure out the truth, but they still shoulder the secret. In our research of 2,016 offspring, we learned that often, adult donor offspring found out that they were donor conceived, but we’re afraid to tell their dads that they knew for fear of hurting them. In this case, families create a double secret, as the children themselves are also struggling to keep the “secret” that the parents have shouldered for so long. These donor-conceived people feel acutely aware that the methodology of their conception causes pain to their parent, and therefore willingly accept the weight of this pain to also carry themselves. This only enforces the idea that the way they were created is somehow shameful. I suspect that in time, this will also be the case for the thousands of children conceived with egg donors, although currently, most are either unaware of their origins, or just too young to be dealing with these types of issues.
These issues come up for both straight couples and LGBT families. We hear all too often that the non-bio mom in an LGBT family, for example, is afraid of a child reaching out to half-siblings and/or their donor, saying, “biology doesn’t make a family.” Their sadness is about not being able to give their child that genetic connection that they so greatly desire from people outside their nuclear family. All too often this is expressed as disappointment or anger, so that a child feels a great sense of betrayal, even just thinking about the unknown people they are genetically related to. This can be paralyzing to the donor offspring who have a longing or desire to connect with these unknown relatives and actually make efforts to do so.
Surprisingly, there are even some single mothers by choice who also experience fear as they contemplate that their child has genetic relatives out there that are not known. They sometimes want to think that their child is unique, and the thought that there might be 5, 10, 50, or more than a 100 others out there born from “their” donor is unsettling. Sometimes these moms even try to buy up all the available vials of sperm, so that no more children can be born from their donor. These moms sometimes even want to keep their children from connecting with their half-siblings and/or donors.
In the beginning, we as parents make all the choices about how our child will come into the world. These are choices that will affect our children for their entire lives. At some point, it isn’t about us, or what makes us most comfortable. We need to be asking, “What is in the best interests of this child to be born?” Reading research and testimonials from donor-conceived people should be required before making any decisions.
And at some point, it will be up to the child to define their own sense of family. What may be just a “donated cell” to the parent often means a lot more to a donor-conceived person. If a child grows up in a family where half of their genetic, ancestral, and medical background is minimized or negated, they can feel a lot of guilt if and when they become curious about this invisible side of themselves. We as parents need to be very careful not to put our own fears and biases onto our children and allow them to process for themselves the meaning of “family” as they mature. This is not about our fears as parents. We brought these children into the world using a methodology that cut them off from one-half of their genetic background. We owe it to them to honor and respect any desires they have to seek out this unknown or “invisible” family.
If connections are made between donor-conceived people and their half-siblings and/or donors, some parents have responded with fear, saying, “Those people are NOT your family!” Although they are not your genetic family as the parent, they are indeed your child’s family. Fearing that, and insisting that it isn’t so, just won’t make the genetic connection invalid. Negating the importance of a genetic connection is absurd. Let’s think about the day that our children were born. As parents, we didn’t just go into the hospital nursery and choose any baby to take home. No, we wanted the baby that was biologically ours. Biology does indeed matter. And although it is not the only way to form a family, it has been throughout the ages, the most common way that humans have defined family.
Even if you don’t feel any connection to your child’s new-found relatives, it is your job to be open, warm, and accepting. Having your complete acceptance will allow your child to fully explore and define these new relationships.
Adequate counseling and education and working through one’s own grief and fear as well as understanding our children’s desire to know about their ancestry, medical background, and roots before pregnancy would save a lot of donor families from heartache. Making peace with the concept of not being genetically related to your children is essential to creating an honest, respectful, and healthy family with strong bonds. Exploring what it means to be a parent and asking questions such as “Is it genetics or taking care of, raising, and nurturing a child that makes a parent?” is an important part of the process. Having a deep understanding and respect for the fact that knowing where you come from is an essential ingredient in the formation of your donor-conceived child’s current and future identity is therefore a vital step toward having a healthy family.
At the Donor Sibling Registry we celebrate all of these family connections!
We have FAQs, step-by-step instructions, legal verbiage, and much more here on our Egg Donation page.
Parents who used an egg donor (far left), along with their daughter (far right),
meet the egg donor and her two children on Katie Couric. Not a dry eye in the house!
