My Dad, The Sperm Donor” - Inside The Murky World Of Donor Conception
Marie Claire Australia|June 2021
Donated sperm has allowed thousands of families in Australia to have the babies they always dreamt of. But the unregulated origins of the industry, combined with the rise of online sperm swapping and secrecy, means the process is anything but perfect, reports Alexandra Carlton
Alexandra Carlton

Journalist Sarah Dingle was having dinner with her mother in a Sydney restaurant when she braced herself to ask a personal question. “Mum, I know you had me late. Did you have any problems conceiving me?” she asked. At 27, Dingle wasn’t considering having her own children right away but wanted to know if there might be any genetic reasons why she should be cautious about leaving things too late. Her mother hesitated. “Maybe this isn’t the right moment to tell you,” she said. “But your father is not your father. We had … problems conceiving, and it turned out your father couldn’t,” Dingle’s mother continued. “So we used a donor.”

“I wanted to scream, to rip the tablecloth off, to smash something, to go to the bathroom and cry,” Dingle writes in her new book, Brave New Humans: The Dirty Reality of Donor Conception, a documentation of her own journey to unpack the secrets and lies around her own conception, but also an examination of the ethics and complexities of donor conception in Australia generally. Her mother tried to reassure her that the most important thing was to know that she was loved and that the man she had known as her father (who had died 12 years earlier) had considered her his own. Dingle found herself numbly agreeing, to make her mother feel better more than anything else. “This,” she explains, “was my first lesson in what it’s like to be donor-conceived: your feelings about the whole business come last.”

Once Dingle realised half her genetic material was a complete mystery (“Looking in a mirror and not recognising half your face is incredibly trippy – and not in a good way,” she says), she spent years trying to track down her donor, a process that involved countless dead ends, unsympathetic IVF clinic staff and the horror of realising that records had been actively destroyed in order to protect donors. It was only after she took a genetic test with Ancestry.com that she finally tracked down the man whose sperm helped to create her. Five-and-a-half years had passed since the conversation with her mother. The process, Dingle says, was almost as troubling as being told she’d been donor-conceived. The experience became all the more disturbing when she discovered the man had been donating sperm once a week for two years. The extent of Dingle’s potential siblings (to date she is aware of six) is so vast that she and her husband were DNA tested before they decided to have children together. “None of this, it has to be said, leaves me feeling particularly good about my existence,” says Dingle. “But the baby business has never cared about its children.”...

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