Just who is an egg or sperm donor to a recipient family?

Despite the fact that some people are still resisting telling their children about being donor conceived, there is beginning to be a real shift in thinking by those of us who have been around the donor conception world for some time that the donor needs to become a real person in the life of recipient families.  In the UK the first children conceived with gametes from identifiable donors are around 9. In just another 9 years they will be eligible to ask the HFEA for the name and last known address of their donor.  When this happens the HFEA will attempt to contact the donor to let them know that a young person is interested in information and/or contact.  The intermediary organisation recently appointed by the HFEA will also be alerted.  But how will the parents feel?  They may or may not have felt comfortable with donor identifiability at the time of their treatment. Many will have put the possibility of contact to the back of their minds, not wanting to acknowledge or admit that a real person is behind the material that helped them have their family.  And that this person could potentially play a part in their lives from their child’s 18th birthday.

Those parents who have followed the success of the Donor Sibling Registry or watched Generation Cryo last year may be closer to understanding what donor/offspring/half-sibling connections might look like, but hey, they were all in the US, so it might be different in the UK, right?

Keen never to avoid addressing the difficult questions, the main topic at DC Network’s National Conference on Sunday 19th April is Thinking About our Donor.  A panel of parents have volunteered to talk about what was in their minds when they chose their donor(s), how they feel about the donor now, how they feel about their child being able/or not being able to have information and contact at age 18 and what their child feels about the donor, if they are old enough to have an opinion. There will also be a late-told donor conceived adult, who has recently become a mother herself, talking about her feelings about her donor.  The parents represent those who have a donor from within the family, egg donation abroad, a single woman who has a child by double donation, a mum in a lesbian couple who considered a known donor before opting for an anonymous donor from a clinic and a dad from an ethnic minority who had great difficulty finding an appropriate match.

The session will be filmed and audio taped, a transcription will appear in the next DCN Journal coming out in June and clips will be on the website.

Slowly, slowly, the donor is coming out of the shadows.


About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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11 Responses to Just who is an egg or sperm donor to a recipient family?

  1. Lil says:

    I don’t get the post, honestly. How parents will feel? If they were not comfortable inviting the “third party” to their family in the first place, then why did they proceed with it? And if a child wants a contact with their genetic family after they turn 18 – so what? It’s their prerogative. Why should it be different than adoptive kids searching for their biological roots (I think nobody really questions this right now)? And who/what should actually be protected here – parents’ insecurities? I so don’t get it why donor conceived are treated like “2nd class citizens” serving as “gifts” to their parents. I myself am not DC but my mum used sperm donor for her second child/my half-sister (after she divorced my father). We argue over that almost all the time as I think my sis should know the truth (she’s 5 now).

  2. oliviasview says:

    I think your sister should know the truth too Lil, but I’m afraid it’s really not as straightforward as you think. People, couples and individuals, are often so desperate to have a child they will go to any lengths to do so, even to the extent of doing something they are really not comfortable with, but blotting out those feelings at the time. Ideally it would not be this way but everyone is a fallible human being and human beings do strange things at times. Donor conception has really not caught up with adoption. Everyone now accepts that adopted people have a right to contact birth family, but it wasn’t this way thirty years ago. I’m sorry you feel that donor conceived people are treated like 2nd class citizens. DC Network does everything it can to oppose this view. It is parent led but very child centred. Get your mum to have a look at the website http://www.dcnetwork.org

  3. Lil says:

    and just to add – the situation is extremely uncomfortable for me now (and nobody asked me how I feel about it, neither in the first place when they made the decision, nor later). The three of us (mum, her new husband and I) just pretend my little sister is from him in front of both families. I just hate lying to all of them. Not sure why I was told, maybe because my mum felt she could confide in me (being an adult). This whole thing (lying) makes me totally sick to be honest. And I don’t care about my mum’s insecurities, I think she should have thought better before she jumped on this wagon.

  4. Lil says:

    thanks, Olivia, I will definitely have a look at that – the problem is my mum doesn’t know English that well, but I will be able to translate for her (if only she bothers to listen, she becomes VERY defensive whenever I start talking about it).

  5. Lil says:

    I also feel extremely bad lying to the Little one – I’m afraid that once she finds out (and somehow I think she will, she’s very smart and receptive), she will hate me for not telling her sooner 😦

  6. oliviasview says:

    I can imagine just how hard this must be for you Lil. A very uncomfortable position indeed. I have responded to your private email giving you information about an organisation in your country that may be able to help.

  7. Along these lines, this might also be of interest to you:

    Rethinking “Positive” Adoption Language and Reclaiming Stigmatized Identities

    “During interactions, it is more than appropriate to use “mother” for either adoptive or first mother. What I am suggesting is that we reject temptations to fit the “norm” or “naturalize” one set of parents over the other, especially when talking about our families and identities. Adoptive ties are special because shared physical experiences, emotional feelings, and spiritual connections transcend the biological. Biological ties are also very important because they are not only about sharing DNA, but also about the physical, emotional, and spiritual connection from the early days, months, or years together that can carry into the present and future. Additionally, a recent study showed that a mother and child literally exchange cells during the gestation process that stay in the body for decades, which in my case, makes my first mom’s presence in my life even more real.[31] For me, both of my sets of parents are very real, and neither should be de-naturalized. While working to change adoption practices, we can consider and value the unique and important aspects of non-normative adoptive and birth families and embrace this non-normativity, as well as its even larger potential with open adoptions.”


    • oliviasview says:

      This is interesting and the donor conception community has learned an enormous amount from adoption practices and history. That said, adoption is not the same as donor conception as there is no ‘birth family’ other than the one in to which a donor conceived child is born. There is the sharing of DNA with the donor but no “physical, emotional and spiritual connection from the early days, months or years together”. And the gestating woman (recipient of donated eggs or sperm) will be contributing, through the way she looks after herself and her baby and through epigenetics, to the way genes are expressed in the child. I am in no way denying the invaluable contribution of the donor but she or he only contributes to the formation of a family, not the development of it.

  8. There is a ‘birth’ father. There is no such thing as a ‘donor’ in relation to any child. And that “physical, emotional and spiritual connection from the early days, months or years together” does apply to the so called ‘donor’ conceived just as it applies to an ‘adoptee’ in relation to their ‘birth’ father.

  9. oliviasview says:

    I respect your perspective ‘whosedaughter’ but cannot agree with it. In adoption the birth mother gestates the child, gives birth and spends some time with the baby, whether it is minutes, hours, days or months. From this comes that “physical, emotional and spiritual connection from the early days”. How can this possibly be the same for a sperm donor?

    • My parent's donor is my father says:

      I am not suggesting that the genetic + gestational (and hormonal) bonding is the same as just the genetic. I was suggesting that it would be the similar in respect to the fathers – whether you call him a ‘birth’ father or a ‘sperm donor’ or something else.

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