Last weekend, 8-year-old twins Jonah and Hilit Jacobson got ready to meet the sister they never knew they had.
"I'm excited and I'm nervous," Hilit told her dad.
Meanwhile, 9-year-old Maddison Walker, who had been desperate for siblings, was suddenly shy at the prospect of meeting her half brother and half sister.
"I'm going to cry," Maddy told her mother, Mara Walker. "I'm not going to look. I'm not going to look."
When her mother asked her what she was afraid of, she said: "Everything."
But soon the children were face to face with each other, and their unusual bond. Their moms became pregnant with sperm from the same donor, which makes the twins and Maddy half siblings.
Pregnant With Twins
Terri and Eric Jacobson, now 40 and 41, had been married for three years when they learned that Eric's sperm count would make it impossible for them to conceive naturally. Their desire to have a child led them to California Cryobank, where Terri was artificially inseminated with sperm from an anonymous donor. In July 1994, she learned she was pregnant with twins.
Before she married husband Philip, Mara Walker wanted to become a mother, so she too went to the California Cryobank. She was inseminated with sperm from the same donor the Jacobsons used. Soon, Maddy was born.
The twins had been growing up in Atlanta, with no idea that across the country in Valencia, Calif., they had a genetic half sister.
It would take a Web site — donorsiblingregistry.com — created by 12-year-old Ryan Kramer to bring them together. Ryan, who was conceived with the help of a sperm donor, wanted to find that donor, or at the very least any half siblings he might have.
"My mother and I one day had an idea to begin a Web site where different donor children, and possibly, sperm donors, and everyone can go on this Web site and share their information," Ryan told Good Morning America in an interview last year. "And we thought that perhaps a match could happen."
Looking for Half Siblings
After Mara and Philip Walker married, they decided against having more children. But Maddy, who wanted a brother or sister, encouraged her parents to log on to Ryan's Web site and register to see if she could find any half siblings.
"The next morning I woke up and I had a letter from Terri [Jacobson] that my daughter had a half brother and a half sister in Atlanta, Georgia," Mara Walker said. "I just posted 'Donor 1096, baby girl.' That's all. I was completely floored."
Terri Jacobson had gone to the same Web site two years ago to see if she could contact the same sperm donor to help her have another child, but she had not heard back. Then she saw Walker's message.
Walker was so stunned that it took a few days for her to reply to the Jacobsons. After the Jacobsons sent pictures of the twins, she decided to tell Maddy. Meanwhile, the Jacobsons were telling their twins that they had a half sister.
"When I knew Maddy existed, I had a conversation with my twins in the car and said, 'What would it be like if you found out that other mommies used the same sperm you were conceived with?' " Terri Jacobson said.
The twins said it would be "cool," especially if the child were younger. Even though Maddy was older, they were delighted.
"They loved it," Terri said.
Spotting Family Resemblances
Several months later, as the children got ready to meet for the first time, Maddy was expecting her half siblings to have a similar personality and act a lot like her.
Jonah was just intrigued with the uniqueness of it all.
"It's cool having a half sister," he said. "I don't know anyone that has a half sister or who has donor insemination, so it's pretty cool."
"Same with me," Hilit said.
After a shy start, the children took to one another, and began an animated new friendship. The uncommon new family began finding common ground. As the Jacobsons and the Walkers flipped through photo albums, the resemblances between their children were clear.
"She looks like Hilit there," said Terri Jacobson, examining a picture of Maddy. "When you see the baby picture it's very similar."
Meanwhile, Mara examined a baby picture of Maddy's newfound half sister.
"I think they look a lot alike when they were babies," she said.
Maddy wanted to know if the twins bit their nails. Yes, they both did, the Jacobsons said.
"Mine are ugly," Jonah added, making everyone laugh. As the parents compared notes, they also realized that their children share some of the same unusual quirks.
All three like eating the butter, jam, jelly and sugar packets off of restaurant tables. The trio — like the donor — are also athletic.
"And I don't come from a family of athletes," Terri Jacobson said. "And they have the same personality and spirit."
They all like baseball and sports, the children said. Hilit says that she looks like Maddy in her eyebrows, eyelashes and chin.
"I look like Jonah from the nose down," Maddy says. "And I look like Hilit from the nose up. And we all like sports and we're all really hyper."
Telling Kids the Truth
Terri Jacobson says telling children the truth about the circumstances of their birth was important to the family. At age 3, the twins knew there was mom, dad and the donor.
"We have been open and honest with them about their conception from day one and I think that that we've been able to raise children who have a very strong sense of self because of that," Terri said.
Mara Walker also explained to Maddy that she when she was single she had wanted a baby so badly that she went to a special bank for sperm, not money. Uniting half siblings conceived through donor insemination is uncharted territory, but the two families say it is worth navigating.
"Even though they aren't technically part of our family, our children are connected genetically, and in order to know our children better it's important to explore their genetic connections," Terri Jacobson said. "It's important for them to know where they come from and who's related to them."