Part of our work is honoring the unique experiences of the humans we are helping create. As such, we are constantly seeking input and advice from the donor-conceived community.
Being donor-conceived can mean different things to different people, as their experience is as varied and unique as any other child. Some people who were donor-conceived feel a strong sense of connection to their biological family, while others don’t even think about it. Some are curious about their genetic origins and seek out information about the donor, while others are not interested in learning more. Some people may struggle with questions about identity and family, while others may not feel that their donor-conception has had a significant impact on their life. Overall, the experience of being donor-conceived can be complex and nuanced, and can vary depending on their upbringing and the level of openness and honesty within their family.
In this article, we share the unique perspectives of four donor-conceived adults.
- Emma is a nurse, author, and donor-conceived adult who has been vocal about her life experiences
- Jackson is a 30-something, donor-conceived engineer in Florida
- Libby is a donor-conceived small business owner from Massachusetts
- Melissa is egg donor conceived and the VP of Development at the US Donor Conceived Council
How did you find out you were donor-conceived?
Emma: I have always known that I was donor-conceived or at least I have no memory of not knowing. My parents made a book about their long journey to create a family and how lucky they were to have me – we read the book as a nighttime story or whenever I wanted to from, I was 2-3 years old. This book meant that we don’t really know when I understood but we have drawings I made of egg and supercells from when I was 5 years old.
Jackson: I found out I was donor-conceived in a funny way, actually. I was 17, about to graduate high school, and I was sitting at a Dairy Queen with my identical twin brother and we both got a Facebook friend request from the same person at the same time, so we thought that was really weird. We responded and asked how she knew us. She said she was our sister, and we didn't believe her - so we asked her the name of our parents. She got it right, so then we went home and asked our dad what this was all about. He then let us know that he was waiting until we were 18 (so a few months from then) to let us know, but they had used an egg donor/surrogate to conceive us after my mom had a number of late term miscarriages. I never felt any resentment towards any party involved (my parents, the egg donor, or the egg donor's children) but it was a bit jarring at the time and definitely weird for her to have reached out to us that way.
Libby: My moms were very transparent about a multitude of things as I grew up. While they couldn't always keep up with my speedily-moving brain and mouth, they tried their best and always explained things to me thoroughly. The first conversation I remember having about it was in first grade. We had to do some type of family tree assignment - and despite living in one of the most progressive towns at the time, I didn’t have anyone with two moms or two dads in my class. I felt alone and confused when I saw everyone drawing and talking about their mom and dad. I’m sure there were kids who had just one parent or another family member who had guardianship, but I was so focused on why my tree didn’t look the same.
When I brought my tree home, I had questions and they gave me answers in a developmentally appropriate way. I asked so many questions and they answered every single thing. They connected me with children in the area that were donor-conceived or adopted. As time went on, I started to understand that families are families and that’s the end of that. It doesn’t matter what your family looks like, as long as there’s safety and love in it – “love makes a family” was said frequently in my home.
I started to understand that families are families and that’s the end of that. It doesn’t matter what your family looks like, as long as there’s safety and love in it – “love makes a family” was said frequently in my home.
I thought it was so cool that my donor was willing to help families, and I thought it was equally cool that I had more siblings! I would always wonder what they’d look like and how much we’d look alike. I didn’t think much about the donor as much as I did the siblings.
My two brothers had different donors than me, so we’d always ask our moms about the prominent features that each donor had. For legal reasons, they were unable to disclose much because they weren’t given much information, as the donor wanted to be an “identity release” type of donation – I would be able to make contact with him once I turned 18 if I wanted to. I didn’t have much desire for that though, I just wanted to know my siblings.
Melissa: My parents told my brother and me three weeks before I turned 22. It was so unexpected that at first, I thought they were playing a joke on us. My mother said that it had been on her mind all week and she just decided it was time to come clean, so after a long day of doing post-Christmas returns together she sat us down to break the news.
How has being donor-conceived impacted your life?
Emma: It has meant different things to me throughout life so far. Most significantly it has made me feel special, wanted, and extremely loved in my family. As a child I spoke a lot about it and tried to explain to people whenever relevant. Then I had a period where we talked a lot about features I have that might come from my donor. It was not in any negative way, more curious. As an adult I found out that I was lactose intolerant which I inherited from the donor. Before I started to share my story, my conception did not impact my adult life very much. Today it is a huge part of my life trying to create resources and sharing my experience for others to have some inspiration to navigate the difficult decisions of donor conception
Jackson: It really hasn't impacted my life in any way. After we found out we were donor-conceived, we took a bit to process it and then moved on with life pretty much the exact same and went off to college. My mom is my mom, and I'm glad my parents were able to find a way to have us. We don't really ever talk about being donor-conceived, but I will say there is some mystery around my medical history and if anything has popped up in the donor's family history since. I'm sure I could ask my parents to look into it if I really wanted.
