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Fatherhood

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In this segment, Ari Daniel introduces us to a young woman and her years-long search for the man whose donated sperm was used in her conception. Kathleen LaBounty has thought long and hard about what fatherhood means, about the psychology of genetic relationships, and about the complicated emotions tied up in family, responsibility, and identity. Her persistence and determination brought her into strangely intimate contact with complete strangers, who had some surprising and unexpected reactions to her sudden appearance in their lives.

Guests:

Ari Daniel and Kathleen LaBounty

Comments [36]

Isaac from North Carolina

I thought her story was very touching and like that she kept looking for her father.

Dec. 05 2014 12:06 AM
Gary Field from Michigan

Kathleen, you suggested to E from Oregon/South Korea that she could submit her DNA to Ancestry.com and other such programs to find "matches" on both sides of her family. Just curious about whether you have had success with that method? As I understand it, the one known parent and the child can both submit DNA samples to obtain "matches". By eliminating the common matches that appear in both the known parent's and the child's DNA results, the matches that are only in the child's results should be related to the unknown parent. My father submitted his DNA to Ancestry.com and got almost 9000 matches - most of which were 5th cousins or higher, but there were a few first and second cousins - which information would seem to be useful in locating a unknown parent.

Mar. 27 2014 09:08 PM
Bobby Gerardot

www.cbsnews.com/news/keeping-a-secret/

Feb. 18 2014 06:57 PM
Kathleen

To E from Oregon/South Korea (and anyone else wanting to explore their roots) -

You may want to submit your DNA to 23andme, Family Tree DNA, and/or Ancestry.com. If you have the resources to do so, submitting your DNA to all three may be beneficial. They break down your heritage, and connect you to "matches" (relatives) on both your maternal and paternal sides. Your matches on each may vary, as these are voluntary DNA databases and some people may submit DNA to one database but not the others. At minimum, you should learn information about both sides of your family. Some find immediate relatives by using these databases.

Feb. 16 2014 04:24 PM
Vikki from Philadelphia

At first I found your segment, which was just (re)aired on Radiolab today, intriguing. But the longer I listened, the more dismayed and eventually upset I became. I can understand your intent desire to find one-half of your biological root. But you seemingly became hellbent on finding that one person, and your mission went from one of keen interest to one of absolute necessity and obsession. As an adoptee whose biological parents were killed during the Vietnam War, I will never know who they were, what they looked like or which one I more resemble. Of course over the years I have wished there were photographs of them, or even just one of them. But from the segment, you seemed to lose perspective of what was really important. Why was it so important that you know what your biological father looked like? Why do you really care if your likes and abilities can be attributed to him, or to your mother? That you were so sure you found a biological sister and even a few possible donors because you were so uncannily "similar" to them yet none of them turned out to be related to you should have signaled enough is enough. You've posted that finding your donor wouldn't make him a second father, but ultimately what would you do with the information? Surely you can't embark on such a long and drawn-out exploration without hoping for or expecting some kind of relationship with that donor. Despite your father's approbation of your "journey," are you so positive that he (and your mother) wasn't at all hurt, or worried about how his relationship with you would be affected? Unfortunately, the segment painted you not as a sympathetic character but a selfish one.

Feb. 17 2013 04:31 PM
E from Oregon/South Korea

Hi Kathleen,
It's been a while since you recorded your segment, but I want to say thank you for sharing your story, and for taking the time to respond to all the comments on this thread. I am also the product of artificial insemination in the 80s, and it was encouraging to hear from someone who shared so many of my questions and curiosities. None of my friends know what it's like to walk down the street and wonder if the people I see who look somewhat like me are biological half-siblings. Very few of my friends know what it's like to wonder, 'Where do I come from?' and not have the answer readily available in the form of a family photograph. Listening to your search for answers has inspired my own. I hope you find what you're looking for.

Jan. 11 2013 06:30 AM
Kathleen from Texas

Hi David,

Thanks for thinking of possibilities. My dad and I have been through DNA testing, which came back as negative. :)

Kathleen

Feb. 13 2009 10:41 PM
David from Austin

Kathleen,

Are you 100% sure that your father is not your biological father? Has he taken a DNA test?

Really interesting story. Best wishes.

