What It’s Like To… Find Out You Have 40 Brothers and Sisters

Finding out you're a dibling can be something of a shock.

April 12, 2019

By March Wallace*, as told to Stacey McLachlan

*Name has been changed for privacy

When my now-husband told my parents he was going to propose, my mom and dad decided it was finally time to tell me what they’d kept from me for 31 years. My mom sat me down and went through the whole story. “It took a long time for your dad and me to get pregnant…” I already knew that part, so I was trying to figure out where it was going. I knew she wasn’t going to tell me I was adopted—I look exactly like her. What she told me instead was this: they had gone to a sperm clinic.

I was super-shocked. I’ve always been close to my father’s family, so to find out we weren’t biologically related was devastating. And I quickly found out that everyone knew: it was the big family secret. That hurt a lot.

I had a lot of questions, the biggest being, Who’s my donor? They didn’t know; sperm donation was anonymous at the time, and the doctor is dead now. The clinic is closed, too, but they used to burn the records anyway. Doctors told parents, “Never tell your children. It’ll just mess them up.” And back then, at least, it wasn’t like on TV, where people pick their donor out of a book, like, “This one’s an astronaut, he has a PhD.” For my parents, the doctor just said, “You’re both white; I have a guy who’s Irish and looks like you.” The doctor told them it was a UBC med student, but that actually turned out not to be true in the end: when I eventually found the donor, it turned out he was even older than my dad, who was 42 when I was born.

Once I got over the initial shock, I immediately did 23andMe and Ancestry.com DNA tests. From my 23andMe results, I found out I had a half-brother. I was so excited. He got back to me right away and told me, “We have a dibling [what we call donor siblings] chat group, and there are four of us”—so I suddenly had three sisters, too. My newfound brother had been raised knowing he was a donor kid: his mom told him at the age of three. One of my new sisters had lesbian moms, so she knew that she was from a donor, too. But there were two sisters in the group (from the same mom) who found out because of an ancestry test.

I’ve always been close to my father’s family, so to find out we weren’t biologically related was devastating. And I quickly found out that everyone knew: it was the big family secret. That hurt a lot.

I became the fifth of the diblings. They were excited for me to join the group and wanted to meet right away. It was six weeks between learning about my background and feeling like my whole identity was shattering to finding this group of people I feel a connection with. It’s like an instant therapy group. We all talk nearly every day.

After some more sleuthing on my part, I learned that our donor was pretty prolific and had donated over 400 times. It was a part-time job for him, basically: he was a stay-at-home dad and would donate for $40 to $50 per batch. We have no idea how many kids came out of that, because not every donation leads to a pregnancy and not every pregnancy goes all the way, but the number is likely to be 40 or more. Today, he has self-published books and a Twitter account all about living forever through your DNA.

A pattern has developed over the years: every six months, new diblings crop up. With all the Black Friday sales for 23andMe and Christmas gifts, we’re expecting a lot to come up soon. We’re up to 14 confirmed now.

There are donor kid forums, and lots of people on there who are upset about finding out, so I think my diblings and I are pretty exceptional in the way that everybody’s cool with being a donor kid and happy to have each other. We had our own Dibling Christmas. Ultimately, all our parents wanted us enough to go through the donor process. They had the money to do it; most of us are only children and had lots of attention and love; none of us had a terrible upbringing. It’s hard not to feel lucky.

Get the Newsletter

Own your city with Vancouver’s thrice-weekly scoop on the latest restaurant news, must-shop hotspots and can’t miss events. Rest assured your email is safe with us.