Egg Donation Parent & Donor Contracts/Agreements:
Many egg donor agencies, clinics, and attorneys are now writing the Donor Sibling Registry into their contracts/agreement forms so that recipient parents and donors have anonymous (if wished) access to each other.
The advantages of using the DSR include the fact that our permanent membership price is only $199 for the recipient parents and $199 for the donor. Both parties can contact each other at any time, with no middlemen. They can share photos and other pertinent information, such as medical updates, all while remaining anonymous. And if the children have questions, they can contact the donor anonymously on the DSR (with their parents if under age 18) to receive the answers they're looking for.
Recipient parents and donors can connect with each other earlier than the child's 18th birthday. We understand that many donor children are curious long before their 18th birthday, and many have made successful connections during their teen (and even earlier) years. We also understand that 18 is an arbitrary number and that parents know their children best as far as what age might be most appropriate for their child to reach out. This empowers everyone involved, without having the clinic or a lawyer deciding what level of contact is best for you and your family.
This blog post covers the origins of donor conception, including the associated shame of infertility: Must Read Article, ScienceProgress.org
If you used embryo donation to have a child, when you create your post on the Donor Sibling Registry, be sure to add a posting for each of the applicable donations (embryo, egg, and sperm), because others may have also used the same donor embryos, or maybe just the same egg donor or sperm donor that contributed to your embryo.
The following blog posts are great resources for prospective parents considering donor conception.
Your Donor-Conceived Child’s Feelings Are Their Own
You might have firm opinions and feelings about your family situation, but your child’s feelings are their own … and your child’s feelings don’t necessarily mirror yours. Many parents who used a donor to conceive claim that their child isn’t interested in knowing anything about their donor or possible half-siblings. But this is frequently the parent’s own projection.
Zero-Sum Thinking and Donor Family
Too many parents (and sometimes offspring) are afraid that if they connect with, acknowledge the importance of knowing, or even call a "donor" a genetic/biological mother/father/parent, it will somehow diminish the importance of the non-bio parent. However, acknowledging the biological mother or father doesn't take away from the non-bio mother or father that raised you.
Truth Be Told
We recommend telling donor-conceived people the truth about their conception very early on (pre-verbal) so that there is never a traumatic “telling” or “finding out” event. When your child understands how they were created right from the beginning, it just becomes a part of who they are.
Parent: A Noun and a Verb
Parent is a noun: biological mother or father, which is what a donor literally is. Parent is also a verb: the act of caring for a child, taking responsibility, raising them. One doesn’t change or undermine the other. There is no need to feel threatened by the truth. If your child is donor conceived, it is your child’s life and truth.
Guest Blog: The future donor child as an “empty chair”
I am trained as a Gestalt therapist. We use an empty chair technique to help our clients focus on the different parts of themselves. The client places an imaginary inner child or the people in their lives that have hurt them onto the empty chair, which allows them to open up about their feelings. Before I used the chair, most couples’ immediate response would be that they would not ever tell or they would wait to tell or they were undecided and were afraid to even think about it. But with the chair present and my coaxing them to think deeply about what would be in the best interest of their child, they almost always decide that if they have their child’s best interest in mind and heart and they want to be honest parents that their children can trust, they decide just like the research teaches us.
Telling Early, Very Early by Ellen S. Glazer, LICSW
Tell early. Tell naturally. Tell before your child can begin to understand. There are several reasons why telling early makes sense.
It’s OK to Have Mixed Reactions to Success Stories
It’s OK to feel uncomfortable reading “success stories.” If you come to donor conception after a long stint with infertility, you likely feel vulnerable. Everything that has happened so far has served to eat away at any confidence you had about becoming or being a parent. You long for something to work, for you to be blessed with a child you love and cherish and to feel that you are a real, true, full, and forever parent. DSR “success stories,” heartwarming as they are, could surely feed into insecurities. It is important for you to know this is a natural reaction. It is also likely to be one that will diminish once you are a parent.
