The Donor Who Dared To Say Don't

You wouldn't sell or give away your kids, would you? So don't donate your sperm!

Saturday, February 19, 2011


The Anonymous Us Project

About the Anonymous Us Project

The Anonymous Us Project is a safety zone for real and honest opinions about reproductive technologies and family fragmentation. We aim to share the experiences of voluntary and involuntary participants in these technologies, while preserving the dignity and privacy for story-tellers and their loved ones.

We honor and are forever thankful for the courageous minds among the donor-conceived who have worked tirelessly before us for justice and education on the ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology) family experience. We hold these story-tellers, educators and leaders in high esteem and are forever grateful for all of the sacrifices they have made to improve family policy and thus quality of life for all parties. We also acknowledge that many members of the ART community have serious opinions and experiences regarding their family structure that they'd like to add to the discussion, but feel they cannot because of a need for privacy.This project gives them an opportunity to be heard without having to reveal their identity and potentially hurt their loved ones. Though anonymity in reproduction hides the truth, anonymity in story-telling will help reveal it.

We hope that The Anonymous Us Project will fill out the conversation on reproductive technologies. We hope it will inspire more truth and transparency. We hope it will help shape healthier families and happier people.

About Alana S.

Alana S. is a donor-conceived adult and creative professional devoted to contributing insights and commentary about family fragmentation through evocative music and storytelling. Alana became an activist and child advocate while writing her upcoming film, Adam & Eva, a narrative screenplay from the perspective of a young woman conceived via artificial insemination, who chooses to sell her own eggs for the money she needs to independently investigate her ancestry. Alana has been interviewed by Womens' Health Magazine and Elizabeth Marquardt of My Daddy's Name is Donor (a representative, comparative study of young adults conceived through sperm donation) and is a major contributor to an upcoming documentary from Brooklyn-based film company Rumur Productions on her experiences as a donor-conceived adult. Alana fuses her feelings on motherhood and family often with her music, which can be found at

Friday, February 18, 2011


Murky business of donor conception is having a brutal effect on the offspring

Children are being ignored while the media invests heavily in the adults' side of the IVF equation

THIS week as the debate over homosexual marriage hots up, a very important Senate committee report on donor conception practices was tabled which should have far-reaching effects on the issue.

However, "should have" is not the same as "would have". Aside from a couple of brief reports in the Fairfax press, the news media have been strangely silent on this report with its criticisms of the in-vitro fertilisation industry and the whole murky business of donor conception, and some powerful testimony of the often brutal effects on the children who are its products.

This lack of interest in the downside of the new biotechnological-produced family seems odd. Although the majority of these children are born into heterosexual partnerships where one partner is infertile, there have been a number of stories -- including a cover story in The Weekend Australian's Magazine earlier this year -- about lesbians happily having children who are "co-parented" as the fashionable gender-neutral terminology has it, without any intention of contact with the donor, or in the unfashionable, sex-specific father.

So, one might assume that with the amount of recent focus on the "gay" family, the problems of their donor-conceived offspring would command more attention.

But the media have heavily invested in the simplistic emotionalism and cheap moral utilitarianism of the adults' side of the equation. Now they are somewhat taken aback that those children whose human rights were never considered in the beginning of the great biotech revolution are starting to raise their heads.

Briefly, the Senate committee found that donor conception in Australia and the IVF industry that oversees much of it is surprisingly badly managed for something as important as the creation of new human life.

Indicative of the chaos is the disturbing fact that the committee could not even find out approximately how many of these children are in Australia.

The estimate of somewhere between 20,000 and 60,000 is ridiculously broad. It just doesn't know and it should because many of these children could be related.

The committee found that donor-conceived people may have up to 20 genetic half-siblings because there is nothing to stop donors donating multiple times and in a variety of places.

Hence the committee's recommendation that there be a four-family limit, especially now the ability of one donor to give gametes is unlimited.

The committee also reinforced the ban on payment for gametes. This has always been the case in Australia and Britain.

