Donor Siblings: The Happy Unexpected Bonus of Lesbian Parenthood

“Dibling” is a word I first heard after my daughter was born. It means “donor siblings” — children who share half their genetic material through a sperm donor. Ella, our daughter, has a lot of diblings — in fact, they number at 20 as I write this, with more on the way. Getting pregnant via IVF (in vitro fertilization, when the egg is removed, fertilized in a laboratory dish, and implanted in the uterus) with sperm from a sperm bank came with a lot of surprises: the odd experience scrolling through pages of profiles for a donor (something like a cross between online dating and the science of the movie Gattaca!) and the huge box of injectibles that showed up at our apartment one day (I cried). But by far, the diblings are the most beautiful and sublime surprise of them all.

image2

Somer and I spent a lot of time going through websites to find the perfect donor. Should he be a musician or a doctor? Really funny or really sincere? Asian or European, or both? (Somer is mixed race and this was a factor for us.) After going back and forth, we settled on two: a sweet guy in the medical field who had a long list of volunteer experiences, and a Californian opera singer whose parents were anesthesiologists. We played Russian roulette with our baby making, alternating them each round of IUI. When we started IVF, we used the nicer guy’s sperm. The sperm bank had his pictures, so we knew he was good looking, and I felt like I could look into his eyes and see exactly who we were dealing with. I got pregnant via IVF, and we didn’t expect the donor to be in the picture until Ella turned 18. He was an open donor, so she could chose to look him up at that point and make contact.

While I was pregnant, our sperm bank did something pioneering: they created a beta social media site that clients could use to connect to other people who had used the same sperm. They even included the donor himself. This. Was. Mind-blowing. Suddenly I was looking at all these little boxes online, little question marks where the faces would be, each one representing another human that shared half of my daughter’s DNA.

diblings

Somer was leery about connecting to the donor. There are practical risks, whether perceived or very real ones involving legal custody should we establish contact so early. There are also psychological and emotional ones that she experienced as the non-birth parent: a vague sense of feeling threatened by the donor and wanting to establish our family unit before involving the donor, should Ella choose to. It was important for us that Ella have the choice to contact him in the future, but effectively we would be taking that choice away by making it now.

However, when it came to the other babies conceived with the same donor sperm, we were incredibly curious and wanted to connect. So we reached out with bated breath, and waited for responses. One by one, they came rolling in, each time an adorable new baby revealed. Some shared Ella’s features and some looked completely different. It was all very surreal.

Interacting with the other moms was a bit like trying to make a new friend with someone you’re really interested in, while trying to play it cool and not too eager or weird. Somer had to hold me back from coming on way too strong. I wanted to know everything immediately! Where do they live? What do they look like? What’s their family constellation? But for a few weeks, I settled on just seeing photos of the other babies and sending innocuous messages like, “What a cutie!” Also, because the site was managed and moderated by the sperm bank, all of our messages had to be approved before they were posted — so there was an annoying lag time between posts and replies. As we became more familiar, that lag time seemed like an eternity. I had a newborn and I wanted to share pictures and stories with other moms, ask questions about their babies, and find out what characteristics our little ones shared. It was like building our own mom group, but on steroids: the super mom group of all time!

image3

We continued to share photos and post messages, and one day I felt bold and decided to include a picture that also included Somer and me. “This is our family.” While I waited for a response I pictured lots of straight families on the other end. For some reason, I assumed most of those using the sperm bank would be hetero couples with fertility issues. I felt the familiar tinge of coming-out anxiety, wondering if the rest of the parents would be homophobic or unaccepting. It hit me in the gut.

Well, one by one the other families were revealed — and there were queer families aplenty! There were some hetero single moms in the mix, but by far the lesbian moms were representing. Seeing all the mamas behind each baby was so thrilling, like uncovering a new piece to the puzzle — “oh that’s where the nose came from!”,”no wonder he has red hair, but he and Ella have the same eyebrows!” It was fun and somehow I instantly loved all these other babies out there who were connected to and reminded me of my little Ella.

Now that the lesbian bomb was dropped (with no casualties), our friendships were progressing and the lag time on the sperm bank site became more irksome with Big Brother monitoring the site. We soldiered on, as new families continued to register. Finally, some of the moms suggested we go “rogue” and take this party off the sperm bank site and onto Facebook so we could chat in real time. Within minutes, the walls came down and we suddenly went from somewhat awkward acquaintances to new friends. People even asked if we could be actual Facebook friends! We checked out each other’s pages and saw each other’s lives: hobbies, photos of extended families, shared posts, home towns. It was the first time I had ever really made friends with strangers online — but then again, I was never connected to strangers before in such a unique and compelling way, through our children.

image1

These women and their babies are Ella’s extended family, and I can say I have grown to love all of them. I can’t speak for every sperm bank user’s experience, because they may not get as lucky as we did, but the group of women we met are spectacular in every way. We value similar things: at our core, we all chose the same donor out of hundreds of options because of his kindness, his genuine demeanor, someone down-to-earth who spoke lovingly of his own siblings and seemed like a nice, caring person. Oh, and it didn’t hurt that he was good-looking too! Our decision changed the course of each of our lives.

