Page 2 of 3   <       >

My Father Was an Anonymous Sperm Donor

Growing up, it didn't matter that I don't have a dad -- or at least that is what I told myself. Just sometimes, when I was small, I would daydream about a tall, lean man picking me up and swinging me around in the front yard, a manly man melting at a touch from his little girl. I wouldn't have minded if he weren't around all the time, as long as I could have the sweet moments of reuniting with his strong arms and hearty laugh. My daydreams always ended abruptly; I knew I would never have a dad. As a coping mechanism, I used to think that he was dead. That made it easier.

I've never been angry at my mother -- all my life she has been my hero, my everything. She sacrificed so much as a single mother, living on food stamps, trying to make ends meet. I know that many people considered her a pioneer, a trailblazer for a new offshoot of the women's movement. She explained to me when I was quite young why it was that I didn't have a "dad," just a "biological father." I used to love to repeat that word -- biological -- because it made me feel smart, even though I didn't understand its implications.

Then when I was 9, the mother of one of my classmates ran for political office. I remember seeing a television ad for her, and her family appeared at the end -- the complete nuclear household in the back yard, the kids playing on a swing suspended from a tree and eating their father's barbeque. I looked back at my lonely, tired mother, who sat there with a weak smile on her face.

In the middle of the fifth grade, I met a new friend, and we had a lot in common: We both had single mothers. Her mother had suffered through two divorces. My friend didn't have much to say about her dad, mainly because she knew so little about him. But at least she got to visit him and his new family. And I was jealous. Later, in the eighth grade, another friend's father had an affair and her parents divorced. She was in so much pain, and I tried to empathize for the loss of her dad. But I was jealous of her, too, for all the attention she was getting. No one had ever offered me support or sympathy like that.

Around this time, my mother and I moved in with a friend and -- along with several other teenagers, one infant and some other adults -- lived with her for nearly a year. I went through a teenage anger stage; I would stay in my room, listening to Avril Lavigne and to Eminem's lyrics of broken homes and broken people. I felt broken, too. All the other teenagers in the house had problems with their dads. I would sit with them through tears during various rough times, and then I'd go back to my room and listen to some more Eminem. I was angry, too, and angry that I had nowhere to direct my anger.

When my mother eventually got married, I didn't get along with her husband. For so long, it had been just the two of us, my mom and I, and now I felt like the odd girl out. When she and I quarreled, this new man in our lives took to interjecting his opinion, and I didn't like that. One day, I lost my composure and screamed that he had no authority over me, that he wasn't my father -- because I didn't have one.

That was when the emptiness came over me. I realized that I am, in a sense, a freak. I really, truly would never have a dad. I finally understood what it meant to be donor-conceived, and I hated it.

It might have gone on this way indefinitely, but about a year ago I happened to see a television show about a woman who had died of a heart attack. A genetic disease had caused her heart to deteriorate, but she didn't know about her predisposition because she had been adopted as a baby and didn't know her biological families' medical histories. It hit me that I didn't know mine, either. Or half of it, at least.

So I began to research Fairfax Cryobank, the Northern Virginia sperm bank where my mother had been inseminated. I knew that sperm donors are screened and tested thoroughly, but I was still concerned. The bank had been established in 1986, a mere two years before my conception. Many maladies have come to light since then.

I e-mailed the bank five times over the course of a year, requesting medical information about my donor, but no one responded. Then one Friday last spring, I started surfing the Web. Eventually I came upon an archive of "Oprah" shows. One was a show about artificial insemination using anonymous donors. A girl perched on Oprah's couch. Next to her sat her "donor," the man who was her biological father.

I froze. Why hadn't I thought of that? If I wanted medical information and a sense of roots, who better to seek out than the man responsible for them?

I set out to find my own donor. From the limited information my mother had been given -- his blood type, race, ethnicity, eye and hair color and hair texture; his height, weight and body build; his years of college and course of study -- I concluded that he had probably graduated from a four-year university in Northern Virginia or the District within a span of three years. Now all I had to do was search through the records and yearbooks of all the possible universities and make some awkward phone calls. I figured if I worked intensely enough, my search would take a minimum of 10 years. But I was ready and willing.

<       2        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company