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For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mom. And although I had an idyllic Midwestern childhood with a solid nuclear family, I intrinsically knew it wouldn’t go down like that for me.
As a kid, my favorite pastime was creating a communal utopia at Barbie’s Dream House where Doctor Barbie, Artist Barbie and all of their eerily similar looking friends took turns caring for Skipper and the Sunshine Family baby, allowing each of the girls ample time to bolster their careers and fulfill their dreams. Boys were not an option. My Ken dolls were discarded in a tangled heap in the Star Traveler unless Barbie needed a chauffeur for a trip to Yellowstone, Miami Beach or the NASA Space Center.
It was no surprise that I’d grow up to be a lesbian. And since women can have it all -- even the gay ones -- I held fast to my motherhood dreams.
When my partner and I decided to start a family, we agreed that I would use donor sperm from a reputable cryobank. Sure, I know others who’ve retrieved “samples” from their partner’s cousins, willing friends or random dudes from Craigslist. While those methods are more cost-effective and less clinical, there’s always a chance it could come back to bite you in the ass if that guy suddenly decides he wants to stake a claim. It works for some, and that’s cool. But I preferred an anonymous donor who signed away all parental responsibilities and required no future contact -- a generous soul aiming to make the world a better place by spreading his robust genes for the greater good (or a handsome Ivy League undergrad looking for fast cash to front his garage band’s tour of the Southwest, whatevs.)
I searched the cryobank’s donor list for “the one” -- a guy with street smarts combined with wanderlust mixed with a natural intelligence and, of course, striking good looks. I poured over photos and essays and health reports, each smiling baby face bringing glimmers of joy as I speculated about what my future child would look like.
He jumped out at me immediately -- a doe-eyed toddler sitting at his kitchen table circa 1977. It was like looking at a boy I could have met in kindergarten and grown up to marry in an alternate life. His ethnicity, health and educational background all checked out. He was perfect.
A box on his questionnaire was marked “yes” regarding previous pregnancy success, meaning someone else in the world already had a baby using this donor. I was ok with that because it meant his “product” worked, which gave me one less thing to worry about. I envisioned a happy Mama in a land far, far away popping out one beautiful child, and put it out of my mind.
Selecting a donor turned out to be the easiest part of my pregnancy journey. I was riddled with fertility issues so it took years of inseminations and in vitro cycles before that sperm actually penetrated more than just my bank account. But when my perfect daughter looked up at me for the first time with the donor’s doe-eyes and my dopey grin, I knew I had made the right decision.
After her birth, I registered my daughter on the cryobank’s donor sibling registry -- a forum that lets parents with children by a specific donor meet and connect should they choose. Initially there were two families listed for the donor other than ours. A few months later, a third family joined. Then another. And another. And another.
To date, my daughter has 26 donor siblings that I’m aware of. There could be others out there whose parents prefer not to report them, and I’m betting that the once freewheeling donor now has a family of his own.
There is little regulation on sperm donors, which gives each cryobank the authority to establish its own donor limits and procedures. The cryobank I used discontinues a donor after 20-30 different family units report a pregnancy (ambiguous, I know) or the donor’s vials of sperm run out. My donor is no longer in circulation. However, each of those family units can have as many children as the vials they bought (and stored) will allow, so the numbers continue to climb.
I always knew there would be others out there but I was utterly unprepared for how many, or how I would feel when those children became a reality. The first time I saw photos of my daughter’s donor siblings I felt like someone sucker punched me in the solar plexus. Their resemblance to her is uncanny. I immediately panicked and pictured her life unfolding much like a Jerry Springer episode.
But now that I’ve corresponded with the other parents and formed arms-length relationships with them, my anxiety and disbelief has turned to amazement and awe. These are solid families much like my own, raising bright, inquisitive, very-cherished children. We share a collective experience. Our children simply share DNA.
While I’m not ready to huddle around a campfire singing Kumbaya with these families, I do enjoy seeing videos of their children’s’ first steps and scrolling through photos of their Disney vacations. There’s something comforting about seeing my only-child’s features in the face of another kid and knowing that she’s not alone in the world.
My daughter is now an amazing three-year-old with a wicked sense of humor and a will of her own. Each night before she drifts off to sleep, I tell her the story of her arrival -- how she was longed for and dreamed of. She knows that she was made using magic seeds from a special man, and that some other moms and dads used those same seeds to start their own families. It works for now, and I’ll tell her more as she can understand it.
If she chooses to one day meet her donor siblings, I’ll be prepared with all of the information. Each of the parents I’ve connected with believes that transparency is critical, and that arming our children with the knowledge of where they came from will better enable them to get where they’re going. I think that’s a pretty amazing gift.
Sometimes my daughter pulls out those old Barbie dolls and pretends the Sunshine Family babies were conceived with the help of Doctor Barbie using magic seeds from Ken. I can’t help but smile and wonder what adventures her life will hold as she, too, attempts to have it all.