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My name is Lucy, I’m a 22-year-old student at Oxford University in the U.K., and my twin brother and I are "donor-conceived people." My mum’s first husband couldn’t have children, so we were conceived via anonymous sperm donation in 1992, at a time when it was still a relatively new procedure.
This means my mum is my biological mother, but I don’t know who my biological father is. When I tell people about my origins, I am nearly always asked: "Don’t you want to know who your dad is?" My answer, without hesitation, is always no.
I have had a largely happy, privileged life, for which I am very grateful. Though my mum’s relationship with her first husband didn’t work out (and he is legally my father), she started dating a man (now my stepfather) when I was two, whom I have called my dad ever since.
I recognize completely that I am extremely lucky in this respect, and not all donor babies are fortunate enough to have two parent figures. (I don’t want to use the term father figure because I don’t think his gender really matters here.)
In fact, I’m super lucky in that I actually have three parents, as I was partly brought up by my Nan, too. I also recognize that even those with two loving parents might think differently from me. My twin brother, for example, is extremely keen to find out as much as possible about our biological father.
The law in the U.K. on sperm donation changed in 2004, prohibiting the use of anonymous sperm donors from 2006. If you were conceived after this time, it is now possible for your donor’s name and identity to be released once you reach 18. Before you reach 18, you can access non-identifying information about them, like their physical description, age, and ethnicity.
Even for those conceived before the law changed, there is some limited information you can access. I have chosen not to do this, but my brother has, and therefore knows a little more about our biological father than me.
I refer to this man as my "biological father," not my "dad," because he is not my dad. I have half his genes, but he has had absolutely no role in my life whatsoever. He donated his sperm on the condition that he could remain anonymous; it was an altruistic gesture to help someone somewhere in the U.K. who couldn’t conceive naturally. He didn’t want to be my dad; he just wanted to do a good thing. Yes, I am grateful to him for this act, but I feel no emotional connection to him.
My mum was always open with me about how I was conceived and I have never ever had a problem with it. I do think it’s important for parents to be honest with their children; finding out later in life that someone you thought was your parent isn’t could come as quite a shock. In my opinion, the younger you find out about it, the easier it is to adjust to it.
I’ve recently been reading up on the experiences of other donor-conceived children. Some desperately want to find their parents, while others actively resent the process through which they were conceived. There is a website, The Anonymous Us Project, dedicated to sharing the stories of donor children and adopted children. Most of the stories, sadly, are negative. I hope that this is because people unhappy with their situation are more likely to seek out others who can relate.
I don’t want to delegitimize anybody’s experiences or undermine any of these people in any way. I am simply writing this article in order to show that donor conception does not always negatively affect the child. My experience is wholly positive, and I only hope that other donor-conceived children can find peace with the way they were conceived.
Straight off the bat, I want to tell them this: Think of the effort someone went through to have you. You were extremely wanted.
I’m not curious about the anonymous man who gave me his genes because that is all he is: an anonymous man, who masturbated perfunctorily in a clinic somewhere and then went home, perhaps to his own family.
Admittedly, it’s interesting to compare this with the way other people are conceived, but I don’t feel any less of a person for it. My mum wanted and loved me just the same. Growing up, I’ve always enjoyed telling people about it; it makes me that little bit more interesting.
I can’t really think of any adverse effects being a donor baby has had on me. I do have a fear of pregnancy, and at times have wondered whether my own "clinical" origins have made me uncomfortable with the raw "naturalness" of pregnancy. This theory doesn’t hold up, though, since my mum carried me and gave birth to me just like any other pregnant woman. If anything, it’s more likely to be my slightly traumatic birth that’s the root of the problem (and that’s another story).
I haven’t ruled out having children myself, but I would be just as happy adopting as having children of my own, as I would love them just the same. I don’t worry about accidental incest, which many people have asked me about before. If it got to the stage where I considered having a child with someone, I think I would know by then whether they were donor-conceived. If by some crazy chance they were, that’s a bridge you’d cross when you came to it.
I believe passionately that a parent is someone who loves you unconditionally and does their absolute best to raise you as well as they can. Their genes are irrelevant.
As it stands, I do have a dad, and he is just as much my dad as my mum is my mum. He treats me and my twin brother in the exact same way as he treats the child he had with my mother (my half brother). He is the man who read to me every day when he came home from work, came to all my school plays and productions, encouraged me to be a grammar nerd like him, took us on holidays every year, bought us all the presents we could ever want for birthdays and Christmas, taught me about music and passed on his passion for it to me, and cried when he dropped me off for my first term at Oxford. Yes, he annoys the hell out of me sometimes, but isn’t that what a dad is supposed to do?
At the same time, I think my mum could have brought me and my brother up alone and done a bloody good job of it, too. I have the utmost respect for women or men who go it alone. If I had been raised by just my mum, I suspect I would be just as happy. If I happened to feel an absence or yearning of some kind, it would only ever be for another parent "figure," or a person who loves me in the same way my mum loves me. It wouldn’t be for that anonymous man who has my genes.
We automatically assume that the people who share our genes will love us and be our parents, but that isn’t always the case. It’s completely possible to be a biological father and not a dad, as many people know, just as it is to be a dad and not a biological father.
In the same vein, I believe passionately that adopting children is a brilliant thing to do, and that adopted children can lead just as happy, positive lives as children who live with their genetic parents.
Being a parent isn’t about DNA or genes; it’s about loving your child. The fact that my biological father has my genes doesn’t give us some spiritual bond. It doesn’t make him care about me and it doesn’t make me care about him. We live in separate worlds and our paths will never cross.
If I turned up on his doorstep demanding he take me into his life, it would be equivalent to turning up at a stranger’s house. We have never met and know nothing about each other. And I’m completely happy with that.
I feel extremely loved my by parents and I am extremely grateful every day for the happy life I’ve led.