Donor Conceived Children- Being a Father is More Than Just Biology

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True fatherhood is not about biology

Amy Corderoy
March 22, 2011

The reality is you - the things that make you really you - are not your genes. Photo (removed) : Jessica Shapiro

'I always knew there was something missing''. That is a line you often hear from those born through sperm or egg donation.

The debate over whether information identifying previously anonymous sperm donors should be revealed is generally thought of as a conflict between the right of children to know their genetic heritage and the right of men to privacy.

But as someone who was conceived through a sperm donation, I never understood the collective obsession with genetic heritage, or thought I was missing anything.-4");

For about 10 years sperm donations have only been accepted from men who agree to be contacted in future by children. This rule is based on the idea that genetic parents have so significant a role to play in our lives that it should not be denied to us. There are medical reasons too, but these could be taken care of by allowing access to anonymous medical records.

In popular culture we are bombarded with this idea: adoptees joyfully reunited with biological parents on TV shows, children born through sperm donation who tell of the psychological pain they feel as they grapple to make sense of their background and heritage.

But we all know what it is to yearn for more, and to question our place in the world. Most people eventually develop a sense of place and personhood, or at least learn to live with feelings of uncertainty.

Yet for people who are adopted or born through donor egg or sperm, society continually reinforces that feeling. We are told repeatedly that yes, there is something missing.

You cannot know who you are unless you know your biological parent. The views of adoptees and donor-conceived people who believe this are well-represented, while those who do not have those feelings stay silent.

Until recently I had no idea who my biological father was. And I was fine with that. But almost everyone else, it seemed, was not.

"Really?" they would say. "But don't you want a father?"

They found it difficult to imagine life without their own father and they did not differentiate between their biological connection and their emotional, familial connection born of shared experiences and values. But if I ever meet my biological father, I will not find a ''father'' in him. He had no input into the adult I am today besides giving me the genetic building blocks I needed for my life to begin.

The reality is you - the things that make you really you - are not your genes. There is no gene for your love of camping, or the comfort you get from the smell of your mother's perfume.

Knowing your biological parent will never explain why you love the one you do, why you hate early mornings or feel uplifted by classical music. Your genes and your environment interact to create you, but they do not give meaning to your life. Add to that what scientists call developmental noise, when characteristics between people vary greatly despite similar genetics and environment, and the idea our genes might explain our lives becomes highly unlikely.

There is an appealing safety to the idea that blood is thicker than water; biological family must be there for you, no matter what. But of course such connections do not always hold. People are abandoned by blood relatives, and an adoptive or step parent can give the type of true, unyielding love imagined to be the sole domain of the blood bond.

Our tendency to invest meaning in a biological bond is not only misguided; it can cause problems.

If a sperm donor and (now fully grown) child develop a familial bond, that is wonderful for both. A voluntary system for reconciliation works perfectly for such cases. But what happens if he feels no paternal feelings? Has no desire for a relationship?

This man donated his sperm not because he desired a child but because he empathised with the desperation another family had for one. To believe that the right of a child to know his ''identity'' - a right based on cultural mythology - should trump his desires seems unfair.

And what of the children who don't desire to meet these donors, but have their feelings constantly questioned by a society that places so much emphasis on their biological ''family''?

Already our culture of enforced disclosure has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. Fertility clinics have reported sperm donation rates plummeting, to the point that IVF Australia considers getting 14 new donors after an advertising campaign to be a victory.

Perhaps this is a price worth paying to protect the children of sperm donors from future heartache, and perhaps as a society we are willing to sacrifice the wishes of past sperm donors at the altar of their children's desire for knowledge.

But we should at least consider the scientific and emotional basis on which we make such decisions, and whether with more thought we still believe knowing your biological parents is the most important thing.

Amy Corderoy is a health reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald


The Child Listener™ created the Children Deserve to Know Where They Come From Campaign as this issue does need to be talked about- and she states that we need to remember that each individual will have a different view point based on their own experiences after birth- and their personalities. We should not assume that donor conceived children want a relationship with their biological father- or that all even want to know anything about him. However many do- and this is why it is important that women and couples choose their donor wisely - and try to gain as much info as possible about the donor- and preferably create an arrangement whereby the child can meet the 'donor dad' if he or she wants- while still growing up. So choose a man you will be proud to introduce to your child!

In the current system the best we can do for children is allow them to ask to meet the donor at 18- however the donor has not had the chance to meet and choose the recipient/s- and also has no idea of what he is letting himself in for. This is why The Child Listener created DIY Baby/ FSDW in 2005- where she encourages women and couples - even straight married ones- to choose their own donor and make their own arrangement outside of clinics (other than for testing etc) You can see the known sperm 'Donor Dad' questionnaire here - which can be used as a starting point, considering more of what the child will want to know than the adults.

Biology matters- however (as a child behviour advisor and family therapist) she is clear than 'nurture' is highly influencial on viritually every aspect of the child's development. We need therefore to find some kind of balance for donor conceived children (and their failies- bio and non bio) - and offer children what they may want and need- even if it turns out they choose to turn their backs on it. Knowing of your biological origins is also invaluable for reasons such as health but must surely also be a basic right for all children?

Tom S
April 2011



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Free Sperm Donations Worldwide (formerly Sperm Donors Worldwide) and
DIY Baby™ are now based in Australia- originally created in the UK

Pink Bubblez - Queensland AustraliaFind a sperm donor through FSDW- Free Sperm Donations Worldwide
- a useful connections service provided by child behaviour advisor and
family / lifestyle coach, The Child Listener™,
Emma Hartnell-Baker BEd Hons, MA, Cert Life Coaching,
who also advises parents about meeting the emotional needs of children
born from private sperm donation.

The Child Listener™ has a private practice in Queensland, Australia and
is currently taking time out to write a book about positive parenting