Feb. 11 2009 09:52 AM
JulieB from georgia

As a 36 year old woman with no biological children, that has been diagnosed with ovarian failure and is considering egg donation, this segment was absolutely horrifying and devastating. It was difficult to listen to this segment without feeling deep empathy for the man that raised you. My husband, who has three children from a previous marriage, (that he raised from infancy to adolescence), was dismayed at the lack of mention of your Dad's efforts or your love for him. He was mentioned, once, early in the segment, then not again.

After reading your comments posted here, I don't believe this was your intention but the exclusion of this vital information regarding your feelings toward the man that raised you was a blinding error of the producers. If your intention was to sway potential parents in our situation to disclose donor information to children born into your situation, it failed miserably.
We walked away thinking that, if we were going to move forward with an egg donation, we would not be able tell the child ANYTHING.

The last paragraph in your last post should have been included in the show. That would have not only painted you as a more likable person but it would have made the segment more in line with your intention.

Jan. 26 2009 11:45 AM
Kathleen from Texas

Gradon,

What would you consider to be rejection? A situation like mine, where your future child may decide to look for his or her birth father?

Oddly enough, I was diagosed with PCOS, the number one cause of female infertility. Therefore, I've tried to reverse the circumstances by imagining how I would feel if I used an egg donor to conceive a child and then my child felt an intense need to know the biological mother. I think children (and parents) in this situation need a lot of support.

I wanted to tell you that the vast majority of the donor-conceived adults I have talked to view the men who raised as their one and only dad. Most of us are in no way trying to replace him or seeking a second father figure. Instead, those of us who decide to search are typically wanting to find basic information about ourselves that most people simply take for granted. Who do we look like? Where do we come from? What is my heritage and medical history? and so on.

I feel so fortunate that my father has given me permission to search for my paternal relatives and that he realizes he is my only dad. It took an incredible amount of pressure and guilt off my shoulders. I think his support is probably the best gift from him that I could ever receive.

Kathleen

Jan. 18 2009 10:58 AM
Kathleen from Texas

Hi Joe,

No, I'm not the person blogging on intent.com, although I did read the discussions you mentioned. I have a blog at: http://childofastranger.blogspot.com/

Thanks for the support!

Kathleen

Jan. 18 2009 10:38 AM
Kathleen from Texas

Julie,

Yes, I would probably try the approach again because I met such amazing people in the process and I discovered a lot about myself. However, I also had no clue how much emotion, time (800 to 1,000 hours), or money it would involve as I began my quest. If anyone else attempts it, I'd recommend keeping some degree of emotional distance until a DNA test confirms a relationship. Otherwise the journey may become too difficult to continue. I almost quit a few times as a result of the emotional rollercoaster as well as guilt over causing pain to the men who actually desired a biological daughter, but many of the BCM grads encouraged me to continue on and I knew I had to do it to achieve a sense of peace.

Kathleen

Jan. 18 2009 10:35 AM
Brian W from Baltimore

About the music, the response I heard back from RadioLab is that the track at 38:21 is probably: "Quien" by Juana Molina from the album: Segundo

Jan. 12 2009 01:36 PM
Brian W from Baltimore

Along with Emily and Jonathan..

Please tell... what's the name of the artist and song for the interlude music, particularly the soft Spanish song at the 39th minute after this Fatherhood story? It was so beautiful. Thanks!

Jan. 11 2009 01:19 PM
Jonathan Rimorin from San Diego

I came here looking for the name of the artist(s) who did the interstitial music as well. Jad, c'mon, hook us up!

Kathleen, et al: I admire your bravery and civility in your daunting quests. I wish you the best of luck in your journeys.

Dec. 31 2008 01:57 PM
kab from Houston area Texas

Like Kathleen from Texas; we too are seeking two donors from Baylor College of Medicine.
One child was born in 1981 and the other in 1988. Donors from that time span are invited to contact Cabri DNA testing Lab for a possible match.

Dec. 30 2008 02:41 PM
gradon from brooklyn

I found this segment compelling listening, as my wife and I are about to start the process of undergoing IUI with donor sperm. The fear of rejection from a child conceived with the help of donor genetic material sometime in the future is a real, and comon one.

