The Thinking 

Conceived in a Lab, Raised in a Loving Home

December 5, 2011


RITA JANE writes:

My father (the one who raised me) was rendered sterile from a teenage illness, which happened to many young men in the fifties and sixties. After he and my mother married, they pursued artificial insemination. My brother and I are biological half-siblings, conceived from two different donors. I grew up in a home with a happily married and functional mother and father, which is something many, probably most, donor children do not have. I can not stress enough how much I love my parents, but there is still a palpable loss at not knowing half of my own biological history.

This has been brought to the forefront of my mind because I recently moved to a new city. In setting up care with my new doctors, there is always the inevitable form where I am asked to fill in my family medical history. I write what I have written dozens of times before–“Conceived with donor sperm. No medical history for father’s side of the family.” None. I’m 23 years old, married and my husband and I are looking to have children. Some day, I will have to explain this to them, so they too can have a little asterisk on their medical records.

When I was a teen, I was very ill, and doctors were concerned I had an autosomnal dominant genetic disorder. An autosomnal dominant genetic disorder requires only one parent who has the disorder (often in an extremely mild, never-noticed form) to give it to a child and without a proper family medical history, finding which disorder is the cause of the symptoms is as easy as finding ink cast into the night sea. This was a disaster averted only by discovering the real underlying condition. This is a rare instance, to be sure, but it highlights one of the many problems with anonymous sperm donation.

I know a scant handful of facts about my sire. He had brown eyes. He was white. He was probably a medical student at the university where my mother’s Ob-Gyn practiced. He had type A or AB blood. And…that’s about it. I’m in a horrible bind. My father, who raised me, sacrificed for me and loves me would be devastated if I were to seek out other biological half siblings or my donor. I don’t think anyone, not my parents, not the Ob-Gyn who inseminated my mother, not my donor ever considered that I would become an adult who wanted answers. I now face a terrible choice–devastate my father on the hope of finding out more about half of my own self, or live in continued ignorance, denied what many others take for granted. I shouldn’t have to make that choice. I should have had at a minimum, as my birthright, my own history available to me, rather than feeling like a bit of genetic flotsam, cast into the void by god-knows-who.

I appreciate that the terminology I use is confusing, but, then, so are the emotions for those of us in this situation. I am extremely close to and love the man who raised me, who I call a father, just as most adoptees would call their adoptive parents as their own. There is a lack of words to describe my situation, which makes it all the more painful to handle. In speaking out in the past, I have been ridiculed, asked if I would prefer nonexistence to a history such as my own, an obviously absurd question.

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