However there are loopholes in this, such as payment for "reasonable expenses", and it is a big enough loophole at the moment to allow some smart operators to act as sperm brokers.

But the most controversial of the committee's decisions was to recommend that, like adoptees, donor-conceived children should have the right to track their biological parents through a national register.

Setting up such a register will be difficult. Under the present ad hoc arrangements, as Senator Trish Crossin noted, there is a "quite appalling" lack of legislation in half of Australia's nine jurisdictions.

Tasmania, Queensland, the ACT and the Northern Territory have no laws at all regarding donor conception practices.

One woman said: "I cannot begin to describe how dehumanising and powerless I am to know that the name and details about my biological father and my entire paternal family sit somewhere in a filing cabinet . . . with no means to access it.

"Information about my own family, my roots, my identity, I am told I have no right to know."

The committee made controversial observations which will probably meet stiff resistance from the IVF industry.

It noted that the accreditation process for IVF clinics seems to have broken down and is not transparent. It calls for national regulation and suggests that an ombudsman may be needed.

The importation of sperm -- which has already become a cottage industry -- should be banned.

In fact, the kind of resistance Australia can expect to the regulation of these practices has already begun in Britain where, due to a decline in the numbers donating, there is even a movement, backed by the IVF industry, to introduce anonymity.

Prospective parents place great weight on donor anonymity. The majority of donor-origin children born into heterosexual families do not know of their origins. Most parents pretend that the biological origins of the child don't matter.

That is understandable; it must be very difficult to give birth to a child within a family where the father has the usual emotional and psychological input and then possibly run the risk of damaging that bond with the revelation that half the child's physical self, its other 23 chromosomes, really came from someone else.

But it is amazing how many such children feel that something is not quite right.

On such person is Alana S., a 24-year-old writer and musician from San Francisco who has launched a website called

She is the child of an anonymous sperm donor and she is inviting parents and children to contribute their stories, positive and negative.

This forum is a first. There are many forums where IVF mums can swap stories about their pregnancies, online discussions on how to get sperm and inseminate oneself (complete with e-hand-books), but until now there have been none about the children born from these techniques.

Why? Well one reason is that for the past 20 years the biotech industry has conspired with the "new family" agenda underscored by manipulative emotionalism beloved of the media, to create the dubious notion of a right to a child, and suppress the rights of the child, even the obvious right to a mother and a father.

Nevertheless, most of today's donor-conceived young adults not only want a mother and a father, but the right to the knowledge of those other 23 chromosomes, their genetic forebears.

Once nurture was considered everything for children and nature was given very little credit.

Now through genetics we are beginning to understand the fundamental pull of our physical nature and what binds most of us to our parents.

But this issue should not be turned into an emotional contest. The most important people in this are not the parents -- neither the genetic nor the birth parents -- and certainly not the IVF industry. The important people are those that no one thought much about in the beginning: the children.

Saturday, February 16, 2008



Fertile ground for doubt

Sian Powell | February 16, 2008 [THE AGE - MELBOURNE - AUSTRALIA]

MYFANWY Walker objects to the way she was created: sperm donation.

She has given speeches explaining why she has grave doubts about the increasingly popular procedure of sperm and egg-donor conception.

"It's the whole reason I exist, so it's difficult for me to say I have a problem with this, but I think I have the right, and I think my arguments are valid," she says. "I see my friends being hurt by this."

She was one of a group of like-minded agitators who have met legislators and lawyers in Victoria, where the assisted reproduction technology legislation is due for amendment in the coming months. She has come to understand the new legislation will probably take in many of the Victorian Law Reform Commission's recommendations, broadening the scope for assisted reproduction, including donor conception.

Walker is appalled, but many MPs, women's groups and activists think it's about time Victoria relaxed the draconian restrictions on who can use fertility technology.

Walker doesn't agree with the discrimination - rather for the children's sake, she thinks gamete donation should be generally restricted, regardless of the recipient's married state or sexual orientation.