Dec. 26 2008 01:25 PM
decora

GUYS. Did you have to do the 'seconds of silence' thing before we found out the DNA test? I was screaming in my mind 'SO WHATS THE RESULT'. then YOU PAUSE AGAIN. oh my GOD.

actually that was kind of fun. good job.

Dec. 18 2008 09:37 PM
Joe Benham from fairfax, ca

hello Kathleen,

are you the person called "donorconceived adult" on intent.com? if so, this is joe benham (the person you were blogging with about the issue of gay marriage).

i just wanted to say that i totally agree with the need for children to know their biological families. i wish all those involved would recognize this. the thought of throwing my sperm to the four winds frightens me. i couldn't be a donor for any price. and if i were to adopt or act as father to a donor conceived child, i would want for my child to know as much of their biological family as could safely be included in their lives. that's my view of parenting and community.

my view also includes gays doing the same thing, but that's another issue.

Dec. 11 2008 03:54 AM
Richard from New York

In this story two things are said that are mathematically incorrect. First, it's reported that there was a small chance that Jessica may indeed by her sister -- one percent. Considering all those two young women found in common -- the small possibility should be considered. Instead the show says something like "One percent! That means no chance." Aargh. It means instead: a small chance, but a chance.

Second -- 250 responses out of a possible 600 -- that's not "half".

Otherwise -- excellent and important. Thanks.

Dec. 10 2008 08:05 PM
Emily Halderman from Portland, OR

I would also be interested to know the name of the artist whose music appears at the beginning and end of this segment. Really beautiful stuff!

--Em

Dec. 08 2008 05:32 PM
Julie from Minnesota

Kathleen,
Thank you for your response. I have considered some of the same methods that you have tried. I have my profile on the Donor Sibling Registry. I have thought of writing letters to all medical students (from University of Minnesota, 1966) and also thought that I could research yearbook photos with quick success. In sending the letters did you find that the positives outweighed the negatives? In other words, would you try that approach again if you had to do it all over again?
Julie

Dec. 05 2008 12:14 PM
Kathleen from Texas

Julie,

Thanks for your message. I hope your search leads you to the answers you seek! If I can help in any way, let me know.

Kathleen

Dec. 03 2008 09:24 AM
Ben

What is the French sounding chill as shit music used during this segment?

Dec. 02 2008 10:39 PM
Julie from Minnesota

Kathleen,
I was very moved by your story. I am also searching for my biological father. I was born in 1966, back in the days of live sperm transfer from one room to the next. I was forty years old before my mother finally told me. My mother and father vowed to keep the insemination a secret, but after my father passed away my mom decided to let me know. I am saddened by the level of secrecy and shame that my parents felt. It makes me wonder how many children are never told.

Nov. 29 2008 12:50 AM
Kathleen from Texas

Anne,

Thank you for your kind words and wishes!

Kathleen

Nov. 27 2008 10:27 PM
Anne from Manhattan

Kathleen, I just read your essay and was very moved. I found especially perceptive your description of a kind of transference that happens when a would-be mother decides to use a sperm donor--how her loss in not being able to have a child is (unintentionally) passed on to the child who is created. It reminds me that we pass many things across the generations and that whether they are talked about or not they will find some way to surface in our children and children's children, something like the conservation of matter. I believe learning about one's heritage, biological and otherwise, is critical to every child being able forge his or her own identity, and most important is being guided in this process by wise and caring adults, who don't claim to have all the answers but leave the door open. Best of luck in your search, Anne

Nov. 26 2008 01:08 PM
Kathleen from Texas

Hi Bonnie,

This is the site where I ordered non-legally binding DNA tests: www.gtldna.com/customerservice.html

If you ever want to talk to me directly, my e-mail is KathleenRuby@aol.com.

Kathleen

Nov. 23 2008 12:15 PM
Bonnie from Ohio

P.S.--Kathleen, just curious--what is the name of the DNA test you have been using? If I ever start researching again, it might be good to know =)

Nov. 22 2008 12:34 PM
Bonnie from Ohio

My boyfriend put radiolab on last night, and immediately Kathleen's story was eerily familiar. My biologoical father had brown hair and blue eyes and was a medical student at the Medical College of Georgia in 1981. I also have A+ blood. Kathleen was short and had blue eyes, unlike the rest of her family--I, in contrast, tower over my family (I'm 5'10") and am the only grandchild with green eyes (everyone else has the palest of blue). I also looked through the yearbooks once, but got frusterated with the facial hair fad that obscured many of the men's faces and the fact that I couldn't tell how tall they were from the shoulder up pictures. Maybe I will go back and try again.
Thank you Kathleen for telling your story =) I'm also glad to know that it was common in the early 80's to have such limited information.
Thank you.

