My story starts in the early 1980’s. My parents have been married for many years but unable to conceive. After exhausting all avenues my parents finally get pregnant with the help of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and I go down in the history books as one of the first collection of IVF babies ever born.
I had a fantastic childhood. Like the best. I’m sporty, confident and successful in school. As the typical ‘Daddy’s girl’, my dad and I are inseparable. He was my world. We were incredibly close. We just got one another.
At around twelve years of age I remember having a huge knot in my stomach. My parents wanted to tell me something. They sat me down and told me about their IVF journey. The fact that I was a “test tube baby” and about how much I was wanted. They showed me all the newspaper articles and said that they tried for years to have me. I was relieved. Relieved as I remember thinking they were going to tell me I was adopted. But I wasn’t I was “just an IVF baby”. Unusual but that was the end of that.
In my late teens I go off to university to study sports science and eventually specialise to Masters level in applied psychology. At 18 I came out as a gay woman; I travelled, I loved, I lost, and just embraced life and all it had to offer.
In my late 20’s I meet my (now) wife. Discussions move on to children. My wife has always dreamed of being a mother and we start looking at options to become parents. We both have good careers and buy a house together. Plans to start a family are put on the backburner for now.
2015 my world falls apart.
“He is not who you think he is” a family member shouts at me in an argument.
“Not who you think he is”. …What my Dad?
It’s a phrase I’ve heard periodically throughout my life. Normally mid argument about one thing or another. This time it is taking place as my parents are looking to divorce.
What does that even mean? I thought maybe the comment was referring to an affair, or possible criminal conviction I wasn’t aware of?! Curiosity got the better of me, so this time I decided to challenge my dad.
“We used a donor to have you, it’s likely I’m not your biological father” my dad spills out in tears. I cant quite believe what I’m hearing. Like I’m free falling into someone else’s life.
A paternity test later and the truth is out. I am a donor conceived person. My parents have no information on the donor other than he was a medical student with similar colouring to my dad. What do I do with this?
For the next two years I don’t really know what I did with my thoughts. Initially I was dismissive about the “donor”. It didn’t matter. My dad was still my dad, but I had this deep sadness. A sadness as though I had lost my lovely dad. The guy who raised me, who I adored. His light hair and fair skin no longer belonged to me. My keen interest in sport, my love of hockey all attributed characteristics I had taken from my dad… all untruths. I looked in the mirror and felt uneasy. The distinctive nose I had always wondered about, having to wear glasses for an eye condition no one else in my family seemed to suffer from, my desire to find out about the human mind and all things psychology… did they come from the donor?
In 2017 my wife and I once again had serious discussions regarding children. My wife longed to have a child and experience pregnancy. With my new discovery of being donor conceived I felt uneasy once again. Would history repeat itself? Would our children grow up and resent us if we used a donor? The truth was that I would never be able to give my wife the biological child she had dreamed of having. “Love is all you need”, but in the case of (in)fertility love is sadly not always enough.
We looked at all options. We began the process of fertility treatment looking at the possibility of using a “known donor”. Usually a male friend or someone who is known to the parents. However, a series of legal loopholes and unsuitable candidates meant this ideal option was unreachable for us. My wife had a very poor egg count and was advised that IVF would be the best approach. We were running out of time. We researched “open ID donors” as an alternative option. Such a donor is recruited by a sperm bank with identifiable details released when a child hits 18. As parents you are afforded more legal security via this method, the candidate is vetted for medical issues and you receive a detailed profile of the donor. The major downside for me was the absence of identity. An identity that would be kept from our unborn child till they reached adulthood. With the clock ticking and doors closing on all other options we decided on this route. Miraculously we were successful after our first round of treatment, and in 2017 my wife gave birth to our beautiful twins; a baby girl and baby boy. We were on cloud nine.
But being donor conceived still haunted me. Yes my children could identify the donor, their biological father at 18, but would this be enough? Although they would be raised in a fully open environment about their conception would they still resent us? After a lot of talking therapy I decided to take a DNA test for myself. Although I was curious about my parent’s “donor” my main motivation for doing one was for my two little ones. I wanted to set the example, showing them that there is nothing wrong with wanting to know your genetic heritage. How could they ever feel comfortable connecting with biological relatives, their biological father if their own parent had ignored the elephant in the room?
So at the end of 2019 I sent off my DNA sample to Ancestry. It was a nervous wait. Would I have fifty half siblings?! Would I match with my biological father directly….
When the results came in I was a little deflated. I had a couple of 2nd cousin matches but nothing significant. No siblings, but I was 30% Russian/Eastern European decent? Strange, must be from my paternal line I assumed.
