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Sperm donors and not knowing your genetic heritage: what do you think?

(36 Posts)
WideWebWitch Thu 21-Nov-02 00:07:17

Following on from the discussion on the gay mums thread I thought I'd start this for anyone who wants to talk about it. Am interested and will contribute tomorrow if anyone else is too. One of my questions was what happened to all the children born of sperm donated by students years ago who jacked off for a tenner? Did the students sign forms saying they would never be contacted? Can they be? I don't think I have anything against sperm donation but haven't considered the subject a great deal other than above (shallow, me!) so would like to talk and think about this some more I think.

Batters Thu 21-Nov-02 13:02:44

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

tigermoth Thu 21-Nov-02 13:45:24

I have only just read the other thread, a quick skim that didn't do it justice - really glad you have started this thread www.

Tinkers point about student sperm donated children ending up at uni themselves and meeting their unknown half siblings made me think.

However I am firmly in the camp with those who believe that it is love and good parenting that count far more than having a traceable biological dad. Of course it's good to know your roots, just as it's good to have an uninterfering MIL you love, a baby who sleeps through and no PND. But what family is perfect?

I'm sure in 100 years time, if unconventional family setups increase as they are increasing now, sperm donation causing too much angst for children will hardly be an issue.

Bugsy Thu 21-Nov-02 14:03:22

As an adopted person, I find the issue of sperm donation for inseminating women tricky. All my life I have yearned to know what my biological parents are like. I am nothing like my adopted family, physically or mentally and while I am grateful for the stable(?) family life I grew up in, I always feel rootless and an outsider.
I think that if a woman is inseminated by sperm from a donor clinic then it should be totally anonymous. By all means have a full medical history, social history, physical appearance details but there should be absolutely no way whatsoever that the donor can be traced. At least then the child will not spend x amount of years hoping that at some point in the future they may be able to trace this mystery person. At the end of the day sperm donors are not donating to become dads, they are doing it for the money.

SueDonim Thu 21-Nov-02 14:04:41

It's such a difficult question, isn't it? My db and d-sis's mum died when they were tiny, d-sis was 4 and db was 10mths. Although they knew who she was and had pics etc, my db in particular has struggled with not knowing about his mother, her personality, what she smelled of and so on. He's written the most moving poems about his unknown mother that tear your heart apart. Dad was such a private person that db felt he couldn't ask him and now dad is dead anyway. I don't know whether never knowing who your father is would be easier or harder than this?

I also have an adopted friend whose life has been dominated by her search for her parents. She's now found her mother but there's no chance of finding her father. Discovering her mother has brought her some peace of mind - she now knows why she has some character traits, such as being loud and brash (her words, not mine!)and firmly believes in nature-not-nurture because her adopted parents are quiet types. She now counsels other people looking for their familys and has become a much more tolerant person.

I think with all the panoply of family arrangements these days there must be a way of being grown-up about this and allowing children to know of their heritage in some way. The way things are going in the insurance business it could happen that one day a person won't be able to get life insurance if they have 'bad' or unknown genes.

Philippat Thu 21-Nov-02 14:04:47

I really think the argument about being attracted to your half-siblings is one of those scare-mongering things (not aimed at you Tinker!). According to that recent Profesor Winston programme 1 in 10 children are being brought up by dads who think they are the biological father but aren't - in that case half-siblings must be much more likely to meet up (given that they are likely to be in same area) than with the unusual occurance of a sperm donation.

I know there is currently a huge problem regarding egg donation for fertility treatment (and sperm donation too I think but less so as that is, frankly, not such a difficult job!) in that volunteers are not coming forward because of concerns that they may be considered responsible for a child's care in the future.

Having thought about it from the donor side, I'd certainly want to know if a child had been created, but I don't think I'd want to know more than that.

I can't speak from the child side but I wholeheartedly believe parenting is 99.999999% nuturing and just a tiny bit an accident of biology and fertility.

prufrock Thu 21-Nov-02 16:11:41

I am in the same situation as your db and d-sis Suedonim. My mother died when I was 2. I got my new mum when I was 4, and love her dearly, but it isn't the same. My Dad has always been a v. unemotional person, and I never felt comfortable asking him questions about my bm (biological mother). I think this was partly because we both felt it would be a betrayal of my wonderful stepm. We lost all contact with my bm's family by the time I was 6 - their fault not dad and sm's and so I have never known anything about my bm. I didn't even see a picture of her until I was 14. I found it incredibly difficult to not know my genetic heritage - I didn't know if I could blame my bad personality traits on taking after my bm or if they were all my doing! I got ridiculously upset when I found out that stretchmarks are apparently a genetic thing - I had no way of predicting if I would get them. I think it may be worse to be a girl without a mother, it hit me (and my sm) particularly hard during my pregnancy because nobody could tell me what it was like to give birth to me. That obviously wouldn't happen with a boy or a missing dad. For a long time I felt like there was a big part of me that I didn't know. This didn't have anything to do with the way I was brought up - in fact my identity crisis' seemed to hit most when I was at my happiest and most contented.

