It seems to me I’ve heard that song before
It’s from an old familiar score
I know it well, that melody…
….Jules Styne, Sammy Cahn

Yesterday’s Washington Post features two articles on anonymous donor insemination that cut to the heart of the “choice” Melissa Etheridge and Tammy Lynn Michaels made to erase half of their twin’s heritage for their own convenience. The articles are way too long to paste in here, but I’m posting excerpts. My remarks follow them.

In My Father was an Anonymous Sperm Donor 18-year old Katrina Clark writes about growing up as a self-described “freak” and the search for her donor:

I was angry at the idea that where donor conception is concerned, everyone focuses on the “parents” — the adults who can make choices about their own lives. The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his “donation.” As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?

Not so. The children born of these transactions are people, too. Those of us in the first documented generation of donor babies — conceived in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when sperm banks became more common and donor insemination began to flourish — are coming of age, and we have something to say.

I’m here to tell you that emotionally, many of us are not keeping up. We didn’t ask to be born into this situation, with its limitations and confusion. It’s hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won’t matter to the “products” of the cryobanks’ service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place.

We offspring are recognizing the right that was stripped from us at birth — the right to know who both our parents are.

And we’re ready to reclaim it.

…I really, truly would never have a dad. I finally understood what it meant to be donor-conceived, and I hated it.

…Those of us created with donated sperm won’t stay bubbly babies forever. We’re all going to grow into adults and form opinions about the decision to bring us into the world in a way that deprives us of the basic right to know where we came from, what our history is and who both our parents are.

The second article It’s All in the Genes, Except When It Isn’t Liz Mundy, a WaPo reporter and author of the forthcoming book Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction is Changing Men, Women and the World writes:

Is gamete donation like adoption? “I’ve always looked at this as adoption that is run by the medical profession,” says Bill Cordray, now in his 60s, who is part of a group of donor offspring agitating for the right to know their donors’ identities, arguing that people denied that knowledge are unable to understand themselves. Accepting this argument, some countries, such as Britain, have banned anonymous donation.

But in the United States, many egg and sperm brokers disagree. They point out that adoption involves the grief of relinquishing an actual baby. In donation, nobody’s relinquishing. Everybody’s happy. What a child needs, they say, is not a relationship with the genetic parent, but a coherent narrative about the way he or she was born.

According to Liz Munday, donated sperm is used in 800,000-100,000 inseminations each year. In 2003, at least 15,000 IV procedures took place in which a woman’s eggs and a man’s sperm are united in a petri dish with the resulting embryos transferred into a uterus. She says that this number increases 20% annually. Moreover, over 1000 babies each year are born via surrogacy. And what about those lucky Snowflakes?

I don’t know about you, but to me that’s a lot of “genetic bewilderment” left to wander loose in the streets. An occasional turkey baster between friends is one thing, but this is serious commercial transference of body fluids and products between strangers. (How much money is floating in the Dixie Cups and uteri of the desperate and childless?) How many fruits of this misalliance will ever know that they are the products of biological jerry-rigging ? That they aren’t who they think they are? My bet is a lot.

The reaction to Katrina’s Clark dissatisfaction with the documentary erasure of half her genes gives us an idea. For those of us who are adopted, of course, the cudgels pounding Clark’s head are familiar. We feel your pain, Katrina!

Dozens of readers have sent messages to the WaPo site calling Clark selfish, ungrateful, whiney, narcissistic, immature, snarky, bitter, angry, entitled, a brat, and a self-made victim. Clark should just shut up. She should just be grateful to be alive. (I guess she could have been aborted.) She was chosen. She should give daily thanks that she was planned lovingly by a selfless brave mother blazing the way for countess husbandless women who wanted babies and couldn’t find men to marry them–unlike those selfless brave husbandless mothers who were sent away by their families and rendered cheap and disgraced and surrendered their also wanted babies to adoption because their men got outta Dodge when the bump popped up. How one woman is welcomed, the other shunned, isn’t discussed, perhaps because the “good mother” didn’t have “illicit” sex to procreate. And this brings up a question for another day: what exactly is a bastard? Why is one variety–damaged goods– shamed by the state; the other–approved USDA prime– promoted as a miracle of modern science, And why areboth condemned to historylessness so other people, as the “official” story goes, can feel good about themselves and be protected from us?

