After downloading several donor profiles from a bank’s website, we chose a Jewish photographer who majored in history. He wrote a tender essay about the importance of his family, his love for nature, the beauty of urban life, the joy of laughing with friends, and the pleasure of biting into a fresh piece of fruit. He plays pick-up soccer in the park and practices a Brazilian martial art called Capoeira.
He seemed like a nice guy, the kind of person we’d enjoy getting to know over lattes or sangria. We called him Mr. Frozen, because his vials of sperm would spend most of their illustrious lives in a freezer. Fortunately, Mr. Frozen had strong swimmers: the sperm bank had documented several pregnancies and births. We wondered whether we would ever meet the children conceived with Mr. Frozen’s sperm — the donor siblings of our future child.
Two years later, my wife and I rolled into the hospital, where our son was born on the fourth day of Passover.
I marvelled at how easily he took a bottle, how fiercely he squeezed my thumb. As he slept on my chest, I felt the beat of his tiny heart and watched the sunrise over Boston’s Charles River, the horizon the colour of cantaloupe.
Like many newly minted parents, my adrenaline was surging and I couldn’t sleep. Unexpectedly, I began to think about our son’s donor siblings. How many did he have? Where did they live? What were their parents like? How could I find them? And why did I care?
I cared because even though conceiving a child with a sperm donor is not a new phenomenon, it is still a strange, and sometimes lonely process. And while I know more about Mr. Frozen’s health than I would about the health of a hypothetical male partner, I don’t know Mr. Frozen himself. Connecting with families who conceived children with his sperm would humanise an experience that is otherwise a businesslike transaction: a $725 charge to my credit card in exchange for a tiny vial of semen.
There I was, wide awake on a hospital cot at 4 a.m., surrounded by my newborn’s sweet coos and my wife’s loud snores, wondering if half our son’s DNA lived halfway around the world, or around the block.
So I opened my laptop and browsed the Donor Sibling Registry, a digital database that enables children and their parents to connect with other families who share the same sperm or egg donor, or to connect with the donors themselves.
I registered myself as a user and plugged in Mr. Frozen’s identification number. I was curious to find other parents who had conceived a child with Mr. Frozen’s sperm. I found one parent with a two-year-old daughter and deliberated whether I should send her an email. Too much? Too soon? Too strange? But I had a recurring itch to digitally wave ‘hello.’ So I did.
It felt like an awkward email to send. But it felt equally awkward not to send it at all. Less than 24 hours later, she emailed me back. The subject line was “YEAH!”
We had a lot in common. We’re both Jewish, we work for social justice causes, we had given our children Hebrew names. She told me about a private Facebook group for the families of our kids’ donor siblings — or “diblings” as I’ve learned to call them. She invited my family to join, and with the click of a mouse, we were suddenly connected to twelve families in Australia, England, Toronto, California, Arizona and elsewhere in the United States. Many are lesbian couples. Some are single mothers. And all of them conceived children with Mr. Frozen’s sperm.
In our dibling Facebook group, a constellation of far-away unknowns soon became a community of warmth and connection. We post photos of our respective children — ranging in age from three months to three years. They often make the same wrinkly-nose expression and have similar features, including pointy chins, hair that swoops to the right and big expressive eyes. We celebrate the diblings’ birthdays by pasting birthday messages onto digital photos of our own babies’ faces.
Sometimes we talk about the donor and why we chose to create a child with his sperm. Occasionally we discuss the challenges of parenting and the complexities of having donor-conceived children.
I love our group’s camaraderie, which is anchored by our kids’ creation stories.
One dibling family, a lesbian couple, lives within driving distance from mine. After discovering we have mutual friends, we invited them over for brunch in our backyard.
“Which earrings should I wear?” my wife asked me nervously. “Hoops or beads?”
“Hoops,” I replied, as I debated whether I should wear a lavender plaid shirt.
It felt like a blind date.
While their son filled a toy dump truck with acorns from our oak tree and our son babbled in his bouncy seat, we ate a spinach frittata and talked about our lives.
We looked at our sons’ faces — they have similar squinty smiles and the same nose.We observed their temperaments — sweet, calm and easy-going. At one point, while my wife was holding each boy on one knee, we noticed both of them gnawing on their own right hands in an identical pose, their elbows angled at 45 degrees.
Oddly, our date wasn’t radically different from meeting new neighbours. Could my four-month-old sense the difference between meeting a new friend and meeting someone with whom he shares half his DNA? I doubt it. But did my wife and I have a desire to connect with the parents of our son’s dibling in a deeper way than with the parents across the street? Absolutely.
As it turned out, our families hit it off. We got together for Rosh Hashanah dinner. And a few months later, we met for brunch on a rainy Saturday.
My wife has a friend who thinks it’s selfish to connect with donor siblings without a child’s consent. Maybe it is. But I don’t believe it’s selfish to climb through the tangled vines of family, friendship, and something in between. I don’t think it’s selfish to grapple with the power of genetics among families who share a genetic tie. I think it’s instinctive.
I’m not sure how our dibling community will shape our son’s future. That’s for him to decide. But I know he’ll have access to a web of relationships that, twenty years ago, did not exist. For now, we’ll collect pieces of his dibling history to ground him with love — a birthday message on Facebook, a Valentine on our fridge.
“What a wild world for our children to inhabit,” I remarked as our first dibling date came to an end. Our kids needed a nap. And we had errands to run.
What a strange, beautiful, wild world.
This article was originally published in the Washington Post.
Jordan is compiling an anthology of narratives of personal narratives about the myriad ways Jews today are creating and nurturing families outside of nuclear, heteronormative models — through surrogacy, adoption, donor-conception, and fostering; through families by birth and families of choice; through single-parenting, co-parenting, coop-like arrangements, and in ways that do not involve having children. She would love to include some Aussie stories. For more information: https://www.jordannamerow.com/the-whole-mishpacha