The phenomenon of donor-linked families (in laymen’s terms… extended family created by meeting and connecting with women who chose the same sperm donor) has become an area of great interest and FINALLY, an increasing number of studies are being conducted to further understand these new family models.
I suppose you could call me a pioneer of sorts, as this is far from new territory for me. You see, I’ve been nestled quite comfortably in my very own cluster of a donor related family since 2011. I’ve often felt late to the game in various aspects of my life. Not with this.
In fact, back when I tossed caution to the wind and began building my own version of the modern “Modern Family,” I was dealing with a lot of judgment and unsolicited opinions. When I first told my parents I was taking my daughter to Atlanta to meet (and stay with) her half siblings’ family (who I had only met online), they thought I was nuts. If they could have had me involuntarily committed to a psych ward, they might have done so.
For many, it seems meeting donor-related siblings is like opening Pandora’s box. Studies suggest that of all three groups who utilize donor sperm to create families—that is, heterosexual couples, lesbians and single moms by choice—the latter tend to be the most likely to seek out such relationships. And that makes sense.
Single moms by choice don’t have to deal with insecurities of the non-bio parent. It’s not uncommon for the genetically unrelated parent to perceive meeting donor-linked families as a threat to their validity as a parent. Reality is, connecting with these families does place a greater focus on genetics and ultimately the donor himself.
There are a variety of reasons people seek out donor-related families. For some, it’s about genetics and wanting to have a full medical history. For others, mere curiosity. (Do the kids share personality or physical traits?) And then there are those for whom it’s about wanting to increase their child’s extended family by adding a half sibling. Or more.
I entered into the process in a fog—intentions and expectations unknown.
Studies also indicate that linking donor-related families (and by that I mean parents, as well as the donor-related siblings they conceived) can be successful for some, disappointing for others. This surprises me. As someone in the trenches, I can honestly say I have yet to hear a single frightful story related to donor-linked families. What I have heard (on multiple closed Facebook groups for donor conception) is a whole lot of love: “We’re a group of fifteen families and we’re all so close.” Or “I can’t believe how lucky I got.” Or “There are seven of us, and hope there will be others,” Or “We have so much in common.” And so on.
Of course, I suppose one must recognize that comments left on places like the Donor Sibling Registry’s Facebook page, tend to represent the happiest and unhappiest. It seems your run-of-the-mill content people don’t typically spend their days leaving comments about their pleasant if uneventful 48 hours spent with their donor-related extended family. So if these new studies are gathering participants primarily from social media groups designed for the donor-conceived population, who knows how valid or well represented they are?
With that said, I feel I can give a fairly accurate report directly from the field, as I know many single moms by choice and lesbian families with donor-conceived children not related to mine. While I have yet to meet (offline) a donor-linked family as close as mine is, I do know many groups who, like those ever-popular TV Bradys, became one big happy bunch. What I find interesting is that I have yet to meet a donor-linked family whose group contains a heterosexual family. That’s not to say they don’t exist—because they certainly do. MTV’s reality show Generation Cryo portrayed such a family. I do, however, believe that while heterosexual families with male infertility may have spearheaded the donor-sperm industry, the majority of its consumers today are lesbian women and single mothers by choice. And it’s because of those women that I believe donor-linked families are on the rise.
The only negative experience that I personally know about involved two single mothers by choice and, amazingly, this donor-related family was linked even before the children were conceived. I’m friends with one of the women—let’s call her Megan—and what happened was most certainly unfortunate. According to Megan, a colleague of hers had been trying to get pregnant at the same time she was. After several unsuccessful cycles, Megan recommended that her colleague try using her donor. She’d suggested this because she wanted her daughter to have a half sibling. Shortly thereafter, both women became pregnant with the same donor, and for several years the two women would get the children together every few months. This all went smoothly until Megan’s daughter put the pieces together and recognized that her little playmate was actually her sibling. When Megan told the other mother about her daughter’s discovery, she was shocked by the woman’s reaction. Upon hearing the news, she said the children could no longer see each other. She explained that she had no intention of ever telling her child the truth about his conception. Apparently she had a new boyfriend who was willing to adopt her son and well, she decided she wanted to rewrite history.
My bad… I suppose that means I have heard of at least one frightful donor-linked family experience.
While that was an awful experience and terribly sad for Megan’s little girl, that really is the worst I’ve heard. Issues that arise between families tend to be limited to a family’s reluctance to meet until adulthood. Or minor differences in parenting techniques and/or lifestyle.
What I would like these studies to focus on is what links us. Is it biology? Because let me tell you, there is a HUGE wow factor when you first meet children who are genetically related to your child. There’s an instant feeling of connection and, odd as it may sound, love for these kids. Is it that our personality traits and preferences and whatever else led us all to pick the same donor make us somehow more compatible? Can the closeness be attributed to the fact that nothing negative stood between us? It’s not like some of the kids were the product of an affair—the relationships between families started off with a clean slate. Is it that families without fathers are more likely to connect? Or… did I just get incredibly lucky?
I like to imagine that the stars were in perfect alignment when my daughter and her eight siblings were conceived. I like to think that it was fate that brought us all together—because really, if I tried, I couldn’t have hand picked a better group to call family. So I can’t help but feel that the box I opened is the opposite of Pandora’s. Is there a name for such a thing? I’m hard-pressed to find a phrase that remotely fits, but that’s the box I opened. And I’m glad I did.