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‘My mum’s meeting my dad for the first time’ – BBC News


My mom
is about to meet my dad
for the first time.
I grew up with two moms,
Kathleen and Betsy.
And I really don’t
miss having a dad
because they both
completed a different area
of me.
This is the family.
My sister, Sarah, and I have always just had each other.
And I love Sarah to pieces.
I always knew that I was donor conceived.
We were imagining you
18 years from now
meeting this guy
and we wanted you to like him.
I don’t think
I ever
imagined that there could be so many siblings.
I thought maybe if I’m lucky I’ll find one
or two.
I think we’re still trying to
feel around
and figure out how we’re family.
It’s
completely uncharted territory.
We’re going to go visit Carolyn,
my half sister.
Carolyn was the first sibling that I made contact with.
So I guess she’s just the introduction,
my introduction to the donor sibling world.
Carolyn!
What up, what up?
Your haircut, when did that happen?
That happened like a month ago.
I love it.
Thank you.
It’s adorable.
When I was growing up, I thought that
maybe I have donor siblings.
But then your mom was the first person to contact me!
So that was the like first time I was like:
‘Oh, I have a donor sibling!
And it’s you!’
So I thought it was just 19 of us,
and then Sam popped up,
and we were like,
‘Oh, Sam is another one we didn’t know about.’
There’s definitely 20 of us.
And my mom has an Excel spreadsheet.
She does?
Yeah, with everybody that we have to date
and their parents and contact info.
This is the sperm pipette…
is that the word? –
that my mother used.
And here you can see that it says 1317.
I guess she got this on June 6 of 1995
So she used a little vial and
syringe to self-inseminate,
and it came in the mail, it was frozen, she said
that she warmed it up like so.
I found out my mom was actually in contact
my entire childhood
and even before I was born with other moms.
Now that I’m 18, the rest of us are also adults.
We have established our own relationships with each other.
She had these probably in her freezer for four to five months before she decided:
today’s the day that I’m going to get pregnant.
Donor 1317 was originally approved for donation in November 1993,
since the release of his semen,
we have achieved six confirmed pregnancies.
The donor continues to be healthy.
That is so medical and scientific!
This necklace, it says 1-3-1-7.
And my moms gave it to me
for my 18th birthday.
And I think the number represents less of
the donor 1-3-1-7 and more of my moms
and my half siblings and that – just my family,
it’s all different parts of my family.
When we were starting this process first of all
there were two known sperm banks we were aware of,
both in California, that had a known donor programme.
So this is the questionnaire we got from the sperm bank
about your donor.
‘Why do you want to be a sperm donor?’
‘Besides the money, which was definitely an incentive since I am strapped for cash,
I think that it would be a very rewarding experience.
If I never have kids then I would want to know
that I have given that opportunity to another couple.’
‘Which option did you choose?’
‘Identity release.’
‘And explain why you chose this option.’
‘It may be interesting to meet my unknown child to see what effects
environmental and genetic have played a role in his or her development.’
‘If we could pass a message to the recipient of your semen, what would that message be?’
‘Hold your head high and be considerate of others.’
I mean he just seems like a really nice guy.
so that’s why we chose him.
We were imagining you
18 years from now meeting this guy
and we wanted you to like him
and, yeah
think he was a good guy, so that was kind of our process.
You glad we picked him?
I mean yeah!
I love you.
I love you, too.
You’re so special.
Kathleen and I got together when we were 23 years old.
So we were quite young at the time.
She was the kind of person that would walk in the room
and light it up.
Oh my gosh mom, you’re so young.
Thank you? I think.
Not that you’re old now, but like…
for the three months that she lived
after her diagnosis,
she did more living than most people do
in a decade – if not more.
Julia, this was when we were on vacation,
a week before your mummy died.
And she played the song she’d learned,
she taught herself to play the ukulele
in the last two months of her life and
played the song for the whole family.
Love you girls.
You ok?
Kathleen was very insistent on making sure
that we used the sperm bank of California,
because we were allowed to have a ‘Known Donor Programme’ from that.
We didn’t have any rights to the donor,
and he didn’t have any rights to us, either.
Julia was the only person that could make contact.
Julia was born in 1999 in January,
and she was conceived
five months before Google was founded.
So there was no chance in our minds
that any of the diblings would ever be part of the picture.
It wasn’t that we didn’t want them, it just never crossed our mind.
Oh honey pie, I love you so much.
I love you, too.
Have a great trip
and I want to hear all about it when you get home.
We are on the road to Syracuse, New York,
where I’m going to meet up
with three of my siblings,
George, Mari and Samantha.
And I’ve met George before,
and I haven’t met Mari or Samantha.
What’s up!
Hi.
I’m Mari.
Do you see what I mean?
I think they look so similar.
The eyes.
Yeah.
Yeah and the nose and the bone structure.
Already?
And your nose.
I have small hands.
I have huge hands.
I have bigger hands than my brother.
We have the exact same size hands.
I never really wondered about
the fact that I might have these half siblings –
diblings.
I like more calling them like sisters and brothers,
because I’m trying to get more used to the fact that they are like my sisters and brothers.
Now it’s really become a much bigger part
of this whole sperm donor story to me than
the father aspect of it.
It’s so grody that other people’s parents had to have sex.
I was a double donor conception,
which means that a donor egg and then
a donor sperm was used.
I felt very alien, I felt very like
in a hole,
and 50 years ago I wouldn’t have been able to exist at all.
I felt like I was kind of forced on to the earth a little bit.
It wasn’t natural at all.
There was a period that I was just
I wished I hadn’t been born in this way,
really at all.
And I almost kind of blamed her,
because I knew that she wanted a child so bad.
People don’t report when the pregnancies are successful.
So the sperm banks don’t get a lot of information in return from the families
apparently there’s a problem with
lack of regulation around that or something.
I don’t know, should they have 20-something kids?
Sperm donation is around to stay.
So, for someday it might only be this.
We don’t know the future of any of that.
I really want to get to know you better. I’m down to be like a brother.
I want you guys too. There’s a lot, you know?
Welcome to the family kind of thing.
We’re not brothers and sisters in name only,
I kind of want to make it more than that.
I think it’s definitely possible to have a few
people, or a lot of people maybe, even,
if I’m good with time management,
who I can have really deep relationships with
who feel like my brother and sister.
I think it’s important to do something
every once in a while with these people
to grow these connections.
I don’t think it necessarily has to be something
where you need to talk to them all the time,
or even having one person that you talk to all the time
because we’re not accustomed to that in our lives,
but I think that this can be a family.
And I’m really excited about that.
My half sister came up to me and gave me a
hug today,
and I was the first blood relative she’s ever touched
and it’s a Thursday.
Just a random Thursday.
The whole experience is always shocking and
bewildering, but in a really beautiful way.
And really touching way.
Hugging George, it was like,
I don’t know, a strange sort of homecoming,
it was like someone I should’ve been hugging throughout my childhood but never did.
I wish I could’ve told younger me about this day.
I wish I could go back and tell her that you’ll find them.
You’ll find those people that understand.
It’ll definitely
keep me warm for a very long time, you know?
We’re still figuring out how family works,
and how our family works.
I don’t know where we are in that, but I like
where it is. Wherever it is, I like it.
Really only about 3-5% of all potential donors
actually become donors. It’s kind of an exclusive club.
So these are the samples
and they’re attached to canes, like this.
And we just lay them here.
We limit the number of vials that we allow a donor to produce.
If we allow a donor to collect 500 vials,
If you do some calculations,
that would be approximately between 10 and 15 pregnancies.
It’s not what I expected, I expected it to be some
crazy, scientific,
all these people with masks on,
running everywhere, and kind of scary, but it’s very normal.
If we go down the hallway this way
is our collection room.
It’s basically just a sink, the chair, the proverbial stack of magazines.
I don’t know if I want to imagine this part.
I’m at a restaurant in Cleveland, and I’m here to meet with Wendy Kramer,
the founder of the Donor Sibling Registry.
I’m excited to hear the other sides of the conversation.
There are donors who email me
and go ‘wait a minute, my sperm bank promised
I would have no more than 10 kids
20 kids.
I’m looking on your website and I see 67 kids.
What the heck?!’
And this happens all the time.
Sperm banks need to be held accountable.
The reproductive medicine industry has worked really hard to stay unregulated.
In the UK, they say
donors can’t be paid,
and a limit of ten kids.
But the problem is, all those laws are
meaningless when the majority of all people
that use donor sperm are importing from US sperm banks.
What do you feel like you learn about yourself when you do this?
I learn that I love all my siblings and they’re so smart.
They just bring up so many thought-provoking questions.
Where do you see that going with everybody?
I feel so comfortable calling them all brothers
and sisters but also we haven’t had that
connection for the first 18 years of our lives.
So I really don’t know.
I don’t know, like, how much to connect with them,
and how much I want out of their relationship with me.
And I feel like the best way to just do it
is to see what happens.
It’s such an interesting, deep connection that is
I mean, it’s love.
I don’t think I would’ve expected that.
I don’t know that I saw that coming,
it’s really sweet.
I mean, I feel connected, so I can’t even imagine.
Well I do, I mean I see you connected, but it’s
amazing, it’s really cool.
Yeah.
It’s really cool. I’m glad you have it. It’s great.
Me too.
Well you’re going to meet Darren tomorrow!
It’ll be great.
My mom is about to meet my dad
for the first time.
It’s about 11:20 and he’s going to be here in ten minutes.
From when you were like 10 years old, nine years old, you called him Don.
Don was my nickname for him, because we didn’t know…
Right, we didn’t know who he was.
We didn’t have a name, so you called him Don.
And I thought that was the cutest name.
It’s very cute.
Don the donor.
I’m a bit anxious, I have to admit.
But
I’m channeling your mummy,
to be grounded, and clear,
and thinking what she might want to ask him.
You’ve never met a parent before.
Yeah you’re the first parent I’ve met.
And you’re the first donor I’ve met
so that’s fair.
First of all, I want to say thank you,
because I have this amazing kid.
She’s amazing.
She’s really been a joy to raise
and watch, and I really appreciate
I mean, I don’t know if you consider it generosity but I think it’s the biggest gift
you could have ever given anyone, so I really appreciate that.
And what a great human you are.
Thanks.
Thanks for picking me.
Thanks for giving me life.
I’m Darren, I’m 44, I’m from southern
California, and I work in computer science, software development.
Did you ever worry about the parents, I guess,
like whether there was going to be a bad parent out there?
Did you feel responsible for that?
When I first donated, I think I was about 19
I remember thinking ‘oh it’s so far in the future’,
I didn’t really think about consequences at that point.
When you’re that young, you’re literally just thinking about your midterm
and making ends meet.
About once a year maybe I’d think, ‘huh, I guess that’s about 13 years off,
wonder what will happen’. You know?
You just muse on it.
I think, like many things in life, the anticipatory
anxiety is much worse than the actual situation.
He was disarming. He was a gentle soul
that was easy to be with.
Did you know how many
I had no idea.
children there were?
I had no idea.
I don’t know how much information they gave you. Did you know there were any?
Well I knew there were some.
I’m curious about how you think about these kids.
I don’t, obviously, have a strong connection to them, socially.
Family is such a broad term.
You pretty much have to qualify it.
My life is really full of taking care of my kids.
So I don’t really think about all of the donor offspring a whole lot.
Because I’m busy.
When I do think about it, yeah, it’s a little odd.
Not bad-odd, just different.
If anything it’s good.
I mean, I helped give life.
I still feel a strange, sort of spiritual, cosmic connection to them
just in knowing that they share part of my DNA.
in that sense, I do feel a sort of connection,
familial connection to the diblings.
From who I’ve met so far, and from what I’ve
heard about them, they are all very smart,
talented,
friendly,
good-looking people.
I think Julia’s kind of blown away right now.
It’s like looking between you two talking to each other.
And you’re my biological mom
and you’re my biological dad.
I don’t know why it’s just very strange to hear you guys talk to each other.
For the first time!
Yeah.
And I’m like sitting in the middle.
I keep just going like…
like as you’re talking to each other.
In a very strange way,
maybe it’s instinctual, I feel kind of proud of her.
I guess donor seems like the anonymous guy.
But he’s a real person now.
There’s got to be a better word for it.
Take care and I hope you feel better soon.
It’s good to see you.
Wow.
How was that for you?
Before my mom died,
she left me this note.
I was at college my sophomore year
in the middle of my midterms
and I got a call from Betsy,
she said: ‘Julia, you have to come home.’
After my mom died, I found this note that she left for me.
So I kind of just keep it there. It hasn’t moved.
It makes me happy.
Every connection that I’ve made in the last two years even
has shaped my idea of what family is.
I have gained a lot of family,
and that was like
so much more than I would have ever thought it could be.
But I also never thought I could lose such a big part of my family.
And Kathleen’s not replaceable
at all.
but people help.
I think I’m learning how to
live, still, and
my family’s definitely helping with that.
My very extended family.

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