When Christina's mother decided to conceive using donated sperm, she had a specific kind of man in mind. "My mom decided to use African-American sperm because she's actually a white woman, and she wanted her children to match, and [my siblings'] fathers are both black," Christina says.
Although Christina always knew how she was conceived, she says something was missing from her life. "This education, this medical background, this knowledge, these looks, you know?" she says. "I wanted to know the black side of me. I just wanted answers." Growing up, Christina says she always looked forward to finding out more about her biological father. "I knew when I turned 18 that I was allowed to meet him," she says.
When she was old enough, Christina finally learned her biological father's name—Phillip. Eager to end her yearslong wait, she made a phone call that would change her life. "When I first called him, I was absolutely nervous. I was shaking," she says. "I gave him my number if he wanted to call back, and he did."
In a marathon conversation lasting four to five hours, Phillip and Christina shared everything about their lives—from where Phillip grew up to their shared sense of humor. "I was able to dip into this bucket of information to find out all the answers that I was looking for," she says.
Since that first phone call, Christina, who is now 22, and Phillip have forged a relationship that Christina says has enriched her life. "I call him Dad," she says. "He's like my second dad."
When Christina contacted Phillip, he was the father of young twins. Now that his children are 13, what do they think about the situation? "That's a work in progress," Phillip says.
In the years since he donated sperm, Phillip says he occasionally would think about the children he might have helped to conceive. "But then your life just goes forward. You keep doing things," he says. "When [Christina] called and we talked, right from the start everything just came flooding to me. When we first met, it was awe-inspiring."
Now that they have known each other a few years, Phillip says he does feel in many ways like a father to Christina. "In a sense I do because of the things that we have in common, which are just incredible, just the things that we talk about in the flow," he says. "As far as cracking the whip or anything, [I do] nothing like that. I know she has a real dad. But if she calls me for advice, I give her advice. First I say, 'What did your dad say? What did your mom say? Now I can give you advice.'"
In all, Phillip says his sperm donations resulted in the births of seven children. Besides Christina, only one other child has contacted him. "We talked about five minutes, and then he said, 'Call me back.' I called him back, and then he never returned the call," Phillip says. "I'm not going to interject myself into his life. If he wants to talk to me, hey, he can call."
Reactions from family members of sperm donors can vary greatly when donor-conceived children come into their lives. While Phillip's family struggled to make the adjustment, Matthew's wife Nicole says she was happy when Matthew heard from the mothers of his biological children.
"When they first contacted us—well, contacted Matthew—I was pregnant with our child, and that was hard. It took us several years for us to conceive, so I think it would have been harder had I not been able to conceive," she says. "But [since we were] carrying our own child, we were just so happy, and I was so proud of him."
As a pediatrician, Nicole understands why donor-conceived children would want contact with their biological fathers. "I care about kids, and I know kids have questions," she says. "I can understand the need to get to know Matthew, and I think that would be great, because I think he's great, obviously."
Throughout his life, Chris has only known his father by one name...#46. As the only child of a single mom, he learned he was the offspring of a sperm donor early on.
"I knew that I was conceived differently from a very early age," he says. "But I've always felt very loved."
Becky, Chris's mom, taught her son to embrace his history. "I said, "You know what Chris, a man donated his sperm, and you are a gift. This man already has a family, and he gave the gift of life. You are a love child.'"
Little did Chris know, Stacy, a woman who lived less than 30 miles away, also grew up knowing very little about the man her mom chose from the sperm bank.
When Stacy was in middle school, she says she had a hard time explaining where her father was to other kids. "So I just told them that my dad was not around," she says. In reality, Stacy didn't know much about the man who donated the sperm used in her conception.
Kim, Stacy's mom, says her daughter always yearned for a larger family. "She's an only child. ... I think she would have liked to have had siblings when she was growing up," she says. "She's grown up wondering about that other side of her family."
As she got older, Stacy's curiosity about her biological father grew stronger. She logged onto the Donor Sibling Registry to search for more information, but instead, she discovered Chris. She immediately noticed their mothers went to the same fertility clinic. After seeing his photo, she began thinking they might have a lot more in common.