When she was 20, she discovered she was not the genetic product of both her parents. She decided to find her biological father, and in 2001 she told The Australian about her search.

She had very limited information about the donor; she had discovered he was a 26-year-old married university student with a three-year-old child and a week-old baby when he donated sperm in 1977. He had fair skin and blue eyes, his blood was A-positive and his donor tag was CP.

Michael Linden read the article, recognised himself and made contact. He and Walker have now established a friendship. Yet even though Walker has found her biological father, and filled in some of the gaps in her life, she has taken a principled stand against donor conception.

Almost 27, a graphic designer who will begin a law degree next month, she is an extremely thoughtful and intelligent nay-sayer. She says there is a range of reasons why the practice of donor conception is riddled with difficulties.

Even if donor-conceived children (as they are known) have some form of relationship with the donor, it obviously falls far short of a loving parental relationship. And Walker warns that in many cases, the donors simply can't be located.

These days, assisted reproduction is largely governed by guidelines that compel donors to waive anonymity once the offspring reaches adulthood. The guidelines of the federal research funding body, the National Health and Medical Research Council, make it clear that donors have to agree to be identified to the children, and if fertility clinics breach the guidelines their accreditation can be withdrawn. In Victoria, it is a matter of staying within the law.

But Walker warns that contact is by no means guaranteed: the information is not kept up to date, 18 years is a long time, and the donors may change their names, leave the country, or even actively evade the offspring.

The UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, she says, declares that children have a right to their identity: that identity can be fully or partly compromised when one parent is a donor, and probably anonymous for the first 18 years of the child's life.

"The child does not really know who they are," she says. "I know lots of facts about Michael, but I can't really 'know' him until I have a relationship with him."

Walker's stand against donor conception does not mean that she gets on badly with her genetic father, or that she is sorry they made contact: she is very happy she has found her genetic heritage and she is fond of Linden. "But there was a massive amount of loss there for me," she says. "There were 20 years I could never reclaim, coupled with the realisation that I could never have the genetic relationship with my own dad. My feelings about donor conception are quite different to the feelings I have about Michael. But some donor-conceived people have really horrible experiences."

They might be unable to find the donors, or appalled when they do find them. Walker says there's a growing feeling now that openness and transparency is the cure-all; if a child is told from very early age that one genetic parent is a donor, it should lessen the chance for psychological damage. But Walker says surveys have found most parents of donor-conceived children are reluctant to tell them exactly where they came from. The requirements only stipulate the donors agree to be identified when offspring turn 18.

She has been pushing for the Victorian law to include a requirement that donor status is listed on birth certificates: so far with little success. She is also one of many concerned citizens pushing for a conscience vote on any new reproduction law, again, so far without any success.

She is up against a solid phalanx of frustrated women, lawyers, politicians and medical professionals on other side of the assisted reproduction divide, all of them intent on easing the Victorian law and bringing it into line with the rest of Australia.

Melbourne solicitor Carmen Currie has been involved in a number of assisted reproduction cases, and she has written a paper on ART legislation titled Regulating Baby Making - Is Legislation an Appropriate Instrument for Regulating Assisted Reproductive Technologies?. She says the Victorian law is "arguably the most prescriptive of its kind in the world".

She would like to see it repealed, or substantially watered down, and the various ethical issues arising Victorian fertility clinics governed by the NHMRC guidelines, as they are everywhere else in Australia, at least for the time being.

Among other things the guidelines state (in a stipulation first introduced in 2004): "Persons conceived using ART procedures are entitled to know their genetic parents. Clinics must not use donated gametes in reproductive procedures unless the donor has consented to the release of identifying information about himself or herself to the persons conceived using his or her gametes."

These guidelines came too late for Walker: there were no such requirements when her genetic father donated his sperm. Many of her friends from the donor-conceived community are still searching fruitlessly for their genetic parents.