The Challenges of the Non-Bio Parent: How to Create More Openness and Healthier Donor-Conceived Families
Adequate counseling and education and working through one’s own grief and fear as well as understanding our children’s desire to know about their ancestry, medical background, and roots before pregnancy would save a lot of donor families from heartache. Making peace with the concept of not being genetically related to your children is essential to creating an honest, respectful and healthy family with strong bonds.
30 Questions to Ask Your Sperm Bank
Because of the many sperm bank complaints that we have received, we have compiled a list of questions that you should pose to your current or potential sperm bank. Although there are some sperm banks that have accumulated a disproportionate number of complaints, you should inquire to all sperm banks about these policies, and request that they respond in writing. If they refuse, that might be an indication that you should consider using another sperm bank.
Choosing an open or an anonymous sperm donor? An email exchange.
This is an exchange Wendy had with a parent-to-be, with regard to choosing an open or anonymous donor. This might be helpful to others out there struggling with this decision.
Couples Counseled to “Not Tell”?
We have had quite a few people [straight mothers] join the DSR saying that they are not telling their child that they are donor conceived because their husband will not allow it. How can we get the sperm banks/doctors/clinics to better educate the dads? Somehow the shame of infertility needs to be dealt with as well as the fear of rejection because of not being biologically related to your children. If these families would have told right from the beginning, and been honest with their kids, it wouldn’t be such a loaded issue, as now there is a secret and people have been lied to. The older donor conceived people that have found out later in life seem to be much more rattled at having been lied to, than learning that they are donor conceived.
Huffington Post Articles
These Huffington Post articles by Wendy Kramer will help you consider the various issues surrounding donor conception.
Donor Conception: Old vs. New Thinking
Old thinking: “Infertility is something to be ashamed of” vs. New thinking: “Coming to terms with infertility is a process.”
Old thinking: “Keep the secret” vs. New thinking: “Secrecy implies shame.”
And so on...
Choosing a Sperm Bank ... What To Know
Wendy Kramer’s advice on how to choose a sperm bank, including important questions to ask the banks you’re considering.
Sperm & Egg Donation: Telling Is the First Step
Telling is just the beginning. Just because a child knows that they were conceived with the help of a donor, doesn’t mean they will have peace with not knowing about one-half of their identity, medical background, and close relatives. The conversations on the heels of disclosure are extremely important.
Sperm And Egg Donation: 10 Things Your Doctor, Clinic Or Sperm Bank Won’t Tell You
Find out what your infertility doctor, sperm bank, or egg clinic ISN’T telling you.
The Ambiguity of “Open” Sperm Donation
The DSR has heard from families who purchased non-anonymous sperm, only to find out later on that this is not the case. Sperm banks are failing to provide that which both the donor and the parents agreed to.
There Are No Laws Prohibiting Donor Recipients From Reaching Out To Donors
We know of no one ever sued by a sperm bank/clinic for reaching out to their donor (by a parent) or to their biological father/mother (by a donor-conceived person) either via the DSR or through any other method.
A Brief History of Donor Conception
Learn about the history of donor conception, starting with horses in 1322 and moving on to human assisted reproduction.
The New “Check Box” That Needs to Be On Pediatrician’s Forms
It would seem appropriate to ask on a Family Medical History form whether a child had been donor conceived so that the caregiver could be cognizant of the fact that the child’s family medical health history was only half complete.
Donor Families Connecting: Love or Fear?
Decisions about donor conception, including the ones about connecting to unknown relatives, can be complicated, but we can simplify these decisions down to just two choices: love or fear.
Things to Consider
The DSR has learned a lot about donor-conceived people’s needs, from both research and anecdotal data.
Experiences of Donor-Conceived People
From the blog post Zero-Sum Thinking and Donor Family: "Acknowledging a donor-conceived person's biological mother or father doesn't take away from the non-bio mother or father that raised them. Too many parents (and sometimes offspring) are afraid that if they connect with, acknowledge the importance of knowing, or even call a 'donor' a genetic/biological mother/father/parent, it will somehow diminish the importance of the non-bio parent. When donor-conceived people have the opportunity to incorporate previously unknown genetic relatives into their lives (e.g., biological parents, biological grandparents, or half-siblings), it in no way takes away from the family that raises and loves them. When egg and sperm donors connect with children that were born from their donations, it in no way threatens the integrity of their existing family. One doesn't threaten, diminish, replace, or negate the other."
