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.

Slate's"Seed" project has been chronicling the history of the Repository for Germinal Choice, the "Nobel Prize sperm bank." We have been searching for the 240-plus children born through the bank, their parents, and the men who donated the sperm that conceived them. The following story comes from one of those parents, a mother who called Slateafter reading the initial "Seed" story. (You can read that introductory story here.)

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In early 1991, a woman—she wants to call herself "Beth"—took her 7-month-old daughter—whom she wants to call "Joy"—on a trip to Southern California. Beth wanted to visit the Repository for Germinal Choice, better known as the "Nobel Prize sperm bank." The repository had given her the sperm that had fathered Joy, and she felt profoundly grateful to its employees, who had always been very kind to her. She felt even more grateful to "Donor White," the anonymous man who had supplied her sperm.

David Plotz David Plotz
David Plotz is Slate's deputy editor. If you are interested in sharing any information about the Repository for Germinal Choice, send it toplotzd@slate.com

Beth wanted Donor White to see his daughter, and she had heard he lived near the repository. Beth knew she wouldn't be allowed to meet Donor White, so she told Dora Vaux, the repository's office manager, that she would drop Joy off at a certain time, then return several hours later. The day came, and Beth left her infant at the repository. Dora Vaux called Donor White, and he rushed over to see Joy. When Beth came back to collect Joy, Vaux told her that Donor White had been ecstatic. He "said he would live on that moment for the rest of his life." Donor White left a gift for Joy, a Fisher-Price doll.

Beth had found the Repository for Germinal Choice in the 1980s after reading a newspaper article about the genius sperm bank. Her then-husband had had a vasectomy, and they decided the repository offered the best chance for ensuring a healthy baby. They read its catalog, and they liked the sound of Donor White No. 6. (See his catalog page here.) He was 6 feet tall, brown-haired, and blue-eyed. Repository staffers told Beth he looked a bit like her husband. He was in his 50s, and he'd enjoyed a distinguished career as a "scientist involved in sophisticated research." He read history and liked to garden. He came from a long-lived family.

But what sold Beth on Donor White was something else repository staffers told her: "They never told me I would have a genius baby. But they had seen some of his other babies [from the sperm bank], and they said he had happy babies. And I wanted a happy baby."

And that's what she got: a happy baby who has grown into a happy girl. "She is wonderful," Beth says, "Not a prodigy. Not an egghead, but a wonderful well-rounded person." In a letter to me, Beth wrote that Joy "is a good student … but first and foremost, a sweet little girl, pretty, athletic, and smart."

As her daughter grew up, Beth yearned to stay in touch with Donor White. "I was so grateful to him for this special girl." She frequently mailed photos of Joy to the repository and always enclosed an extra copy to be sent on to Donor White.

Donor White loved the pictures. In 1995, he sent Joy a fifth birthday card through the repository, thanking Beth for all the photos. He told her he and his wife had collected them in a photo montage. Donor White signed his name to the card, but the repository blanked it out.

Their correspondence grew brisk. Beth sent Donor White a Father's Day card. He mailed her some photographs of himself and his niece as babies, enclosing this note: "Maybe it is just because they are both so pretty and have such beautiful blond hair and blue eyes, but somehow whenever we see a picture of either our niece or Joy, it always makes us think of the other one at the same age."

Beth says, "When I showed the pictures to my mother, she said 'Oh my god! They look exactly like her.' " (Beth sent me the pictures: The resemblance is striking.)

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