Diane Beeson, Ph.D., professor emerita in the department of sociology and social services at California State University, East Bay, in Hayward, and her co-authors have published what amounts to a pretty important piece of research: The findings of the largest survey so far of children born from donor sperm looking at how the kids learned about how they were conceived and whether they wanted to contact their donor. About 60,000 donor-inseminated births occur each year, and many parents opt not to tell their child(ren) about the how they were conceived.
Over 700 “donor-inseminated” children filled out online questionnaires; of those, nearly 62 percent had heterosexual parents and 38 percent were raised by lesbian parents. The surveys asked about the families the kids grew up in, how they felt about how they were conceived, the communication in their family, donor anonymity, and their search for their donor. Dr. Beeson and her colleagues were particularly interested in any relationship between family type (single- or dual-parent and lesbian or straight parents) and how the child reacted when he or she learned they were conceived using donor sperm.
Their findings: Children in single-parent families and lesbian families learned they were conceived using donor sperm earlier than kids with heterosexual parents and dual-parent families (nearly 46 percent of kids of heterosexual parents said they’d always known they were donor-conceived, compared to more than 79 percent of children of lesbian parents). The vast majority of kids in all types of families (82 percent) wanted to contact their donor, though not all kids felt comfortable expressing their curiosity or desire to contact their sperm donor. Their top reasons for wanting to reach out aren’t surprising: wanting to know what their donor looked like, and to learn about their ancestry. “Wanting to establish a relationship with the donor” wasn’t among the top reasons the children (about half of which were grown up at the time of the survey) gave, though.
"Our data make it clear that children who learned very early that they were conceived with donor sperm tended to take this information in stride," says Dr. Beeson, while those who learned when they were older often felt confused, and in some cases, betrayed, by the information. This reinforces my view that trust is the foundation of a strong relationship between parents and children. Secrecy about something so fundamental as a family member’s origins appears to be a serious threat to the kind of deep trust and mutual respect parents need to establish with their children." Beeson encourages parents who have difficulty being open with their children about this issue to seek professional counseling or to seek out other parents who have been more open. "The Donor Sibling Registry, www.donorsiblingregistry.com, is a great resource to explore these issues," she adds.
If you’re using donor sperm do you plan to tell your child how she or he was conceived? If so, when and how? If not, why not?