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My dad was a sperm donor

My dad was a sperm donor

Sperm donation is often seen as a gift to thousands of infertile couples, who find joy and completion in a child that might not otherwise exist. But their children sometimes find that joy bound with longing, loss and lifelong confusion about their true identity.

Narelle Grech knows the details by heart: his code name is T5. He is brown-haired and brown-eyed with O-positive blood type.

He’s probably in his 50s and attended university. He stands about 173 centimetres. His surname starts with T and he is likely to be Maltese.

These scant points are Narelle’s only information about the man who is her biological father, a man who has occupied Narelle’s thoughts and deeds for much of the past 13 years since her parents revealed that she was conceived with sperm donated to a fertility clinic.

Related: Advertising exploits women’s fear of infertility

“When I was a teenager, I carried that information around with me on a scrap of paper, the way other kids carried a photograph of their dad,” she says. “It was my way of keeping a link to him because I had nothing else.”

Narelle remembers her parents sitting her and her older sister down at the family dining table one Sunday afternoon, her mother telling her that she was conceived with the help of another man’s sperm and how much they loved her.

At first, she laughed it off, thinking it was cool to be different. “But, later that night, I was washing my face in front of the bathroom mirror and I realised that everything I thought I knew about myself had vanished,” she says.

“The man I thought was my father wasn’t and half the family I thought was mine wasn’t related to me. I started crying uncontrollably. Almost from that moment, I wanted to find him. Not because I wanted another father, but because I wanted to discover who I really am.”

Narelle is one of the hidden generations of Australians given life by our ever-expanding technological and scientific expertise.

She was born in 1983, at a time when donor conception was still in its relative infancy and donors gave their sperm anonymously.

She is one of hundreds of people Australia-wide who are today searching for their biological antecedents, but may never find them.

At the heart of the dilemma is a delicate balancing act between the competing rights of offspring and their donors.

Offspring feel they have an emotional and medical right to know their biological history. Yet, while many donors are happy to be contacted, others gave their genetic material in a spirit of goodwill to childless families, in the belief that their identities would remain anonymous.

Rightly or wrongly, they fear a knock on the door might tear their families apart or lead to claims on their estates.

There is another even more pressing reason why Narelle needs to find her biological father.

In May, doctors diagnosed her with advanced bowel cancer, which doctors say may kill her within the next five years.

Her cancer, discovered after she suffered severe abdominal pain one morning, is the most aggressive kind and, though she is just 28, is already classified at stage four.

“The galling thing is that doctors suspect the cancer is genetically linked,” says Narelle. “My mother’s family has no history of cancer. The possibility is that I’ve inherited a genetic predisposition from my biological father.”

The diagnosis is a nightmare come true for Narelle. For more than a decade, she has sought, without success, the identity of the man who helped her parents conceive her.

Related: I had a baby at 50 – without IVF

While that has eluded her, she has discovered something else, something that now keeps her awake at night. She has, she says, eight half-siblings scattered around Victoria and possibly Australia, all created with her biological father’s sperm.

“I have eight brothers and sisters out there who I’ve never met, but who all share some of the same genetic building blocks as me and that terrifies me,” she says, curled up on a sofa in her suburban Melbourne home.

“Each one may be a genetic time bomb waiting to go off and it’s probable that they don’t know anything about it.”

An unfortunate combination of disparate, sometimes contradictory laws across state boundaries, poor record-keeping and bureaucratic inertia means that Narelle and others like her may never find the answers they are seeking so desperately.

Read more of this story in the October issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Your say: Do you know anyone affected by this issue? Was anonymous sperm donation right or wrong?

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Video: Mission to find biological father

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