Children don’t need fathers–or even knowledge of fathers– to hear the busybodies talk. Clark’s purposeful conception via anonymous donation to the sperm bank is no different than a one-night stand. Clark should be grateful her father was anonymous rather than on the premises every day committing rape, murder, abuse and general male mayhem on her and her mother. Plenty of kids are reared in 1-parent homes. What’s her big deal? Some complain that Clark loves her mother too much; others that she hates her. A few claim she hates her father. A desire for genealogy, according to these geneophobes is comparable to getting caught shoplifting. Clark is advised to take up volunteer work with orphans, the elderly or the disabled to appreciate what she’s got. Or how about a stint in a third world country? Clark needs a boyfriend. And, of course, the clueless question: “How would you like it if you’d never been born?”

One writer opines “There are children of adoption that never know any of their roots, and yet grow up to be functioning members of society,” implying Clark’s desire to know the male half of her heritage, renders her dysfunctional. A pop psychobabbler surmises that if Clark were older she’d be “self-absorbed to the point of psychosis”–but cuts her a break since she’s a “donor child” who is to young to know any better.

Another expert accuses Clark of being a home wrecker, barging in on her sperm donor–despite the fact daughter and father were connected through a mutual consent registry and are quite happy to know each other.

A self-appointed literary critic lectures that the commentary is a “work of fiction with a political end.”

Finally, we have the globalists who use Clark’s essay as an opportunity to thrash women, feminists, lesbians, gay marriage, gay adoption, “free love,” single mothers, divorce–especially male “death by divorce”– “older-male” suicide, Democrats, liberals, “the war on marriage,” rightwingers, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney (and daughter Mary), “the “1970s,” and the Iraq War. Ellen Pompeo and Wal-Mart can’t be far behind.

What all this indicates is a particular American fear of biology, biological connections, and identity rights and a privileging of reinvention, anonymity and untruth when it comes to “alternative” family building. This, of course, begs, the question, if it’s’ so great why hide it?

Adopters, hoping to avoid pesky birthparents increasingly acquire children in foreign countries; sealed birth certificates are the norm in the US; adopted persons who demand their rights are vilified, infantilized, and demonized by special interests. The grown-ups–adopters, high tech repro recipients and their attached industries–pay the bills/collect the bills and consequently control our information with threatening terms like “privacy,” “confidentiality,” and gratitude. How dare anyone question the wisdom or received social engineering! Our heritage, genealogies, histories, names and biological connections are their business–not ours. Be grateful. Shut up. And don’t forget to choke down your strained carrots. They’re good for you.

We all have histories. Anonymous donor/high tech repro is not, as some WaPo posters claim, the same as a one night stand. Unlike a chance roll in the backseat, assisted reproductive technology (ART) is a thought-out, well-planned paid-for medical procedure used to fulfill the egotistical needs of adults to “parent ” without the intrusion of the child’s progenitors, even in the spectoral form of a written record. Purveyers of anonymity reject the right of identity by erasing identity. If it doesn’t exist, how can it be regained?

The only difference between anonymous ART and sealed adoption records is that with adoption there is, in theory, the opportunity for the adopted to access information about themselves at some future date. Most of those created through ART in any of its forms do not and will not have that opportunity outside of a few mutual consent registries or the handful of cyrobanks that offer identified donation up front and far-sighted customers who oblige.