2020: Carissa's Story: "After a year knowing the TRUTH I am ready to share this information. I am not afraid to talk about it and I am not ashamed. This post is still NOT EASY to write though, as it puts me in a super vulnerable place. I have pondered this many times. How would I share this information? How would people interpret it? Would they tell me to be thankful for what I had or would they be upset? Would they not understand? (Which honestly MOST do not unless they have walked this same path.) I will try my best NOT to have any expectations for this post and hope that I will receive love, understanding, grace, and support. I am putting myself out there but this is WHO I AM and I should not have to HIDE IT anymore as my parents did to me. This will be long so if you're at all interested please bear with me.
My parents were divorced when I was 2 (born in Alaska). My mom married my step-father and he raised me most of my life. I still always had a longing all my life to be more like my Father. I questioned our similarities, qualities, and even asked his blood type, but little to no avail — answers were scarce and far from in between. He had other children. I questioned that and wanted to find my siblings, however there was again little conversation about it. I asked about my health and his family's health ... again little to no answers, but I always knew he was my Dad deep down inside.
My dad passed away over 2 years ago and I longed to find my siblings. So, I took an Ancestry test of course. ;) I knew right away I probably would not know all the people as there are so many that show up: 1st, 2nd, 3rd cousins, etc. Six long weeks later my test came back and it was VERY STRANGE, to say the least. I did not know almost any of my top matches. I never really knew any of my dad's side of the family so I figured I wouldn't know their names but I wasn't seeing any with my dad's last name come up. It was so weird. I did see some relatives on my mom's side though. However, within hours some of my top matches were private messaging me that they knew who I was but didn't know if I knew. MOMENT OF FREAK OUT AND PANIC!!! I thought it was a scam! Who are all these people I have never met but they were so closely related to me? I had to know more! I went back and looked at my dad's pictures to compare and kept asking, "Mike, don't I look like my Dad?" and he kept saying, "Yes you do" — but there were some things that didn't match. Very shortly after I found out the TRUTH of my IDENTITY. Something that would SHOCK me and turn my world completely upside down. Yes. I found out that I was donor-conceived.
Can you imagine living your entire life basically a lie of who your father was? Looking back I always knew something wasn't right. I am not going to blame my parents because they were told by the doctors to never tell; however, I still feel it was best to be HONEST. It would have truly shaped me in a different way. They are now saying tell your children AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE because of the psychological effects. Was it traumatic? You bet!!! Imagine looking in the mirror and trying to figure out who you are again? I was angry, hurt, traumatized, broken, lost, and it was a long grieving and healing process. Do I still believe my parents loved me? Absolutely. Did I still believe my parents believed they were doing the best for me? Yes, absolutely. However, this was not an easy walk. Now, I am choosing not to hide my IDENTITY of WHO I AM. I will not keep it a secret and follow the same path and be filled with shame. Just like when we know someone was adopted it is very similar in that way. We go through the same psychological factors as when someone doesn't find out they are adopted until later in life.
So here I am sharing my story. I came into a family of almost 20 siblings that we know of, and an Aunt who is lovingly involved in our lives. Unfortunately, the donor does not want involvement but he is a doctor and is healthy and in great shape (he competes in competitions). I have met 2 siblings so far in person. We have Skype meetings and yearly group meetups, although I am not quite ready for that yet. ;) I have finally found WHY I do what I do and can see qualities that I share with the other siblings. It has been a crazy journey but this is WHO I AM and where I came from. I hope you will be understanding with me opening up as well as be compassionate — and if you have a story to tell, please don't hold back. It could change someone's life."
A donor-conceived person (who found out via DNA testing that she was donor-conceived) shared what it was like to meet her half-brother and biological father for the first time: "They felt like family, and for me there was a sense of relief in that too. Like it's hard to put a finger on it but I think a good analogy would be like finding people who speak the same dialect as you. Like I've been trying to speak [my last name] all these years and it just never came naturally to me and it was always a struggle and I didn't know why. Then I find out it's because I was speaking [donor's last name] the whole time and discovered that talking to them is so much easier and intuitive in a way I haven't experienced before."
