By Michelle Talsma Everson
Cassandra Adams, a stay-at-home mom, artist, and advocate from New Jersey, was always interested in learning more about her heritage. “I loved genealogy from a very young age and was always asking questions about our family history, cultures, and language,” Adams said. “I was the family historian — my Italian grandfather would pull me aside to tell me all his stories.”
In 2017, when she took an at-home DNA test as part of a volunteer research study, she was shocked at the unexpected results. Instead of the usual paternal mix of British, Dutch and French, her results came back half Italian, as expected on her mother’s side, but also half Ashkenazi Jewish. She confronted her mother that day and discovered she was conceived via anonymous sperm donation.
Her world forever changed.
“I was able to find my biological father very quickly, through my DNA match and clues my mother had, even though he was anonymous and there were no records kept,” she shares in her story for Right To Know . This organization supports people impacted by surprise DNA discoveries, genetic identity issues, and misattributed parenting experiences.
Adams found herself an unexpected advocate in the MPE (misattributed parenting experience), NPE (non-parent expected), and donor-conceived communities. She moderates groups online for donor-conceived people and supports organizations like the U.S. Donor Conceived Council , Right to Know, Hiraeth Hope and Healing , and more.
“It found its way to me,” she says about her advocacy. “I was spending a lot of time processing my discovery with people in online support groups, writing more and more, and trying to explain what was happening to me to people who didn’t understand.”
“Then, finally, people seemed to resonate with what I was writing, and I started to find bits of healing in helping others, advocating for what we as donor-conceived people — particularly late discovery —needed, and figuring out how to turn some of my grief and trauma into something tangible that could help others,” said Adams.
Donor conception reaches mainstream media
From Netflix’s /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX +1.09% popular “Our Father” documentary, which tells the true story of a fertility doctor who used his sperm to impregnate patients, to “ The Baby Business ,” a special report by CNN that covers the fertility industry, the topic of donor conception is making headlines.
For decades, donors of eggs or sperm were guaranteed that they could remain anonymous. But, with the accessibility of at-home DNA testing, anonymity hasn’t been possible for years.
“Most people do not realize how unregulated the fertility industry is and fraud, misrepresentations and negligence occur more than you think,” said Kara Rubinstein Deyerin, CEO of Right To Know.
“Donor Deceived tracks fraud cases in fertility. Your nail salon has more regulations. We are making humans; one instance of fraud is one too many. This is a business, and the nature of business is always to improve profits,” she said.
“According to the Market Research Future report, the global fertility services market will reach $36 billion next year,” she said. “The focus has been on the goal of parents having a child but not on the impact on that child. Our understanding of the impacts of assisted reproduction on the children we are creating is growing, and there will be a shift toward transparency and strict regulation.”
The shift that Rubinstein Deyerin is referring to is slowly happening. The children conceived when the fertility industry was focused on anonymity are now adults, and media outlets across the nation are asking hard questions including, “what do the donor-conceived have a right to know?”
“There is no such thing as anonymity anymore,” Rubinstein Deyerin said. “When reaching out to genetic family, people who make have an MPE [misattributed parent experience] often have three goals. First, to obtain an accurate medical history. Not knowing half of your medical history has real life-and-death consequences.”
“The second is to understand who they are and where they come from … I hope that anyone contacted by someone with a DNA surprise takes the time to at least assist with these two goals. Regardless of how you saw your gamete provision at the time, you made a child, and you at least owe them a duty of care by providing them with this information,” she said.
“Some people may also want a relationship with their new genetic family,” Rubinstein Deyerin added. “This should be up to all involved. But, again, taking it slowly is the best advice.”