Four Australian states - Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and NSW - have assisted reproduction legislation in place, although the NSW law won't be implemented until the end of this year. Yet, by and large, the law in these states doesn't seek to prescribe who can and who cannot access reproductive technology, and the NRHMRC guidelines prevail, including the requirement for a donor anonymity waiver.

Currie points out that a moral code is embedded in the Victorian reproduction law, which strikes her as out of step with other laws. The law doesn't forbid unmarried people from having sex, so why should it prevent single women from using ART?

The Victorian law limited assisted reproduction to married couples until the stipulation was struck down by the Federal Court in 2000 citing anti-discrimination legislation. But the law is still restrictive. It says: "A doctor must be satisfied ... the woman is unlikely to become pregnant from an oocyte (female germ cell) produced by her and sperm produced by her husband other than by a treatment procedure." This is the foundation of a rigid policy used by fertility clinics to refuse anyone other than clinically infertile women, and excluding lesbians and single women. Many of these marginalised women prefer to travel interstate for treatment.

"Other states have laws regulating fertility treatment, but Victoria's laws have historically been by far the most restrictive in terms of the sort of personal criteria you need to satisfy to even get in the door of the clinic," Currie says. "The Victorian laws are concerned with who should or shouldn't be allowed to be a parent than simply regulating the technology, and there is a real question about whether that should be an appropriate focus for the law."

There are still enormous hurdles barring single women and lesbians from Victorian clinics, hurdles which are non-existent in other states, she says.

The technology has always outpaced the legislators. Even as Victorian legislators muse on how to shape a new assisted reproduction law, scientists in Britain announced earlier this month that they had created in-vitro fertilisation embryos with DNA from three parents. Legislators may think they can get round the problem of accelerating technology by fostering ever-more prescriptive and detailed laws, but Currie warns this approach is likely to push more and more cases into the arms of lawyers and the courts. It would be better to keep any laws general, with enough flexibility to permit clinics' ethics committees to resolve issues on a case-by-case basis.

In NSW, the assisted reproduction Act will come into force at the end of this year, and it is regarded with some consternation by fertility clinics. They fear the requirement to lodge donor-identifying information with the NSW Health Department, rather than simply keeping the information themselves, will deter potential donors. In reality, the NSW law will be far less prescriptive than the Victorian equivalent, simply because it does not stipulate eligibility criteria. Single women, lesbians and married women are treated equally, and unlike in Victoria, it isn't necessary to get consent from the spouse of a donor.

Walker says these debates are all very well, but they are entirely missing the point: that gamete donation is likely to be damaging for the child it produces, no matter how it is handled or who is eligible for it.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission's review of the Victorian legislation missed the point, she says. "No one asked, is this a good thing? Is there anything bad about it? It was just legislated. I suppose the feeling was that it was happening anyway."

She believes the Victorian parliamentarians will adopt almost all of the recommendations, effectively rubber-stamping an extremely significant loosening of the laws. "I have spoken with some of the MPs," she says. "Their scope is more about eligibility and access. We had meetings with them. They said 'it's not in our scope, it's not what we've looked at'."

"Basically my problem is with the ethics of the practice. It doesn't protect the rights of the child. Once people understand the issues they probably wouldn't choose to conceive via donor. And also once the Government is aware of the issues I think they will inevitably either legislate against it or strictly govern its practice, that is, treat it as an adoption."

ART is seen as a medical treatment for adults, and regarded almost entirely from the adult donors' and recipients' point of view. But it produces flesh and blood children.

"It should be a question of whether it's in the interests of the child," she says. "You can't negate that, you really can't."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


Victorian donors retain right to find their children

Government rejects bid to restrict donor contact


Carol Nader
December 18, 2007

SPERM and egg donors will still be permitted to initiate contact with children they helped conceive, after the State Government rejected the recommendation of a report it commissioned that the law be overthrown.

In Victoria, anyone who donated sperm or eggs that were used in the conception of children born from July 1988 onwards can apply to the Infertility Treatment Authority for information about the child.

Once the child turns 18, the authority is required to write to them, requesting consent to release identifying information to the donor.