I do agree that in teh grand scheme of things there are far worse things you could do as a parent than not allow your children to know their biological parents. But if you don't have to create these problems, then why do so?

Tinker Thu 21-Nov-02 16:18:31

About the nature/nurture thing - hasn't Stephen Pinker got a book out now about the issue. I think he states that nurture has very little to do with how you end up. Of course, he loves to court controversy so may be looking for evidence of this. Not read it yet- has anyone here?

Bozza Thu 21-Nov-02 16:33:46

Prufrock it seems a real shame that your mother's family were not interested in keeping in touch with you.

anais Thu 21-Nov-02 20:59:42

But Prufrock, nobody CHOOSES to add this sort of complication to their lives. It's a last resort thing. When it's that or go without the family you dream of, I know what most people would choose.

WideWebWitch Thu 21-Nov-02 23:37:18

I'm not sure what I think about the whole sperm donation issue. On the one hand, why not? Man donates sperm, a woman provides an egg and hey, a much wanted baby. But then what? I don't know what it feels like not to know my genetic parents so I suppose it's hard to imagine. But I can guess there might be a yearning to know about the people who begat you, might there? (not often I feel like using the word begat!) If your parent/s die before you're old enough to remember then you wouldn't know your genetic parents either but it would be accidental, not deliberate. Although I'm not sure intention is relevant. Both still happen but we seem to mostly accept one reason (death) and not the other (sperm/egg donation) for not knowing your genetic parents.

I suppose somewhere in me is the idea that children should be born out of sex and/or love between 2 people who know each other because that is nature's way. Or maybe it isn't. Didn't cave men impregnante multiple women who were then impregnated by other cave men so that most men ended up looking after at least one child who belonged to another man? And didn't all the women look after all the children and everyone just accepted it? Have a book called The Mating Game which I ought to re-read on this subject I think. Not suggesting we should go back to cave times, just trying to think about the history of 'nature' on the subject.

Is the reasoning behind the incest laws genetic abnormalities? Is this proven? In which case, shouldn't children of sperm donors at least have access to information about their donor so they don't accidentally marry a half sibling? Although, as someone pointed out, plenty of children don't have the father they think they have, thanks to female promiscuity. I know this is very confused and rambling, sorry! Very interesting though.

I think for me, I like the idea that I can name the father of my child and that father and son know each other. But if I were lesbian or unable to meet anyone, but still wanted a child, who knows? Plenty of people start off in a conventional relationship and a child/ren ends up not knowing a parent for whatever reason and we don't castigate them do we? Maybe conception isn't the important bit, it is everything that happens afterwards. I do still wonder about the history of sperm donation though and all those students who didn't think twice about it 20 years ago and are now parents without knowing it. Were they fully aware of the implications? Are they now and do they wonder?

I'll sit on the fence for a bit longer I think, and ramble some more soon!

SueDonim Fri 22-Nov-02 06:48:00

That's sounds like an interesting book, Tinker. I used to believe in nurture over nature but not any longer. All my four children have basically the same characters as when they were babies. If nurture was 99.+% of raising children, then there would be no loving families with children who have 'gone off the rails' and similarly, almost no child who had been badly parented would achieve anything in life. Life just isn't as clear cut, I don't think.

WWW, there are a *huge* number of babies born in Indonesia with cleft lip and palate, (the 300gbp operations are funded by charitable organisations) and when I asked a nurse why, I was shocked to hear that it is mainly a result of inbreeding. People live in small 'kampungs' (villages), like to keep things 'in the family' and don't travel, thus end up having children with near relatives. The orphanages are full of children with horrendous malformations that we simply don't see in the west, as well as more minor problems such as fused fingers and other limb deformities. (Even the cats in Indonesia are inbred, with all sorts of deformities such as missing and bent tails, fused extremities.)

But this is inbreeding in the extreme over many generations and I can't imagine anything like this will result from sperm donation, there isn't enough of it happening, I don't think.

