A DNA test revealed Matt Katz was conceived by a sperm donor. His mother had no idea

Zoe Greenberg, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Lifestyles

Katz’s quest was unusually complicated because his DNA revealed no grandparents, cousins, aunts, or uncles. With help from a volunteer on Facebook and another DNA test, Katz discovered that he had two half-sisters. One of them told Katz what she had only recently learned herself: She was conceived by a sperm donor.

In a recorded conversation with his mother after speaking with his half-sister, Katz asked whether his mother ever had fertility help. Yes, she said.

“Is it possible there was a sperm donor?” he asked.

“Not to my knowledge,” she said.

Seeking to process the new information, Katz set out to understand how babies such as him came to exist. Before assisted reproductive technology such as IVF took off, straight couples who struggled to conceive sometimes ended up using donor insemination. At the time, (mostly male) doctors believed it was in the best interest of everyone involved if the entire process was hidden, sometimes even from those intimately involved in it.

The first successful artificial insemination occurred in Philadelphia in 1884 and paved the way for generations of secrecy and deception, Katz found. A doctor realized that his female patient was married to a man with a low sperm count, so he inseminated the woman with a rubber syringe filled with the semen of a hand-selected medical student. The woman was never told.

Even decades later, secrecy remained the gold standard. Katz found a memo written by Alan Guttmacher, a well-known gynecologist and president of Planned Parenthood, from the 1940s laying out the ethical rules for donor insemination,


“Forget signed papers,” Guttmacher wrote. “They simply act as a permanent reminder of something which should be forgotten as quickly and completely as possible.”

By the 1970s, when Katz was conceived, ob/gyns sometimes chose sperm donors from among their medical residents or other available men, never creating or deliberately discarding any records. They strived to match a donor’s physical look with the father who would raise a child, so the child might never guess. They also routinely mixed donor sperm with a husband’s ineffective sperm, sometimes telling couples the donor’s sperm would “boost” the husband’s sperm.

Often, doctors would tell couples to go home and have sex after the insemination, encouraging the illusion that the husband was genetically related to a child actually conceived through donor insemination.

Once Katz understood that he had been donor-conceived, he set out to find the Irish doctor he believed would be his father. Inconceivable Truth, which is releasing one episode a week, follows that quest.

“Presence is really what makes a dad,” Katz said. “But I feel the pull of the biology.”

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