But there are concerns that people who are not aware of their genetic origins would face possible trauma upon learning of their history. Studies have shown only about a third of parents tell their children how they were conceived.

The first people affected by the law turned 18 last year. The authority launched a public awareness campaign, encouraging parents to tell their children and offering support.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission in its report argued it would be "intrusive and unenforceable" to legally oblige parents to inform their children of their genetic origins.

It recommended that only children be allowed to initiate contact, but donors should have a 12-month period to apply for information. It said donors should be encouraged to tell authorities if they became aware of a genetic condition that might have been transmitted and the information would be passed on.

The Government last week announced it would make surrogacy available and ease restrictions on single women and lesbians to access fertility treatment. But it won't accept the commission's recommendation about sperm and egg donors' access to information.

A spokesman for Health Minister Daniel Andrews said: "There have been a number of changes over a period of time in this area. To change the laws again would be confusing and destabilising."

Melbourne IVF clinic medical director John McBain has been trying to persuade the Government to repeal the law and intends to write to Mr Andrews.

Dr McBain said by refusing to change the law, the Government was effectively frightening people into telling their children about how they were conceived.

The authority has so far received fewer than 10 applications from donors requesting information about children who have turned 18. Chief executive Louise Johnson said donors making the applications to date had been sensitive.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Well, at least they are calling him the father.

True love eludes internet daters, but a father found

Carol Nader
September 13, 2007

The Age, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA

Ann Bell and her daughter Jennifer, 10 now know - by chance - who Jennifer's biological father is.

Ann Bell and her daughter Jennifer, 10 now know - by chance - who Jennifer's biological father is.

Ten years after conceiving a child together, they finally met.

Ann Bell was looking for the love of a good man when she logged onto an internet dating site.

This is where the story takes a somewhat bizarre turn. What she found instead, she believes, is her child's biological father.

When the Perth woman, originally from Scotland, and her former husband were trying to have a baby together, they needed a sperm donor. Their child, Jennifer, was born 10½ years ago. The marriage ended when Jennifer was a few months old. Ms Bell started dating. Curious about her daughter's roots and fascinated by the psychology of sperm donation, she got into the habit of asking the men she met if they had ever made such a chivalrous gift. She met a man on the internet early this year and asked him the bold question — had he ever been a sperm donor? He said yes.

The way Ms Bell tells the story, they chatted in cyberspace for a while. He lived outside Perth. Eventually, they met, a couple of times. They soon established that he was not for her. Nor her for him. But she wanted to know more about his sperm donor history.

They compared information she had been given in the donor profile. She didn't think it was possible that he was the one. Some things just didn't fit. His date of birth, for instance, was wrong (they later learned the clinic had recorded an incorrect date). But there were things that matched. His place of birth in another state was the same.

Months after their last meeting, Ms Bell, now happily ensconced with another man she met on the internet, could not stop wondering. She asked, by email, for him to contact the clinic. On a visit to Perth, the man went to the clinic, showed some identification and was given his donor code. That night he phoned — the code matched. "I couldn't even digest what had happened, the randomness of it. I was caught up in the bizarreness of life."

So thrown was she that she didn't tell her daughter until weeks later, when Jennifer was mulling over how much she'd like to have siblings. Actually, Ms Bell told her, she did. The donor, who does not want to be identified, has his own children. Jennifer, who had met him, laughed. She thought it was pretty cool. She is going to spend time with him.

Both Ms Bell and the donor, who also spoke to The Age, are confident the matching donor code is enough to confirm he is Jennifer's biological father. They don't feel the need for a paternity test to prove it.

The clinic where Jennifer was conceived, the Concept Fertility Centre in Perth, could not provide information on the case for privacy reasons. But Bruce Bellinge, a reproductive biologist at the clinic, said a matching code should be enough to confirm the biological connection. "If they're both dinky-di about the code, then that would be identifying enough," he said. "You're assuming that both donor and recipient have given each other the correct code."

