Open-identity donors

Once upon a time, doctors advised infertile couples to keep the fact of donor conception a secret from everyone, including the child. Led partly by the lessons of adoption, and especially with more importance today placed on knowing ones genetic markers and family medical histories, being able to make limited contact with the donor someday has become encouraged.

An open-identity donor allows offspring the opportunity (usually after age 18) to ask questions of the donor. It was a concept launched more than 20 years ago by The Sperm Bank of California. Today, thanks largely to heightened interest by single women and lesbian couples to be open in talking with their children about the donor, more sperm banks are making an effort to offer open-identity donors as well. [It is required for our Choice Moms in U.K., parts of Australia, and several other countries as well.]

When choosing a sperm bank, donor and clinic, be sure that policies about record-keeping and secrecy will meet your needs. This can involve foresight. Many parents who didn’t consider biological history of much concern when picking a donor regret it later. Some have children with unexplained medical issues. Others have children asking questions about the donor that cannot be answered.

No matter how much information on paper you have about a donor, it might not be enough for a child who has a subtle longing, or simple curiosity, to be able to know whether his or her big feet, or sense of humor, or interest in art, comes from the donor’s side. Or for the person who would like nothing better than to be able to sit down across from the donor and find similarities in appearance, mannerisms, interests. Or for the newlywed who is expecting your grandchild, and wishes more was known about the “other” side of the family.

I strongly believe the child’s story of origin should belong, as much as possible, to that child, not “owned” and guarded by the adults who helped that child come into the world. Most adopted children who wish they could access their original birth record might say the same.

As one donor-conceived adult said in my book Choosing Single Motherhood: The Thinking Woman’s Guide, “It’s very frustrating to me when people say that biological connections should not matter [to the child]. If biological connections do not matter, why are you going through this much trouble just to conceive your own child?”

Listed here are two research papers by Joanna Scheib at The Sperm Bank of California about how parents decided between anonymous and identity-release, and what they thought about the open identity choice 18 years later.

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