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by Christine Dhanagom
This article was first posted on Life Site News on December 5, 2011.
There are only four things Alana Stewart knows about her father: he has blonde hair, blue eyes, a college degree, and his assigned number at the sperm bank where he sold half of Alana’s genetic code is 81.
She is one of an estimated 30,000 – 60,000 children conceived each year in the United States through sperm donation. A former egg donor herself, Alana is now a vocal critic of the practice, which she calls “the violent act of buying and selling a child.”
Her story, featured in the upcoming documentary Anonymous Father’s Day, is becoming more and more common. Many of the children conceived through sperm donation are now adults, and some of them are speaking out against the practice that brought them into existence.
Their stories are revealing that the experience of being a donor conceived child is not what many proponents of the technology expected it would be. Such children were supposed to think of the man married to their mother as their father, and of their biological father as just the man who masturbated at a sperm bank and walked away with a $75 check. But according to Alana, it’s not that simple.
“The biological parent’s absence is impossible to ignore because their presence is impossible to ignore - when you’re living in a version of their body and thinking in a version of their brain,” she told LifeSiteNews. “I do very much feel separated from not only my father, but my entire paternal relatives.”
Jennifer Lahl, the director of Anonymous Father’s Day, says she created the documentary to give a voice to people like Stewart, whose concerns are too often overlooked in a debate that has deep implications for their lives and identities.
“All we’re concerned about predominately is people who want a baby, is how we can help people who want a baby get a baby,” Lahl observed. But, she continued, there is a need for prospective parents and policy makers to think about “the larger implications of reproductive technology.”
For Stewart, those implications have included a sense of abandonment by her biological father and a rocky relationship with the man who raised her.
In Lahl’s film, she recounts what it was like to be raised by her mother and the man she refers to as “my mom’s first husband.” There was a noticeable contrast between his relationship with Alana and his relationship with Alana’s adopted sister.
“He felt purpose in raising [my sister], he felt like her father,” she relates. “With me, my biological relatedness to my mother just emphasized what I didn’t have in common with him.”
When the marriage fell apart, Alana recounts, he fought for custody of his adopted daughter but not of Alana.
Barry Stevens, another of the film’s interviewees, has a similar story to tell. Stevens did not find out that he was conceived through donor sperm until after the man he believed to be his biological father passed away. He says that even prior to the revelation, he and his sister had sensed that something was amiss.
“I had a sense that he didn’t really feel like my father,” Stevens explained. “And my mother later confirmed that. And there was this big secret in the family, and I think that hurt us.”
The identity crisis that this situation created for Stewart and Stevens is reportedly a common problem for donor conceived children.
My Daddy’s Name is Donor, a report released last year by the Commission on Parenthood’s Future, surveyed young adults conceived through sperm donation and compared their responses to those of peers raised by adopted parents and biological parents.
The study found that 43% of donor offspring compared to 15% of adopted children and 6% who were raised by biological parents agreed with the statement: “I feel confused about who is a member of my family and who is not.”
Moreover, 48% of donor offspring compared to only 19% of adopted children agreed: “When I see friends with their biological fathers and mothers, it makes me feel sad.”
According to Lahl, the differences between adopted children and donor conceived children should not be surprising.
“In the case of the adopted child, there was some reason why a parent couldn’t keep them,” she pointed out. “Versus with the donor conceived person where someone just gave away a part of their body, their egg or their sperm, without thinking that was their child.”
Strikingly, the report also found indications of a correlation between sperm donor conception and marriage failure.
27% of donor children parents are divorced compared to only 14% of parents of adopted children. The number of donor child marriages that fail is only slightly higher than the failure rate of a marriage with biological children - 25%. As the study points out, however, the comparison with adoptive parents is more significant because most couples do not consider fertility technology or adoption until later in life, when marriages tend to be more stable.
For Stewart, the finding is consistent with her own experience. “Mothers can say things like, ‘Well it’s not your kid anyways.’ The father is left constantly insecure about his place and role in the family,” she said.
She added that turning to sperm or egg donation to conceive a child can be evidence of a “materialistic” attitude on the part of the couple.
“They are people that find it difficult to accept not having something and often put their own needs before others (i.e. their need to have a child before their child’s need to have its father/mother), and these personalities often fail in marriage.”
Despite the heartache that many donor-conceived children attribute to the circumstances of their conception, the report found that the majority, 61%, still support the practice.
“I call it the value endowment. It is what lead me to sell my own eggs,” says Stewart “There is a skewed level of support among donor-conceived people in approval of the practice, mainly because they are regurgitating their parent’s values, are afraid of being disowned if they reject those values, and haven’t had the time, space, inspiration to reflect further on it.”
The remaining 40%, however, are becoming increasingly vocal. Stewart has founded a website, anonymousus.org, which provides a forum where all whose lives have been affected by donor conception can grapple with the issues it raises.
Lahl says she hopes the film will facilitate a similar dialogue, both in the public square and in the legislature.
There is, she says, a need to examine the “policy implications” that these concerns should have, since “right now in the United States pretty much, anything goes. If you have money, you can pay the doctor and the laboratory to do anything you want.”