Re the intent. I think it does matter because it has a bearing on whether you feel anger and where such anger is directed. A very dear friend committed suicide about 10 years ago and I was so angry for a very long time that he deliberately chose to leave us. A heart attack or car crash I could have accepted, though maybe with anger directed at a third party, perhaps, but doing something intentionally gives out different signals.

Gosh, this thread is making me think, thanks for starting it.

Tinker Sun 24-Nov-02 10:46:32

SueDonim - found this on Amazon which you might find useful Steven Pinker book review

SueDonim Sun 24-Nov-02 11:11:52

Thanks Tinker, that's useful. The book was reviewed in today's Jakarta Post, as well!!

aloha Sun 24-Nov-02 17:40:02

One of my dh's friends was a sperm donor when they were both at university. He says has no interest whatsoever in any children conceived as a result, is appalled to think they might turn up his doorstep if the law changed, definitely wouldn't have donated if he thought there was the remotest chance of that happening! He says he didn't do it for altruistic reasons, just the cash. The proponents of disclosure of sperm donor identities (similar to that in adoption) say this would mean men coming forward who had more of a an altruistic approach to donating. But I'm sure it would reduce the pool drastically. However, the big difference between losing a genetic parent young and a sperm donor, is that at least you can know the name of your parent, something about their personality from those who knew them, see a photograph etc. For some people it's the fact that their genetic parent is a complete black hole in their lives that bothers them. Obviously, this wouldn't apply to everyone. I have adopted friends who really don't want to find their genetic parents.

tigermoth Mon 25-Nov-02 11:02:31

can I just add something else to this discussion about not knowing one side of your family tree.

I knew both my parents, yet in many ways I did not know my father at all. From my childhood onwards, mental illness and the side effects of curative drugs meant much of my dad's personality was hidden. I have other people's memories of him to go on, but even these are very sparse and don't answer my questions. Even my mother did not know him for long before his illness took hold. His famiily were very distant in all senses of the word.

Now my parents are both dead, and I have few other relatives, I feel quite rootless. I am the last of two dying family branches. No one is there now to remember my childhood with me, but this of course will happen to us all one day.

The few relatives I have now can only offer broad generalisations to questions I ask. At the relatively young age of 44, I cannot compare the personality traits, habits or talents of my sons, or a maturing me, with anyone on my side of the family. Of course I am better positioned than sperm donated children - I have my own memories of both parents, so I can look back. But that's not enough sometimes. I need my memories correlated by others.

So just to go back to the disucussion, IME you don't have to be the product of sperm donation to feel you'd like to know your roots.

Batters Mon 25-Nov-02 12:36:49

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

oakey Mon 25-Nov-02 13:36:21

I've changed my nickname for this thread. I believe that raising a child/children in a way that will instill love and confidence is the most important thing. It does not matter how the children came to be. My mother is the sort of woman who has isolated everyone within her family to the extent that there is a whole branch that neither my brothers nor I have met. I know I have an aunt, cousins etc, but I would not know them.

My ds is an IVF baby, and believe me, I would have no hesitation in using sperm donors if it meant that I could have another child/children, not only for myself, but more importantly so my little one would have siblings with whom to share life and family. IMHO, I feel that issues in identity are not limited to sperm donation - the disintegration of the family, tragedy, displacement, etc are but to name a few. Being a sperm donor does not make a parent.... whether we knew them or not. For me it is not about nature vs nurture, but a mixture of the two. I know my parentage, but do you know, I do not know much about the medical history and if truth be told, I am doing my damndest to be anything like my parents. Sperm donation? Yes, I would use them ,and thank goodness they are there as an option available to those who go through the trauma of coming to terms with living with an instinct that the body can not fulfil. As regards questions in identity - I guess all I could do is cross that bridge when I came to it. I would not hide anything, (as I believe that suggests there is something wrong with that), but neither would I flaunt it. I respect my childs' right to privacy. One thing I have learnt, and continue to do so since becoming a parent is that I do not have the answers to everything. All I can strive to do, is answer queries, and deal with problems as best as I can when they arise. I will look to my ds' personality, and hopefully know how to answer any questions he or any future siblings may have. The old adage of 'You never know what you have got until you have lost it' is so true.

bundle Mon 25-Nov-02 19:11:12

I know someone who's had a baby thanks to donor sperm, and can see the joy it's given to that family..but I also feel nervous about how to respond to those affected by feeling 'lost' because they don't know about their genetic heritage - and also the donors who probably don't want inquisitive biological children turning up on their doorstep in years to come. I've gotta log off now, but this has really made me stop & think.

