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Sperm-Donor Babies Are Not So Happy

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Ronda Kaysen: We spend a lot of time talking about the emotional well-being of adoptive children. There are laws to protect them, to give them access to their birth parents and countless studies conducted about their development.

sad baby

The children born via sperm donation, however, are largely left alone, with few studies following them and virtually no information tracking just how many of them are out there. Sperm donation isn't regulated by the states, and anyone with the means to pay the medical bills can use the services of a sperm bank.

Despite our nonchalant attitude toward sperm donation, a new study has found that kids conceived through sperm donation have very complicated feelings about their origins and don't always fare so well when they become adults.

Karen Clark and Elizabeth Marquardt, two of the authors of the new study, posted a compelling essay about their findings on the Slate site Double X, breaking down part of what it's like to be the child of a sperm donor. (When Clark was 18, she found out that she herself had been conceived via sperm donation.)

"As a group, the donor offspring in our study are suffering more than those who were adopted: hurting more, feeling more confused and feeling more isolated from their families," Clark and Marquardt wrote. Their study also found that, as adults, donor offspring struggle with addiction and delinquency in greater numbers than adopted kids and, much like adopted kids, often have to deal with depression and other mental illnesses.

The finding that really struck me was this one: Nearly half of all donor kids and more than half of all adopted kids agree with the statement, "It is better to adopt than to use donated sperm or eggs to have a child."

The majority of donor offspring feel that their sperm donor is half of who they are, and more than half of them say that when they see someone who bears a resemblance to them, they wonder if they might be related.

Christine Whipp, a British author conceived through sperm donation, described her experience this way: "My existence owed almost nothing to the serendipitous nature of normal human reproduction, where babies are the natural progression of mutually fulfilling adult relationships, but rather represented a verbal contract, a financial transaction and a cold, clinical harnessing of medical technology."

The study is amazing in its revelations. There is endless discussion about adoption and its costs and benefits for children. But sperm donation, aside from the occasional story about kids tracking down their donor fathers, is still this great unknown.

The authors call for removing a layer of secrecy around it by following the lead of other countries and ending the practice of anonymous sperm donation. Further, they say, society needs to acknowledge that the men who donated their sperm are the biological parents of these children, not just "seed providers" or "Y guys," as many parents refer to them.

next: Chart: Stuff Preschoolers Like to Talk About
12 comments so far | Post a comment now
r June 25, 2010, 4:58 AM

one does have to remember that this study was done through a very conservative group- the institute for family values. the questions are rather leading and the study seems biased- much like many drug studies can be. the actual study can be seen here:

just saying… i would take this study with a grain of salt. June 25, 2010, 5:12 AM

My husband agreed to be a known sperm donor. He donated sperm at a sperm bank for the woman who was married to another man. The woman blackmailed the sperm donor to make a natural deposit a year later or else she would expose the earlier transaction to the sperm donors’ wife. Then the woman came back 8 years later and had the courts determine my husband was the legal father so he could pay child support. I became collateral damage for this other 40 year old woman with a ticking biological clock “right to procreate” by any means. The mother of the spuriously conceived child refuses to allow the sperm donor contact with the child as long as he stays married to his wife. Think about the emotional damage to this child . Should sperm donors really be outed ? I think it is good the child knows who his DADDY really is for medical reasons…. but what does it say about the desperateness of his mother who could not have a normal relationship with an available man to bring a child into. Is that knowledge worth the emotional damage to the child. Either way the child is rejected by the sperm donor…….. because he was a transaction and commodity, for a selfish woman whose “needs” superceded the child’s best interests.

anonymous June 25, 2010, 5:21 AM

@spermdonor’s wife - but wouldn’t the situation be better if sperm donation were regulated? The donation could be open, but only after the child grew up. The woman wouldn’t be able to demand child support any more than you can demand it from birth parents if you adopt a child. It might even be possible to punish her for the blackmail, if things were regulated.

