The donor detectives Two sets of documents provide insight into the extraordinary number of siblings donor-conceived people can have, and the strange and, at times, heartbreaking experience of not knowing who they are.
The handwriting is clear and quite precise. A curious way of forming the letter "Y", with a rounded v. But it's the numbers, not the letters, which matter.
Set out on two pieces of pink notepaper are the personal records of how many times a single man donated sperm around Sydney. These rows on rows of handwritten dates, carefully annotated with all the obsessiveness of a trainspotter, are staggering.
So staggering, in fact, that we've decided to make a graph. Here's what this man got up to in the 13 years to Let's call this man John. John made his sperm donations under the condition of anonymity. What that means is his own biological children would never know who he was, or far worse in this particular situation they wouldn't know who all their half siblings were.
They may not even be aware that they're donor conceived at all. Studies have shown that up to 90 per cent of recipient parents never tell their children the truth about their origins.
Many prefer to let them think that their social parents are also their biological ones. And how many half siblings could there be, all born in Sydney, as a result of John's activity? Damien Adams is a medical research scientist, and he's also donor conceived.
To most people, "dozens" of brothers and sisters is still a lot. Horrifically, some may even be marrying each other, and trying to have children of their own - completely unaware they are half siblings. All just to protect John from being known as the author of his own actions? John's serial sperm donations occurred not in the distant past, but as late as the '90s. Indeed, John appears to have hit a purple patch in the year , donating sperm on average once a week. He donated not at backyard joints, but at large Sydney public hospitals, and with well-known fertility specialists.
Damien Adams says these days, there are now limits on the numbers of times a single man's sperm is supposed to be used. But only half Australia's states and territories have laws governing donor conception - and there are no national laws at all.
Clinics weren't and still aren't supposed to pay donors for their sperm, because it's human tissue. What they were and are allowed to do was reimburse sperm donors for unspecified out-of-pocket expenses, like "travel costs".
The fact that John apparently made more than sperm donations to just two locations alone Crown St Women's Hospital, now closed, and a clinic in Macquarie St is shocking. None of these hospitals would have had any idea where else this man was donating, or how many times he had already done so. This is because for more than 30 years there was no central register in New South Wales recording who donors were, who their children were, or even how many donor conceived babies were born.
There's also to this day no national register of donors or donor conceived people, so John could also have gone interstate and gone to town, so to speak. I was given John's handwritten notes by one contact while conducting a Background Briefing investigation into how DNA tests are shattering sperm donor anonymity. I've also been shown a second, private set of documents from someone else.
They're the bookend to John's meticulous account of masturbation. They're the consequences of actions like his. This second set of documents is the property of year-old Hannah, from Melbourne, and they're also covered with dates. Hannah was conceived under anonymous donor conception.
These two pages are all the information she's currently allowed to have about her many half siblings. Her brothers and sisters are listed clinically as "Male, January, ", or "Female, September, ". There are 20 babies - now adults - on these pages.
Together with however many other children her sperm donor has fathered at different clinics, or with women actually in his life, the true list of Hannah's half siblings could be much longer. For now, though, all Hannah has are these 20 cold little lines about flesh and blood. These pages are Hannah's family. Many half siblings are of very similar ages.
Hannah and her brothers and sisters are no exception. Then a female, also born in the same month and year as me. Then quite a few others in the same year I was born. If it were the same day, what would you call him?
Then there are all the others. She's been in a long-term relationship for a while, so thankfully she doesn't have to worry too much about having at some stage slept with a half brother.
But to Hannah, having batches of half siblings is still very strange. She's thought about this list a lot. Particularly given there was a number of clinics operating in Melbourne at that time, and the clinic that my parents went to was the most far east.
So you'd presume most of the families from the east would go to that clinic. But in Melbourne, Hannah's not content with only having family on paper. She wants to find her half siblings. In particular, she wants to find the girls. For their sake, whoever they are, I sincerely hope that John's offspring feel the same. Because in their case the only thing we can really say is: Sarah Dingle is also donor conceived. Listen to her full Background Briefing investigation into how DNA is shattering sperm donor anonymity.