Maggie Rousseau, who lives on a farm with her mother in Northern California, has just about everything a teenager could want — her own horses, lots of friends, and interest from some top universities.
But when Maggie turns 18 in February, she will ask for something she has never had before — the identity of her sperm-donor father.
"Even the word 'father' is like a different language,'" says Maggie. "I've never grown up with it. It's completely foreign. I don't know what the meeting would be like."
Maggie may very well be the first child born from sperm-bank insemination to meet the donor father. Nineteen years ago, her mother went to The Sperm Bank of California for help in getting pregnant. It was the first facility in the country to give men the option of releasing their identities to their offspring once those children reached adulthood.
"When they reach the age of 18, they can get detailed information about their donor," says Executive Director Alice Ruby. That information includes name, birth date, last known address and phone number, as well as the driver's license number.
The sperm bank says 70 percent of its donors agree to give up their anonymity. But they are counseled to give it careful thought; once the decision is made, it cannot be revoked.
What Will These Kids Expect?
One man who agreed to this donor-identity release option is a landscape architect called Jim. A decade ago, he helped 10 families get pregnant through the sperm bank. That means at least 10 children could one day come calling.
He is still committed to the principle of open access. "I think that information should be available for the offspring if they're interested in finding out more about their background."
Even so, he does wonder what else they might want from him. "There are real issues that were less real 10 years ago," he says. "Will I be expected to pay college tuition for however many kids are looking to go to college at about that time?"
But any pressure he might experience would be emotional, not legal. In California, sperm donors are exempt from financial responsibility.
Maggie, for one, is not interested in that when she meets her biological father.
"I'd love to see what color his eyes and hair are, how tall he is, to see where some of my genes come from," she says.
"I'm curious about it," she adds, "because all my friends have fathers. And I go over to their house and think, 'Wow, that's strange.' So I think it would be nice to just meet him."
‘A Real Pandora’s Box’
Her mother, Mary Rousseau, is supportive. In fact, she insisted that the donor she used be on the list of those who agreed to have their identity released. But she sometimes wonders where her daughter's search will take her.
"It's a real Pandora's box," she says. "She wasn't the only one born from that donor. So there's a whole other aspect of half-siblings out there."
At most of the 100 or so sperm banks in the United States, donor identity is still a closely guarded secret. Those who study reproductive advances say the jury is still out on which option is best.
"We don't have a lot of outcome data on anonymity vs. non-anonymity," says Dr. Sandra Carson of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. "And until we do, we can't say that one way is the right way."
Maggie knows she is a pioneer of sorts. But she doesn't want to build up unrealistic expectations. "I'm not expecting fireworks and miracles and 'Oh, I found my father at last, I'm complete!' But I'd like to get to know him as a person."