Three women who used an online registry to find other children fathered by the same sperm donor say their sons now have a regular relationship with each other.
Simone, Casey and Grace said they each arrived at the decision to become a single parent for different reasons.
Simone was 37 and fed up with searching for Mr Right when she started searching for an anonymous sperm donor in Brisbane.
“I wanted a donor who had similar physical characteristics to me so my child didn’t look to dissimilar to how I looked,” she told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Loretta Ryan.
Gold Coast woman Casey was only 26 when she decided to fall pregnant on her own.
“The more I talked about it and read about other women doing it, I realised I was sick of waiting and ready to be a mum.
“I wanted a healthy donor that had different interests to me so I could give my son the whole gamut of choices to pick from in his DNA.”
Caboolture mum Grace, who was living in far north Queensland at the time, started IVF after finding out medical complications had left her with a less than 5 per cent chance of falling pregnant.
Simone, Casey and Grace used the same sperm donor to fall pregnant. (File photo) (Flickr: Googhie)
“I was only given a six to 12-month window so I had to make a decision pretty quickly,” she said.
“Not all sperm is viable so, if I only had a small chance, I wanted a donor who was healthy and had had successful pregnancies.”
After flicking through a catalogue of potential mates, all three settled on an Australian man who had already fathered two children of his own.
Donor database helped women connect
Their donor’s profile revealed basic details about his physical characteristics, his interests and his family’s medical history.
Unlike the profiles of international donors, his wasn’t accompanied by a photograph.
However Simone said the similarities between their sons was undeniable.
The trio found each other through an American website called the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) whose mission is to assist people conceived through sperm, egg or embryo donation seek “mutually desired contact” with people they share genetic ties with.
After giving birth to her son Chevy, Casey paid to put her son’s details and donor number on the database.
“I couldn’t find anyone else even though I knew there had been other births,” she said.
Her post ended up setting off a chain of events that led to her son meeting two biological siblings.
Dr Haslam says the best message parents can send children is each family is special and unique. (File photo) (Flickr: Eduardo Merille)
Simone’s son Jacob was six months old when she heard about DSR through social media support group Single Mothers By Choice.
She sent Casey an email and the pair met soon after.
“We discovered we live within an hour of each other,” Simone said.
“Casey and I exchanged photographs and, at that age, the similarities [between Jacob and Chevy] were uncanny.”
They now know their shared sperm donor has fathered eight children in total.
Grace said she knew her son Caelan had siblings listed on the registry when he was born, but wanted to wait for him to decide whether he wanted a relationship with them.
Now the families catch up regularly to celebrate birthday parties, go on trips to local theme parks and have play dates.
Their sons refer to each other as “special brothers”, however all three mothers had different opinions on how they planned to explain their child’s relationship with each other, and their donor, as they got older.
Being honest with children about their conception story at a young age can prevent distress later. (File photo) (Flickr: Damien Dempsey)
Explaining donor births to children
Grace said she was unprepared for how early her son started to question where he came from and why he didn’t have a father.
“At three years old he was quite sensitive and probably understood a lot more than he should’ve at that age,” she said.
Despite always being upfront with Caelan about his conception and the different family units and cultures children come from, she said he went through a phase where he felt different from other children.
“It was quite an emotional time for all of us because he would ask me every day if I’d found him a daddy yet.”
Overcoming this was part of what drove Grace to track down her son’s biological siblings in Queensland.
The use of the word father is something all three women feel strongly about too.
“We don’t want to ever confuse them that the role that a donor plays is in any way similar to the role of a father,” Grace said.
All three mothers now agree introducing their sons was a positive part of their journey.
“Chevy likes seeing his half-brothers and he’s quite proud that he has those members of his family,” Casey said.
“I think it’s just amazing we’ve got this connection.”
There are pros and cons involved in introducing donor children to their biological siblings. (File photo) (Flickr: Rusty Ferguson)
Weigh up pros and cons of new relationships
Dr Divna Haslam from UQ’s Parenting and Family Support Centre said there were no right and wrong decisions when it came to starting relationships with biological siblings.
She said as IVF rates increased in Australia, both single and two parent families who used donors would need to consider the best interests of their child.
“If the families get on well it provides a sense of extended connection, and there are health benefits of having the full medical histories of children who share a donor,” she said.
“This is often the norm in situations where the child was conceived with the help of a known donor.
“If there are falling outs between the families and the children lose contact there may be a sense of loss.”
Dr Haslam said many parents found telling children their conception and birth story from very early on, even before the children questioned it, was a good approach.
“Disclosure of donor children’s biological heritage is important and can prevent further difficulties and distress that occurs if children find out when they are much older,” she said.
“Being open and honest and answering questions can go a long way towards normalising the child’s experience.”
Deciding which language to use to describe a child’s donor needed to be handled carefully as well.
Dr Haslam said terms like “father” and “mother” might be confusing until children were able to differentiate between biological parents and nurture parents.
Above all, she said it was important parents promoted the message that each family was special and unique.
“All parents, including Single Mothers by Choice, can focus on building a strong and positive relationship with their children and highlight that no family is identical and that’s what makes each family special,” she said.