Donor Ethnicity, Your Family and Your Future Child  


Why donor ethnicity matters

Have you found the perfect donor and his ethnicity is remarkably different from yours? If you are partnered, are the two of you considering choosing a donor ethnically different from your partner? Yes? The following research may be of interest to you. Considering and talking about issues related to race and ethnicity is challenging. We present the information below hoping that it will help you to make the decision that works best for your family. You choose and we’ll be there to assist.

The following is based on more than 30 years of TSBC helping women and couples choose their donors and create their families. We have added insights gained from our research program, and sources beyond TSBC, including adoption research and the experiences of transracial families.  An important note: we frame the information below from the point of view of your future child and family, not solely from a prospective parent’s perspective. A child-based perspective may raise a different set of issues for you to consider as you choose the ethnicity of your child's donor.

Our goal is to help contribute to your future child's and family’s long-term well-being.  In this spirit we present reasons to consider selecting a donor who looks like you, your partner, and the people who will surround your child as they grow up.

The men who fit my search criteria ... were healthy and fit, but they had ethnicities and races that did not match [me or my partner]. Our favorite donor was a man who was part Palestinian. A few other favorites had Latino heritage, and another was Native American. These men’s sperm would indeed help us to create a child ...but it would also require us to acknowledge the heritage and cultural background that would belong to our child, but not to us.​ ~Ilana Sherer, Our Family Coalition, Known and Unknowns


Children want to belong

Children try to avoid feeling different from their peers. In adolescence, they go through identity development, and often seek out family members and others who share their looks, interests and skills. If your donor and child look very different from the people raising the child, the donor may take on extra significance to the child. If the donor shares physical characteristics with you, your partner and/or your extended family, your child will look like the people who share their life. This can contribute to a child's sense of who they are and a feeling of belonging. 

Interviewer: How often were you ever treated differently when you were growing up? Never, rarely, occasionally, frequently or very frequently?

Adult with donor origins: Very frequently. …Well, the reason why I say very frequently is because since I grew up in [State], it’s very white and my parents are both white…so the rest of my family is white and my donor was [of color]. I look very different from my family and I look different from most people in my community growing up. So more than being ostracized or feeling judged, I feel like I was just treated differently, because people always asked, and they always knew. They were always curious and very accepting, but… there were a lot of questions asked, a lot of people were confused. I felt comfortable and felt like I fit in, but I was constantly reminded that I looked really different than the rest of them. ~ Interviews with adults who have donors in The Sperm Bank of California’s Identity-Release® Program (Scheib, 2016)

from John and Meghan, a TSBC family (February 2016) ~ What mattered more - the way we felt about a certain donor, or the way our child would feel growing up so different from the two people they are supposed to trust the most? Again, we put our child first and changed our minds, choosing a donor of similar European heritage. This is one of the most important decisions you will make as a parent, and even though you don't have a baby yet, you have to think like a parent and the well-being of your child. We are so grateful for the help, advice, and caring counsel that we received from TSBC. 


Resemblance

Resemblance is one signal of kinship. For the child, physical resemblance helps create bonds and has the capacity to create a feeling of connectedness. Without resemblance, there can be an experience of unfamiliarity, unpredictability, of being the "other" (Indekeu, 2015, p. 12). Matching your donor ethnically—in physical features—to your child's family may help support your child as they grow up.  

Being a person of colour raised by white parents...I now see how I could have benefited from some people of colour role models in my life. It seems ironic that my parents put so much thought into male role models I never wanted, while race was a topic we almost never discussed. Donor-conceived person and author -p. 59

Being part of a transracial … family means that her [daughter’s difference] is obvious, and increases the likelihood and frequency of intrusive questions. It is wearing for kids to stand out in this way – especially at an age when just belonging to the group is important.  
~from Point of View @ pactadopt.org

The first generation of children from TSBC are now adults and some have shared their experiences with us. In interviews with adults who obtained their donor’s identity, a small number in the sample grew up resembling no one in their family—their ethnicity matched only their donor (Scheib, 2016). All described strong attachment to their family, but also uncomfortable instances of difference. Some felt outed as being donor-conceived when they wanted privacy; all were questioned repeatedly about their family.

Knowing that they could obtain their donor's identity and potentially learn more about their shared ethnic origin helped donor-conceived adults manage these experiences.  In one instance, an adult described the joy of meeting her donor. She finally discovered someone who shared her big feet and sense of humor, and who looked just like her. However, desire to learn about their ethnic origin placed greater hopes for contacting the donor, making it more difficult when contact with their donor did not work out as hoped.


Discrimination

Having an ethnically different child means that the child will experience the world in ways in which the parent(s) cannot always prepare for or adequately understand. For these reasons, while looks or color should not matter, they matter. 