Leonie Hewitt, from the Donor Conception Support Group, said the case highlighted the need for a national register of sperm donors. "What would happen if a donor and a half sibling met on the internet?" she said.

The nation's attorneys-general agreed in July to form a working party to investigate donor registers. Victoria already has a register.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Donor Hero of the Month (September , I guess)

Here's one guy, at least, who is not in any doubt that he is their father and that they are most definitely his kids

What Is A Father: The Genetic Parent
As told to: Jennifer Wolff, Photograph: Alessandra Petlin
May 16, 2007 - 2:51:35 PM

Mike Rubino, 47, artist, sperm donor, father of untold numbers of children

I might have 10 kids, or I might have 50 kids. I have no idea. For sure I know about seven kids through six different mothers who live in six different states, from New York to Hawaii.

I donated sperm once or twice a week for about five years in the early 1990s. Before that, I was one of those people who spent their life savings on fertility treatments, trying to get my ex-wife pregnant, to no avail. She was infertile, but I wasn’t. We felt that by donating, I could help couples going through what we went through, plus pay for groceries for the week.

Each time I gave a sample, I was aware, Wow, there could be a child produced from this. And I told the sperm bank I was open to having contact with any of them after they turned 18. I had this vision of being in my fifties and having these teenagers showing up at my door, looking similar to me, and saying, “Hi, Dad. Want to go for coffee?”

Several years after my divorce, I found the Donor Sibling Registry, a Web site where donor offspring can find their half siblings and, sometimes, their donors. Rachael, one of the moms, had listed her two kids, Aaron and Leah, under my donor number. When I saw their names and their ages—6 and 3 at the time—I got very weepy. Oh my God, these were my kids!

Within hours, we were talking on the phone. Rachael asked, “Is it okay if they call you Dad? Would you prefer they call you Donor?” I was fine with Dad, and that’s what they called me when Rachael brought them out to see me from Massachusetts. Today I have relationships with four of my children. My son in Southern California knows I’m his father, but he calls me Mike. More recently, I met Precious, my daughter in Hawaii. She never asked; she just called me Dad.

I assumed 99 percent of people who bought donor sperm would be infertile couples and that the kids would already have fathers. I didn’t anticipate so many single moms. Of my known kids, none of them has a dad. Most of them don’t have living grandfathers or uncles or any men in their lives, really.

A lot of men out there get married, have children, raise them for a year, and then take off. They are still very much these kids’ fathers, even if another man moves in and takes over. The biological father could be a deadbeat dad, but he’s still a dad. He could be an awful dad, but he’s still a dad. Now I’m a donor dad, or an absentee dad. But for these kids, even though I don’t live with them, or even near most of them, and I don’t pick them up from school or help them with their homework, I’m the only dad they know. And the mothers…until now, they had been complete strangers to me. But I haven’t been a complete stranger to them. They chose me. Granted, all I was to them was a donor profile and a tape recording, but that alone creates a persona in their minds. They carried their…my…our children, and of course they are madly in love with them, so the donor becomes a part of all that intense emotion. I think some of the moms have some issues, not with me, but with one another. I don’t want to say there is a tug-of-war over my time, because no one has been demanding. But there is definitely tension.

All of our names are now off the Donor Sibling Registry. The moms and I need to take a breather to figure out how I can accommodate the kids I know of, because there’s always the chance that another one might turn up. That doesn’t mean that the kids I don’t know yet aren’t entitled to meet their father, but I don’t necessarily want 50 kids in my life either. I’m eventually going to have so many little families that I won’t be able to afford to spend airfare and a week off to visit every one of them. It might have to be one or two kids a year, one or two kids the next year, and then, depending on how many I have, come back around. At this point it’s hard to know what’s fair.

I was really burned by my first marriage, and I thought I’d never have a family—I thought I’d missed my chance. Now I have all these kids to add meaning and purpose to my life. I can’t see them or talk to them over the phone without smiling or busting out laughing.