Bugsy Tue 26-Nov-02 13:35:20

It is all very well looking at sperm donation purely from the view of the anxious adult hoping to conceive. However, I really do think that it is worth remembering the thoughts of the child as it grows up. I can only speak as an adopted person but it is quite hard to reconcile oneself to the fact that you were unwanted by your original parents. I imagine in the case of a sperm donor child you have to accept that one half of your parentage didn't want you at all, just the tenner.
The yearning to 'know' for the majority of adopted children is very considerable and this is why various measures have been put in place to make tracing their biological parents easier.
This is why I think that there should be lots and lots of information available about the sperm donor but that the donor should be completely anonymous. I think that if you know that you can never find your parent then it is easier to deal with that definitive situation than if it is a possibility. Try and imagine the reality of tracing someone who's only contribution to your life was a quick squirt in a test tube. For the sake of both child and "father" I think it should not be possible.

Philippat Tue 26-Nov-02 14:21:08

I've re-thought my previous post! It's not so much that I don't believe in genetic traits (I'm too like my mum for that), more that I believe a family comes from how you are brought up than from what happens at the moment of conception.

I take everyone's points on rootlessness, but I think we are questioning larger society issues than simply sperm donation. Extended families used to cope with much more frequent death (in childbirth for example) in the family through the virtue of the fact that you had a whole sense of your place in the world/your relatives/the land you live and work on. I'm not suggesting we go back to the feudal system but perhaps there are ways that parents of children conceived in this way can fill the gaps.

I agree with bugsy - donor info but no name would help.

oakey Tue 26-Nov-02 14:49:13

I guess we can only speak from our own personal experiences. My younger sister is adopted - now 22 yrs old! Something we have never hidden, but never made a big deal of either. Infact she is more of a child to my mother than the birth children (another story altogether). There has never been any issues with identity, and from her perspective to date she has expressed no desire to seek her birth parents. If, and when she chooses to, then I am sure we will do all we can to help her in her quest. In our case she recognises that circumstances were such that her birth parents had to make a very difficult decision, and put her forward for adoption. I would imagine that more often than not, it is circumstances that warrant children being put forward for adoption. I am truly sorry you feel that you were unwanted by your birth parents Bugsy. Have you tried to trace them, if only to have your questions answered? Do you feel it would be betraying your loyalty to your parents if you did?

I do not know much about the mechanics of sperm donation, but I agree with you that there should be a system whereby some level of information should be kept as a record e.g. medical history, colour eyes, height etc. It may already be available. Sperm donors should however, IMO retain their right to privacy. Also the off-spring would know their maternal heritage.

Adoption, sperm donation, not something I am against at all, and would happily consider, indeed welcome and embrace. I firmly believe issues regarding identity are not limited to children/adults born into adoption, sperm donation etc. I am of mixed race, and mixed culture and I like that.... but my goodness, for some the persistent questions like 'Who am I?', 'Where do I belong/fit?', and even 'Why should I have to choose?' are other issues that multi - racial / cultural people, regularly face and live with. I don't know if I am being very coherent, but what I am trying to say is that I feel questions regarding knowing, understanding and accepting our identity are not limited to sperm donation, adoption, sexuality etc.

Oh dear WWW, what HAVE you started???

SueDonim Tue 26-Nov-02 15:00:16

Has anyone else seen this story about women selling their eggs to fund university fees? What are your reactions? I wasn't sure if this should go on the 'student fees' thread, actually.

WideWebWitch Tue 26-Nov-02 15:54:15

Well I suppose in theory it's no different to male students donating sperm for a tenner is it? Except that this is much more than a tenner and egg donation involves invasive procedures. Typical, men get paid to have a w*** and women have to lie back and think of something else during a gynaecological procedure. Hmm. I don't know what I think about it TBH. Although, as I said on the student fees thread, I don't think students should be put in this position.

Harrysmum Tue 26-Nov-02 16:13:56

Rootlessness does extend beyond one generation but then maybe I just come from an odd family!! Both my grandmothers were adopted. One one side my grandfather died long before I was born and there is no connection with his family (he was RC, my g-mother CofE and so he was cut off from his family - a continuing source of much bitterness 50 years on for my g-mother). On the other my grandfather died when I was 2 or 3 and my grandmother when I was 8 , so before I started wanting to know more about my extended family. It is quite odd feeling like our family only starts 2 generations ago.

I do think that sperm donors should take more responsibility for their actions than it simply being an easy earner to top up income. The consequences of their actions are huge and I believe that children should be able to know more about their origins if they so desire.

As for the egg scenario - don't understand the fuss at all if it's ok for the boys to do! Somewhat better than working for escort agencies which is what some girls I went to University with ended up doing.

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