Father Figure: The Children of Donor 401

Known only as Donor 401, he is father to some 25 children around the country. Now the women who selected him from a sperm back in Virginia are finding each other -- and inventing a whole new kind of family.
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Making a Connection

One morning in 2006 Kimberly, then a 38-year-old New York therapist, was getting her three children ready for their day at preschool. She was cooking breakfast for her two daughters and one son when her husband, Ken, called out from another part of the house, telling her there was a morning show segment on that she should watch.

Kimberly (who did not want her last name used) turned on the television in the kitchen. As the camera panned across a group of youngsters and infants visiting the show's studio with their mothers, she moved closer to the screen -- and got chills. Then one of her daughters screeched, "Mommy, that girl looks just like us!"

Kimberly's daughter was right: Every single child did look remarkably like hers. Then she heard the commentary: "Sperm Donor 401...German background..." The seven women onscreen were talking to the show's host about a man neither she nor they had ever met: the biological father of all their children.

The women had connected through a Web site, DonorSiblingRegistry.com, set up in 2000 for families with children born as a result of their parents using donor sperm, eggs, or embryos. At the time there were few ways for such people who wanted more background information about their children to contact one another. The site now has some 11,000 members, who are seeking data about many men, not just Donor 401.

Until that morning Kimberly had rarely thought about 401, a man whose description -- healthy, intellectual, with German ancestry and, best of all, close to his mother -- had appealed to her and her husband when they turned to donor insemination to get pregnant after trying to conceive for eight years. After all, her husband was both the legal father of their three children and their day-to-day parent. He was the man they knew as Daddy.

Looking at a room full of her children's half-siblings was deeply unsettling for Kimberly. Ken, who was comfortable from the start with the idea of donor insemination, was interested in what the women had to say about the experience but not disturbed by it. "The only thing I've ever been concerned about was the one-in-a-million chance they might someday get romantically involved with half-siblings," he says. Even that is not top of mind for him, he says. "What's important is that they're happy, healthy kids."

Continued on page 2:  Learning the Facts


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