The personal attacks on Katrina Clark are the same attacks adopted persons duck every time we step forward to demand our identities and genealogies. Most of the posters seem to have no connection to genetic identify theft. Few identify themselves as ART recipients or products, adopters or industry shills. From their tone, most are clueless to the issues they address. They “just know.” Yet their anger is vicereal, their reaction to Clark mean-spirited, nasty, and personal. It’s puzzling, at least to me, since it’s not about them. Why do they care? Do we dis-identified adoptees and ART products threaten them that much?

The public, it appears, fears we disconnected mysteries of nature and law. Is it because we are the products of unnatural reproduction? Of sticky sex and non-sex? Adoptees: the perceived unplanned, inconvenient, unwanted products of illicit messy sex between impulsive people who can’t keep their pants on. Anonymous donor conceivees: the planned, paid-for, wanted products of a ritualized sterile medical procedure between doctors and women who can’t get their pants off (some of them, at least)? We, the weird sex products of these unnatural producers are anomalies, disconnected from our genealogies, free-floating in a world where genetics, kinship, and identity count–except when they don’t. Perhaps we touch some inner horror in them. Perhaps we represent their own fears of mis-identity. Are we the unknowing monster within?


  1. A failure to communicate–and it’s not on Katrina Clark’s side. Man, it’s interesting to see all the biased filters through which people read articles like this. It’s also interesting to note that this is “new” to a lot of people…but Bill C. and a few others have been writing about the similarities between people conceived via donor sperm/eggs and adoptees for years.

    But, yeah, let’s ignore the fact that Katrina says her mom is her hero…ignore the fact that Katrina is at a private university…ignore the clear writing and obvious clear-headedness…and call her “spiteful”, “bitter”, “immature”, “selfish”, and use her as a symbol of everything that’s wrong with feminism, lesbian and gay marriage, and liberalism, and use her story to illustrate the Downfall Of The Western World.

    Oy. Wish I hadn’t read those comments!

  2. “What a child needs, they say, is not a relationship with the genetic parent, but a coherent narrative about the way he or she was born.”

    Where do I begin?

    The decision to use an anonymous donor has an impact for life, not simply during the offspring’s childhood.

    It’s more than a bit arrogant to try and determine what potentially thousands of people might need in their lives. More to the point, is that we as parents have no business limiting what may be available to our children as they mature, what they may simply want in their lives. We would not permit one adult to arbitrarily and permanently foreclose another from learning the facts of his origins. Why should it be permissible to do so simply because one is not yet an adult?

    We are presented with an increasing range of reproductive choices. If we are not willing to make our children privy to the choices we make, then perhaps we should re-think our choices.


  3. An awesome post and a dead-on analysis. Enjoyed every word you wrote. I’m an adult adoptee from the Closed Era who’s been on the receiving end of the Blast of the Blabbermouths who know little about adoption but want to tell you how you should feel about it. Loathe and despise them. And yeah, their reactions DO make you feel like “product”…like out of that movie the Island. No one wants to hear the product speak and especially not if it questions the system.

  4. The public, it appears, fears we disconnected mysteries of nature and law. Is it because we are the products of unnatural reproduction?

    Brilliant until the last paragraph. Adoptees aren’t products of unnatural reproduction. Sex is very much Natural. It was the manipulated, cajoled or forced separations of the original parents from their natural offspring that is utterly UNnatural, along with the sealing of records which keeps the natural relationship that does exist hidden or walled off.

    Disconnected mysteries of law – absolutely. Disconnected mysteries of nature – not in reproductive terms.