Libby: Being donor-conceived impacted my life because I am here, as cheesy as that sounds! My donor was able to help my moms have children and I will always be thankful for that. I’m so unbelievably proud of the family I have and I’m so happy to have expanded my family all across the US by connecting with my donor siblings. One of my donor siblings recently moved closer to me and we met in July of this year, and I consider her to be one of my best friends. I am incredibly passionate about inclusive, accessible, and affirming healthcare – including reproduction services – and being donor-conceived is one of the driving forces behind that.
Melissa: Growing up, I spent years feeling like something was… off. Like I didn’t completely see myself on the maternal side of my family. When I first found out I was donor conceived, it was very surreal. I remember just driving around that night in a haze. In a lot of ways though, learning the truth made so much sense. It was almost a relief to know that I wasn’t crazy for feeling out of place my whole life. Nothing had been wrong with me. There was an explanation that entire time. But, it wasn’t a fix-all. There are certain day-to-day experiences that are unique to being donor conceived. Before I knew I was DC, I was unknowingly giving incorrect family medical history to all of my doctors. Between learning the truth and connecting with the donor, I had to tell so many doctors that I actually didn’t know anything about my maternal side. Luckily now I’ve successfully connected with the donor, but so many DCP don’t have that luxury either because they can’t find the donor, the donor has passed away, or the donor refuses to speak to them.
What’s your relationship like with the donor and their family?
Emma: I don’t know my donor. He was anonymous and I have never wanted to learn more about him, and I have never done any DNA testing. I think about him with gratitude but that is all I need so far.
Jackson: My twin brother and I are Facebook friends with a few of them, since that day at Dairy Queen. We had a few back and forth conversations with them but that's it. We're happy to let them loosely follow along our lives via Facebook but that's the extent I'm comfortable with. I haven't had the desire to meet them or the egg donor in person.
Libby: I do not currently communicate with my donor, but my oldest donor sibling reached out to him and he said he was willing to talk with us whenever. I connected with a majority of my siblings through Ancestry, oddly enough – some of those siblings had already talked with each other for awhile, and we would all just be added to the Facebook group chat once more of us popped up! We did lots of digging to find our donor (we had some information about where he went to school, the years he went, the fraternity he was in, what sports he played, and some other stuff – but no name). I felt like a detective trying to cross-reference the little information we had. Some of us feel differently about talking to the donor, which is completely understandable; so, we agreed to table it for a little while and revisit the idea at a later date. I feel indifferent about contacting him. I’m open to doing it but I don’t feel this burning desire.
Melissa: It actually took me three years to contact the donor. I dreaded the possibility that she might react poorly. I really didn’t want to be in a position where I was trying to delicately explain the harmlessness of wanting to just know who my own relatives are. Luckily though, I never had to do that. The donor was very receptive to contact. She even acknowledged on her own that it was her ethical duty to share her family medical history, and that I was probably much more surprised to learn I was donor conceived than she was to get a message from me. That validation was meaningful if only because it’s a rare experience for DCP [via anonymous donation]. Now, we talk occasionally over the phone; she lives far from me so we’ve never met in person. She has no siblings or children, which probably makes it easier in some ways. Since we’re both adults, there’s a hint of “what do we do now?” energy, but overall it’s a very civil acquaintanceship and it’s been really cool getting to see how many traits and quirks we share.
What would you tell an intended parent considering using donor eggs to conceive?
Emma: I would tell them to start talking to their child as soon as possible. I think this is very valuable for both parent and child. The parents as they get to rehearse and get familiar with sharing their story before the child starts to ask difficult questions. For the child so that they grow up knowing about their conception story. Research has shown that this is the best for the child and has also been very important to me and my relationship to my parents.
Jackson: Go for it! It's an incredible thing that can allow you to have the child you always wanted. I'd encourage them to have conversations with the children about being donor conceived at a younger age so it is something they intrinsically know as opposed to finding out at a Dairy Queen at age 17, but I don't think it has to be a requirement if that's not what you want to do as long as you are open and ready to having a conversation with them down the line.
Libby: Research the agency you’re considering to use! Find one that sits well with you. You deserve to feel heard and supported - not just by your loved ones, but by the professionals who will be assisting you throughout this journey. When it comes to egg donation – there are so many companies out there, but a lot of them come at a steep cost and lack psychological support. They feel very transactional because of that. Please be transparent and honest with your child(ren) when they start asking questions. Be willing to explore those feelings and questions with them, whatever they may be. There’s some wonderful children’s literature out there about being donor-conceived and it can help pique their curiosity at an early age. Connect with other families that have donor-conceived children. Remember that using donor eggs does not make you any less of a parent – and that your journey is beautiful and valid.
Melissa: Overall, I would urge all prospective parents to go with as little anonymity as possible. It really makes a world of a difference to a donor conceived person to have that access and information about their origins from day one. It’s also crucial that you listen to, and learn from, donor conceived adults. This especially includes the ones you don’t want to listen to. The industry that creates us is systematically flawed, so even if you love your children more than anything in the world, that won’t prevent them from having DC-related problems. Learning about the experiences of DCP will ultimately help you support your donor conceived children. Building a family with donor conception doesn’t stop when the baby is born. It will be a part of your family story for the rest of your life, and for the rest of your children’s lives.
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