An anonymous mother from New Zealand shares her story of marrying a man who has donated sperm multiple times in Australia – and the ongoing impact of decisions made more than a decade ago.
Years before we met, my husband donated sperm.
I can’t remember at what stage we were at in our relationship when he told me. I don’t remember thinking anything much about it at the time. I certainly didn’t think that it would ever impact me.
We got on with our lives. We married.
And when our marriage certificate was processed I got a call. From a sperm bank. They needed to talk to me.
Really, you might think I’d have heard from them earlier. They could have called when the request for the marriage license had come through. I can only imagine what that call might have been like had my new husband not already informed me of his decision to donate sperm before we were married.
The sperm bank had a counsellor and that counsellor specifically needed to talk to me. I was asked to ensure I was in a different location to my new husband when the phone call took place.
That phone call was an absolutely awkward experience all round.
They wanted me to understand that the actions of my husband in donating sperm years before we met would almost definitely impact me at some point in my life and “any subsequent children my husband may potentially choose to father with me”.
Umm, we already had a kid.
The counsellor talked at me for 45 minutes. She outlined all the ways my husband’s decision might impact me and our children – including the right of children conceived with his sperm to contact him when they turned 18 – and told me I needed to “sign off” any issues I might have in the future.
At that point the counsellor said: “So you agree to those terms?”
“Do I have a choice?” I asked. “Aren’t there already children walking around as a result of sperm he donated? And you’ve told me these children have the right to ask about their genetic father and that this will impact me and my children? Isn’t that what you’ve just spend 45 minutes telling me?”
“Um, well yeah, but…” she tried to give me different solutions and examples of support services. She shared other experiences of other donor families.
After another 15 minute spiel I lost patience: “I hear what you are saying – but what choice do I have? Am I right in assuming this is a process in which you just want me to sign off any liability you hold?”
At this point she had lost some patience too I suspect.
“Well to be honest you don’t have any choice to a certain extent. There are multiple couples who have had children using your husband’s sperm already. If you want me to tell them to destroy any frozen embryos created with your husband’s sperm – possible biological siblings for their children – that is your choice. Otherwise you need to be aware that this is the reality that the man you married has created for you. You need to deal with the fact that there is likely going to be some impact of that in your life. Now do I need to go and tell these families they can’t have biological siblings for their children or do you agree to the terms that we have discussed?”
I am not going to rob someone of that dream. Of course I’m not. We struggled to get pregnant ourselves (obviously my issues not his – given he had already biologically fathered more than a half dozen children before mine whose names we don’t even know).
I know that heartbreak. I know the desperate longing – of course I wouldn’t rob someone else of their chance to have a family.
Literally throwing my arms up in the air I said: “OK, I agree to the conditions I guess”.
“Thank you” she said rather abruptly. “That’s all I need.”
And that was the end of the phone call.
What are you meant to do with that?
I just had an hour-long phone call about the catastrophic ways in which this could impact me and my children. I was scared shitless about something I had no choice in. A decision had been made before my time and I had just legally agreed to it.
There were definitely some terse conversations after that phone call with my new husband. I want to remind you that, I knew about his donation before we married. Imagine if I hadn’t?
My husband might not be a father to these half dozen kids out there in the world but I now understood fully that biologically he is their father. And as such they have a right to know about him and their biological siblings.
Their biological siblings are my precious children.
I now understood that I needed to expect a time when the parents of these children, or the children themselves, may want not only more information but they might want to meet my husband, their biological father, too.
I get it. I am not a monster. Of course those kids might want some answers someday. Of course they might want to know more about their biological father.
But I am not those children. I am not my husband. My children had no choice in this matter. Nor did I.
In some ways the lack of information they make available to the donor makes this feel worse. We don’t know how many of my husband’s sperm became viable embryos.
We don’t know how many of them are now walking, talking children.
We don’t know their names.
We know anything about their families.
We don’t know what type of people they are.
But they have the right to know about us and our children at anytime. And we have no choice but to provide them with the information they want to know about all of us.
The parents of these children have the right to request information at any time. Any time.
When the children turn 18 it is their legal right to find out their biological father’s details and they could well track him down and end up on our doorstep at any moment.
I don’t know when or what I expected. But last week it happened. And that is why I am writing this.
My husband was passing me the cutlery for dinner and he casually mentioned, “Oh I worked out why [government agency name] was trying to get hold of me. [IVF Clinic Name] has two requests for information about me.”
I must have looked shocked because he said: “I know, earlier than I expected too. Anyway, it is two different families that have requested more details about me. I’m not sure what I’m going to say to them, I guess they….”
I could no longer hear him. It was like my ears filled with water.
My head was spinning. To be honest it still is.
Again, how do you process this?
There are at least two families with children who are biologically half siblings of my children. All of the counsellor’s threats and advice came tumbling to the front of my mind from all those years ago.
“You may want to consider telling any ‘subsequent’ children about this BEFORE questions are asked” she had told me.
At the time I remember thinking that “subsequent” was like salt in the wound, a reminder that my baby – currently upstairs being held by my husband while I talked to the sperm bank about this shit – wasn’t his first child.
What the fuck am I meant to tell my children about that? And when am I meant to do it?
It’s a looming threat.
I don’t even know what to tell myself, let alone how what to say to my husband. But now I’m meant to tell my children?
Why wasn’t he told all of this when he donated? Why don’t they talk about this?
Why did the sperm bank not have him in the room for “my” counselling session slash signing away of my rights? At least he could have given me reassurance he’s not some fucking weirdo that went around spreading his ‘seed’ everywhere to nameless children we have no idea about.
The truth that exists within my rage is that my husband did something kind and well-intentioned long before we met to help a stranger’s dreams come true. He watched his own sister struggle and lose her precious baby and he knew in his heart that he wanted to have his own kids someday too. At the time, for him, it seemed a simple act that could help so many.
Twenty people to be precise.
Maybe a dozen babies.
Many are children now, older than the children we have had together.
Though he didn’t physically make those children with these women, he has a link to them and their families.
Ten years ago he donated sperm. Like the counsellor said – this is my reality now. My reality is that the questions have already started coming.
Those requests for information are a timer. How ironic. A biological clock. We thought we had at least eight more years to work out to handle this. Now it’s already happening.
I have to take it all in and try to remember all those things that I agreed to, somewhat under duress, years ago.
Eight years to work it out might seem like a while, I know. But maybe the thing to know from all of this is that there is another side to sperm donation and it’s not always as joyous as you’d expect. Like life, it’s messy and painful and confusing and very, very complex.
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