' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: When Daddy's Name is Donor...

Monday, August 16, 2010

When Daddy's Name is Donor...

We're heading back into murky waters today taking another look at a report, "My Daddy's Name is Donor," from the conservative think tank, the Institute for American Values (just the name alone sets off alarm bells), but nonetheless, their findings are at least worth analyzing. One of the authors of the report, Karen Clark, is a child of donor sperm herself. One of the major findings is summed up here:
Children of anonymous sperm donors "are hurting more, are more confused, and feel more isolated
from their families. They fare worse than their peers raised by biological parents on important outcomes such as depression, delinquency and substance abuse. Nearly two-thirds agree, 'My sperm donor is half of who I am.'"
Some have argued that the phrasing of the questions asked led to this kind of response. Respondents were not given neutral statements such as “I’m glad I was born to the parents I have," but instead, “I feel confused about who is a member of my family, and who is not.” Actually in looking that over, the second statement does not obviate the first; both are valid statements for study.

But what is truly amazing is what the authors* chose not to report. The study group was composed of 485 adults between the ages of 18 and 45 years old who said their mother used a sperm donor to conceive them. Comparison groups of 562 young adults who were adopted as infants and 563 young adults who were raised by their biological parents were also included in the study. Where are the results from the adopted cohort? Where are the results that would indicate the report was not pushing an agenda that included the tenet that adoption is a "good," pure and simple? Instead, here is number 14 out of 15 findings:
"Donor conception is not 'just like' adoption. Adoption is a good, vital, and positive institution that finds parents for children who need families."
Well, I would argue with that supposition, and how did that obviously biased statement find its way into the report? And what the f#@! is it doing there? Oh yeah, the Institute for American Values....

Adoption in some cases finds parents for children who need families--see the UN quote at the sidebar--but the pressure today to find children for families who want them has led to incredible abuse and corruption, to the point where young unmarried women in Western countries are made to feel "selfish" if they keep their own children, families in poor countries are coerced into giving up their children, and in extreme cases such as has occurred in India, China and Guatemala, babies are  kidnapped and mothers have been killed in order to obtain the children who were then made available for adoption to wealthy westerners. Even the Guatemalan government agrees, and thus the glut of babies from that country who found their way to America. I remember trying to talk one university professor out of adopting from Guatemala, but to no avail. She wanted what she wanted and without a man or marriage on the horizon, she was determined to get a child, period. Back to the report...the authors continue:
"There are some similarities between donor conception and adoption, but our study reveals there are also many differences."
But there is pure gold in the findings, if the authors are reluctant to tell us more:
"And, if anything, the similarities between the struggles that adopted people and donor conceived people might share should prompt caution about intentionally denying children the possibility of growing up with their biological father or mother, as happens in donor conception."
Bingo! ...the similarities between the struggles that adopted people and donor conceived people "might" share....but they are so smitten with adoption as a good outcome that they do not concede that all efforts to keep children with their natural parents** ought to be encouraged.

Just how big is the fertility industry? Plenty big, according to the report:
"The United States alone has a fertility industry that brings in $3.3 billion annually. Meanwhile, 'fertility tourism' has taken off as a booming global trade. A number of nations bill themselves as destinations for couples who wish to circumvent stricter laws and greater expense in their own countries in order to become pregnant using reproductive technologies. The largest sperm bank in the world, Cryos, is in Denmark and ships three-quarters of its sperm overseas.

"In the U.S., an estimated 30,000-60,000 children are born each year through sperm donation, but this number is only an educated guess. Neither the industry nor any other entity in the U.S. is required to report on these vital statistics. Most strikingly, there is almost no reliable evidence, in any nation, about the experience of young adults who were conceived in this way."
Don't you just love free-market capitalism, no matter who it hurts? Other findings include:
"Nearly half are disturbed that money was involved in their conception. [LD: Ditto for adoption.] More than half say that when they see someone who resembles them they wonder if they are related. Almost as many say they have feared being attracted to or having sexual relations with someone to whom they are unknowingly related. Approximately two-thirds affirm the right of donor offspring to know the truth about their origins. And about half of donor offspring have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even when parents tell their children the truth."
Whoa! that sounds a lot like what we know about adoption, from adopted people themselves. Wouldn't it be nice if the Institute for American Values also decided to publish their findings on adopted people? I wouldn't hold my breath. 

