What happens when sperm donors’ children meet their extended family?
“I have two moms”, my son, O, informed me recently. O is four-and-a-half years old and knows we are different from other families, and he’s okay with that. At this stage, I don’t delve too much into our origin story, but I do occasionally ask him whether he has a Dad. “No, I have a Mommy and a Baba,” he replies, with a shrug and smile.
What my son and 14-month old daughter may not realize is while they don’t have a Dad, they are paternally connected to an entire family spread far across the country. My kids have Donor Families – “half-brothers and sisters” born from women who have used the same sperm donor to conceive.
My partner and I used a well-known cryobank to start our family. After rigorous review, we found someone who most closely resembled me, as my wife would be the one carrying our children. We took into account baby photos, audio samples, and even pictures showing the donor’s celebrity look-alikes. But the one feature that proved the most impactful was the Sibling Registry -- something I never thought I would use, let alone value.
Our journey to parenthood was such a long and winding one that I never imagined wanting to share that experience – or our children – with anyone outside of our close families. But when O finally arrived, we were so happy, that we joined the registry on the cryobank website and proudly reported that our pregnancy had come to fruition. Not long after, we received a message from a fellow Donor Mom and were eventually introduced to two more families who used the same sperm donor as us. It was a mind-expanding experience, to say the least.
From there on out, we not only had the support of our own families, we also had parents who could answer questions about chronic ear infections, croup and tantrum in such a personal way. Their kids shared DNA with ours, and without a paternal family to reference, these families were a way to learn about the health and habits of our own kids.
Despite the fact that our children were born into four completely different genetic families and live in different environments, they share some personality traits and an undeniable biology, which is both amazing and, if I’m being honest, a little freaky.
Our extended family is filled with strong-willed, adventurous, and loving children with an impish streak and effortless ability to make you laugh. Over four and a half years, I have watched them grow up via social media, shared holiday cards, traded war stories, and celebrated milestones with their parents. One day, we may even get the four families together. It would be amazing to witness first-hand nature versus nurture and see what happens when our two willful, adventurous spirits are mixed with more of the same.
To O and his sister, these children are members of their growing family. We don’t harp too much on semantics and don’t talk about “siblings” for now. But they know that they share a connection with them and that they are important people in our lives. When O and S are older, they’ll have the chance to be in direct contact with their half siblings. They may lean on each other as they grow up and grapple with not having or knowing their paternal parent. When they turn of age, they may even band together to reach out to the donor and see what happens next.
Right now, I don’t know how their connections might strengthen and grow. With the four oldest kids being pre-school age, it’s too early to tell. But I do know that we’ll have open lines of communication to provide our children a link to their biology and history -- the missing puzzle pieces of their identity.
As of me… Well, I never imagined sharing my most intimate and vulnerable parenting experience with strangers. So the fact that I not only know, but also consider myself close with the other donor families is unbelievable. My experience may not be the norm, but I’m lucky to have such cool, interesting moms in my life as a support group and friends.
Photo courtesy of Brianne Croteau.