NEAL CONAN, host:
Right now it's time for the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page. When she was growing up, Katrina Clark used to dream about her dad. She saw him as tall and lean, a manly man who would pick her up and swing her around in her front yard. In fact, Katrina's dad was an anonymous sperm donor, and until this year she did not know who he was.
In the Outlook section of yesterday's Washington Post, Katrina Clark writes that finding her father changed her life, and she argues the current system and anonymity protects the wrong people. Concealing fathers' identity may be in their interest, she says, but it's not what is best for the kids.
Katrina Clark is now 18 years old and a student in the undergraduate hearing program at Galludet University. She joins us now by phone from her home in Virginia, and it's nice to have you on the program today.
Ms. KATRINA CLARK (Galludet University Student): Thank you.
CONAN: And of course we want to hear from listeners as well. If your father was a sperm donor, your son or daughter a donor-conceived child, give us a call. If you yourself donated, should the identity of donors be protected? Is it is in the interest of children to know who their father is?
And Katrina, let's start off with your search for your biological father. You write that you expect that this might take you ten years or more.
Ms. CLARK: Yes. That's what I thought at first from the minute amount of information that I had on my donor.
CONAN: And how long did it in fact take?
Ms. CLARK: Between the time that I decided to dedicate myself to finding him and the time that I found his entry in the registry online, two days had passed.
CONAN: Two days?
Ms. CLARK: Yes.
CONAN: And in that time you knew who he was?
Ms. CLARK: Yes. Well, I had found his description online, so I e-mailed him. And then about a month later we actually took a DNA test to confirm what we thought was true.
CONAN: And what was his reaction to this discovery?
Ms. CLARK: He was happy that he had found me as well. He, of course, had not had in his mind that I might exist all of these years. He hadn't really thought a lot about it since he had donated until he read an article in a New York magazine, I believe, that inspired him to post his information online.
CONAN: So he made it possible for you to find him so quickly?
Ms. CLARK: Yes. Yes, he did.
CONAN: And what's been your reaction to the discovery of the identity of your father?
Ms. CLARK: Really there are very little words for it. It does help to complete my own developing identity. I love getting to know him as well. It's the strangest thing in the world to really feel that I so closely resemble somebody.
CONAN: So closely - you said looking at his picture was like looking into a mirror.
Ms. CLARK: Almost, yeah.
CONAN: He's a little bit older than you, of course.
Ms. CLARK: Yes.
CONAN: And it's a little bit different. But after all of the fantasies you must've had your entire childhood about who your father was, suddenly you have a real image and real facts.
Ms. CLARK: Yeah. Yeah. And going into this relationship with my biological father has been absolutely extraordinary. I started off with no expectations. As I got to know him, I did develop expectations, a lot of which were developed from my childhood fantasies and the ideal situation. Because at first he was turning out to be that way, but then I quickly realized that it's not such a good idea to develop characteristics about somebody that they simply do not have. So this has been a tremendous learning experience for me as well.
CONAN: And as you've gone through this experience, you've determined some things in your mind about the way this whole process worked in the past. And as you point out in your piece, you're really from the first generation of kids who were born this way.
Ms. CLARK: Well, I'm at least from the first generation that were documented births this way. A lot of people are actually donor conceived from the 1970s and even before that, in the 1950s as well. And those cases were not documented. So those adults are at more unfortunate circumstances than what I have been brought upon.
But yes, I do think that there is something fishy about the system. Something isn't quite right. And I think it's mostly due to the fact that donor-conceived people have very little say in the circumstances involving their conception, as anyone does. No one can really say how they're conceived, but the circumstances after that I think that the donor-conceived people should have some say in.
CONAN: Yeah. Your mother was a single person who was afraid her biological clock was running out and decided to have a child this way.
Ms. CLARK: Yes.
CONAN: What did she tell you about your father when you were little?
Ms. CLARK: I really don't remember the first time that she told me. She's always been very open with me, so I suppose that it went something like, I realized that I didn't have a father, and I asked her who my father was, and she just explained to me as much as I could understand at any point in time.
CONAN: So within the limits of your ability, she would explain up to that?
Ms. CLARK: Yes.
CONAN: And so there was no secrets here.
Ms. CLARK: Right.
CONAN: You do write, though, of the poignant experience of being so different as a small girl, when your friends - they had parents. Even if they were divorced, they had dads.
