A Mother Searches for "Donor White"

Exploring the "Nobel Prize sperm bank."
Feb. 27 2001 3:00 AM

A Mother Searches for "Donor White"

Ten years ago, she used his sperm to have a daughter. Now she wants to find him, and he wants to find her. But they don't know each other's names.

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Beth sent him a photo of Joy skiing and a videotape. Repository staffers passed on the photograph but kept the videotape: Joy was too identifiable in it, they said.

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Donor White couldn't say much about himself in his letters—the repository wouldn't permit it—but he told Beth he was semi-retired from science and that he sometimes hoped that Joy would follow him into the field, since his niece wasn't interested. Still, he added, "The main thing that we hope for Joy is that she will be healthy and happy in whatever she decides to do. … We won't make her choose a career before she finishes first grade. Nevertheless, I just feel that she is going to do something special."

Eventually, Donor White wrote Beth that he hoped he could meet his daughter. "In the back of our mind there is the thought that some day, some way, we might get to make a future visit in person. In the meantime, please know you are thought of very often, Joy, and thank you for letting us believe that we really do have a small part in your life." That letter was signed, "With all our love, Your adoptive grandparents."

In early 1997, not long after this note, repository administrator Anita Neff sent a letter to Beth. Neff announced that the repository's directors had decided to end the correspondence between her and Donor White. "A unanimous decision was made to discontinue any further interaction between donor and offspring as it breaks the rule of confidentiality. While this has been the rule of the repository all along, we recognize that it has been bent for you in the past," Neff wrote. "We simply cannot continue to share Joy with the donor."

Beth and Joy lost Donor White, and Donor White lost them. Beth has been left with some cards, a couple of photos, and a few sketchy facts. She knows roughly when he was born and knows a bit about his scientific career. (Slate is not publishing these details in order to protect Donor White from being identified against his will.) She knows he had no children of his own but that he had at least 12 other children through the repository, four girls and eight boys. And she believes that Joy is his 13th. (How does she know this? Click here for an interesting digression.)

Last year, three years after she lost contact with Donor White, Beth finally decided to tell Joy about her genetic father. Beth had divorced and remarried and didn't want to keep the secret from her growing girl anymore. "I am a nurse and I treat people all the time who die suddenly and too young. I did not want to leave anything unsaid to Joy."

Beth read Joy one of the letters that Donor White had written to her and gave Joy the Fisher-Price doll that Donor White had left her in 1991. "She was very emotional about it. She was very touched."

Joy had believed that Beth's ex-husband was her father, but Beth says her daughter was not surprised to learn that she had another dad, too. "She loves [my ex-husband], but he is very different from her. I think it made sense to her that there could be this other father too."

They don't talk too much about Donor White, Beth says—though she now jokingly calls Joy "my little rocket scientist"—but Joy has told Beth she thinks of Donor White "as being like Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books"—the good wizard who's a benevolent authority figure. Joy has also "expressed curiosity about meeting him."

And that's why Beth called Slate. When she saw the first Seed story, she seized the chance to search for Donor White and for his dozen other kids. "I feel really connected to that man. He has no children of his own, and he gave me this wonderful gift."

She wants Donor White to find out about his daughter, to learn that she loves ballet. That she is "kind of competitive." That she plays soccer and "is all over the field." That she likes Harry Potter books. That she is very pretty. That she "does well in all of her subjects, but social science interests her most." That teachers like her but that she also has lots of friends. That she is taking horseback riding lessons. That "she has no fear." That "she puts her heart into life."

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