Conceived Through A Sperm Donation and Now in Search of the Donor Father

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Finding the Lost Generation of Sperm Donors

Tens of thousands of donor-conceived children grew up thinking they’d never know their biological fathers. Now, they have a chance to.

BY ASHLEY FETTERS

Alexandra Sanchez, left, and Courtney McKinney were both conceived with the help of a sperm donor—the same one, they recently learned.COURTNEY MCKINNEY / WATCHARA / SHUTTERSTOCK / KATIE MARTIN / THE ATLANTIC

This past January, at an office park in Phoenix, Arizona, two women with similar chins and similar smiles met for the first time. They recognized each other and hugged immediately. “As soon as we talked, it was like talking to someone that I had known for a really long time,” remembers Courtney McKinney, a 28-year-old who was raised by a single mother in the suburbs of Dallas.

The series of events that led McKinney to Alexandra Sanchez—who is now 28 as well, and was raised in Colorado and later Arizona by a mother whose live-in partner was ambiguously referred to as an “aunt”—began decades ago, before either woman was born. Both McKinney and Sanchez learned in their teenage years that they had been conceived through sperm donation, but neither knew who their father was. Sanchez’s mother is Hispanic, McKinney’s mother is black, and they’d both always thought they looked like their moms. That day in January, they were meeting to take a DNA test that would later confirm what they intuited upon seeing each other.

For people like McKinney and Sanchez who were conceived through sperm donation, it’s an unusual time to come of age. Born nearly three decades ago, they are members of something of an in-between generation: Donor-conceived children born well before them tended not to know their parents or any existing “donor siblings.” And while donors in the ’80s and ’90s most often planned on staying anonymous, in the time since McKinney and Sanchez were born, the rise of consumer DNA testing has made this much less certain. Meanwhile, industry practice and consensus among psychologists are moving away from anonymous donations, such that the era when anonymity is the expectation appears to be over.

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