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Positioning the donor in a new landscape—mothers’ and fathers’ experiences as their adult children obtained information about the identity-release sperm donor

STUDY QUESTION
How do heterosexual parents experience identity-release donation when adult children have obtained information about their sperm donor?

SUMMARY ANSWER
Adult offspring’s receipt of identifying information about the sperm donor challenged the fathers’ role as a parent, which was reflected in how parents positioned the donor in relation to the family.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY
An increasing number of countries provide access to treatment with identity-release or ‘open-identity’ donors. However, there is limited knowledge about how parents experience and manage the situation when adult offspring obtain identifying information about the donor and may even establish contact with him.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION
This qualitative interview study included 23 parents whose offspring had obtained information about their sperm donor. Interviews were conducted from October 2018 to January 2019.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS
A purposive sample of parents (15 mothers and 8 fathers) was recruited via adult offspring, who had requested identifying donor information at five Swedish University hospitals. All participating parents were part of a heterosexual couple who had conceived with sperm from an identity-release donor. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted face-to face or via telephone, and transcribed audio recordings were analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE
The parents expressed diverse experiences related to their parenthood and the presence of the donor after offspring had obtained information about him; these were described in two themes. The theme ‘Navigating (in)visible markers of parenthood’ describes parenthood as embedded with dichotomous meanings of nature and nurture that parents navigated in relation to social approval. The theme ‘Positioning the donor in a new landscape’ describes how parents managed the presence of the donor by positioning him at a distance or acknowledging him as a person or even as part of the family, while some struggled to position him, giving rise to ambivalent feelings. The absence of genetic connectedness challenged the father’s role as parent, which was reflected in parents’ positioning of the donor.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION
The study was performed within the context of the Swedish legislation on identity-release donation and is based on experiences of heterosexual couples who had used sperm donation and had informed their offspring about their donor conception. This, together with the fact that parents’ accounts were predominantly represented by mothers, must be taken into consideration regarding transferability to other populations.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS
Negotiations of social and genetic parenthood are still present among parents many years after treatment and may resurface when adult offspring obtain the donor’s identity. Access of the adult offspring to identifying information about the donor may have unexpected consequences for family relations, including expanding the family to include the donor. Challenges related to male infertility and family dynamics indicate that parents should have access to counseling and support to manage family life with varying genetic linkage within and outside the family unit.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S)
Financial support was from The Swedish Research Council (Grant 2013-2712). There are no conflicts of interest to declare.

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