The diblings are from across the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, which is very helpful when there’s a need to chat at all hours of the night — someone is always awake! But who am I kidding — anyone with a newborn never sleeps anyway. We learned that despite being from different countries, we had a lot in common. All the mamas are inspirational women with a range of careers and an unconditional overflowing of love and special gratitude for our families. Interestingly, we’re all in our 30s and 40s which speaks to the wave of parents starting families later in life and its correlation with a certain amount of planning and stability.

We post every milestone of our children’s lives. We send cards and gifts for birthdays. One mom has a tradition of making a collage of pictures for each baby’s birthday, which literally brought me to tears when Ella turned one. We share and laugh at our little ones’ first dance moves, messy eating habits, favorite silly faces. We compare notes on rashes, allergies, teething, and quirky body parts (“Does your kid also have a hooked pinky toe?”) We talk about whether or not we want to contact the donor, and respect each other’s opinions. We’ve watched our babies grow into toddlers. And we make plans to have our kids in each other’s lives.

This past summer we met some of the diblings. The experience was like no other. I guess it could be analogous to a huge family reunion where you meet your 3rd cousins for the first time. But that’s not exactly right. We share a bond with the other moms, but our kids share actual DNA. And seeing your child’s smile when they play with their half sibling — seeing the same glimmer in your child’s eye reflected in the faces of her diblings — is magic. It was all so new, yet all so oddly familiar. The dibling meet up — complete with matching shirts — was one of the most memorable and exciting experiences of parenthood, and in my life. And it was all so unexpected — a happy surprise along our path from wanting to be parents, to sperm bank, to the day Ella was born, and throughout the rest of her life.

Donna was born in Brooklyn and is a psychologist. She and her wife Somer became moms to Ella in 2014 and love learning about parenting and sharing their family's adventures.

Donna has written 1 articles for us.

50 Comments

  1. Oh my goodness, all those babies are adorable!

    This is really interesting. I’m currently in the process of donating my eggs to a single gay man, and I’ll be doing an egg donation cycle with a gay male couple later next year if all goes well (fingers crossed!). Signing up for the Donor Sibling Registry has always been part of my plan. I rarely see any stories about donor siblings connecting, but it looks like your experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Thank you for sharing it with us!

  2. My wife and I had our oldest (now 16) using a sperm bank, then became foster parents and adopted 2 more kids. When we first heard of the donor sibling registry, Sadie was about 12. We asked if she wanted to sign up and have contact w/ some of her “diblings”. Her response? “I already have 2 siblings to deal with. Why would I want to invite more into my life?” This is so her (a typical oldest child) that it still cracks me up!

  3. Wow. We used California crybaby last year. Our son is now 1, I have always wondered where his diblings are, who they are… I think it’s so wonderful that you have gotten this opportunity.

    • Well there was that story last year(or was it two years ago), where a couple from different towns got married, and had kids. They later discovered that both their mothers(both children of same sex relationship) used the same donor, when they wanted to find out more about the genetics. I forget what happens next, but I think they got a divorce.

  4. I just want to say thank you for choosing an open donor! I’m adopted and while it’s not the same, there are some overlapping issues/experiences with donor kids. I remember having a conversation a while ago with a coworker who adamantly did not want an open donor and it hurt my heart. It’s effectively making the choice of whether or not to know anything about half of your biological heritage FOR your kid, and I just don’t think that’s something anyone can do for another person, even your kid. Especially your kid. Get over your own insecurities and make sure your kid at least has the option to explore.

    • As a reunited adult adoptee, I definitely agree with this comment. I have 4 half siblings and getting to know them and other members of my extended biological family has been essential to my feeling whole.

      • I have 1/2 siblings that I never met, and I have always wondered about them. I wish I had contact with them. We personally only considered open ID donors, but I know the choice is very personal and people have different reasons. It was also helpful for us if we have any health/medical questions later on. I’m really happy that people are having a dialogue about this though! Thanks for sharing our experiences!!!

  5. This made my heart grow three times. Seriously. As an adoptee which a lot of thoughts about open vs. closed adoption and donor selection, it means so much to you all approached this with love and honesty. It is going to mean so much for your kids someday. It already does.

  6. Scary stuff. Donors aren’t regulated and can have a great many undocumented children. It raises the chances of accidental incest between unknowing siblings. I hope people start getting this in check. Adoption seems the healthier route anyhow.

  7. My god, all those lil bebes in the feature image are clones. Those are some strong (freakishly adorable) genes!
    As an egg donor myself (only to one family, though, so there’s no diblings to speak of), I’ve read a lot of stories of donor-conceived adults, and their complex feelings. Good on you for wanting to give your child access to knowing half of her biological heritage. And how special will it be for her to not only have these heaps of biological siblings, but heaps of biological siblings who also know what it’s like to be the donor-conceived child of gay moms.

  8. I know that a lot of other countries have open adoption records, which is great because people have the option to contact their biological parents (if the parents choose to respond) and also I think it’s really important for things like family medical history. I didn’t even know groups like this existed when it comes to donors. Of course this isn’t the right option for all families, but it’s nice there is the option at all.

  9. This connection sounds great! I totally relate to the coming on too strong part. I am a single mom by choice and conceived with the help of a known donor. Him and his wife have two kids and I think there was one or two donor children before I had my son. There is one other family that has contacted me after my son was born and I have had a few prospective families email me. I think it would be great to have a little facebook group and share more with each other. But then again, I am a little over eager. My blog is http://www.goodfamiliesdo.wordpress.com for those interested.

    The photos are adorable and I can see some of the similarities. I hope the parents all gave written consent to have the pictures on this post.

  10. Thank you for writing this! Diblings (what cute term!) are something I’m kind of excited about on my kid’s behalf. My birth father has other children but my mom only had me so since I lived with my mom I lived most of my life as an only child. Then whenever I visited my dad I also got the experience of being the oldest child of three other siblings. I really liked that set up and I imagine that, if my kid chooses to stay in contact with their diblings, it will be nice for them as well.

    Also, all the babies are so adorable!

  11. I’m 7 months pregnant with a sperm bank baby and frankly this terrifies me. I know it’s an opt-in process at the moment. And growing up with a good friend born from a donor I have thought about this a lot and right now can’t imagine considering all these kiddos out there “siblings”. Aside from obvious biological connections, these people aren’t mine or my child’s family in the way my parents and my wife’s parents and siblings will be.

    • As one of the moms of the dibling group in the article. I can say that we all had our hesitation and concerns, initially. Part of our mission is to make sure that our children know, that aside from having their immediate family, there’s an extended alliance of friends and family around the world.
      We also know that our children will be growing up as part of a minority and want to ensure that they can have additional bonds and support if they ever need it.
      This is not ideal for everyone, but we are fortunate to have met a wonderful group of women that are loke minded. There are other diblings out there, whose family wishes to stay private and we all respect that.
      One of the great things we found, was that since everyone was a first time mom it was a great support network during those sleepless nights and moments of panic. It was comforting to know that we were on the same ship together.

      • Thank you for this comment, it opened my mind a bit. I also can’t imagine meeting my kid’s donor siblings. Complicated because I’m the non-bio parent and it feels like I’d be extra-excluded. But, my 6yo is running into some problems at school, she says, “Everyone thinks my dad died, but I keep telling them I have a Ma and a Ba.” She doesn’t seem terribly phased by this, but she has told me more than once… She would really appreciate a pen-pal or other contact who might be in a similar situation.

        (Interestingly, some of the kids at her school do have a dead parent, thus the prevalence of the idea. And she is not the only kid with queer parents.)

  12. What a lovely opportunity to link up with donor sibs and their families! I’m highly biased as a DC person, but I think giving Ella the chance to be able to meet the donor and to have already met some diblings is so wonderful and potentially really helpful. I understand it’s a personal choice but would certainly advocate for people to use non anonymous sperm if possible so opportunities are available to DC people to meet or even just receive up to date medical information.

  13. I think this is a really sweet way to acknowledge your kids’ genetic connection without discounting your own experience as separate, cohesive nuclear families. Diblings sound like something between a sibling and a cousin, which sounds lovely. As an only child who grew up very closely with my cousins, I feel like the more family you have connected to you as a kid, the stronger your roots and connections to the world are. As an adult, there will be more people who love you and more soft places to fall. Love to all of these adorable kids! 🙂

  14. Wow. We went with an open donor, and while I cannot be 100% sure I correctly recall which bank we went with (1. Because we had a few sad mishaps on the way and 2. because my wife handled most of the finer details like the amazing woman she is and 3. My 1 year-old is just getting over bronchitis and sleep feels like a long lost relative) I think we may actually be able to access this ourselves.

    I never, EVER for once thought I would be interested in learning more about donor siblings until I read this article. Now I feel compelled to have a serious chat about this with the missus, if only to see if the other bambinos look like ours.

    This is a game-changer.

  15. I highly recommend the Donor Sibling Registry website as a place for families of donor conceived kids to connect. If you know the sperm bank that you used and the number of the donor, you can use that information to learn about other half-siblings. The website has plenty of privacy protections built in, and you can go as slow or as fast as you want to as you learn about others. Through the website we have connected with many families who used the same donor. Like the author above, the experience has been so much more than we could have hoped for. We connect online, and meet up in person with local families. The kids (ages 5 – 11 now) have known each other for 5 years or so, and easily connect with each other, kind of like cousins might. We moms love to talk about their personality traits and interests, trying to sort out which parts might have been inherited from the donor. It has been an amazing experience!

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.