Jessica June 25, 2010, 10:17 AM

I couldn’t agree more with this article. I’m kind of a sperm donor baby myself (not legitamitely, but my parents divorced when I was in utero and “sperm donor” as he is referred to in the family, wants nothing to do with me and has never met me.) it’s a REALLY difficult thing not knowing your biological half and I’ve been suffering for 21 years with it. It’s caused questions and mental illnesses and a boat load of insecurities and bad feelings. Whereas my five adoptive siblings are doing just fine. So I completely agree with this article because I’m LIVING it.

MommyLisa June 25, 2010, 11:17 AM

Okay REALLY???? Just what I needed to see on your site today. As if I do not have ENOUGH guilt already. I am leaving her for FIVE days for a work trip!

My child is from a sperm donor because my husband did not want to have any more kids with his beyotch of an ex-wife and got snipped.

The cost and loss of work time for my pipefitter (no lifting, crawling around, etc. means he could NOT go to work for up to 8 weeks after the procedure) husband to do the reversal was just TOO great. I do not feel that my daughter thinks of her dad as anything but biological. I picked a donor with traits like his!!! This ticks me off…

So you tell me I am raising someone to be a depressed & drug addicted alcoholic JUST because we wanted a child together???


miss having a dad June 25, 2010, 12:41 PM

I am a product of sperm donation and I can tell you that I always hated growing up without a dad. I can’t tell my mom how I feel b/c I said something to her when I was little and she got very hurt and upset and try to explain to me that a lot of kids grow up without dads and kinda went into all of this women can do this and women can do that and most women really don’t need a man and blah blah blah. So I now keep all of my feelings to myself. I can tell you that for as much as I love her, inwards I still hate her for doing this to me and thinking that she had a right to decide if I needed a dad or not.

Anon  June 26, 2010, 6:55 PM


Donna June 28, 2010, 7:19 PM

Compare apples to apples. Don’t compare people who were raised by a single parent, lied to or abandoned before birth to children who were so desperately wanted that they were conceived with donor sperm.
The “study” cited was a survey of leading questions, not valid, peer-reviewed research. It was done by a conservative anti-choice organization and written by someone who had an agenda because she was lied to by her parents until she was 18.
Let’s study children who were told the truth from their earliest memories “We wanted a baby to love but we needed a cell from a donor to have you.”
If we really want to know how donor-conceived children feel about their conception, not about dysfunction in their families, let’s study people who were not lied to and who were raised by both intentional parents.

Anonymous June 29, 2010, 9:39 AM

I agree with Donna. The focus so far appears to be on what isn’t there and feelings of rejection because of it. But the thing about sperm donor babies is that the mothers wanted these children desperately. These children were wanted before they were even conceived. The mothers went out looking for these children, perhaps trying to find genetic traits that looked like theirs or the (adoptive?) father’s. These mothers wanted to conceive so badly that they went through the rather clinical and, yes, perhaps dehumanising procedures of having to have doctors there at the moment of conception with tubes and syringes rather than partners they loved. That’s how much these children were wanted.

spermdonorswife July 1, 2010, 5:33 AM

Get real, it is all about the mother’s selfish choice to accessorize her life with an object of affection (because she can’t have a normal relationship with a man who wants to be a parent too)… versus the fallout on the child’s life of not having a father in it by choice.
It is all about the mother’s whims and feelings, NOT about the the child’s feelings.
And then some arrogant feminists claim the child should just get over his mother’s needs to procreate by any means… at his expense ?

DonorsWife July 15, 2010, 11:29 PM

We’re in contact with 5 children conceived through my husband’s donation. All of the children are successful, gifted, empathetic, well-adjusted children. The siblings love hanging together. It’s like having extra cousins!

None of the kids feel their own families are ‘incomplete’.

We all need to be teaching all of our children GRATITUDE. Life is a gift. Nobody comes on to this earth with any specific garauntee. The donor children complaining wouldn’t exist had their parents not gone to such lengths to create them.

spermdonorswife July 16, 2010, 6:17 AM

So it does make a difference in the ART conceived child’s emotional life that he knows who his bio father is and who his siblings are. This knowledge completes them. I wonder if down the road, the estate of the known sperm donor will be questioned and challenged ?

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