Nov. 22 2008 10:56 AM
Kathleen from Texas

Hi Ron,

Thanks for sharing your situation. I suspect that your children will probably have far fewer questions since you used a known family member as a donor.

You're right - I did say "father" once instead of "biological father." (Saying "biological father" repeatedly takes more effort than saying "father" when you're talking about the subject for extended periods of time. Likewise, sometimes I'll say "donor" when referring to my biological father simply because it's easier.)

I think each of us needs freedom to define these terms for ourselves. For clarification, though, I view the man who raised me as being my dad and the man who provided sperm for my existence as being my biological father. Even if I find my biological father, he would never become a second dad to me. However, for me the word "donor" minimizes the importance of the man who contributed to half of my genetic make-up.

Kathleen

Nov. 21 2008 10:46 PM
Ron from Bronx

Kathleen,
I adore your determination and good sport. I was obviously aiming at people in the USA who now face the choice of known vs. anonymous donors, and I hope they realize that they have the power to prevent their offspring from going through what you are going through now. As the New Atlantis article shows, you are not the only one. I did feel it was sad, even if you have it under control, because somewhere along the program I felt that your real father was lost / forgotten. I even think you stopped referring to the donor as such (or even as "biological father"), and started referring to him as your father. I think that had you met the donor (or had the right to do so), you would have moved on rather quickly with your life - and it is a shame for both you and your father (real father) that you find it hard to move on until that happens.
By the way, my kids know their egg donor, and never though to refer to her as their "biological mother". Well, maybe ours is not a typical situation: she is their aunt...

Nov. 21 2008 08:28 PM
Kathleen from Texas

Mirjam,

I have not yet found him. However, I've made incredible friendships through this journey. My sperm donor's former classmates and their spouses now call me their "collective pseudo daughter." Even though I did not find what I was looking for, it's definitely been worth all of the effort in terms of the friendships I developed. :)

Kathleen

Nov. 21 2008 06:08 PM
Kathleen from Texas

Ron,

Many other countries (England, the Netherlands,
Sweden, Norway, Finland, Switzerland,
Austria, New Zealand, and the states of Victoria, New South Wales, and Western
Australia) only allow egg/sperm donors who will release their identity to the produced 'children' once they reach adulthood. In the U.S., however, anonymous donations are still frequently practiced.

I don't view my search as an obsession, as it gradually evolved. When I began looking for my sperm donor in the yearbooks, I really believed that I would identify him in no more than five hours. Although that obviously did not occur, I decided to continue looking anyway. I approached my search the way that I approach life in general: living with no regrets.

In addition, sperm donors in the early 1980s had to consent to anonymity. In other words, these men were not given the opportunity to know the children that they helped to bring into the world. I wanted my sperm donor/biological father to have that chance to make his own decision.

It's also important to note that I was conceived before recipients received information about medical history or heritage. I still have no way to access this information, despite the fact that I am diabetic.

Finally, donor conception is a booming industry partially because many of the recipients want a child with a biological connection. But biology matters to some (or perhaps many) of us, too.

-Kathleen

Nov. 21 2008 06:01 PM
Ron from Bronx

Just heard the segment... Very interesting but also sad (speaking as a father who has kids through egg donation). There was a really good article recently at The New Atlantis about the "Donor Generation" that addresses these issues: http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/donated-generation. It seems to suggest that the best way to avoid the kind of obsessive behavior described in this radiolab segment is to opt for open or known sperm and egg donations. This will allow the child to one day meet the donor, a meeting that is likely to dispels the mystery and avoid the development of an obsession about the the child's biological origin. Also see this YouTube clip about known egg donations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCwqfEa5dkI.

Nov. 21 2008 04:32 PM
Mirjam Kirkham from Minneapolis

I missed the end of the story. Did she find him? Can't wait to hear it online.

Nov. 18 2008 04:04 PM

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