With Jane Clayson
Sperm donations are creating genetic families around the world. And there’s a new push for those siblings to meet.
Ashley Fetters, staff writer for The Atlantic. (@AshleyFetters)
Jordan Namerow, writer and communications professional. She and her wife used donated sperm to conceive their 3-year old son, and belong to a network of other families who share the same donor.
Rosanna Hertz, professor of sociology and women’s and gender Studies at Wellesley College (@Wellesley). Co-author of "Random Families: Genetic Strangers, Sperm Donor Siblings, and the Creation of New Kin."
From The Reading List
The Atlantic: "The Changing Norms Around Donor-Sibling Networks" — "By now, it’s relatively common for people conceived through sperm donation to discover half siblings floating around in the world who they’ve never met—people who, despite being strangers socially, share half their genetic material and perhaps even look, talk, or act like them. It’s a scenario that’s formed the basis for many a human-interest story and provided the backdrop for works of fiction, like the 2011 French comedy 'Starbuck' (and its 2013 American remake, 'Delivery Man').
"Of course, as sperm donation has grown more popular, the practices surrounding it have changed, too, trending ever more toward transparency: Today, parents of donor-conceived kids are far more likely to openly share their children’s origins with others than in the past, and more donors than ever before now opt to make their biographical details and contact information available to their donor offspring when they turn 18. In other words, sperm donation has become less of a family secret in the past few decades. In the new book 'Random Families,' Rosanna Hertz and Margaret K. Nelson (sociologists from Wellesley and Middlebury, respectively) make the case that networks and family-like structures among genetically related donor offspring have evolved as a result.
"Up until the 2010s, these networks—known colloquially as 'donor-sibling networks,' and now often facilitated by social media—generally used to spring up when donor-conceived individuals discovered one another in their school-age, teenage, or adult years. Now, however, as Hertz and Nelson found in their study of recently developed donor-sibling networks, some parents are making contact with donor siblings or the parents of donor siblings as soon as their children are born or even conceived. These parents in particular have a unique vision for what the donor-sibling network could offer their kids later in life—they see it as something like a cross between an extended family and an alumni network."
Washington Post: "Finding, and connecting with, our son’s sperm donor siblings" — "In the spring of 2012, while my wife was reading novels on Cape Cod, I was glued to my laptop, shopping for sperm. As a lesbian couple, we had considered different ways we could have children — adopting, co-parenting with another person or couple, conceiving with the sperm of a male friend or going to a sperm bank. We ultimately opted for a sperm bank, which felt like the easiest option, both emotionally and logistically.
"After downloading several donor profiles from a bank’s website, we chose a Jewish photographer who majored in history. He wrote a tender essay about the importance of his family, his love for nature, the beauty of urban life, the joy of laughing with friends, and the pleasure of biting into a fresh piece of fruit. He plays pick-up soccer in the park and practices a Brazilian martial art called Capoeira.
"He seemed like a nice guy, the kind of person we’d enjoy getting to know over lattes or sangria. We called him Mr. Frozen, because his vials of sperm would spend most of their illustrious lives in a freezer. Fortunately, Mr. Frozen had strong swimmers: The sperm bank had documented several pregnancies and births. We wondered whether we would ever meet the children conceived with Mr. Frozen’s sperm — the donor siblings of our future child."
Washington Post: "44 siblings and counting" — "Kianni Arroyo clasps 8-year-old Sophia’s hands tightly as they spin around, giggling like mad. It’s late afternoon, and there are hot dogs on the grill, bubble wands on the lawn, balls flying through the air.
"The midsummer reunion in a suburb west of the city looks like any other, but these family ties can’t be described with standard labels. Instead, Arroyo, a 21-year-old waitress from Orlando, is here to meet 'DNA-in-laws,' various 'sister-moms' and especially people like Sophia, a cherished 'donor-sibling.'
"Sophia and Arroyo were both conceived with sperm from Donor #2757, a bestseller. Over the years, Donor #2757 sired at least 29 girls and 16 boys, now ages 1 to 21, living in eight states and four countries. Arroyo is on a quest to meet them all, chronicling her journey on Instagram. She has to use an Excel spreadsheet to keep them all straight.
"We have a connection. It’s hard to explain, but it’s there,' said Arroyo, an only child who is both comforted and weirded-out by her ever-expanding family tree.
"Kianni Arroyo, Zac LaRocca-Stravalle, twin sisters Ava and Sophia, and twin sisters Vivianna and Addeline, who all have the same donor father, meet up at a family reunion in the Boston area.
"Thanks to mail-away DNA tests and a proliferation of online registries, people conceived with donated sperm and eggs are increasingly connecting with their genetic relatives, forming a growing community with complex relationships and unique concerns about the U.S. fertility industry. Like Arroyo, many have discovered dozens of donor siblings, with one group approaching 200 members — enormous genetic families without precedent in modern society.
NBC News: "From sperm donor to 'Dad': When strangers with shared DNA become a family" — "When Peter Ellenstein goes out to dinner with his children, who range in age from 17 to 30, the meals are raucous, and there is always a lot of catching up to do — especially because no one in the family knew each other before last October.
"Ellenstein, 57, donated sperm anonymously in his 20s and early 30s to make some extra cash, and never expected to meet any of his offspring. But this past year, thanks to online tools, including DNA test kits, he discovered that he has at least 24 biological children. A divorced theater director living in Los Angeles who never raised any kids of his own, Ellenstein has met 20 of them so far. One calls him every day and recently took a three-week trip to Europe with him; others are less involved, but still show up to family dinners, some with the hope that he’ll pick up the check.
"When Ellenstein first found out about his offspring, 'it was just a huge shock,' he said. Fearing the interactions might be awkward or disappointing, he was initially reluctant to meet his children.
"Now, though, his life revolves around them — whether he’s proudly introducing them to his mother or helping them play practical jokes on one another.
"'It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me,' he said. 'Each kid so far that I’ve met is a whole other adventure and a whole new exciting thing in my life.'
"As more donor-conceived children connect with each other and their biological parents thanks to social media and at-home genetics tests such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com, a new kind of modern family is emerging. The first meeting between half-siblings and sperm donor dads can be fraught, but what follows over the ensuing years may be even more complicated. Some children grow close with their biological fathers and half-siblings, even moving in with them. Others are more hesitant, unsure of how or whether to build a relationship with people whose existence, in some cases, was a family secret."
This program aired on December 6, 2018.