Three an­gry donor-con­ceived peo­ple The search for iden­tity

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Alana New­man lives in Louisiana with her hus­band and young chil­dren. Hav­ing a fam­ily has made her all the more aware of the trou­bling cir­cum­stances of her own ar­rival into the world. Her birth cir­cum­stances, she says, made many peo­ple happy: the sperm donor, the agency who made it pos­si­ble and the re­cip­i­ent. It did not make New­man happy.

New­man’s fa­ther was an anony­mous sperm donor. Her “so­cial” fa­ther (a term she and some other donor-con­ceived peo­ple use) was in­fer­tile. He and her mother first adopted a girl from Asia, but when an at­tempt to adopt a sec­ond child failed they chose to have a child through sperm do­na­tion.

When New­man was eight her par­ents di­vorced. Her “so­cial fa­ther” dis­ap­peared from her life but kept in touch with his adopted child. New­man de­scribes this as the man’s “sym­met­ri­cal” re­la­tion­ship with his adopted daugh­ter, who is equally re­lated (or un­re­lated) to both par­ents. New­man, on the other hand, is “more” her mother’s child.

New­man’s par­ents never hid her ori­gins from her. They told her she should be proud, that the great­est gift any­one can give is life. But like any “gift” from an anony­mous bene­fac­tor, it can leave a per­son won­der­ing for­ever who that per­son was.

New­man’s iden­tity-search­ing be­gan in her teens. She read ev­ery­thing she could find on the sub­ject. She be­gan to have be­havioural prob­lems and slipped from be­ing a gifted stu­dent to fail­ing at school.

When she told peo­ple her fa­ther was a sperm donor it made them un­com­fort­able – an in­di­ca­tion, she feels, that the prac­tice is in­stinc­tively wrong.

At 20, as a re­buke against anonymity, she do­nated her own eggs. She was mixed up, torn be­tween the script that it is an al­tru­is­tic deed to give the gift of life and her vis­ceral feel­ing that it was wrong to give away your po­ten­tial child. So she did what seemed the best com­pro­mise and made her­self avail­able as an iden­ti­fi­able egg donor, re­ceiv­ing $8,000 for each of the two cy­cles.

New­man chal­lenged her mother a lot in th­ese years, ques­tion­ing her mo­tives. Her mother would ask: “Do you wish you didn’t ex­ist?” Even­tu­ally, though, her mother agreed to help her try to trace her fa­ther.

When they dis­cov­ered he was of Pol­ish de­scent, New­man set off for Poland. She

wanted to walk in the foot­steps, she says, of the peo­ple she came from.

She felt a con­nec­tion, but she was still an­gry. She says she looks east­ern Euro­pean, so peo­ple would ap­proach her speak­ing Pol­ish, think­ing she was lo­cal.

She felt a gi­ant, im­pen­e­tra­ble wall had been built in­ten­tion­ally by adults and doc­tors all those years ago, be­fore she had any say, a wall that pre­vented her from meet­ing her fam­ily.

Even­tu­ally New­man found her fa­ther and wrote to him. When he was “hos­tile” and wanted no con­tact with her, she was dev­as­tated. She had hoped “that he would be a won­der­ful per­son with an in­ter­est in me”.

To­day, New­man is an ac­tivist against anonymity of donors. In 2011 she founded Anony­mous Us, an on­line fo­rum for donor-con­ceived peo­ple to share their sto­ries about third-party re­pro­duc­tion.

New­man knows there are donor-con­ceived adults who say they have no prob­lem with their sit­u­a­tion, but there are many more who are un­happy and strug­gle with their iden­tity.

Most other ac­tivists she has en­coun­tered were raised not know­ing how they were con­ceived, or were only told as adults. Many guessed, some in their early years.

In Europe sim­i­lar or­gan­i­sa­tions, many un­der the um­brella of Donor Off­spring Europe, have sprung up over the past decade, as donor-con­ceived chil­dren come of age. Th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions seek a ban on anony­mous do­na­tion and of­ten on third-party re­pro­duc­tion in gen­eral.

In Ire­land there is no equiv­a­lent or­gan­i­sa­tion, but the Adop­tion Rights Al­liance has cam­paigned on this, among other is­sues.

An­other story comes from England. Dr Joanna Rose was eight when the man she called “daddy” told her he was not her fa­ther. He was in­fer­tile; her mother had had two chil­dren us­ing dif­fer­ent sperm donors.

Rose says she has car­ried a sense of loss and anger all her life. She spent 20 years try­ing to find her fa­ther, be­fore bring­ing her case to the High Court in 2002. It led to a ban on donor anonymity in the UK in 2005. Rose, how­ever, got no apol­ogy, repa­ra­tion or re­union with her ge­netic fam­ily. Fol­low­ing a “tip-off”, Rose now has a good idea who her fa­ther may be: a pro­lific donor in Lon­don clin­ics at the time of her con­cep­tion. She re­sem­bles him a lot. Her at­tempts to con­tact him met with le­gal threats.

Stephanie Raey­maek­ers, a triplet born in 1979, was one of the first donor-con­ceived peo­ple in Bel­gium to speak pub­licly about and against donor con­cep­tion. At 25, as a re­sult of an in­dis­creet re­mark, she and her sib­lings dis­cov­ered their fa­ther was an anony­mous donor and not the man who had reared them.

In 2012 she founded Donorkinderen, a web­site and blog to pro­vide a plat­form for other donor-con­ceived adults, many of whom she says are re­luc­tant to speak openly – afraid to up­set their fam­i­lies or be stig­ma­tised.

Last year, af­ter DNA tests, the triplets dis­cov­ered their mother had been im­preg­nated by a “sperm cock­tail”. Her brother is her full brother but her sis­ter has a dif­fer­ent fa­ther. It was an­other pro­found loss, she says.

A visit to a sur­ro­gacy fair in Brus­sels brought her to the view, one shared by Alana New­man and other donor-con­ceived adults, that third-party re­pro­duc­tion is a form of child-traf­fick­ing, pro­moted, along with sur­ro­gacy, by a bil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try.

Of the fa­ther, whose name she still does not know, she says: “He is half of me. Till the day I die I will look for him.”

Alana New­man: she had hoped her fa­ther “would be a won­der­ful per­son with an in­ter­est in me”

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