It's a cold winter day, and my sister and I are sitting at her kitchen table, drinking tea against the cold. We hover over her laptop, checking out profiles of sperm donors on the California Cryobank website. It reminds me a little of the shopping trips we sometimes take together—except this time, instead of browsing the latest styles in dresses and shoes, we are shopping for the man who will father her child. Will it be the tallish anthropology student who likes to hang out with friends and resembles football player Drew Brees, or maybe the blond, blue-eyed athlete who enjoys traveling and spending time with his family, and who looks a bit like actor Paul Bettany?
Profiles of exceptional men parade before our eyes. We bookmark a few standouts and consider paying the extra $250 fee to view the donor's childhood photos, staff impressions of him, and a facial features report. It's a little surreal, like The Handmaid's Tale for men.
That's when my sister tells me something incredible. She'd been on a website for single mothers, reading through a forum for women trying to conceive, when she came across a message from a woman who had had a child through a sperm donor. This woman had just found out that her daughter—conceived with a sperm donor—had seventy-five half siblings!
The woman had used an open donor so that her daughter could get in touch with her biological father when she turned eighteen, but she now realized there was no way her sperm donor was going to be at all interested in any personal contact with her child. My sister is understandably upset. "This is freaking me out! I can't believe a child could have seventy-five siblings. I don't know what I'd do," she says.
The thought of my niece or nephew having that many half siblings is worrying. There were so many things to consider: would my sister ever get to know the other families? Would her child be able to contact the biological father? How could the donor possibly keep track of all his kids or maintain relationships with them?
Still, I'm fascinated. Could one sperm donor actually have fathered nearly a hundred children? What does it mean? I'm intrigued and find myself pulled into an investigative journey that will ultimately make me reconsider the very definition of family and the concept of identity.
Scattered Seeds is an absorbing, fascinating exploration of the fertility industry and the hidden liabilities of technological advancement. It examines vital questions of identity and is written with élan.
A fascinating account of the unexpected, far-flung connections that result from sperm donation. Jacqueline Mroz's reporting is excellent, and the multiple and interlocking stories are skillfully told.
A skillful, seamless blend of story and science as it investigates—and ultimately celebrates—the infinite variety of the new modern family.
Jacqueline Mroz is a veteran science journalist. She lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with her husband and three children.