John's story: A 53-year-old donor-conceived man tells his story of finding out that he is donor-conceived later in life: "My initial reaction was one of exhilaration — finally everything made sense. My second reaction was that nothing made sense — the bottom was dropping out of my life."
Susan Kane's letter: An excerpt of an open letter to the ASRM from Susan Kane, a donor-conceived person, who also has 2 donor-conceived children. Susan's letter was in response to Todd Essing's commentary (2011: Forbes: Balancing the Rights of Donor Offspring With Those of Donors: But What About Parents?), which was a response to Naomi Cahn and Wendy Kramer's commentary (2011: BioNews: The Birth of Donor Offspring Rights in the USA?).
"As anyone in the mental health field should know, decades and decades of adoption research has taught us that secrecy in families causes damage. It has taught us that learning that your parents are not your parents late in life wreaks havoc on your basic sense of trust. Most of all, adoption has taught us that genes matter.
They don't matter more than love. I never said they did. But I challenge you to find an adoption professional in North America today who would tell you that genetics is irrelevant in family creation. Genes matter — today more than ever. Genes matter to donor families. These families have specifically pursued infertility treatment rather than adoption. The fertility industry *exists* because genes matter. Allowing people to pass on their genetic material is what fertility treatment *does*. It amazes me that genes can matter to the families and doctors you serve and yet both you and Allison Rosen can't believe that they also matter to *me*."
(It's worth reading Susan's entire letter!)
From a mother: "My son was on the DSR 9 years before his donor sister signed up, so hang in there; it can happen anytime. He did not feel like he was missing anything before they connected, but he sure feels like he found something. Both our families feel very enriched."
Two Siblings So Far: "Since joining this site I have found two siblings. We have since shared a number of e-mails and have gotten to know each other more. It's amazing how much we discovered we have in common and look alike."
New Little Brother! "Today I found my younger half-brother and am absolutely thrilled! I contacted his mother and hopefully we can start a correspondence and maybe even a relationship. I am so happy that DSR has enabled me to find my 'other family'! I was brought to tears when I saw my donor's ID on this boy's post and I am so excited that I finally found him! Thank you so much DSR!"
From a 13 year old: "I am 13 years old and in 8th grade. My name is Lauren and I am also a twin. I found out about a month ago now that my dad wasn't my real biological dad. I was shocked at first but then the next day I was excited to tell my friends the news and curious about the donor and what he looked like. I know that my dad is my real dad and will always be, but I still wanted to do some research about the donor. That night I sat on the couch with my family and we all went through the packet about the donor (heritage, looks, health, etc.)." Continue reading Lauren's story: I am 13 and just found out.
From an adult conceived in the 1960s via donor insemination: "When I signed up with the DSR a year ago, I did it more with the hopes of finding information about my donor, than with any thoughts of actually finding a sibling. After all, I'd be conceived in the late sixties, well before the existence of sperm banks with registered donors. At that time everything was very secretive, with absolutely no information given to the parents. When I got to the DSR, I was the first person to create a listing under my mom's doctor's name, from New York City." Continue reading this amazing story of older half-siblings connecting: Never too old to find a match!
A donor-conceived girl turned 18 and made a profound statement with a new tattoo. The connection is much more than just a "donated cell"!
2017: From Laura, a 37-year-old donor-conceived woman:
"When I was an early teen, I had this fantasy that I had a secret identity, which would eventually be revealed to me later. I've never admitted this to anyone until now. It wasn't a grandiose secret identity — just mysterious and a total wildcard that would eventually make sense. I had no idea why this idea cropped up at the time because who I was and where I came from seemed so obvious. (I wasn't told about my conception.) But how appropriate that was, in hindsight.... I had real problems with my sense of identity until about 2 years ago (when my truth finally and shockingly emerged through technology) and had been inhibited in the public eye because of it. Asperger or introversion or family dynamics or just plain uniqueness were once the theories for this tendency, but there was obviously something else going on that made me feel like the odd woman out and made me want to retreat. There are so many things I've wanted to do but could never complete due to shaky confidence in who I was and what I had to offer. (For example, singing.)
