Michael B Greene


In mid-December 2018 I received a letter from a genealogist. It read: “… I am reaching out on behalf of a client who is searching for the identity of her birth father. Deborah was donor-conceived in 1978 at NYU Medical Center. She does not want to disrupt anyone’s life and is mainly in search of family and medical history. She has taken the Ancestry DNA test and has several DNA ‘cousin’ matches who appear to be related to (your family). I believe that you may be a part of this family and I would love to hear from you when you have a chance…”

I was shocked but I knew there was a possibility that she could be my genetic daughter. I had been a sperm donor in New York City in the mid-1970s. Back then, complete anonymity was assured and, frankly, I thought very little about the consequences of my donations. However, I was curious and a touch skeptical because I had never taken a DNA test; I had no idea how the genealogist tracked me down. 

As a graduate student at Columbia University, barely getting by financially, I’m embarrassed to acknowledge that back then I simply thought of my “donations” as an easy way to make some extra cash. Years later, I would occasionally think that I might bump into someone who looked like me but I never imagined that one of my donor offspring would actually seek me out. Although my wife knew that I had been a sperm donor, she too was stunned, and curious, and she told me that she was envious of my potentially new “family.” 

When I called the genealogist, she told me that had used the family tree prepared by one of my second cousins to find me. She had examined the tree to see who was living in New York, was a graduate or medical student, and was in his mid-20s to mid-30s at that time. I popped up. She then found sufficient information on Google to locate me. 

I agreed to take a paternity test and we arranged for the DNA kit to be sent to me. It was then that the genealogist explained that my potential genetic daughter also had a full sister. I remembered that on a couple of occasions the fertility doctor’s nurse had told me that a recipient (the mother) had had a healthy baby and wanted to use my sperm so that her children would be full genetic siblings (I have subsequently discovered that I am the biological father of three additional pairs of full siblings). It was a lot to take in. Still, when asked if I would be willing to communicate via email with the donor-conceived woman called Deborah, I agreed without hesitation. 

Our email exchanges were friendly and when I asked Deborah if she was interested in meeting in person, she said she would very much like that. Deborah lived in Boston but, amazingly, her older sister Jane lived only half an hour away from me in the same small town in New Jersey, Once the DNA test confirmed our genetic relationship, we decided to meet at Jane’s house.

They – like all of my donor offspring with whom I’ve subsequently spoken – had no clue during their childhood and adolescence that they were donor-conceived. Jane found out in her early 20s. She had become anxious about the possibility of her getting Alzheimer’s disease. She knew of several such cases within her father’s family and she asked her mother about it. Her mother told her that she had nothing to worry about. She was relieved but in the back of her mind, she was puzzled by her mother’s assurances.

So, about a week later, she asked her mother about it. Her mother said that her father would explain. It was then that their father told her that she and her sister were donor-conceived. However, as a physician, he did so in an emotionally neutral manner, almost as if he were explaining a medical procedure to one of his patients.

Jane told her sister two weeks later when she returned from a trip to France. They really did not know how to process this information but it remained in their thoughts for the next two decades.  They would often wonder what their biological father was like and would they like them. Technical advances in DNA matching changed everything. It was Deborah who, at the age of 38 and with her mother’s emotional and financial support and her father’s reluctant consent, began her quest to find me.  

I remember nervously knocking on Jane’s door. Deborah answered, Jane stood next to her; both looked as nervous as me. Without thinking, I asked if I could hug each of them. And thus started an ongoing and miraculous relationship with each of them. As we’ve got to know one another, we’ve discovered unexpected traits in common: we are shy, introverted, and private, we are passionate about social justice, enjoy similar kinds of music and literature and we are psychological in our orientation.

I also discovered that Jane had the same struggles with first learning how to read as I did. Moreover, we both read very slowly and we silently pronounce the words of the novels we read. During the height of the pandemic, Jane, her husband, and I would go for walks in our neighborhood. I loved how they talked to one another with loving kindness and I love how they continually looked to discover and rediscover differences and similarities in their perspectives and ways of being in the world. 

I later learned that Deborah also had a marvelous marriage and a very sweet and rambunctious 10-year-old son. We visit one another from time to time too. When their son was asked to create a family tree at school, Deborah asked me to write something for him about my ancestry, encouraging their son to learn about his 5th quasi-grandparent (using language that he would understand). 

These days, Jane, Deborah, and I regularly email and text one another.  At some point, we started signing off our exchanges with the word ‘love’.  Indeed, we have come to love one another in unexpected and mysterious ways.

Both Jane and Deborah have experienced a sense of relief as we’ve gotten to know one another. It was as if the puzzle of who they were now made sense; that the differences between them and their parents were no longer a mystery. I want to be clear that I do not think of myself as their father; their father who raised them is their father.  And I greatly appreciate what a terrific job he and his wife did in raising their daughters to become the fine adults they are.

As my relationship with Deborah and Jane evolved, and as I began meeting additional biological children, I started reading everything I could find about donor conception and I watched documentaries based on the experience of other donor-conceived families. As I learned more, I became increasingly engaged in the world of donor conception.

I started thinking back about my training as a psychotherapist and the three years during which I maintained a small practice. To expand my knowledge, I reached out to several therapists/counselors who were doing this work, and I attended trainings. I wanted to start my own counseling practice for adult members of donor-conceived families (I am a licensed psychologist in New York and New Jersey). I believe that my experience as a donor dad combined with my training as a therapist (which needed some polishing and updating) equipped me to help others who were struggling with donor conception issues.

Note: The names and locations of my biological daughters have been altered to protect their privacy. Also, I understand that in this field we are struggling with naming these new kinds of relationships.  For the most part, I have opted to use the term “donor dad.” I apologize if this has offended anyone.