Fast forward 6 weeks, and through a very helpful 1st cousin once removed I was able to narrow down my biological father to a set of brothers. Both doctors, one lived thirty minutes from me the other in Canada from what I could gather from records and other sleuthing. I managed to get a possible address for one of the brothers and in a moment of madness decided to drive to the address as was only a short distance away. My heart raced as I reached the front door. Dr. #### displayed on the buzzer. It was his house. Oh god what am I doing?? I gingerly knocked. Nothing. There was no one home so I left a hand written letter with some basic info and asked him to contact me if he could so I could explain more.
A month went by. Nothing. Had he got the letter? Was he ignoring it? Was it the right guy?
Then the text came.
“Hi Hayley it’s Jonathan. I got your letter, I’ve been away on a long trip. I would love to talk. Best wishes”.
Wow. This was it. I just knew it was him. And a phone call later he confirmed he was the donor. My biological father. Also a gay guy and who never had children of his own. He said he was thrilled that I had located him as he had always wondered about his donations all those years ago when he was a medical student.
So that was in March 2020. Although the world has gone a little crazy since then we have stayed in touch and met up quite a few times. He has been very welcoming. We have a lot in common and share many personality traits. I have his nose and he also requires glasses to correct an eye problem that no one else in my family suffered with. He specialised in clinical psychiatry, I had studied psychology. And of course we are both gay!
I feel very blessed to have two amazing men in my life. My Dad and my biological father. Things are not always rosy. Forty years of living the wrong narrative is difficult to move on from. I do not blame my parents, the 80s were a different era, but it doesn’t change the daily pang of pain I feel when I realise once again that my dad is not biologically linked to me, but I’m getting there. And of course my dad will ALWAYS be my dad!
Initially, I was angry at my parents for keeping such a life altering secret, however years on from the disclosure I have come to realise that my parents were just trying to do their best in what must have been very different times. There were no online support groups available to them as young parents in the 80’s, no educational story books or leaflets about ‘when’ or ‘how to tell’ your child that they were donor conceived. Ultimately, they were advised to keep the secret by the so called ‘professionals’; and of course no one could have ever foreseen the advancements in DNA testing all those years ago which has led to so many of my peers discovering late in life that they are in fact the product of donor conception.
Despite the heartache, my dad has been a wonderful support throughout all this , and I love him even more for being present in my journey. He is aware I have met Jonathan and he gives me his full blessing. I think this act alone by my dad epitomises the definition of selflessness.
….So that just leaves us with the “Unknown” part of my story. I assumed that my strong eastern European DNA was from my unknown paternal line, however after further research (involving my mum taking a DNA test too!) we discovered that my mum was conceived as a result of an affair with a polish man after the war. My mum had always “suspected” but had never had any concrete evidence. With the help of some distant relatives/lodging records I was able to identify my mum’s biological father, my maternal grandfather. Sadly, he died a bachelor in the 1990s. According to living relatives he often discussed having a “daughter” but normally after one too many drinks, so all assumed he was joking.
So that is my story. If you’ve reached this point thank you for reading. There’s a lot more depth to what actually happened, and is still happening – (including half sibling that I matched with on 23&me) but I have tried to reduce the content for purposes of this piece.
My wife and I continue to learn about donor conceived people, recipient parents and donors in this crazy triad we find ourselves in. We have connected with the twin’s donor sibling families early and are advocates of honesty and openness with our children. I hope they can look to me as they grow and see that although the world of donor conception is not always easy but there are good things to come out of it with honesty, trust and biological connections (if desired) being key to this mechanism.
Final Word: for the past few years I have been a member of a lot of DCP/RP social media groups and often sit on this strange, awkward and sometimes uncomfortable “fence” that I find myself on being both donor conceived and a recipient parent. It saddens me to see so many people bickering, which spiral into hateful comments. These conversations may help people to vent, but they really do not assist in the progression of the subject. With the world moving forward, equal rights making parenting accessible to all types of “family”, children born from third party reproduction is only going to increase.
Therefore, we all need to learn from one another and to listen to all of our stories, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Becky and I are planning to work together to improve the dialogue and understanding between donor conceived people and recipient parents through respectful conversations, empathy and continual learning – join us over in Paths to Parenthub as we will be working with members to unpick the topics that are quite often referred to as the “elephant in the room”.
I want to say a huge thank you to Hayley for sharing her unique and powerful story with us. I connected with Hayley less than two weeks ago and have already had hours of conversation with her (we both love to talk!), sharing insights that are incredibly useful for us as parents to hear, in a relatable, empathetic and understandable way. I’m delighted to have connected with her and am looking forward to working together to provide better support to parents on this path to parenthood.