This problem has been melting away quickly of late, and things are very clear now, like a light has been switched on. Secrets are felt viscerally, even when they aren't explicitly known, which is why they can be so toxic. And to fully build out who you are, you need to know where you came from. It's easy for those who don't know what this is like to take what they had for granted and tell you to get over it, because 'all that matters is who you choose to become.' But there's a primal need in all of us to understand our roots first (at the parental level) — before that can happen — like a psychological foundation for individuation. I've had an incredibly fortunate and privileged life and loving parents, for which I've always been grateful, so this isn't me bellyaching in a spoiled way. It's just that some things can't be replaced by a nice lifestyle or all the love in the world. Humans are weird, with all our specific needs. Wish it could be simpler."
2016: From a donor-conceived woman: "Genetic uncertainty has clouded my life since I was twelve years old, when I learned that my conception was facilitated by an anonymous sperm donor and artificial insemination. Though the shock dissolved in the following months, I’m reminded of this obscurity entwined in my DNA when I’m asked to fill out a medical history form at the doctor’s office and have to indicate that, genetically speaking, half of my family tree remains in shadow."
2016: From Kelly, a donor-conceived woman, on National Siblings Day:
"So, since I'm being prompted to remark on my thoughts on National Siblings Day, here's this from a sibling-without-her-siblings: I'm currently drinking tea out of my Sisters By Heart mug that my best friend gave me a number of years ago. I'm grateful for her and a number of good, close friends that I may or may not see or talk to often. But that's it as far as what I can count on for siblings, even though I know I have half-siblings out there.
Will I one day know them? While I can maybe learn who my biological father is at some point, I can't ever count on finding them. I wish. I wish I wasn't forcibly blocked from them by an unregulated medical industry that believes it depends on anonymity and deception, along with a number of other unethical principles it abides by.
One day, perhaps there will be justice for us. And, perhaps, one day, parents will actually tell my fellow donor-conceived people, including my half-siblings, of their true origins. Whether or not those DC people begin their own searches is up to them, but until then, there's almost no other explanation for why so few of us are actually looking for each other. Please, siblings ... don't let me be the only one forever."
2015: From one of the oldest egg donor offspring on the DSR:
"I was conceived by a donor egg in 1988. My mom says she does not remember any of the basic information about the egg donor (ethnicity, medical history, etc). I have called the clinic where I was conceived multiple times, left messages and never gotten a response back. The only information I have is the serial number of the petri dish I was made in, because the clinic gave my mom the petri dish as a souvenir. I am G**80.
I got that number tattooed on the back of my neck. I guess it was my way of trying to re-establish control and ownership of my own body after I had been told I had no legal rights (seeing as I was the product, and not one of the people involved) to my own genetic history and information.
I love my mom and her family, but it has always been extremely obvious that I do not share genetic material with them; aside from physical appearance, we have absolutely nothing in common in terms of shared interests, aptitudes, dislikes, taste, or personal traits. We are polar opposites to a comical degree."
Connecting with half-siblings should happen early:
"Just imagine being 20 something and finding siblings on your own when DNA testing is even more wildly popular, or they find you. You then develop some kind of relationship. You find that many of these siblings had parents who encouraged these relationships, even from babyhood. You see the pictures, you hear the stories. Disney, camping, birthdays.... A couple of them will be roomies in college, maid of honor in a sibling wedding, etc.
To me, this would be crushing. I would feel so cheated, whether or not I had great neighbor pals, awesome cousins, or even siblings from the same home."
From Sue Kane, a donor-conceived person and mother to a donor-conceived child:
"A family that is lying to a child about parentage is, by definition, not stable. The truth is always out there, only one internet search or blood test away from being exposed. Like adultery, like the closet, this lie is toxic to families.
It is not okay to lie to a child about who his parents are for 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. Infertility treatment exists because genes matter. People sue each other because genes matter. People take their own children home from the hospital because genes matter. Love matters too. But genetics mattered to our parents and they matter to us. Stop lying about it."
Why Connecting Is Important
Prospective parents might not yet understand the importance of their future children connecting with their donor and/or half-siblings. But we know these connections are important, for several reasons.
