TAILS OF A TEST TUBE BABY
In almost every sense of the phrase, I am an only child. I grew up in a two-person household. I never had to share my toys, but also never had anyone to play with growing up.
I also have over two dozen siblings.
I am one of the oldest children of donor #2039 at California Cryobank, a sperm bank in the San Francisco area.
Compared to blood donations, getting men to contribute sperm is a much trickier process. Getting your blood drawn takes some time out of your day and can leave you feeling faint. Sperm donation isn’t just about getting your bodily fluids (ahem) into a cup — you’re helping someone start a family. But that also means you probably have a whole bunch of children out there.
For many men who are seeking to start a family of their own, this is a deal-breaker. Meanwhile, the men who aren’t interested in a family of their own generally don’t want to have offspring at all.
With that in mind, sperm banks offer significant financial compensation for those willing to make a donation. It’s nowhere near an amount you could live off, but it can be a big help as a supplemental income during a sticky situation financially.
When I turned 18, that brought up a difficult question: Do I want to try to meet my birth father? Once children reach adulthood, they can request that the sperm bank reach out to the donor and ask for him to identify himself, but there’s no requirement that the donor does so. I had thought about this quite a bit during my high school years, and my initial answer was a fairly firm “no.” My reasoning was straightforward: There are three reasonable outcomes:
- I can’t find him because he doesn’t want to be found. This would be mildly upsetting, but nothing too traumatizing.
- I find him, and he is actually interested in my life. A great option if it happens, but fairly unlikely, given the circumstances that surround sperm donation.
- I find him, but he just doesn’t really care. As frustrating as not being able to find my father was, I could deal with that.
The fear of being unimportant was what convinced me not to look. I can deal with not knowing him. But could I deal with 50 percent of my parents not caring about me? I didn’t think so.
I thought that was the end of this story, left to just be a interesting but ultimately unimportant anecdote I would tell only my closest friends. Then my mom found the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR).
For all the time I had spent thinking about my father, I had never once thought about the idea of half-siblings. Almost as soon as my mom registered me on DSR in May 2017, I received an email from one of my half-sisters, Julia.
With my father donating many times over the course of five or so years, my half-siblings’ births are all packed into a five-year span. People sometimes talk about having a “mom” friend who takes care of everyone; Julia is our “mom” sister — which is ironic because she also happens to be the youngest.
Even though we had never met, it took just a single conversation for me to feel like I had a sister who I had known all my life. With all of us sharing half of our DNA, we carry a lot of genetic similarities: we have pale Norwegian complexions, we are fairly tall and we all have poor distance vision. The traits we share aren’t all trivial: Many of us have gone through serious bouts of depression, with some getting close to suicide.
I had a heartfelt chat with one sister when she visited Seattle for a friend’s birthday party. I’ve gotten to cheer on another sister as her volleyball team battled to defend their Southland Conference title. I even met another fellow sister who, by some amazing coincidence, lives less than a mile from my house.
Some of us, such as myself, are offspring of single mothers by choice. A few of my siblings have a dad with fertility problems; others have two moms. I even have one set of siblings that are fraternal twins from one mom and then a younger brother from their other mom, making the younger brother no more genetically related to his older in-house siblings than he is to me.
Finding the Courage
It turns out my dad fits into the second category: he’s approachable and caring.
I didn’t have the courage to ask to meet my father, but some of my other siblings did. He’s extremely interested and supportive of developments in our lives without trying too hard to reclaim his spot as our father. I haven’t met him in person, but my siblings that have enjoyed it and plan to do it again.
Shortly before I joined DSR, nine of my siblings met each other and our father in San Francisco. We haven’t made a specific plan, but we’re going to break that mark next time. Between combined registrations on DSR and 23andMe, another donor family website, there’s @@@at [email protected]@@ 31 of us in all. The most recent additions are in the last couple of months, so our family might still be growing.
The first 22 years of my life were as an only child. I’m just making up for lost time.