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Thursday, June 30, 2011

DSR and Donor Conception in The NY Post and The NY Times

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Last Updated: 4:20 AM, June 19, 2011
Posted: 11:47 PM, June 18, 2011

When he was a cash-strapped college student 20 years ago, Todd Whitehurst didn't think too deeply on the consequences of donating sperm.
Then, when he was 41, he got an e-mail from a girl named Virginia. "She said, basically, 'I'm 14, and I think I'm your daughter,' " explained Whitehurst, now a 45-year-old medical engineer.
Shortly after, he found a son, Tyler, now 14. And another, Gavin, now 16. That led to another child, and another, and yet another. 

"It was definitely overwhelming," Whitehurst said. "I'm not even sure how many children there are."
So far he has found nine kids sired by his sperm. Statistically speaking, said one biogeneticist, Whitehurst could be the father of 42 to 60 children. 

Thanks to a lack of industry regulation, high totals are all too probable, especially for prolific college kids like Whitehurst -- who donated weekly for about three years, for $50 a pop, at a clinic on the Stanford University campus in the 1980s and '90s. A Web site set up for the children of sperm donors has discovered a number of "superdads" who have fathered dozens, sometimes hundreds, of children.
One top seed in Virginia has sired an astounding 129 kids and counting, according to the Donor Sibling Registry, a nonprofit that helps connect families with biological fathers and siblings. Another donor, in the Boston area, has been traced to 72 kids, said Wendy Kramer, a mother to a sperm-donor child who started the online registry when her son began asking questions about his pop. 

The registry has found 92 groups of 10 or more offspring, and 336 groups that have up to nine siblings, said Kramer. { She mis-reported, as we have 336 groups of between 5-9 kids}
There's no limit on how many banks a donor can sell his sperm to -- about 21 percent of donor dads have given to more than one, according to Kramer.
In theory, said Albert Anouna, director of Biogenetics and Sperm Bank of New York, cryo clinics should destroy a donor's sperm after it has produced about 10 live births. Birth numbers are self-reported by pregnant moms -- an incomplete and inconsistent system, Anouna acknowledged. 

Compounding the problem, donors are screened so that the most fertile get selected, because high sperm count and good motility are most likely to produce a pregnancy, said Anouna. High-performers who rack up many pregnancies are among the most popular donors selected by women. 

"Up until 1999, physicians could order a pool of vials for their patients. They'd come in and the doctor would say, 'This one works fine -- it's already gotten three women pregnant. Why don't you try it?' " said Anouna.
Whitehurst is one of a handful of donor dads to step forward and connect with his kids.

"It was pretty wild," he said of receiving his initial e-mail from Virginia. "She had my donor number, which I hadn't ever given anybody, and she sent a picture. She looked a lot like me."
He e-mailed her back, and Virginia encouraged him to go to the Donor Sibling Registry. His donor number immediately turned up two other families, and later, three more. One of his donor moms actually has three kids from his semen. 

A few years ago, Whitehurst, who has two kids from a prior marriage, traveled to meet Virginia, Tyler and Gavin.
Now Tyler and Gavin frequently share e-mails and phone calls with him, and Virginia, about to set off to his alma mater in the fall, seeks dating advice.
Whitehurst can't help but regard his progeny like a typical proud papa -- especially on this day, when the cards and phone calls roll in. 

"I love Father's Day," he said. "I don't usually think about the other children that may be out there on this day, as I like to focus on the children who I already know. It's been a wonderful and enriching experience, and I am very happy that I have met them."

Who’s your daddy?
* Excerpts from the Donor Sibling Registry, where children hope to connect with biological fathers and half-siblings.
* “Just wanted to tell those who are undecided whether or not to pursue half-sibling postings/contact ... it is such an AMAZING journey!! My son now has 17 half-siblings! Not only are all our kids amazing, but the families are as well!!! It appears that the kids have similar characteristics in soooooo many ways! They look alike, have similar mannerisms and likes/dislikes! While there are differences, the similarities are just overwhelming!”
* “When I joined DSR, I was shocked to see how many 1⁄2 siblings my son has, and is still counting. There are about 30 we know of so far, awaiting word of another family member who just did an embryo transfer. What a shock and an amazement at the same time.”
* “Yes, there are 14 boys and three girls from Donor 3478. Not all posted on the DSR but made contact anyway. Besides three new siblings that we just found out about, we have become one big great extended family.”
* “I was bored one day and on a whim decided to join the registry. I had remembered a physical description that my mom had given me of my donor when I was 12. She had also mentioned that he was from the Fairfax VA cryobank. I used the browse by clinic feature and found a description that kind of fit what I had remembered. Not so long story short I met the guy after an email I sent and got a dna test. Turns out he was a match. The guy turned out to be Richard Hatch from that Survivor show on CBS.”