Donor-conceived people typically only know half of their medical background. It’s important to their current and future health to have access to their medical background, ideally through their donor.
“Many diseases and health conditions are inherited, and susceptibility to disease can also be inherited. For many years after a donation, children who share the donor’s DNA may develop medical and health concerns that can only be properly addressed (medical screenings and preventative medicine) with the donor’s updated information. Conversely, it might be crucial for a donor to know about any medical issues reported by families, because the donor may someday have children of his or her own.” —DNA = Donors Not Anonymous
People have an innate desire to know where they come from. Anonymous donor conception denies people this knowledge. However, donor offspring frequently discover the truth of their conception when they test their DNA, looking for ancestry information.
“I discovered I was donor conceived a few days ago. I took a 23andMe DNA test to learn more about my ancestry shortly after my 32nd birthday. My jaw dropped when I received the results and saw a completely foreign name listed as my father. I confronted my parents and discovered they had intended to keep this secret to their graves. They never told a soul before. I wasn’t angry about this discovery, but definitely shocked, afraid, and sad. I think I’ve come to terms with it, and now I’m just curious to learn more about myself and people like me.” —DNA = Donors Not Anonymous
“I am 30 years old and just recently learned that my father, who died when I was 15, was unable to have kids and therefore my parents used a sperm donor. My mom opened up to me about it all after I announced on Christmas that I had submitted my DNA to Ancestry, which I only did because I thought it would be interesting. I never thought I was going to find out I have a different father and family out there.” —DNA = Donors Not Anonymous
People also have an innate desire to connect with their close genetic relatives. We introduce children to their grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, and social half-siblings from birth. But donor-conceived people may never have this opportunity.
In our contact with thousands of donor offspring through the Donor Sibling Registry and associated research projects, we’ve learned the following about what donor-conceived people are looking for:
- They are not looking to invade or disrupt a donor’s life.
- They are not looking for an active parent.
- They are not looking for money.
- They do want to be acknowledged.
- They want their biological parent to know that they exist.
- They do want to know where they come from: their genetic and medical history, along with their ancestry and close relatives.
- Many do long to meet and to know their half siblings, biological parents, and even grandparents.
(From DNA = Donors Not Anonymous)
The risk of donor-conceived offspring meeting by chance later in life is real, and risky.
“In one group on the Donor Sibling Registry, consisting of children from a donor who donated at multiple facilities located in two different states, five separate sets of half siblings have encountered one another in their day-to-day lives. Two girls who attended the same school and played on the same sports team discovered that they were genetic half-sisters when their parents started chatting one day. Two sets of parents in the group were friends before conceiving and only discovered during their pregnancies that they had used the same donor. Two of the kids in the group attended/worked at the same summer camp and had mutual Facebook friends through the camp. And two other sets of children in the group ended up attending the same colleges. In another group, two half-brothers played on the same little league team, not knowing until years later that they were related. Half siblings have also connected at the park, at school, and even on a Disney cruise.” —DNA = Donors Not Anonymous
WENDY KRAMER'S MEMOIR! In January 2020 we published Wendy's memoir: Donor Family Matters: My Story of Raising a Profoundly Gifted Donor-Conceived Child, Redefining Family, and Building the Donor Sibling Registry. This is the story of Wendy Kramer and her donor-conceived child, Ryan, who eventually found his biological father and 19 half-siblings. Wendy and Ryan created the Donor Sibling Registry, the world’s largest platform for mutual-consent contact of sperm, egg, and embryo donors, donor-conceived children and adults, and their parents. Order on Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon!
BOOK FOR DONOR KIDS! In 2018 we published a book for young donor-conceived children: Your Family: A Donor Kid's Story. This book goes beyond the simple question of "Where did I come from?" to address donors and half-siblings. Order on Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon, or mail a check for $17 (which includes shipping) to PO Box 1571, Nederland CO, 80466.
BOOK FOR DONOR FAMILIES! In 2013 we published a book for donor families: Finding Our Families: A First-of-Its-Kind Book for Donor-Conceived People and Their Families. It covers everything from disclosure, to donor offsprings' curiosities, to connecting with donors and half-siblings, to redefining family and these new relationships. Order on Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon!