As we’ve written about before, a big shift for our family over the last two years or so (about a year of that was thinking) has been connecting with families containing kids via the same donor as our kids.
As Gail mentioned in her last post, when Leigh was a baby, we found out (though we weren’t seeking out this information) that a friend was pregnant via the same donor. She wasn’t someone we were close to at that time, but definitely someone we knew, and we had several close friends in common. I was in no way ready for this information. Of course I knew there would almost certainly be other kids in the world from the same donor, but before this information was plopped in our laps, they were in some vague other place “out there,” having absolutely nothing to do with our immediate family. We were going to think about them “later,” at some time in the future, preferably distant.
A few years of parenting changed things, and a little more than a year ago we decided it was time to look at the DSR, and once we did, we got another surprise. What do you know? another person we already knew was registered there already! This time around, the discovery felt like an absolutely wonderful surprise. I already knew one mom in this family and liked her a lot. An extra connection felt like a wonderful bonus.
I don’t know if the same has happened for other donor groups but we’ve had a couple recent additions (possibly due to the recent round of press), and after sending our now customary intro message, we got yet another surprise.
Yep. We already knew yet another family. We don’t (yet) know them so well, but we were on the same “queer baby” circuit when Leigh was tiny, and have seen them around a few times over the years. Again, they seem like a wonderful family, people we’re happy to be connected to, but this time the recurring theme started to feel a little daunting, and a lot less surprising. If you’re starting to think all these connections are due to a huge donor group like those in the news, our listed donor group is nowhere near that size (yet). We’re still in single digits for number of families listed (though the group will certainly grow).
A few years ago, we read an academic sociology book called “The Family of Woman” by Maureen Sullivan. It’s a qualitative study of two-mom families, published in 2004. One point Sullivan made in her book book, is that lesbian families are more likely than straight families to know other families with children via the same donor. She points out a few reasons for this, which are now hitting home for us in a much deeper way than on my first reading.
Sullivan writes that as lesbian families, those of us conceiving with banked sperm are more likely to be selecting from a limited pool of donors, in particular, the pool of ID-release donors. Without a father to “protect” and with absolutely no hope of NOT disclosing to our kids that they are donor conceived, we are more likely than straight families to choose banked sperm that comes with the possibility of our kids finding out more donor information in adulthood. Note here that what matters here is not the type of sperm per se, but rather that many of us are choosing from a substantially more limited pool of donors. The second factor is that since we’re lesbian parents with kids, we’re likely to be hanging out with other lesbian parents with kids, and there’s a good chance their kids were conceive via banked donor sperm (note I’m not saying all, of course there are lots of families with known donors, and lots of adoptive families, but still, tons of us have kids via banked sperm and none of us became parents without a third party involved somewhere). So, we’re more likely to know each other because we’ll know other queer families anyway, and those families may well have been selecting from the same limited pool of donors that we were.
Depending on geography, further concentration can come from the social reality that as parents, we socialize with parents of kids close in age to our own, and individual donors are usually only available during a limited time window of a few years (and thus likely to produce kids close in age). If you throw in a few more limiting factors, like selection for a specific ethnicity or religious background, the probability of knowing another donor-sibling family already goes up even more. Thinking about it in this light, I wonder how I ever thought that donor-half-siblings were just “out there” somewhere else, how it initially came as such an upsetting shock that other families in our own social circle had chosen the same guy.
My feelings on this recent understanding are in flux. Over the last 5 years, I’ve felt alternately devastated, thrilled, and now, perhaps a bit deflated over realizing just how normal it might be connected via our donor selection to other families we already know, right here in our every day life. I never used to wonder when I met a new family if our kids might be linked, but now? If the right demographic clues are there, it pops to the front of my mind, and I definitely wonder. Does she have Leigh’s nose? Does he have Ira’s hair? I listen for clues that the other family might be open to connection. I casually mention knowing a donor sibling family we know so they’ll know we are.
When we made the choice to use banked sperm, I never expected to wonder these things, or to be parsing the proper way to navigate this particular social territory. But one thing I note now, is that these questions, this curiosity, is something my kids are likely to experience in a more profound way than I ever will. Donor conceived adolescents and adults report wondering when they meet new people if they may be genetically connected. It affects how they date. It affects the friendships they form. For some, the effects are profound.
So for now, I’m making note of the wide range of feelings and reactions I’ve had to what at first seemed like surprising connections, the feelings of shock, disappointment (even anger), later of thrill and excitement, and now, understanding that actually these probably aren’t really amazing coincidences at all. Our kids were already living in a social circle where genetic donor connections between families were present and real, even if as parents we hadn’t (yet) chosen to access the information. I hope that in some small way, by remembering the many feelings and thoughts I have now, I’ll be more open to and understanding of my kids’ lived reality, both now and as they grow.
I’m not sure that we’ve ever noted this explicitly, but I want to state here because it is particularly relevant, that we are very open to hearing from donor conceived people who find their way here. I realize this may be a daunting place to comment publicly, since sometimes the interests of parents and of donor conceived people can be in conflict, and this is obviously a space primarily for parents. But to the extent you are willing to share, we welcome you to the conversation. As always, we trust our commenters to be both respectful and thoughtful, and have rarely been disappointed. If a public comment seems out of reach, we welcome hearing from you privately at firsttimesecondtime at gmail dot com.