The advent of DNA testing raises so many issues for families like mine. On the one hand, it provides opportunities for discovering biological origins and providing invaluable links that may otherwise never be known. On the other hand, it can uncover donors and connections that may or may not be welcome, and in some cases, circumvent privacy contracts that exist between donors, clinics and donor children.
It is yet another grey area in the field of Assisted Reproduction.
I am often asked about my attitude towards DNA testing and it is a hard one for me to answer. Ultimately, when we selected our donor, we requested one who was willing to be identified. Even then, we knew that we wanted our children to have access to all the information available about their biological origins. Ultimately, we felt it was their right to know their genetic history.
The fact that we found out only a few years ago that our clinic in fact gave us a donor who was unwilling to be identified, means that this issue has taken on a whole new perspective for us.
Which issue is paramount? Our children’s desire to know their biological origins? Or the donor’s right to have the agreement upon which he donated upheld? Our donor made his ‘donations’ prior to the changes in the law in Queensland in 2004 that stipulate that all donors must be identifiable when children reach the age of 18. This legislation is NOT retrospective at this stage, which means that the conditions under which he donated are protected.
In the early 2000s, when our sperm donor undertook a contract with our clinic, there was no DNA testing. In fact it wasn’t even something that would have entered his thought process – it was a technology not yet known about, and certainly not one that was in any way likely to be as readily available as it is now, almost twenty years later. He was, the profile tells me, a young man – perhaps not even twenty – who no doubt had no idea which way his young life was headed. Having a son of my own who is almost sixteen, I envision that he was a young man who really had little understanding then of the full implications of the sperm donation process in the future. How could anyone?
No one has a crystal ball. Least of all a twenty year old male.
I would like to think that our young donor was driven by altruism – of the desire to help those like us who desperately desired a family and needed the ‘magic ingredient’ to make this dream a reality. But even if he wasn’t, I dare say that he did not imagine that twenty years down the track, any one or more of the 48 children resulting from his donations could possibly track him down based upon the results of a DNA test that not even he, but someone else in his family did.
Because that is exactly how we found him.
My clinic lost his contact details. They had no way to contact him to explain that there was a mistake with the allocation of our donor and to ask him whether he was, twenty years later, still unwilling to be identified. The clinic did not seem particularly motivated to track him down or follow up on our behalf. So we did. Not to invade his privacy – that is the last thing I ever want to do – but to ask him the question, and to respect his wishes, whatever they might be.
Through the Donor Sibling Registry, I had the great fortune of meeting another Mum, Jo, who had used the same donor as us. She has a son who was born in the same year as my eldest, both born in 2003. From the moment we met, we hit it off and have become great friends. She and her son are like family. Our children are related as they share the same donor and naturally have a lot in common – all of our children are very sporty as well as having many other commonalities. Together Jo and I, with our boys, set about trying to locate any information.
My eldest son took a DNA test, and the results were startling.
The test showed a very close match with a named relative who was either a great uncle, or first cousin. As soon as I saw this relative’s picture, I knew he and my son were related. The likeness was unmistakable. Having done my own test too, I knew this was not any relative of mine. Further investigation yielded a result for us. We had a name and I spoke to my son about it.
My son was excited but also nervous about the information we had discovered. We spoke about what we should do and he decided it would be best for me to contact him. Even though my boy would have liked the opportunity to speak to him, or even to see him, we wanted to be as considerate and respectful of privacy as possible. But what would I say? I needed an idea of how to pitch the conversation, so knowing that he was a tradesperson with an online business profile, I rang him with a general question about a trade related issue. My son and I felt this would give us a good indication of whether he was personable, or someone we felt might be open to our topic of discussion. If he wasn’t, we could just leave it.
He was lovely. Very helpful, friendly and personable.
My son listened to what he could hear of our conversation and couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
I can’t explain how relieved and excited he looked. It was as though everything was ok all of a sudden as the person he came from was a real and decent human being. I’ll never forget that smile. Nervously, at 4pm on a Monday afternoon, I phoned this fellow back. Stumbling over my words, I confessed to having spoken to him just a few minutes before, and the real reason for my conversation.
At first he denied having ever donated, but only weakly, and straight away my gut told me it was him.
I proceeded to talk about my five children and how grateful I was to him – how having them had given my life more meaning than I ever thought possible, and how much I had always hoped for the opportunity to thank him. I explained about the clinic’s error in allocating our donor, and how the main reason for my call was to find out if his views on having any kind of contact had changed. I half expected him to hang up the phone, but he didn’t. He kept listening. The more I spoke, the more questions he asked.
It was him.
He slowly began to share his story. He was only 18 when he donated, along with a group of mates. They all did it together. He has his own family now, including a 7 year old son, and after donating years ago he admitted that he hadn’t really given the prospect of any offspring much thought. He was overwhelmed to say the least, particularly seeing that I had five children: two daughters, and three sons that he said, in shock, were ‘half him’. The outcome was not unexpected – he was taken aback and I feel, would prefer to keep his life simple and not have any contact with us. I made it clear that there was nothing at all that we wanted from him, other than to simply give him the information and to open the channel of communication, ONLY if that was what he wanted. He has my phone number, although I am pretty certain we won’t hear back from him. And we certainly won’t be contacting him again.
And that is ok.
My eldest son listened to most of this, and knows his side of the story. He understands, and it seems to have quenched the thirst he had to find out more. It’s almost like he feels a sense of peace within himself now: he knows where he has come from and why his donor opted not to have contact, and that is more than we thought he would learn. Not once since then have we had distress about not getting to meet his donor, whereas before this phone call it used to be a source of reasonable angst for him. I am exceedingly grateful to the donor for taking our call, and I wholeheartedly respect his preference to remain anonymous.
It is the least I can do after the tremendous joy his donations have given to me.
I don’t yet know how my younger children will feel about this, but they won’t be raised with the knowledge that meeting their donor is an option. We know the way the donor feels now, so will respect his privacy.
DNA testing has so many far reaching implications for so many people. I understand how it can be exceedingly useful for those looking to track down long lost family members, but I can also see how it can invade the privacy of others. As for me, I would have preferred our scenario to be different. I always wanted my children to have the choice to have contact with their donor. But the reality is, I wouldn’t have the beautiful children that I now call my own if the clinic hadn’t made the mistake with our donor that it did.
Must have been a blessing in disguise, as I truly couldn’t be happier with my tribe.