One finding appears to be an anomaly with the confusion and disassociation reported by sperm-donor children: that they are more likely to participate in creating children through artificial means than the rest of us:
"Adults conceived through sperm donation are far more likely than others to become sperm or egg donors or surrogates themselves. In another startling finding, a full 20 percent of donor offspring in our study said that, as adults, they themselves had already donated their own sperm or eggs or been a surrogate mother. That’s compared to 0 percent of the adopted adults and just 1 percent of those raised by their biological parents – an extraordinary difference." 
That is despite the fact that:
"About half of donor offspring have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even when parents tell the children the truth about their origins..."
As for finding out who daddy is? 
"Donor offspring broadly affirm a right to know the truth about their origins. Depending on which question is asked, approximately two-thirds of grown donor offspring support the right of offspring to have non-identifying information about the sperm donor biological father, to know his identity, to know about the existence and number of half-siblings conceived with the same donor, to know the identity of half-siblings conceived with the same donor, and to have the opportunity as children to form some kind of relationship with half-siblings conceived with the same donor."

"In recent years Britain, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and some parts of Australia, and New Zealand have banned anonymous donation of sperm and eggs. Croatia has recently considered such a law. In Canada, a class-action suit has been launched seeking a similar outcome. This study affirms that a majority of donor offspring support such legal reforms."
If anything the report screams out for is more regulation of the fertility industry in the United States, where it largely operates under the misguided protection of  "medicine," and this has a sacrosanct aura.

The question that hangs in the air is of course, would you rather not be born? Than be born as a child of a sperm donor? It's an impossible question to answer because it's like asking an adoptee:Would You Have Preferred To Grow Up In An Orphanage?  A question answered beautifully at this blog: Shadow Between Two Worlds.  The first link takes you to the specific post I mean; the second to the current posting.

As for the companion question: Would you rather be a regular mother or a first/birth mother? The answer is so obvious no one even asks.--lorraine
* Elizabeth Marquardt, Institute for American Values, co-investigator and lead author of the report; Norval D. Glenn, University of Texas at Austin, co-investigator, and Karen Clark, also listed as a co-investigator at the Institute.

** We often hesitate to use the word "natural" here, but boy, if there was ever a place where it is fitting, it is here.

For an interesting unbiased look at the report see David Crary's AP story: Sperm-donors' kids seek more rights and respect. 

And one last post script: Reading in Harper's Bazaar the other day I came upon this nugget: Lisa Cholodenko, the co-screen writer and director of  The Kids Are All Right, is in a committed lesbian relationship, and she and her partner, Wendy Melvoin, have a sperm-donor baby. Cholodenko is the one who had the child. They chose the donor because of his disarming toddler face. "His eyes were piercing but soulful...he seemed creative, athletic, in good physical health and emotionally stable." We'll have to wait and see about Calder, the child. See our review here: Gay Moms Want Sperm Limits in The Kids Are All Right.


  1. I'm glad you've gotten to look at the report. In Table 1 of the report (the 138 page pdf of the report is available at FamilyScholars.org) you'll find the full summary of the survey data which includes all the numbers for the adopted persons.

    In the full report, we also write, on page 72, "Advocates who claim donor conception is no big deal, 'just like' adoption, also reveal their ignorance about fierce controversies in the field of adoption, historically and today. In the recent past, children were too readily separate from birth parents because the state decided that other, richer or more powerful couples were more suitable to be their parents. Today, there remain serious controversies over open adoption, the rights of adoptees to access their birth records, international and cross-racial adoption, pressures on birth mothers to relinquish children, adoption by gays, lesbians, and singles, and more."