What I miss is waking up with them on Christmas and watching them opening their presents and believing in Santa Claus. If I’m lucky, I’ll catch one of them on Christmas who still believes in Santa, but maybe not. I also realize that some guy could come in and marry one of these women, and I could be squeezed out. I would miss them, but my primary concern is for my children’s happiness. If some great guy comes in and it’s good for them, then I am happy for them. I absolutely love it when my kids come to stay with me. But I’m also okay when they leave.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Hats off to you, Mr Donohue (Donor Hero of the Month)

Modern Love: I Made Him What He Is, but Who Is He?

By Thomas Anthony Donohue, family therapist, West Roxbury, Mass.

New York Times. July 29, 2007

Last December I got a call from a health and fertility clinic in Cambridge, Mass., asking if I would be willing to respond to a male teenager inquiring about his sperm donor. I donated there in the late 80s, and it seemed any children I had helped create were just now becoming of legal age to contact me if I would allow it.

At 50, I have never married, never raised any children. And about a month before the call, I had reached a point where I was feeling anxious and socially disconnected, no longer relaxed with my friends and sensing there had to be something more meaningful in my life. Perhaps this predisposed me to say yes, the boy could call me, and shortly thereafter I received the following message on my answering machine: “Hello, Anthony. I know this may come as ... a surprise. But I knew you might be waiting for it. But uh ... I, uh ... guess you’re my ... sperm donor.” He then gave me his name and cellphone number, and closed by saying: “Thank you. I hope you call back. Bye.”

Thinking about such an encounter has always provoked anxiety and excitement in me. I’ve been anxious about the potential awkwardness of a meeting and worried about possible financial liabilities that could come out of this largely uncharted legal territory. But I’ve also felt excited, after years of wonder, about one day actually meeting a person who emerged from this process.

I called him back, leaving a message of my own. I half-wondered if he heard me leaving the message but didn’t pick up because he first wanted to get a sense of my voice, my attitude and my openness to meeting him.

Finally, a day or so later, we spoke. “Hi,” I said. “This is Anthony. The guy who was your sperm donor. Strange, isn’t it?” “Thanks for calling back.” “I’m happy you called,” I said. “You’re very brave.” “Maybe, like, you’d want to meet?” he asked. He mentioned a restaurant in Harvard Square, and we agreed to a late breakfast in a few days.

I felt a little paranoid on my way to meet him, not knowing what to expect. We didn’t tell each other what we look like, and I was still idly wondering if there might be a camera to take photos of me to account for some potential child support. Of course, he also could just have been a child wanting to meet his biological father.

Outside the restaurant, I passed a tall teenager leaning against a pole. I thought I should say his name to see if it was him, but part of me needed to procrastinate a minute longer, to catch my breath and get some perspective. Inside I looked around purposefully, but no one made eye contact; everyone seemed to be busy with someone else.

Back outside, I approached the teenager and said his name. “Yes?” he replied. “Anthony,” I said. “Hi.” I reached out for him, thinking I should embrace my child, and we hugged. Struck by his height (I’m only 5-foot-8), I asked him how tall he is. “Six-three,” he said. With his scraggly beard and dark features, he looked somewhat Russian-Jewish, but I could also see some of me in him, a dab of Irish in his light, reddish complexion. I had the same scraggly beard at his age -- now a goatee.

The only table was by the door, amid the noise and bustle. A young waitress with a soft-spoken accent (Portuguese, I think) briskly delivered us cups of coffee. Getting right into it, he said, “Can I ask you some questions?” “Absolutely.” “Do you know many lesbian couples?” he asked, and then: “What made you donate?”

“People wanted children,” I said. “I was available at the time.” I took a sip, then elaborated, since he seemed to want more. “An ex-girlfriend called and said a nurse friend of hers was looking for a donor for her clinic. I thought about it and even went to a counselor. She told me to go for it and to think of it as sharing light.”

The waitress approached for our order. I asked for a vegetable omelet with dark rye. He ordered pancakes with strawberries and cream. Typical kid food, I thought. After the waitress left, he asked, “Are there any medical issues in your family?” “None that stick out. Except for a little accident proneness on my part.”

