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.
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.