Thoughts from Kalisto Zenda Nanen, an adult transracial adoptee:

"... my white parents approached race with me with caution. It's like the ally rule, [we] can only go so far in our understanding of a life [we] don't live. It wasn't until I became an adult [and] got seriously involved in social justice that I got to a point of understanding my race".

For some parents, choosing a donor that they match with ethnically helps avoid an additional layer of discrimination against the family and child who may already face homophobia and/or questions about who their parents are and why they don't have “a dad.” Others face discrimination in the form of ignorance around male infertility or single parenting and forming family with the assistance of a donor. Matching helps in day-to-day interactions with the world, including the child being questioned less about who their 'real' parents are.

My one tip to give to a queer couple who wants to start a family is to be very aware of how race and gender play into things, at the playground, at the store, on the bus. Our family is a transracial family. I'm Asian, my son is black, and my partner is white. People make assumptions based on race and gender, even in our own LGBT community. Race shouldn't matter, but it does. And it cuts both ways. A lot of African-Americans, oftentimes just strangers on the street, show us a lot of love and concern for my son's well-being and safety. But others have asked where is my son's mother and who are his 'real' parents. My son says, 'My two dads are my real parents.' At Brooklyn's Gay Pride Festival, I was talking to some friends, and my son, who was 4 at the time, got away from me and climbed into one of those gold carts for emergencies. One volunteer, an African-American lesbian, told my son, 'Oh, no, baby, you can't be there. Where's your mommy?' I dashed over with my diaper bag in one hand and baby toys in the other and headed straight for my son and the volunteer. As I approached, she looked around me, asking, 'Where's your mommy? Where's your mommy?' When I got there, I looked her straight in the eye and said 'I'm his mommy [and with a flick of a snap said] Happy Gay Pride.' We both laughed, but again, race and gender assumptions are very real even in our own LGBT community. "
~ Glenn D. Magpantay, executive director, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance,
adapted from 10 Tips for Starting Families From Families Who've Been There


Transracial Adoption

...the philosophy of colorblindness “impedes the growth of everyone in the family, not just the [mixed/adopted children] but also the siblings... and the... parents.” For the sake of our blended families, built through adoption and birth, we can only hope that the support we need to build a healthy identity for every child will continue to grow and become more accessible to all, so we can keep on learning how to be the best parents we can be. Marie-Claude Provencher

While there is research related to the impact of donor ethnicity on families, most of the online resources for parents raising children who differ from them ethnically are about transracial adoption. We acknowledge that the donor experience is not the same as adoption and at the same time there are enough parallels that we wanted to provide some transracial adoption resources to help families considering an ethnically different donor and for those families reading this who may have already made that choice:


Resources and Support

We want to support you in your decision-making process. It is possible that this article raises issues that you might not have previously considered, as well as the generally more difficult issue of ethnicity in the U.S. today. We want what is best for your family, and you know that far better than we do. Please feel free to call our office, so we can help you find the right donor for your family and/or simply proceed with your decision!


Further Reading

  • Goldberg, A.E., Sweeney, K., Black, K. & Moyer, A. (2016). Lesbian, gay, and heterosexual adoptive parents’ socialization approaches to children’s minority statuses. The Counseling Psychologist, 44, 267-299.
  • Henry, A.J. (2016). Sperm donor selection and race/ethnicity. In A.E. Goldberg (ed.) SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies, pp. 1113-1114. Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA.  
  • Hill-Meyer, T. (2009). Donor mom. In S. Goldberg & Brushwood Rose, C. (eds.) And Baby Makes More, pp. 56-63. Insominac Press, London, Canada.
  • Hudson, N. (2015). Gamete donation and ‘race’. In eLS. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: Chichester.  doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005596.pub2
  • Wang, M.-T. & Huguley, J. P. (2012). Parental racial socialization as a moderator of the effects of racial discrimination on educational success among African American adolescents. Child Development, 83, 1716–1731.
  • Indekeu A. (2015). Parents' expectations and experiences of resemblance through donor conception. New Genetics & Society, 34, 398-416.
  • Nordqvist, P. (2010). Out of sight, out of mind: Family resemblances in lesbian donor conception. Sociology, 44, 1128-44. 
  • Nordqvist, P. (2012). ‘I don’t want to stand out more than we already do’; Lesbian couples negotiating family connections in donor conception. Sexualities, 15, 644-61. 
  • Scheib, J.E. (2016). Interviews with adults who have donors in The Sperm Bank of California’s Identity-Release® Program. Manuscript in progress.
  • Scheib, J.E. & McCormick, E. (2016) Choosing a sperm donor. In A.E. Goldberg (ed.), SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies, pp. 1108-1113. Sage Publications, Inc., Thousand Oaks, CA.  
  • Scheib, J.E., Riordan, M., & Shaver, P.R. (2000). Choosing between anonymous and identity-release®​​ sperm donors. Reproductive Technologies, 10, 50- 8.
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