Deciding to use donor sperm or eggs to create your family is often a result of a fertility complication. It is understandable that many feelings are involved in this journey, including grief about the way that you intended to create your family. In this emotional process, the consideration of how donor conceived people (DCP) will feel about their conception is often overlooked. If you are considering using donor gametes to start your family, or if you already have, here are some important things you need to know.
1. Anonymity is no longer possible.
Anonymity is an illusion now that people worldwide are taking direct-to-consumer DNA tests, and it is quite possible that a person born as a result of sperm or egg donation will discover the donor’s identity even if direct information is not provided to them. In the donor conceived community, this advancement in modern science is a positive development, because for many DCP, it is the best or only way to find answers about one’s genetic family and health history.
2. Most people created via egg and sperm donation do not support anonymous donation.
In a recent survey by We Are Donor Conceived, 94 percent of respondents believe that all donor conceived people should have the option to know the donor’s identity and 74 percent believe that anonymous egg or sperm donation is unethical. Access to the donor’s identity has broad support amongst the general public. According to a 2022 poll by YouGovAmerica, the majority of U.S. adults believe DCP should have the legal right to learn the donor’s identity at 18.
3. Using donor gametes is not shameful and should not be a secret.
You do not have to share your personal fertility journey with every person you meet, but you should be prepared and committed to informing your donor conceived children about their conception starting from early childhood. Open communication helps children integrate this information throughout their lifespan as they grow and evolve in their understanding of what it means to be donor conceived. Keep it simple, age-appropriate and present it as a positive aspect of their story. When children hear their donor conception story being celebrated and told in a positive light, they can feel confident in their identity and proud of their story. Click here for book recommendations to help talk with your child about their donor conception.
4. Curiosity about the donor and other genetic family is normal.
Donor conceived people carry half of the donor’s DNA. How they look, how they think, and how they behave—as well as their skills, interests, and natural abilities—could be influenced by this genetic inheritance. A donor conceived person’s curiosity about their genetic family should be allowed and encouraged because information about the donor can help DCP make sense of themselves. DCP should not be left in the dark to wonder about the answers to their questions. Recipient parents can help satisfy this natural curiosity by collecting and preserving detailed information about the donor, including biographical information (likes/interests, occupation, etc.), family health history, photos, and voice recordings.
A 2020 survey of nearly 500 DCP found that the majority of respondents hope to form some type of relationship with the donor used in their conception, including a close friendship (31 percent), casual acquaintance (21 percent), or a mentor/adviser-type relationship (19 percent). Fewer than 10 percent of respondents said they do not desire any type of relationship with the donor.
5. If DCP connect with the donor or other genetic family, it does not mean your relationship will suffer.
The narrative should never be “us or them.” A donor conceived person should not have to choose sides. DCP forming a relationship with their genetic family should not threaten the relationship you have with them. In fact, showing interest in your child’s other family could strengthen the bond between you because it shows you value every part of them, even the part that doesn’t share your DNA.
6. DCP deserve to know their family medical history.
As a parent, your role is to be an advocate for your child in all aspects of their life. It should be a priority for you to have your child’s full medical history, and it is important to always share this information with your child’s medical providers from birth. If you used a known-ID donor, you should be proactive about getting more health history from the donor when your child turns 18.
7. The U.S. lags behind other developed countries.
People born via donor conception in the United States have fewer protections than DCP born in most of Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. In those parts of the world, respecting the desires and autonomy of DCP has become standard operating procedure with laws in place to protect DCP interests, including the right to learn the identity of the donor. Without such regulation in the United States, you as the legal parent of a DCP will shoulder much of the responsibility for ensuring your child receives the information and support they need throughout their life.
8. Your donor conceived child could have dozens to hundreds of siblings.
Because the United States lags behind in regulating the fertility industry, with the exception of Colorado, no state or federal regulations limit the number of children that can be born from or families that can use one sperm or egg donor. Given this reality, your donor conceived child could have dozens to hundreds of siblings. These siblings could live nearby or on other continents, divided not just by distance but language and cultural barriers as well. Although some sperm banks provide private sibling registries, many others do not, leaving up to chance (and at-home DNA tests) the possibility that donor conceived siblings will find and identify one another.
9. DCP are not responsible for your feelings.
DCP should not carry the burden of potentially hurting your feelings if they ask questions about their conception or if they seek out a relationship with the donor. Remember, they did not have a choice in how they were conceived, and they are not bound by any contract or guidelines set to make you more comfortable. Being open and honest about how you feel, as well as validating how they feel, is a good place to start to understand and support each other.
10. If you are struggling with your own feelings and emotions about your child being DCP, please seek help from a DCP trained therapist.
It is understandable that you might have a lot of emotions surrounding your child’s conception. If you are struggling in your relationship with your child because of tension around their conception, the best thing you can do for yourself and your relationship with your child is to seek therapy. There are professionals trained in working with DCP and recipient parents (RPs), and they can help walk you through healing and acceptance.
Lindsay Harris is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who works in private practice providing virtual therapy to residents in Georgia and Florida. Lindsay has training through the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and often works with couples and individuals going through fertility treatments. Lindsay has personal experience as a late-discovery donor conceived person as well as a recipient parent of donor sperm that she and her wife used to conceive their two sons.