I told him about my more glamorous accidents from when I was closer to his age, bumps and broken bones from parachuting and hang gliding. What I didn’t bring up was an accident I’d had just before I started donating sperm; I’d been painting a house with a friend when a platform collapsed, crushing my right leg. It took a few years to learn to walk again, and during this time I donated sperm because I needed extra income. Not that it was very much: $40 a visit. I donated probably 30 to 40 times over a couple of years.

As soon as we left the restaurant, his cellphone rang: it was his mother, asking where he was. He answered by saying he would be home in an hour. After he hung up, I asked, “Did you tell your mothers we were meeting?” He shook his head no. “Just wanted to do it.”

Walking from the restaurant, I wished I was taller and had a surer walk. He seemed so athletic, and I wanted to be on an equal footing with him, maybe portray an image of a person who would have kept up with him as he was growing into a teenager.

“Let’s go this way,” I suggested, pointing toward Boston. But when I realized we had no particular destination, I started feeling uncomfortable. “Is there anywhere you want to go?” I asked. “No,” he said.

I thought in our first walk together that I, as his biological father, should know where to go, and as we walked I kept hoping for some intuitive clue as to which direction would be the right one. It was hard to be an instant father. I kept thinking I should be acting in a way he would approve, a way that showed me to be a capable and confident father, even though I had never been one.

Our time together was good but bewildering and emotionally taxing; my right leg was even starting to ache. So by the time we circled back around and reached his bike, I was relieved that it was over.

“Would you like to meet again?” I asked him. “It’s been great.” “Yeah. Could we do something together next time? An activity?” “Sure,” I said. “Like what?” “I don’t know. I’m open.” “What about a movie?” I said, disappointed in my lack of imagination. “Which one?” My mind was blank. Shouldn’t a proper father have a time sheet and listing of the various films available? “I’ll call you,” I finally said. As he biked off, I felt tired and confused. I walked past the Harvard Coop and saw a book in the window titled, “Take a Nap! Change Your Life.” When I got to my car, that’s exactly what I did.

We brought photos to our second meeting. As a young child, he definitely looked more like someone from my family line. For the past 17 years I’ve at times dwelled on these possible children of mine: who they were, and where, and how many, especially given that the nurse at the donation center said my recipients showed positive inseminations. I felt a sense of relief that I had finally met one of my offspring.

My latest connection with him came in January, before he went back to college in California. We met outside one of the oldest chapels in Cambridge, Christ Church. As he locked up his bike, I noticed for the first time the address, Zero Garden Street, which I thought was oddly appropriate. I was more aware than ever that I hadn’t raised him as my son and that he hadn’t had me as his father. At zero we could at least adjust our social expectations to this lack of history.

We decided to go bowling -- his idea -- and on the way into the alley, I took out my wallet and gave him $40, which is all the cash I had on me. He was embarrassed by my clumsy attempt at a gift, but he accepted it on my insistence. I don’t know why I thought to give him some money that day, especially in such an awkward and insufficient way, but a couple of days later, while sharing the story of my meeting with a friend, I remembered that $40 is what I was paid each visit to the sperm bank. I already felt sheepish that my gesture had seemed a bit too transactional, rushed, inept and definitely cheap. Part of me, perhaps, wanted to get business out of the way. Give back what I was paid, for my part in him. Start fresh. But $40? What must he have thought? I hope to find out when he returns in the summer. If he wants to meet again, that is. Making contact seemed like a big step for him and maybe all he wants for now, to calm his curiosity.

But it was good for my curiosity, too, and for me in general at this point in my life. Later I called the donation center to approve any future contact from other children. A little more than a week after placing that call, I came home to the voice of a nervous-sounding girl on my answering machine, who introduced herself and then said: “Uh, calling you, and, uh, looking forward to talking to you about being my donor, and I guess ... I’ll try again later. “Bye.”


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