When Donor White Met Joy
Slatehelped the Nobel Prize sperm bank's "Donor White" and his biological daughter find each other. Here's what happened when they met.
In February 2001, Slate launched "Seed," a series about the Repository for Germinal Choice, the "Nobel Prize" sperm bank that was started by California industrialist Robert Graham in 1980 and closed in 1999. Slate searched for the 200-odd children conceived through the "genius sperm bank," their parents, and the men who donated the sperm for them. (At the bottom of the page, you'll find links to the 14 other articles in the Seed series, including the introduction explaining the project.)
The article that generated by far the most reader response described the hunt for Donor White. The piece, which you can read here, recounted the story of "Beth" and her now 12-year-old daughter, "Joy." Beth, whose husband had had a vasectomy, conceived Joy using sperm from the repository donor identified as "White No. 6." According to the description in the repository catalog, Donor White was an accomplished scientist born in the 1930s who liked running and gardening. Employees at the repository told Beth that other mothers who used Donor White had "happy babies." That's what Beth got: a happy, blond infant, who has grown up into a happy, blond, ballet-dancing, Harry Potter-loving, horseback-riding girl.
Beth always felt grateful to Donor White. Donor White, a family man who had never been able to have children of his own, always yearned to know his sperm bank offspring. (There are 19 of them, by his count.) When Joy was 7 months old, Beth arranged to leave her for a few hours at the repository office so that Donor White and his wife could stop by and see his daughter. It was an unforgettable visit for Donor White. Later, the repository allowed Beth and Donor White to send warm letters and holiday cards. (The repository erased all identifying details.) But in 1997, the sperm bank stopped the correspondence, saying it threatened confidentiality. Beth and Donor White were disappointed. Each tried to find the other by piecing together clues from their correspondence. Each failed.
In early 2001, Beth saw the first Seed articles and wrote Slate asking for help. "A Mother Searches for Donor White" appeared on Feb. 27, 2001, inviting Donor White to contact me confidentially. For 15 months, we heard nothing. Then, on June 12, an e-mail from Donor White arrived in my in-box (email@example.com, for anyone else connected to the repository who wants to reach me. I will treat all contacts as confidential). Donor White longed to meet Beth and Joy. A few days later, after verifying Donor White was who he claimed, I introduced them by e-mail. In the most recent Seed installment, I chronicled Donor White's discovery and the loving, intimate correspondence that sprang up between him and Beth and Joy. I promised to report back after they all met in person.
A few weeks after that article appeared in August, Beth and Joy traveled to California to see Donor White. Both Beth and Donor White wrote me long e-mails about the four days they spent together. This was a small family reunion, but a historic one. It was one of the first times that an anonymous sperm donor and his child have met. And Donor White's e-mail below is the first time a sperm donor has described what it's like to meet his genetic child—a child that is both his and not his.
Here is what Donor White and Beth wrote.
From Donor White:
Ever since meeting my baby daughter Joy at the Repository, I have felt that one day I would have the opportunity to see her again, no matter how improbable that seemed. Now, some 11 years later, that has happened in a wonderful visit.
I will give you my best attempt to describe the four-day visit that my wife and I had with Joy and her mom, Beth, but I start out doubting that words will be adequate to describe my true feelings. My mind is so flooded with pleasant memories that I hardly know where to start, so I will simply try to recall certain things in the order in which they occurred. After a simultaneous neck hug and introduction, Joy presented me with one of her proudest possessions, her first trophy from an athletic contest. I knew what this meant to her and asked if maybe she would swap her trophy for some of my too-large T-shirts from running events that might serve as night gowns for her. We were both happy with the trade. She had also selected a group of photographs that she wished me to have, and by the next day I was able to find some that I hoped she might like to have.
We played a videotape of her most recent youth ballet performance, as she gave us advanced warnings as to when to expect a leap of surprising height, which gave me some hint as to the gymnastics that would come the next couple of days on visits to the beach.
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.