real life

Do sperm donor kids have a right to know their dads?

24-year-old Alexis.

All families are complex. A tangled web of good and bad relationships, marriages and divorces and separations, half siblings and step siblings, and love.

The traditional definition of a ‘nuclear family’ applies to very few these days – and ‘family’ no longer just means those who you are biologically related to. With IVF, sperm donation and adoption now being options for many more women (and men), families are made up of more threads than ever before.

This week’s SBS’s Insight set out to explore the topic of sperm donation, speaking to a number of men who had donated sperm over the years – as well as children conceived by sperm donation.

24-year-old Alexis was one of the young women to appear on the program, speaking about her experiences of being a ‘donor kid’. Her father Simon and biological father Paul also appeared on the program.

Alexis knows and has a relationship with her biological father, as well as some of her half-siblings. She spoke to Mamamia in greater detail about what having a big, complex family means to her.

Alexis says that she can’t remember being told that Paul was her donor dad – it was just something she had always been aware of. “My parents introduced him into my life when I was just a baby,” Alexis says, “I’m sure my parents started with something euphemistic like ‘he helped mummy and daddy create you’.

“When I got a little older, and I asked where babies came from, my parents explained the ‘conventional’ method… but they also explained where I came from. The whole situation seemed totally normal to me.”

Alexis also says that she has always loved having Paul in her life, but still did have some questions growing up. She sometimes wondered whether she looked much like him, or whether she should act more like him. These kind of questions were also a part of how she interacted with her siblings, and Alexis says she can remember wondering how ‘real’ siblings interacted.

“With my half-siblings too, I never lived in the same house-hold as them, so I didn’t know how ‘real’ siblings interacted,” Alexis says. “I remember playing with my younger half-brother at a Christmas BBQ; and we started fighting over some toys. I remember thinking: ‘This is good – real siblings fight all the time, right? This is what I’m supposed to do’.”

Despite this, Alexis says she was never upset by being unsure of how her relationships were ‘supposed’ to be – and says that as an adult she has a far greater understanding that relations are more fluid than people people.

“I don’t have to behave a certain way, or act out a pre-determined ‘daughter’ or ‘sister’ role. Relationships can just be what we need them to be,” Alexis explains.

Alexis’ relationship with her biological father and half-siblings is fairly unique – but it’s clear that it works for the family.

“My relationship with Paul is kind of like having a godfather. He’s not my dad, and he never tries to be, but he’s loving, he’s caring, he’s encouraging and he always wants to hear what’s going on in my life,” Alexis explains. “We catch up a few times a year, usually at big family gatherings around Christmas or someone’s birthday.”

Alexis and her donor dad, Paul, when she was young. Image from SBS Insight.
Alexis and her donor dad, Paul, when she was young. Image from SBS Insight.

Alexis also says that, as an only child, she loved having four siblings as part of her extended family growing up – and her relationship with them now is that of friends.

“But we know we share things because we’re biologically related – we joke that we get out extrovertedness and our knobbly toes from Paul!”

She knows that not everybody is going to have a family situation like hers – or even have a relationship with their donor dad. But Alexis says the most important thing for any parents thinking of using donor sperm is absolute honesty.

“Don’t lie to your kids. More and more couples are accessing IVF to have children, many using donor eggs or donor sperm. I think that’s great,” Alexis says. “There is no need to keep this from your child. It won’t harm their relationship with you. Lying to them will.”

Although she doesn’t know if children have a ‘right’ to know – or know of – their biological dad, she does want to stress that knowing Paul has enriched her life.

“Having all these people in my life – my loving parents who raised me, a fun-loving donor, and my clever and silly siblings – has only made my life richer. I feel really lucky to have this big, complex, loving family.”

Do you think children conceived by sperm donation have a right to know? Would you consider using a donor egg or sperm – or have you already?