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A Legacy of Secrecy continued...

But now Cordray says his oldest child, a 28-year-old daughter, is urging him to write the letter. She's eager to have a full genetic history as well as to "be able to trace our history," he says.

The circumstances surrounding Cordray's conception are fairly typical of artificial insemination for most of the last century. Donors were usually medical students, and the inseminations were handled in the private offices of obstetrician/gynecologists who often swore their patients to secrecy. At that time only fresh sperm could be used for insemination, but that changed when technology advances allowed it to be successfully frozen and stored. That opened the door for sperm banks.

Scrapbook Can Tell 'Story of Birth'

Sperm banks supply sperm directly to women clients or through intermediaries such as fertility clinics or physician private practices. Although there is little regulation of sperm banks, the sperm banks contacted by WebMD were uniformly in favor of informing the child about the circumstances of their birth.

Sharon Mills of San Francisco-based Pacific Reproductive Services says her company counsels clients to tell their offspring "the story of how they were born."

A good way to do this, she says, is to "have a scrapbook that tells the story. The scrapbook can include pictures of the clinic where the insemination took place, pictures of the pregnant woman, and so on. Every year on their child's birthday the parents can take out the scrapbook and add new birthday pictures while once again reviewing the story."

By using this approach, Mills says, the birth story is so often repeated that it becomes "boring and therefore accepted by the child."

Cordray says that Mills' suggestion is a good one because the most important issue is honesty. Knowing about your origin, he says, "is a civil rights issue."

In this respect, Cordray says that children of donor insemination, or DI children, are very much like adoptees, who have similar concerns about biologic origins.

A separate, and equally difficult issue is donor identity. Should donors be anonymous or identified? Who should know this information? The mother? The child?

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