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Family Dynamics

Donor-Conceived Children Meeting Their Half-Siblings

Widening one's family circle with enriching, lifelong relationships.

Key points

  • Parents are more likely to worry or wonder how to define the relationships.
  • DNA isn’t the only way to make a family, but it is one way that shouldn’t be negated, ignored, or minimized.
  • Parents can approach half-sibling meetings with an open mind and a steady, joyful, and confident manner.
Source: Courtesy of Pam Lindbeck
Source: Courtesy of Pam Lindbeck

Donor-conceived people (DCP) have so much to learn about themselves from what they share with their half-siblings, as physical, medical, and psychological attributes are often genetic. Donor siblings inherit around 50 percent of their DNA from the same biological parent. Although sharing DNA isn’t the only way to make a family, it is one way that shouldn’t be ignored, minimized, or denied. Half-sibling connections can be celebrated as expanding family can be a wonderful and enriching experience for all involved.

The relationships that half-siblings form once they are connected may, in some ways, resemble any other sibling relationship. Beyond the point of contact, if/how they create and develop a new relationship and bond is their choice, and some relationships may be more successful than others: just like in any family. For younger children raised knowing their half-siblings, there is no need to figure this out. These people are just their family members. Just like other relatives, the ones they live nearest to, are most like-minded with, and share the most common interests with are the ones they are more likely to spend time with as time goes on. Many donor–sibling connections result in warm supportive relationships that will last a lifetime.

Wendy Kramer
Ryan Kramer and half-sister Anna. They have 23 other half-siblings.
Source: Wendy Kramer

Children deserve to know all of their close genetic relatives.

Some parents are concerned that a child under 18 might not be mature enough to handle this type of situation and therefore don’t tell their children about known half-siblings, wanting to wait until they are “old enough.” Some parents delay by waiting for their child actually to ask about half-siblings. Generally, children don't decide when to meet their relatives. (They also don't decide the timing of a lot of things!) We don’t wait for our children to be old enough, mature enough, or to ask about Aunt Shirley, Cousin Frank, or Grandpa Larry to make the introduction. Our children grow up knowing their relatives, and then, when they are older, they choose whom they wish to be in contact with.

This DCP explains why keeping children from their half-siblings can rob them of important connections, relationships, and experiences:

Just imagine being 20-something and finding siblings on your own. You then develop some kind of relationship. You find that many of these siblings had parents who encouraged these relationships, even from babyhood. You see the pictures, you hear the stories. Disney, camping, birthdays.... A couple of them will be roomies in college, maid of honor in a sibling wedding, etc. To me, this would be crushing. I would feel so cheated, whether or not I had great neighbor pals, awesome cousins, or even siblings from the same home.

What can parents expect?

Parents can count on finding other families who are also experiencing deep feelings, but just as the circumstances surrounding each child’s conception are unique, so are the variations in family structure and reactions to the match. Parents can explore their comfort levels and openness to exploring possible connections.

There is a wide range of depth and breadth and speed with which people connect. Some are held back by their fears, trepidations, and/or their insecurities and may be interested solely in medical information sharing. While some families desire a limited exchange of photos and email, but not face-to-face contact, other families are hoping to develop an ongoing relationship that will become a friendship or even become an extended family. Parents should be prepared for all possibilities. It is best to be clear about the level of connection you're open to when making a match so that the other family can adjust their expectations accordingly. Meet people where they're at, not where you'd like them to be. Understand, too, that expectations often change over time as comfort levels rise and fears dissipate.

Parents may be reaching out to nonbiological parents who can feel incredibly nervous or even threatened by the prospect of their child connecting with people with whom they have a genetic connection, something that they don’t have with their child. Usually, it’s the parents who are much more likely to become overwhelmed with how to define it all (especially when there are 50, 100, or more half-siblings!). When they interject their fears or worries, or thoughts that these half-siblings are not legitimate “family,” or that the situation is "weird," this can throw unnecessary angst into the connections. When the parents move forward with meetings in an open-minded, steady, joyful, and confident manner, everyone is more likely to view the meetings as positive.

Source: Courtesy of Mitchell Morrissey
Half Siblings
Source: Courtesy of Mitchell Morrissey


Jadva, V., Freeman, T., Kramer, W., & Golombok, S. (2010). Experiences of offspring searching for and contacting their donor siblings and donor. Reproductive Biomedicine Online, 20: 523–532. doi:10.1016/j. Rbmo.2010.01.001

Hertz, R., Nelson, M. K., & Kramer, W (2017). Donor sibling networks as a vehicle for expanding kinship: A replication and extension. Journal of Family Issues, 38, 248–284, DOI: 10.1177/0192513X16631018

Published research on parents, donors and DCP:

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