Paul van Reyk has donated sperm to more than a dozen women. Photo: Insight, SBS
I don’t ever recall wanting to have children. I never had pressure from my family to have children. But here I am with six children I know of and perhaps as many as another dozen I know nothing about – all through private sperm donation.
The first donation was the most straightforward. Dianne and I had been in a relationship years before. Early in that relationship it was clear that heterosexuality wasn’t for me. We remained friends and agreed that when Diane wanted to have a child she could ask me to be the father. By the time she did, I was in a long-term gay relationship; having sex would have been unnecessarily complicating. So I ‘donated’. Mary has always known me, and relates to me as her biological father, and I see her and relate to her as my daughter. In Mary’s early years I took an active role in parenting her.
Soon after I began donating to Dianne, I was asked by Louise and Margaret, a lesbian couple I knew, if I would be their donor. At the time, lesbians could not access donor insemination clinics. I was a politically active gay man and saw this as wrong, so I agreed to donate. They decided that they wanted the child to know and have contact with their father and I agreed. Dianne also wanted Mary to know her brother, Raj, and so began our extended family. Some years later, Louise and Margaret asked me to donate again, and I did. Jesse is son number two. Both see me as their father and call me Dad and I see them as my sons, though I have had virtually no part in their day-to-day parenting.
Alexis Rosenberg is Paul van Ryke's biological daughter. Photo: Insight, SBS
In between Raj and Jesse, my work friends Kerry and Simon had also asked me to be their donor because Simon was infertile. They did not want to go through a clinic either. By this time, I had grown to love Mary and Raj and having children had become unexpectedly satisfying. So I agreed. Alexis has always known me as her sperm donor not her Dad. I have had no part in her parenting. She does, however, see my other children as her sisters and brothers.
Many years later Bronwyn, a single woman I was friends with, also wanted a child. An arrangement she made with a friend fell through so I donated instead. Arlo is the last of my children. I see a lot of him as I did with Mary. He calls me Dad.
I think the extended family that I, my known children and their parent(s) form has been a success because we all chose to be open from the start with our children about our complex and different relationships as biological and social parents, taking it a step at a time, protecting them when that was needed, but never keeping from them information about their background. The children have been allowed to form whatever relationship they want with me as they have grown; sometimes coming closer, sometimes being less close.
Back when I was donating to Margaret and Louise, I also donated to a number of other lesbians and single heterosexual women. In all but one of these arrangements my role was strictly as a donor. Do any children born from those other donations have the right to know who I am and to contact me?
I don’t know if their mothers have told them they are donor children. I hope they have. I hope that the children have been raised in loving supportive families that have given them a strong enough sense of self not to need to know anything about the man who a long time ago gave their mothers sperm through which they were conceived.
But do they have the right to know me though that was never part of the agreement about their conception? The question has to be put because there is discussion currently about whether children born from anonymous donations made to fertility clinics should have the right to know who their donor was. The discussion comes about because there has been a radical shift in the way we view the rights of adopted children and the children of the stolen generation. I absolutely support the right of these children to know and seek out their parents. In their case, separation from their parent(s) was under duress or coercion and not through an agreement willingly and transparently entered into.
My case is different. So is that of the men who donated to fertility clinics. I don’t have problems with children born from anonymous donations knowing information about their biological male parent. I do have problems with making it their right to have that man’s contact information. It’s a question of balancing the child’s right and the right of the donor, who, to be blunt about it, was nothing more than a service provider.
Paul van Reyk is a guest on SBS's Insight program tonight, 8.30pm on SBS ONE, which explores sperm donation and asks whose rights should prevail – those of the donor or the donor conceived child. Host Jenny Brockie speaks to donor-conceived people about why they do – or don’t – want to find their biological parents, and she speaks to donors whose perspectives have changed over time.