I reached out to one of the half-siblings listed, who told me that she was conceived with a sperm donor. She also discovered this news through 23andme and has been in touch with the majority of the half-siblings listed. We spoke on the phone for a while, and all the details she gave me line up: the clinic’s location relative to where my parents lived at the time, the dates of when the donor sold his sperm, and the donor’s ethnicity. I knew my parents struggled with infertility before I was born because my mom had mentioned this to me as a way of explaining why they didn’t have children for so long after getting married, but it was always framed as though it was an issue she had.
To say that I had absolutely no idea that I was conceived with donor sperm is an understatement. My parents never even hinted that this might be the case. I don’t know what to do next. I feel betrayed, incredibly sad, and overwhelmed. Should I talk to my mother first? My father? What do I say? Should I talk to them with my husband there or by myself? Or is it better to never let them know I know? I don’t have a close relationship with either of them, but my relationship with both of them is fine. We check in with each other regularly, and we give each other updates on our lives — and my child’s ongoings. If it helps to know, I was conceived in the late 1970s when donor sperm was a lot less regulated than it is today. I haven’t even begun to think about whether I want to reach out to my genetic half-siblings and the donor.
This might not be the usual type of question you answer, but I think you’ve given really good advice about how to communicate with family members about difficult topics and when it’s best to leave things unsaid. Thank you for your time. — Stunned by DNA Discovery
Wow, what a shocking discovery! I can completely understand the mixed emotions you’re feeling — you are entitled to all of them, and they all make sense. However, you need to remember that your conception, or the way you were conceived, was not done AT you. Keeping it a secret was not done AT you, and it certainly wasn’t done to betray you. Your parents wanted you desperately, and despite whatever happened in their marriage and what their relationship is now and what your relationship is with each of them now, their keeping your donor conception a secret was done in what they believed (and were likely advised) was your best interest, and they could not have known in the late 70s and 80s, or even 90s, how accessible DNA testing would one day be (and neither, it should be said, could the sperm donor). They had no roadmap for what they went through to conceive you and how to raise you afterward. There were no examples for how, whether, or when to tell you about your biological origins. And, in addition, there were surely complicated feelings around their infertility struggle, and revisiting those feelings through the sharing of related details may have been a scary and painful proposition, even if they felt it was best for you to know.
I would imagine that, even to this day, those complicated feelings remain, and as entitled as you are to the feelings you are experiencing now, they are entitled the feelings they had and likely still have around the status of your conception, and you need to be thoughtful about stirring those feelings now. First, I would think about what it is you want from your parents at this point. What would be your intention in telling them that you know about the sperm donor? What would you hope for it to elicit from your parents, how likely are you to get what it is you want, is what you want worth disrupting their peace, and is telling them you know about this long-held secret the only/best way to get what you want? If you don’t even know what it is you want, you should sit with that question for a while and work with a therapist to figure it out.
Maybe you want nothing from them at all. Maybe what you want is to know more about your genetic makeup. Or you want a relationship with your biological half-siblings or the sperm donor. Ask yourself if telling your parents what you know is even necessary in pursuing what you want if it doesn’t directly involve them. And then ask yourself if what you want is… really what you want — if it’s in your best interest. For example, the sperm donor may very well not be interested in having any kind of relationship with the nine grown children his sperm helped conceived. And any kind of genetic information you might glean from him is probably already available to you.
If what you want is something that can only or mainly come from your parents — an explanation, an apology, a confirmation of what you’ve discovered — I would again urge you to consider the value in that versus the disruption it is likely to cause. That’s not to say there wouldn’t be value or that the value wouldn’t be worth the disruption. Maybe, like the old adage says, the truth will set everyone free. Maybe it will. But free from what?? And then what? What comes next?
Every action (and, often, inaction) has a consequence. You are experiencing the consequences of several actions (and inactions): first your existence is a consequence of an action; additionally, your current feelings are the consequence of both a secret kept from you and your taking a DNA test. Whatever action you now take in reaction to the news you’ve just learned is going to send ripples of consequences through your family ties, which will likely result in more action and consequences. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But, just as it was for you seeing the results of that DNA test: the potential fall-out will likely be unexpected and even shocking. Shock does not usually result in well-considered action (or reaction). So, my advice to you is to let the shock of your discovery soften before you take any action and to be as thoughtful and considerate as you can about what it is you want to happen next, especially in regards to the kinds of relationships you want with family members (genetic and otherwise).
The next steps you take are going to lead you in a particular direction; before you take the next step, make sure you’re heading in a direction you want to go.
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.