  5. Hi, I’d like to share with ya’ll a new and very important book about adoption:

    America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry
    by Mirah Riben
    Foreword by Evelyn Robinson

    Projected Release Date: Feb 15, 2007



    Stork mar·ket. (stôrk märkt) n. 1. exposé of the corruption in the adoption industry; the fine line between black and gray market adoption; scams, coercion and exploitation. 2. an in-depth report on the international market where children are the commodity being bought and sold to the highest bidders including pedophiles with prices based on quality (i.e. age, skin color) of the merchandise and set as high as ‘desperate’ consumers continue to be willing to pay. 3. an examination of the myths of adoption that put the needs of adults, and those who profit from their desperation, before the needs of children who need homes. 4. an extensively researched and documented book that asks if adoption can be fixed -— the money aspect removed and government controls and regulations put in place -— or abolished in favor of permanent guardianship, or informal adoption sans the issuance of falsified birth certificates. 5. goes further than Riben’s groundbreaking, award-winning “shedding light on…The Dark Side of Adoption” (1988) which was excerpted in Social Issues Review Series, Utne Reader and Microcosm USA. 7. reveals, for the first time in print, Riben’s role in the notorious Joel Steinberg murder case.


    “Riben has done it again. Once again, as in Dark Side, she has pulled back the covers and exposed the unpleasant truths and problems that need to be addressed in American adoption practices. While difficult, when we remove the rose-colored glasses many view adoption through, the conclusions that Riben comes to are inarguable. Most impressive on every count….well researched and thought out.” Annette Baran, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., co-author The Adoption Triangle

    Mirah Riben writes that she refuses to give up. This book -— a wonderful and well-integrated mix of approaches—part analysis, part case studies from the front lines, part handbook, part up-to-date law and policy review -— is a testament to Riben’s powerful and enduring commitment to the rights and needs of vulnerable women and their children. Riben’s book is a clear, bright blueprint for change. Rickie Solinger, historian and author of Pregnancy and Power: A Short History of Reproductive Politics in America

    “Combines the historical and legal perspective with really hard hitting journalism.” Maureen Flatley, political consultant and media advisor specializing in child welfare and adoption

  6. You know Mirah (Adopttalk), I may be an adoptee who blogs, but my blog is not about adoption.

    I profoundly resent that you’ve posted the above spam in the comments section of my blog flogging your upcoming book without ever taking the time to actually read my posts.

    Not only don’t you grasp the concept of netiquette, but I have to say that talking about yourself in 3rd person and then posting all your [koff] pre-publication rave reviews is cheesy and manipulative.

    Besides the shameless spamming, by not saying upfront that “Hey, I wrote a book about adoption I’d like you to consider” makes you appear to be disingenuous at the least, and dishonest at the whole.

    If you don’t want to read my blog for content and comment on that, I don’t have a problem with it.

    But don’t USE me, as an adoptee, to promote your product so that you can profit from it.

    You’re no better than those “Grow 4 inches on your penis in 3 days!” spammers.

  7. I just read Grave New World in the AdoptTalk blog. I think Mirah gets to the heart of the problem in both Adoption and Reproductive Technology– which is the problem of children being seen as POSSESSIONS.

    When this or other realities are spoken there will always be detractors who don’t want to hear it. I’m sure she’s been through this before with her last book. I am very much looking forward to reading STORK MARKET.

  8. She spammed personal blogs with ads for her last book?

    I don’t think either spam or blogs were around in 1988, the year it was published, but I wasn’t referring to spamming.

    As a blog author-owner you do have the option to simply delete a post you don’t want, off your blog, no? Simple.

  9. Anonymous: “I don’t think either spam or blogs were around in 1988, the year it was published, but I wasn’t referring to spamming.”

    Of course blogs weren’t around, which reiterates my statement that you completely missed my point.

    Hence the “big eyeroll”. Doh!

    You wrote “When this or other realities are spoken there will always be detractors who don’t want to hear it”, as if my complaint was with the content.

    It isn’t.

    I’ve admired Mirah’s previous book and the work she does advocating awareness in the entire adoption system.

    I have a great deal of respect for her, but am not above registering my irritation by her obvious lack of respect to ME (and other adoptees–but I’m not speaking for them, I’m speaking for myself) and to basic internet etiquette.

    Harvesting other bloggers’ adoption-related link lists and deliberately posting a self-aggrandizing ad in the comments section of every adoption-related blog you can find (oops-except the international ones because they prolly won’t buy your book) is pretty smarmy.

