I was seven-years-old when a family friend got in touch with my parents. She had set up a group for single lesbian mothers and a woman and her daughter had attended one of the events. The little girl was the spitting image of me. The family friend had collected their telephone number – did my parents want to make contact?
I’ll give some context to this story. My brother Reuven and I share the same sperm donor, along with our half-brother Daragh. At least nine others do too. We know this because when Reuven was conceived, he was known to be the twelfth child to be created with sperm from the same man. There may well have been more children after him.
It’s not so unusual for an individual sperm donor to contribute to the existence of multiple children. Most countries place limits on the number of children any single donor can give rise to, but this is hard to regulate. Not all parents report successful births back to clinics, and men might donate at several clinics or at different points in time. Some prospective parents will pay a premium for exclusive sperm. On the other hand, some will choose donors with a proven record of success, and with many donations being from regular donors, the chances that existing or future children will share the same donor are high.
What this doesn’t mean though, is that there’s necessarily any connection between the resulting children. I may have eleven genetic half-siblings floating about in the world somewhere, but only two of them have any role or significance in my life.
My parents and Daragh’s parents knowingly chose to use the same donor. More significantly, they deliberately decided how to position our two families. We were separate family units, but linked by friendship. We grew up living next door to each other, sharing babysitters and holidays. Now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I regularly hang out with Daragh’s brother Conor (Daragh himself lives halfway across the globe, which makes visits to London’s speakeasies a little harder). As I’ve previously mentioned, Daragh, Reuven and I have the same genetic relationship to each other (sharing the same donor but having different biological mothers), but our familial relationships are defined differently – with Reuven being my brother, and Daragh being my half-bro.
Some of the things the three of us share are indeed genetic. Both Reuven and Daragh have had plenty of fillings from childhood, the common explanation being “you got that from your donor”. Luckily I seem to have escaped the same fate – it seems our donor’s influence on dentistry afflicts only the male bloodline. No doubt then, that the male children among the other nine may have similar dental histories. Is that a fact which binds us? Perhaps. But teeth are not the reason why I sip cocktails with Conor and squabble with Reuven (as any good sibling is wont to do): our shared history is. Those summer holidays in Lesvos, long journeys in a camper van, and sticky childhood birthday parties.
I would not be averse to meeting any of my half-siblings, if they desired to do so. But I have no interest in actively seeking them out (at this point in my life at least). If I were to meet any of them, there’s no knowing what the resulting relationship would be. It may be that semi-sibling five and I share lots of interests, bond over favourite books and travel destinations, and form a close knit friendship. Semi-sibling six and I might not get on at all though. We might find each other utterly alien and hold entirely different world views.
That’s what happens when you meet new people. Depending on how well you get on, you become friends, or not. Presumably that’s the exact same process that would be applied to any of my genetic half-siblings, were we to meet. Each relationship would be unique – based on the interaction of our individual personalities. The fact that we shared a donor would be of minimal importance – his sperm not being a major factor of influence on who I am today. And even if semi-sibling seven and I got on like a house on fire, the resulting friendship would never be comparable to a lifetime with Reuven as my bothersome younger brother.
If you haven’t guessed by now, my parents said no. They decided they wouldn’t get in contact with the mother of the little girl who was assumed to be one of my semi-siblings. Why? Because my parents created our family. Family is much more than blood. Family is the people you live with and love, and choose to intertwine your lives with. If Reuven or I ever wanted to add to our family, that would be our choice later in life. My parents built our family carefully and purposefully. Our little family – me, Reuven, Deborah and Leah – and our bigger family, with a place for Conor and Daragh. Our family is built on much more than blood ties, and it’s all the family I’ve ever needed.