I’m Ally and I’m donor conceived. When I found this out in my late twenties, there were so few resources for people like me, so few voices that echoed my experience. This is why I now like to share my story – talking about donor conception lifts the shame off of something that has been shrouded in secrecy for decades. In the processing of my news, I often wondered what my parents went through. Since then I’ve sought out voices of recipient parents to hear their stories, to see donor conception from their perspective and compare that viewpoint with my own experience. Becky and I were introduced via Instagram and I have found through her blog and community not only a sense of understanding of the emotions that my parents went through when deciding upon donor conception, but also a space for me to share my thoughts and perspectives with other recipient parents that have always been very welcoming and eager to talk about ways to support their donor conceived child. These times to share perspectives are so important, and I’m glad to know and to be able to have these conversations with Becky and other parents like her!
Living life as an only child for 28 years, I have often wondered what life would be like with siblings. I imagined family vacations, Christmas parties, fights, sharing bedrooms, and having someone to talk to about shared childhood experiences. After 28 years, though, I assumed odds were that I’d never have a sibling. Life has a funny way sometimes of laughing at you when you make assumptions, though.
In January of 2019, my world changed forever when I realized that my “close family matches” on Ancestry DNA were a hint towards my genetic origins. The amount of DNA that I shared with these 8 or more individuals was higher than the amount of DNA I’d share with a first cousin, and similar to amounts that I’d share with an aunt, uncle, or grandparent. When I realized that I couldn’t account for these people in my family tree, I started asking questions. Spoiler alert: these DNA matches were to my donor siblings, of which I now can count fifteen.
After some prodding, my parents admitted to me that they used donor sperm to conceive me. I remember my mom asking me if I ever wondered why they were a bit older when they had me – my mother was 33 and my father was 40 when I was born. It never really crossed my mind that their ages would indicate that they had fertility issues, but indeed my parents tried to conceive naturally for ten years and went through several rounds of artificial insemination with donor sperm before my mother fell pregnant with me.
Learning that I was donor conceived at age 28 was a shock. My parents were very concerned that learning that my father was not genetically related to me would lead to an identity crisis. This is the reason they gave for never telling me in the first place. Research has told me that this was common for other recipient parents 30ish years ago. Doctors actively advised their patients to go home and forget that the insemination procedure ever happened; some doctors even mixed donor sperm with the father’s sperm to encourage the myth that the child is genetically related to the father.
I can’t say that what I went through over the next few months, and still currently deal with, was an identity crisis. Learning that I was donor conceived didn’t force me to think about how that changes my sense of self. Instead, the revelation brought up a lot of emotions for me about family. Some days, even now, almost a year later, I feel like someone is punching me in my stomach when I think that my dad is not biologically my father. I have said out loud more times than I can count “I wish my dad was my dad.”
I work often in therapy on that idea – on defining family. I’m also working to define this newfound family of fifteen half-siblings and the donor himself. Who are these people to me? How can I incorporate this new information into my life? Some days this is easy – when I’m texting back and forth with a half sister or when we shared one too many beers at my half brother’s home. Other days I find it more difficult, a reminder of the question marks that now take up half of my family tree.
If I could sum up the lessons I’ve learned since January of 2018, the most salient one thus far is that I am grateful, and this carries me so far. I’m grateful to my parents for giving me the best childhood I could have asked for; I forgive them for hiding a secret from me as I know their motivation was to protect me. I’m grateful, too, that their secret has not caused me harm. I am acutely aware that this is not the case for a subset of donor conceived people. I do believe that the healthiest pathway in donor conception is to tell your child early and often, and I encourage parents to practice openness and honesty with their children.
I’m also grateful for these newfound connections in my life and opportunities to get to know people that I now find myself genetically connected to. I can’t say for sure that I know how these new sibling relationships will pan out – will we have family vacations and Christmas parties? I hope we won’t fight, and sharing bedrooms now seems absurd… but the best part I’ve found is that I have someone to talk to about these shared childhood experiences that up until a year ago we didn’t even know we shared.