Hello, my name is Ian. I am the biological father of nine children. Two of my offspring live with me and seven I have never met.
I was a sperm donor in the program at the Prince Henry’s hospital in Melbourne in the mid 80’s. I was then in my early 30’s. I saw no prospect of marriage and children at the time and responded to a call from the then head of that program, Dr. Gab Kovacs, for donors. I was acting from altruistic intentions. I had some awareness of issues of infertility because I had a close friend who was in that circumstance and I wanted to help people who wished to have children but could not do so because of infertility issues. I saw that I could help with that and felt good about doing so. It seemed very simple then.
Now I see that it is not simple at all. I’m married, have children and can see before me the whole process of the development of a person who is the sum of so many genetic and familial influences. At times I feel quite anguished that I have seven other children somewhere in the world who carry a part of me and my genetic and family background but over whose lives I have no direct influence at all. I wonder if they are alive, if they are healthy, happy, well cared for and loved. I hope that they are but all I can do is hope. One day I may meet some of them – maybe all. Who knows? Or maybe I will meet none and will forever wonder about them. It seems to me that the process of being a sperm donor is somewhat akin to giving a child up for adoption with all of these wonderings and anxieties left with the relinquishing parent or in my case the donor.
One thing is very clear for me. That is that the interests and well being of the children – all of them – are paramount. Regardless of what the legal framework was at the time of my being a sperm donor, I believe that I do have responsibilities to the children born as a result of my sperm donations. At the least, those children have a right to know what my part of their genetic heritage is – more if they want more.
For those reasons I have registered with the Victorian Registry here in Victoria: Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages – Births – Donor treatment registers. I’ve indicated on the Resister that I am prepared to be contacted if and when my offspring seek to do so. I have also written a letter to my unknown offspring and have lodged that with the Registry. In that letter I have told my unknown children about my reasons for joining the IVF program as a donor, about my current circumstance and about the children who live with me. I’ve told them – my unknown and unmet children – that I think about them often and wonder who and how they are, and what is happening in their lives. I’ve also shared in that letter an experience from my life where, at the age of 27, I met my maternal grandfather for the first time. For me it was like a piece of a jigsaw fitting into place. I could see the origin of certain family looks, mannerisms and personality traits. I think that if one day some of my unknown offspring do make contact with and meet me it might be – for them primarily, but also for me too – another “jigsaw” experience. An experience for them of “Oh, so that it where that characteristic came from!” and for me of “Ah, so there is that family look or characteristic popping up again!”
Whether any or none of that happens is entirely up to those people – and to a degree their parents. I acknowledge that some of those whose lives came about in part due to my sperm donations may never be told – or otherwise learn of – the circumstances of their conception. Thus they may never know of me or me of them. Or maybe they will be told but will not want to get more information – or myriad other variations on possibilities. All of that is something that I agreed to – although I did not fully understand it at the time – when first I joined up at the Prince Henry’s program twenty five years ago. For my part, by registering myself with the Voluntary Donor Register, I have committed myself to being available – for exchange of medical and family history information, contact, meeting each other, or whatever. It is up to the children of my donations to do what they wish – when and if they wish.
All of that said, the prospect of it actually happening is a little daunting in some ways! What if they do not like me, or I them? What if they feel unhappy with my having contributed to their creation but then taken no responsibility for them – especially if they have had an unhappy life? How will my own family react to and view them? On and on my thinking goes. However, at the base of all of this I am quite clear in my mind these people do have a right to know what they want to know about me – because in them there is a part of me. I’ve experienced at least the first steps of the process of contact via the Voluntary Register. The youngest of the people conceived as a result of my sperm donations did make contact through the Register. We shared our first names with each other, she has been given the open letter that I wrote and lodged on the Register, and at her request I provided some genetic, medical, and ancestry information about me and my family. I wait now to see if and when she wants to take this contact any further. I hope that may happen and that we can learn some of each other. However, even if that does not happen I take solace in the fact that at least one of my unknown children does have my letter to them – and thus she knows that I do think of her and I wish for her a healthy and happy life.
In all of this complicated matter there has also been the question of how and when I would tell my own children (i.e. the ones who live with me) about their other half siblings. In the end it was quite simple and they have taken on quite equably – and with a degree of curiosity – the fact that that they have half siblings who they may or may not ever meet. Interestingly when I first discussed this with my daughter – who was 15 at that time – she had been doing a school project on adoption. In that project considered the notion of contacting a relinquishing birth parent – she taking on the role of the adopted child. This allowed an easy analogy to be made in our discussion about people who are genetically my children, and her half siblings, but of whom we know very little.
One of the key things that has become apparent to me in working my way through these issues over the last several years is that there is a very complicated human aspect to what I fear many in the medical profession have viewed as simply a clinical process. It is not that, it is a very complex social issue – as well as a medical one. What I think is important is that we are able to explore and consider the complicated issues raised by donor conception with respect, understanding and tolerance of all of our perspectives and experiences.
I would be happy to answer questions about and/or to discuss the issues I have discussed in this story. Please contact Kate Bourne at VARTA.