    Ironically it’s right up there with the email ads of orgasm enhancement and dick in a box sales spam. Unasked for. Unsolicited.

    Especially if, as a spammer, you don’t actually take the time to read the blogs you’re spamming.

    Try as you might, Anonymous, you will not be able to deflect this by saying I’m one who “doesn’t want to hear her message”.

    I might be my own blog “author” and have the option of deleting stuff in my comments section, but why in the hell should I have to? SHE spammed ME.

    Yes, I have the option of deleting it. Is that going to make me feel less used or disrespected?

    No. Not really. But I have other options.

    I’ve already been in contact with quite a few of the “spammed” who are wondering WTF is up with this crap in our comments sections.

    We’ve not deleted Mirah’s spam, since we’re in the process of registering complaints with Blogger and it will be better if it’s there in all it’s glory.

    And then again we can always pass around the book when it comes out and write reviews on it…and point out the unfortunate irony of Mirah exposing the big “Stork Market” money while trying to make a profit herself on the backs of adoptee bloggers. She apparently doesn’t mind exploiting adoption for her own end.

    Way to go with shooting yourself in the foot by offending some of your target audience!

  10. Way to go with shooting yourself in the foot by offending some of your target audience.

    Mirah isn’t the first and probably won’t be the last. Unfortunately, one of the problems with the adoption reform movement has always been a certain element that uses it for personal gain. Gain is generally monetary, but there are a few who gain simply by seeking and obtaining attention.

    I’m always stunned at the number of therapists and counselors who show up at any adoption convention or workshop. Than there is the army of people who hold themselves out as “searchers”. There are some who do it at no cost or low cost, I imagine, but for most its simply another business. Nor, is Mirah Ruben the first person to use the resources of the movement to write a book for self aggrandizement.

    I see alot of people using the movement for personal gain. IMO, getting records opened everywhere is going to require a lot more selflessness than I’m seeing right now.

    It doesn’t stun me that Mirah would try to use someone’s blog as free advertising for a book. It unfortunately fits right into the self-interest I’m seeing more of these days. It should be pointed out for what it is though. Thanks for doing so.

  11. “I’m always stunned at the number of therapists and counselors who show up at any adoption convention or workshop.”

    And social workers. Most of the time they pick up credits for attending workshops which can then be used to leverage more pay. And their employers usually pick up the conference and workshop tab. It’s a tidy little racket. Of course, without this built-in guaranteed number of conference attendees, groups like the AAC would be hard-pressed to host conferences in the first place.
    The larger problem is that because conference promoters come to depend so heavily on social workers and therapists for economic viability, the conference programs become weighted with therapeutic subjects. If you look at conference agendas, you’d think that adoption is predominantly a therapeutic problem, rather than a socioeconomic issue or a political discourse.

  12. Anonymous person (I think a different one than one I was responding to before) wrote:

    “I see alot of people using the movement for personal gain. IMO, getting records opened everywhere is going to require a lot more selflessness than I’m seeing right now.”

    I can’t agree more. Do you have any ideas that we can work together on?

    “It doesn’t stun me that Mirah would try to use someone’s blog as free advertising for a book. It unfortunately fits right into the self-interest I’m seeing more of these days. It should be pointed out for what it is though. Thanks for doing so.”

    You know, I wouldn’t make a big stinking deal about it if she had taken the time to drop me an email to ask if I minded or if I’d mention her book in a post. My email addy is right there in my profile.

    I would have. And so would many of the people she spammed, I suspect, if she actually took the time to write to them nicely.

    I really hate that this has happened, because I do understand what Mirah is getting at in her writing.

    But I don’t “get” how someone can write a book about a disempowerment of a class of women and then turn around and disempower another class of people (adoptees) by spamming them for profit.

    Ugly but weirdly appropriate parallel, isn’t it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *