Donor Babies Search for Their Anonymous Fathers

All grown up, some children of sperm donors are trying to break through the secrecy that keeps them from knowing their family history

The children of such couples "know pretty early on that they weren't born in a traditional way, and that their daddy has to be somewhere, so who is he and where is he?" Brown says. "I think there is going to be in the next ten, 15, 20 years, a lot more of these kids looking for answers."

But, Brown says, most clients don't choose a donor based on his anonymous-or-open status — they want the best available candidate, period. And right now, there are more anonymous donors to choose from. And clients can start their search online, by choosing hair and eye color as well as ethnicity. They can even purchase audio and video clips as well as baby photos, if the donor has made them available.
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In early October, Kathleen was in Toronto, delivering the keynote address at a symposium organized by the Infertility Network, a Canadian nonprofit opposed to anonymous donation.

Kathleen LaBounty believes anonymous sperm donation should be banned.
Daniel Kramer
Kathleen LaBounty believes anonymous sperm donation should be banned.
Wendy Kramer created the Donor Sibling Registry in 2000.
Mark Manger
Wendy Kramer created the Donor Sibling Registry in 2000.

She was honored and nervous, and she took the stage and told the crowd about how she felt cheated. How she believes the industry is purposefully creating damaged products. A special breed of human with built-in loss. She talked about how there needs to be a sea change in how the industry reaches out to donors. Hell, they're not even "donors" — there's no donation going on here. There's a sale of goods, and it's not relatively benign, like giving blood. It's not sustaining life, Kathleen likes to say, it's creating it.

"The men who are targeted are so young," she says, "...and I think a lot of them are naive, and they're just trying to help another family. They also need money, usually. So I don't think that they go into it fully understanding that they're creating a person, not just helping a family."

At its base, the industry is a guy jerking off into a cup. He gets to walk away with a fatter wallet and, depending on the clinic, some coupons and movie tickets.

The sample he gets to immediately forget about goes to a woman who gets her chance at motherhood. And the result might be a child who winds up flipping through old yearbooks looking for eyes of a certain shape or the way a pair of lips curl into a smile.

Kathleen says that even when she gives up her search, she'll never really give up. It's not like her life is terrible — she has two loving parents. But there's this undeniable pull toward a man who could be anywhere now, or who could be dead. He could be one of the men she's already written to; a man who never expected to receive such a letter, and who may have thrown it away or folded it neatly and tucked it away in a drawer. But if there's one thing she's learned from this search, it's that there are men out there who, though they probably never thought of it at the time, are thrilled at the idea of meeting their child for the first time.

"I'm sorry I didn't test positive," one of the men who underwent DNA testing wrote Kathleen. "I tried to. I've been thinking for days what I would say to you when you told me I was your donor dad."

Kathleen's been thinking about it for years.

craig.malisow@houstonpress.com


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Are You My Mother?

Women who donate their eggs make a lot more than sperm donors

Men, of course, aren't the only donors out there. In recent years, egg donation has become more common. Just ask Ginger Green at the Houston Fertility Institute.

When the clinic opened six years ago, Green says, it assisted between ten and 20 women looking to conceive via egg donation. In 2007, the clinic helped 80 women; the clinic has already served 80 women as of October 2008.

Unlike the $80-$100 a sperm donor receives per specimen, egg donors at the Institute get $3,000-$5,000.

As Green says, "A lot of times [the donors] are in college, but we also have a lot of young ladies who have started their family early, have had a couple of children and really are about finished with their family. And they just want to help someone else — they can't imagine life without a child."

She says the increase in women seeking donors has followed general demographic shifts — as more women get older, they're taking serious steps toward motherhood. It's also become more visible in recent years.

"A lot of Hollywood is doing this and so you read about it in People or in [the] tabloids," she says.

The compensation donors receive via the Institute is in keeping with ethical guidelines established by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

According to the society, "Total payments to donors in excess of $5,000 require justification and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate."

And according to a 2007 study published in the Society's journal, Fertility and Sterility, there aren't a lot of confirmed reports indicating that egg donors are paid astronomical sums.

According to information from the study, "Despite scattered and largely unverified reports of amounts of $50,000 or more appearing repeatedly in the media...the average level of compensation provided for egg donors was less than $5,000."

— Craig Malisow

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