Ms. CLARK: Yeah, yeah. It's really - I remember when I was little, sometimes I would be asked who my father is or what he does for a living, and I would say that I don't have a dad. And people would respond, oh, I'm so sorry. And I'd say oh, no, don't worry about it. I don't know who he is. And then they would feel even worse, and say, oh, I'm so sorry. And I'd say oh, no, don't - no, don't even worry about it. My mother doesn't know who he is, either.
And that - I mean, this is when I would really start to laugh, because people would become so uncomfortable, and I'd say oh, it's okay. My mother was artificially inseminated. I'm donor conceived.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And at that point, you know, were things smoothed over, or was that awkwardness always there?
Ms. CLARK: No. I mean, once the truth came out and people realized that I was making a joke out of it, they began to lighten up about the situation - as opposed to me just coming out and directly saying I'm donor conceived, deal with it.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. You write in your piece it's hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won't matter to the products of the cryo-bank service when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place.
Ms. CLARK: Yes. I absolutely believe that to be true. And, in fact, that was pointed out to me by another donor-conceived person.
CONAN: That the desire for a biological relationship is what started this whole process in the beginning.
Ms. CLARK: Yes, yes. In fact, I have talked with several recipients about that issue, as well. Whenever I compare donor conception to adoption, a lot of mothers get on the rebound and say, hey, we chose donor conception because we wanted the genetic relationship, whereas when you adopt someone, you don't get that. And I thought, exactly.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: If the genetic relationship was important to you, don't you think it's going to be important to your son or your daughter?
Ms. CLARK: Exactly.
CONAN: Yeah. Let's see if we can get some listeners in on the conversation. 800-989-8255 is our number - 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Our guest is Katrina Clark, who wrote about her life as the daughter of a sperm donor in this week's Outlook section of the Washington Post. And we'll begin with Raymond. Raymond's with us from Portland, Oregon.
RAYMOND (Caller): Hello.
RAYMOND: Thanks for putting me on the program. I love your show.
CONAN: Thank you.
RAYMOND: My comment is my daughter is a donor child, and the fertility clinic repeatedly emphasized to us and actually brought a social worker in to make sure that we used donor-positive language with our daughter as soon as she was able to understand anything about conception. And we've continued to do that.
CONAN: When you say donor-positive language, what does that mean in English?
RAYMOND: Oh, that's - just let her know that she's a sperm-donor child and say good things, positive things, about the sperm donor.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And is that you?
RAYMOND: No, no it's not me.
CONAN: I see.
RAYMOND: It's an anonymous, through a fertility clinic.
CONAN: And how old is your daughter?
RAYMOND: She's 5 years old.
CONAN: Has she expressed interest in who her donor-daddy is?
CONAN: Because you're around in the house, and...
RAYMOND: I imagine that's the whole explanation. I mean, I'm her dad, and that's it.
CONAN: I wonder, Katrina Clark, what a situation like Raymond's describing - that seems to me fundamentally different, at least for the child being raised. Ultimately, questions are going to be asked, though.
Ms. CLARK: It is, it is. I mean, every situation varies from person to person, from household to household. I, myself - personally, I'm a very romantic person. I tend to fantasize and dream a lot. And especially without a father figure, that would be naturally something that I would fantasize about as a child, which led me to question a little bit more in depth than maybe someone who had a father figure in their life.
But from - even from the people that I've known who are donor conceived with fathers, it's not so much that they are hurt by what their parents have chosen for them as much as it is that at some time in their life, they do have the desire or the curiosity to know who their biological father is.
RAYMOND: And well they might.
Ms. CLARK: And I don't think there's anything wrong with that, and, in fact, I'm very glad that your family has taken it upon themselves to be open and honest and positive about this experience. I really do appreciate that, as someone who's donor conceived.
CONAN: And Raymond, I wonder if in 10 or 15 years, your daughter says, you know, I'd really like to know.
RAYMOND: Oh, I would be behind her 100 percent on that. I guess I'd have to say I'd be a little bit hurt because there's always the fact that in some way, I'm not really her dad. But I'd back her up 100 percent on that. And there's another aspect of it. She's got siblings out there, and I'm sure she would like to know them. I mean, there are other children that have used this donor, that are born as a result of this man's donation.
CONAN: So half-brothers and half-sisters out there.
