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Supporting Donor Family Members

Adequate counseling and education are vital.

Key points

  • Donor families are unique in some ways yet also very common.
  • Many donor family issues have not yet been properly addressed by the mental health community.
  • It is important to create and support happy, healthy, and informed donor families.

The donor family can include:

  • Egg, sperm, or embryo donor (and their family).
  • Parent (or prospective parent).
  • Donor-conceived person (and their family).

Donor conception has become very common over the past several decades because of the advancements being made in the field of reproductive medicine and with the wider acceptance of LGBTQ+ families, single-parent families, and women in later reproductive years utilizing donor gametes. The accessibility and popularity of commercial DNA testing are helping to expand these families as many people are finding out by surprise that they are part of a sometimes quite large donor family. Given the greatly increased probability of either encountering a client connected to a donor family in their practices across settings, or finding one’s self in a donor family, clinicians and laypeople alike must be well-informed about all perspectives in order to understand and relate to all those in the donor family circle.

Families formed and connected via donor gametes are unique in many ways, yet they also share the same joys, disappointments, adventures, concerns, stressors, and love that most families do. It’s not uncommon for individuals in donor families to feel a sense of confusion or discomfort about their stories or with their own or their family’s boundaries when it comes to using donor gametes or donating them, or to have issues surrounding disclosure or learning about their own donor conception story. It can sometimes be anxiety-provoking to reach out to one's own or their child’s newly found genetic relatives. Grappling with the depth and breadth, and the timing and speed with which they explore their own or their child’s origins and expanding families, can be challenging and also deeply profound, joyous, and rewarding.

A Dearth of Proper Education and Counseling

While it's vital that parents and donors be adequately educated and counseled before using a donor or donating, all too often, research demonstrates this often does not happen. One published study of 1,700 sperm recipients reported that more than 61% did not receive professional counseling before purchasing donor sperm, and neither did almost 72% of their partners.1 A study of 155 egg donors found that only 36% of them felt as though they were properly educated and counseled about the potential curiosities of the children they were helping to create.2 In addition, 80% of 164 surveyed sperm donors indicated that they did not receive any education or counseling about the potential curiosities of donor-conceived people to know their genetic, ancestral, and medical backgrounds.3

Because all gametes are still sold as anonymous, be it for 18 years or forever, many donors believe that they'll remain hidden from families. Parents and donor-conceived people are regularly told that they would be breaking the law if they try to contact a donor. The reality is that with DNA testing, the internet, and public records, donors can virtually be found at any time, and there are no laws prohibiting this from happening. Many donors are promised no more than 10 or 20 donor children, yet the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) has many half-sibling groups over 100 and now, even some over 200. Because facilities that sell the gametes may not have incorporated these new realities into their business models, all too often parents and donors have not been able to make fully-informed decisions about choices that will affect their own and their children’s lives for decades to come.

Since the DSR was founded in 2000, there have been many thousands of reports, both anecdotally and via research, that illustrate the need for mental health professionals to be well-versed in issues like these:

  • The importance of early truth-telling about a child’s origin/conception story.

  • The importance of acknowledging and honoring the rights of all members of the donor family, donor-conceived people, donors, and parents, to be curious about and to search for their own or their child’s genetic relatives.
  • The trauma of finding the truth about one’s donor conception as an adult.
  • The intricacies of exploring, forming, and defining donor family relationships.
  • The potential complications of expanding family with newly discovered genetic relatives.

Happy and Healthy Donor Families

There are many unique issues that can present for all donor family members, so thinking deeply and critically about the practice of keeping donor-conceived people from their close genetic relatives, ancestry, and medical backgrounds for 18 or more years is crucial to creating and supporting healthy and happy families. Clinicians and donor family members can be better educated and counseled with regard to better understanding the reasons that people may or may not desire to connect with their own or their child's close genetic relatives and be better prepared for many of the issues that might present with their own or their clients’ families of origin and with new donor family relationships.

We should not be asking who this child belongs to, but who belongs to this child.
—Jim Gritter


1. Sawyer, N., Blyth, E. Kramer, W., & Frith, L. (2013). A survey of 1700 women who formed their families using donor spermatozoa. Reproductive Biomedicine Online, 27, 436-447, DOI: 10.1016/j.rbmo.2013.07.009

2. Kramer, W., Schneider, J. Schultz, N. (2009). US oocyte donors: a retrospective study of medical and psychosocial issues, Human Reproduction, 24, Issue 12, 3144–3149,

3. Daniels, K. R. Kramer, W. & Perez-y-Perez, M. V. (2012). Semen donors who are open to contact with their offspring: issues and implications for them and their families. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 25, P670-677.m9

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