June 18, 2011
A Father’s Day Plea to Sperm Donors
Raleigh, N.C.

WHEN I was 5, my mother revealed to me that I had been conceived through artificial insemination. This was before I understood anything about sex or where babies came from — I think I thought they just sprang from their mothers’ stomachs at random. Because my understanding of conventional conception was so thin, my mom remained vague about the details of my conception — in all its complexity — until I got older.

When that time came, I learned how my mother, closing in on her 40s, found herself unmarried and childless. She had finished graduate school and established a career, but regretted not having a family. And so she decided to take the business of having a baby into her own capable hands. Artificial insemination seemed like a smart idea, perhaps the only idea.

She arranged a consultation at the University of North Carolina fertility clinic in early 1992. During the visits that followed she examined the profiles of the sperm bank’s donors, compared favorable traits and credentials, and picked one. In the autumn of that year, I was born.

My mom’s decision intrigued many people. Some saw it as a triumph of female self-sufficiency. But others, particularly her close friends and family, were shocked. “You can’t have a baby without a man!” they would gasp.

It turns out, of course, you can, and pretty easily. The harder part, at least for that baby as he grows older, is the mystery of who that man was. Or is.

I didn’t think much about that until 2006, when I was in eighth grade and my teacher assigned my class a genealogy project. We were supposed to research our family history and create a family tree to share with the class. In the past, whenever questioned about my father’s absence by friends or teachers, I wove intricate alibis: he was a doctor on call; he was away on business in Russia; he had died, prematurely, of a heart attack. In my head, I’d always dismissed him as my “biological father,” with that distant, medical phrase.

But the assignment made me think about him in a new way. I decided to call the U.N.C. fertility center, hoping at least to learn my father’s name, his age or any minutiae of his existence that the clinic would be willing to divulge. But I was told that no files were saved for anonymous donors, so there was no information they could give me.

In the early days of in vitro fertilization, single women and sterile couples often overlooked a child’s eventual desire to know where he came from. Even today, despite recent movies like “The Kids Are All Right,” there is too little substantial debate on the subject. The emotional and developmental deficits that stem from an ignorance of one’s origins are still largely ignored.

I understand why fertility centers chose to keep sperm donation anonymous. They were attempting to prevent extra chaos, like custody battles, intrusion upon happy families (on either party’s side), mothers showing up on donors’ doorsteps with homely, misbegotten children with runny noses and untied shoelaces to beg for child support. It’s entirely reasonable, and yet the void that many children and young adults born from artificial insemination experience from simply not knowing transcends reason.

I don’t resent my mom; she did the best thing she knew how to do at the time, and found a way to make a child under the circumstances. But babies born of the procedure in the future should have the right to know who their donors are, and even have some contact with them. Sperm donors need to realize that they are fathers. When I was doing college interviews, one of the interviewers told me that he didn’t have any children, but that he had donated sperm while in college because he needed the money. He didn’t realize that he probably is someone’s father, regardless of whether he knows his child.

I’m one of those children, and I want to know who my father is. There are some programs like the Donor Sibling Registry that try to connect those conceived through sperm and egg donation with lost half-siblings and sometimes even parents. But I don’t have much hope that I’ll ever find him.

For my eighth grade project, I settled on fabricating the unknown side of my family tree, and not much has changed since then.  I’m 18 now, today is Father’s Day, and I still hardly know anything about my biological father, just a few vague details that my mother remembers from reading his profile so many years ago. I know that he was a medical student at U.N.C. the year I was born. I know that he had olive skin and brown hair. I know that his mother was Italian and his father Irish.

I call myself an only child, but I could very well be one of many siblings. I could even be predisposed to some potentially devastating disease. Because I do not know what my father looks like, I could never recognize him in a crowd of people. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities, by the reality that my father could be anywhere: in the neighboring lane of traffic on a Friday during rush hour, behind me in line at the bank or the pharmacy, or even changing the oil in my car after many weeks of mechanical neglect.

I am sometimes at such a petrifying loss for words or emotions that make sense that I can only feel astonished by the fact that he could be anyone.

Colton Wooten graduated from Leesville Road High School this month.

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