RAYMOND: Yes. And actually, we went - we were back in the clinic, and they have poster board of kids. And there's one little girl that could be Clara's twin.
CONAN: Raymond, thanks very much, and good luck with your family.
RAYMOND: Thanks very much. Good luck to you, too. Bye-bye.
CONAN: Bye-bye. You're on the Opinion Page on TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.
And let's talk with Paula, Paula calling us from Providence, Rhode Island.
PAULA (Caller): Hi.
PAULA: I also wanted to address the question of language, as Raymond did. My daughter is also a product of donor insemination, and we've always used the word donor rather than the word father with her, and she refers - uses the word donor. She's 10 now, and I was pleased to see that Katrina was careful, as well, in her language in her piece and not to use daddy or anything like that, which you've used a couple times, Neal. And just to point out that fatherhood is a social role, as is parenthood in general, and that we'd be very careful to distinguish, I guess, between a social role and the biological role here, as I believe Katrina is, for the most part, doing in her piece and in her comments today.
CONAN: I guess that is an important distinction, Katrina.
Ms. CLARK: I'm sorry?
CONAN: I think that is an important distinction.
Ms. CLARK: Oh yes, definitely. It definitely is. I tried to be as meticulous as I could about the language that I used. Most of the time, when people refer to him as my dad, I tried to politely correct them and work in biological father.
Personally, I don't like to use the term donor, simply because I don't feel that much was donated, as opposed to being sold. And call that cynical if you will, but that was just my personal preference.
PAULA: Our situation is different, since we had a known donor who was generously donating to a lesbian couple to genuinely help out, out of solidarity, I guess. So perhaps that would make for a different case with our daughter from you.
Ms. CLARK: Oh yes, of course. It's amazing that the world has come to this, not in a necessarily negative way. But now in some countries, birth certificates have room for three parents, which I think is awe inspiring, to say the least.
CONAN: Paula, good luck.
PAULA: Thank you.
CONAN: Bye-bye. And I know, Katrina, you've got some ideas on how things ought to be changed.
Ms. CLARK: Yes. I think that the system would be better if donors were not allowed to be anonymous, and this can be seen in the United Kingdom now. Anonymous donations have been banned there. Now, the number of donors has dramatically decreased, and a lot of people are being - or a lot of people who want these donations are frustrated and are trying to go to other countries that have more options, and the option as well of anonymous donations. And I think that really says something about donor conception in general.
CONAN: So there ought to be records available for the children to look at, at whatever age is appropriate.
Ms. CLARK: Right.
CONAN: Even, you know, and if the stipulation means that there are fewer donors and, therefore, fewer children born?
Ms. CLARK: Right. Right. Then that's I think just how it has to be. In that case, it really would be in the best interest of the children. And I also think that it would be maybe even more a positive step to remove compensation. So that way, the term donor would be, in fact, legitimate.
CONAN: Let's get Alice on the line. Alice is calling us from Menlo Park in California.
ALICE (Caller): Yes. I'm calling from a different era. My children were all conceived in the '70s, and at that time, there was no information. And the information you had from the obstetricians and the pediatricians was to say nothing at all because at that time, there was also legal matters.
I did tell my children, oh, two or three years ago - and they range from the late '20s to their '30s - and their father was there at the time. And as far as they were concerned, it made no difference in their life whatsoever.
ALICE: No, no. They had - he is their father in every sense of the word, even though we are not living together right now.
ALICE: He has always been in their lives.
CONAN: But in their situation, they will never have the possibility to know...
ALICE: They don't want to know. They have no interest whatsoever. So even if they had the - if there was one way to do it, they would opt not to - that that is their father. And it did surprise me, because I truly did not know what the reaction would be.
CONAN: I guess the point being that at a certain point, they have to be presented with options, and in this case, they didn't have very many.
ALICE: No, they didn't. And I really don't know how I feel about it. At one time, I strongly felt that they deserved to know, you know, for any number of reasons - for health reasons.
CONAN: All kinds of reasons. Alice, I'm afraid we're running out of time. We appreciate your call. And good luck, that must not have been a very - it must have been an interesting family meeting.
ALICE: It was, and you truly found out how much love there was.
CONAN: Alice, thanks very much. And Katrina Clark, thank you so much for being with us today.
Ms. CLARK: Thank you.
CONAN: Katrina Clark's article was in the Outlook section of the Washington Post. You can read it at npr.org.