"The chin and even the nose, especially the eyes...that's the first thing I noticed," she says. "We really have the same eyes. I felt like I was looking at a version of myself, but I didn't want to get my hopes up too high until I knew for sure."
Further research revealed that she and Chris had both lived in Paris during college and were fluent in French. "I was just like, 'This can't be just a coincidence!'" she says.
Stacy asked her mother for her biological dad's donor number—46. She then e-mailed Chris with the news. After discovering he had a half sister, Chris says he jumped around yelling, "Is it possible that I have a sister? I can't believe this is possible!"
After three months of daily e-mails, Chris and Stacy finally get to meet face-to-face in Seattle.
Chris boards a train in Portland, Oregon, and begins the short journey to see his half sister. "I'm looking forward to hugging her and listening to her and sharing with her," he says. "I feel like my life is about to get quite a bit richer. I'll always have someone to call, someone to cry on their shoulder. That's a pretty rare thing, especially when you've grown up as an only child."
On her way to the train station, Stacy says she's so excited, she gets goose bumps. Around her neck, she wears a scarf Chris sent her for her birthday.Watch Chris and Stacy's emotional meeting.
Finally, the brother and sister meet for the very first time. They stare at each other with the same pair of green eyes. "This is really bizarre," Stacy says. "Are you sure that we're not twins?"
Though these long-lost siblings have yet to find their father, donor #46, Stacy says she's made peace with it. "Actually meeting Chris has made that kind of okay with me," she says. "It seems like we've been talking about this void that occurs inside of you when you're conceived this way, and you find different ways to fill it. For me, finding Chris has kind of filled that void."
Growing up, Chris says he didn't realize something was missing from his life. "I think if there was a void, there were many wonderful ways to fill that void, [which] bore wonderful fruits," he says.
When Stacy and Chris connected, he was volunteering with the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa. "Maybe not knowing as much about where I come from and always feeling a bit foreign in other people's places [made me] want to jump into their lives," he says.
Now that they've found each other, Chris and Stacy are hoping to meet other siblings...if there are any more out there. "I mean, the more the merrier," Stacy says.
Wendy Kramer and her son, Ryan, are the people to thank for bringing thousands of donor-conceived children together with their half siblings and biological fathers.
In 2000, they created the Donor Sibling Registry website to help Ryan track down his sperm donor father. Since then, thousands of members have logged on to learn more about their genetic origins, and many have found success. Wendy says more than 4,200 people have discovered the identity of their half siblings or donor dad. "There's not a day that goes by that at least two or three people don't match up with each other," she says. "[It's] way beyond our wildest dreams."
Ryan says it's amazing to be able to help children like himself. "I know exactly what it feels like to be searching for your half siblings and your donor, as well," he says. "When I hear these figures...it's a really incredible feeling."
Since launching the website, Ryan says the best experience has been connecting with his half sister, Anna. "She's just delightful, and she's got the best parents," he says. "We couldn't be more happy to have met these people, and it's been just an incredibly enriching and wonderful experience."
Though websites like the Donor Sibling Registry are helping children find
answers, Matthew says it's time for the fertility industry to step up and do the
same. "You know, 30,000 children a year being born this way with a lot of
unresolved issues in an industry that after 30 [or] 40 years is still kind of a
wild, wild West in terms of its regulation," he says.
Matthew says fertility clinics that pay men for sperm donations need to be held to a higher standard. "While I think most of the time that people participating in this are well-intending individuals doing good things and helpful things ... I have to wonder if it's really on the up and up every time," he says. "You've got different fertility clinics on different street corners, and the better your donor portfolio looks, you'll be able to recruit a stronger clientele. How does the family or individual using donated gametes confirm, in fact, that the donor had these credentials?"
Many clinics promise to limit the number of times a donor's sperm can be sold, but Wendy says that doesn't always happen. "On our website, there are groups of families with 40 kids, 60 kids, all from one donor," she says. "There's no tracking. There's no accountability."
Wendy says there's one donor on her website who has fathered 66 children—the highest number she's seen. "It's completely out of control," she says. "Nobody's watching."
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