    I hope you'll visit FamilyScholars.org, our online site for engagement, to learn more about our work and to participate in the discussion.

    Elizabeth Marquardt
    co-investigator, My Daddy's Name is Donor
    Editor, FamilyScholars.org

  2. "Adoption is a good, vital, and positive institution that finds parents for children who need families." I'm sorry???Did I read that right? What sort of research is this?

  3. http://www.slate.com/id/2256212

    The Sperm-Donor Kids Are Not Really All Right
    A new study shows they suffer.
    By Karen Clark and Elizabeth Marquardt

    "As a group, the donor offspring in our study are suffering more than those who were adopted: hurting more, feeling more confused, and feeling more isolated from their families. (And our study found that the adoptees on average are struggling more than those raised by their biological parents.) The donor offspring are more likely than the adopted to have struggled with addiction and delinquency and, similar to the adopted, a significant number have confronted depression or other mental illness. Nearly half of donor offspring, and more than half of adoptees, agree, "It is better to adopt than to use donated sperm or eggs to have a child."
    The stories that donor offspring tell about their confusion help to illustrate why they might be, as a group, faring so much worse. Christine Whipp, a British author conceived by anonymous sperm donation more than four decades ago, gives voice to the feelings some donor offspring have of being a "freak of nature" or a "lab experiment":
    My existence owed almost nothing to the serendipitous nature of normal human reproduction, where babies are the natural progression of mutually fulfilling adult relationships, but rather represented a verbal contract, a financial transaction and a cold, clinical harnessing of medical technology."

  4. This is Karen Clark, the donor offspring co-investigator of the MDND report and blogger at FamilyScholars.org. I am very sympathetic to the experiences of adoptees (as is Elizabeth) and in fact I am trying to advocate for opening adoption records (in my blogging efforts) as well as banning donor anonymity. Several of my posts are directly related to adoption loss. One person left a comment under one of our posts suggesting that they thought we even had a "radical anti-adoption" stance. Please help us support you by joining in on our discussions related to this topic. I want your voices heard along with the donor conceived...Thank you.
    -Karen Clark

  5. @ Von, ""Adoption is a good, vital, and positive institution that finds parents for children who need families."

    That is a legitimate opinion, not "research", and the operative word is "need".

    The reality is that children who, for whatever reason do not have parents or extended family willing or able to take care for them, do *need* homes, whether by adoption, guardianship or whatever arrangement would most appropriate to their circumstances.

  6. As one of the mindless masses, I am very intrigued by think tanks (LOVE 'em), and am so grateful that they do all that that heavy-duty cogitating for me. I mean, it's not as if us hoi polloi
    are capable on our lonesome.

    "The Institute for American Values, founded in 1987,
    is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to study and strengthen key American values.'

    What is the history of The Institute of American Values?
    How was it first conceived?
    And by whom was that name, that carries so much moral authority, chosen?

    Wikipedia is no help.
    It's not that I'm opposed to all that they seem to stand for.
    It's simply that this inquiring mind wants to know.

  7. Cat here.

    Anonymous sperm donors are not so anonymous anymore thanks to science. Here's Y (pun intended).

    The Y chromosome passes from father to son virtually unchanged.
    Scientists have found that Y chromosomes can be connected to surnames. Companies have already been set up to exploit this. There are now stories of successful finds using this method. As there is no legal minimum age requirement to use DNA facilities, even children can do this - one already has. He was 15.

    Here are some links to those stories.

    15 year old finds donor father

    Adoptees are using this technology as well.

    DNA Helps Adoptees find Surname

    Wall Street Journal
    Adopted Man's Quest for his Father

  8. Cat here.

    The tinyurl links don't seem to be working.

    Here are the full links for the previous posting.

    DNA Helps Adoptees find Surname

    Wall Street Journal
    Adopted Man's Quest for his Father



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