Personal Column: Who am I?

Tom Ellis is 23 and lives in Cambridge. Two years ago, he found out that he and his brother were conceived using donor sperm. By Katy Guest
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The Independent Online

I was born in London 23 years ago, into what seemed like a fairly normal family. I have one brother younger than me, and we went to normal state schools in London, Cambridge and Essex.

I have always been close to my mother, who is a loving and caring person. But the man who I thought was my father was different. He was always much more distant and cold with me and my brother when we were children. I wouldn't say I realised that something was wrong, because that was my family and I didn't have anything to compare it to.

We would go on family holidays and do normal things, and I remember them being fun. I liked staying in hotels and going swimming, but I don't remember having a good time as a family or doing things with my dad. The atmosphere was tense and not very happy. Since I have found out the truth, I have begun to understand why things were like that and my dad was the way he was.

It must be difficult for a man to accept that he is infertile, and that another man has given his wife children when he could not. Some people cope with it better than others, and I'm sure that people cope better by being open and honest about it right from the beginning. But he wanted it to be a secret, as he didn't want anyone to know he was infertile. He obviously found it difficult to deal with, and by being honest about it, he would have had to deal with it.

I found out just over two years ago, when my parents were going through a hard time in their relationship. They had been going to family therapy, and one day he decided not to go any more. I wasn't surprised because I knew he wasn't focused on the needs of the family, but I didn't know then why he had stopped going. A few weeks after that, my mum invited me and my brother to come along. Then she told us the truth.

At the time I was shocked. But I think a tiny bit of me had always realised that there was something. My brother and I had always looked very different, and we are very different people. I had wondered if my mum had had an affair but she wasn't that sort of person. I tried to forget about it. Of course, it turned out that my brother had been conceived using a different donor.

I had been taught by my parents, and at school, that any family is OK so long as somebody loves you. It's not. I wish it were. I now have a deep need to find out who my father is. I want to know what he looks like, where he is, what he enjoys, which parts of my character I share with him. I need to know who it is that makes me who I am. You can't put a child or an adult into a situation like this and tell them that all you need is love and care, because it's not true. You need the genetic links, too.

The Government recently realised this and changed the law to say that sperm donors can no longer be anonymous. But for me, and other people conceived before that change in the law, it is too late. It doesn't apply to us.

My brother was shocked at first, but now he doesn't think about it. It's not something he wants to think about. We're not close. Now my mum and her husband are divorced my brother still sees him, but I don't.

I don't call him Dad any more. He just doesn't fulfil that role for me at all. Looking back, I realise that he never did. If I had known, I wouldn't have put up with some of the things I did. He was not a father figure. He just had these children who were living with him.

The relationship with my mum has been very difficult too, since I found out. We are able to talk about it to a certain extent, but she deliberately put me in a situation where I have little hope of ever knowing my father. It is a terrible and cruel thing to do to somebody, to create somebody, and bring them into existence, with that intention. I think now that she didn't understand what she was doing, and wasn't very well informed, but it was still a selfish act.

She said that at the time she had counselling, but I get the impression that it was minimal. It seems to have been intended to get them both to be OK with the actual procedure, but not to think about the consequences to the person created through it. But it's not just the clinic's responsibility: it is society's in general. This is something that causes a great deal of pain - and that shouldn't be allowed.

It is difficult to say this in a way that doesn't shock people or make me sound psychologically damaged, but I don't think I should have been born. I can't compare living under these conditions and not living at all, but nobody should ever be created under these circumstances.

I want to find my father, but it is difficult. The donor isn't supposed to mention it and the parents aren't supposed to mention it. We now have an organisation called UK DonorLink, so that people like me can have our DNA tested, and see if we can be matched to anyone else in the organisation. Donors can register, and I do hope that I might find my father - I hope so because the alternative doesn't bear thinking about. It is torture to go on living without knowing half of who you are.

I expect that I probably have quite a lot of siblings, too, because when my parents wanted to conceive my brother there was no sperm left from my father, so they had to use a different donor. I'd like to find them, but it is not as important as trying to find my father.

It's hard to talk to people about this because it is very hard for people who are not in my position to understand what it means. My mum now accepts that she has done something that has caused a huge amount of pain. During the process, she has come to a lot of realisations about herself. At the time, she didn't know how to deal with a husband who was infertile. She couldn't divorce him and she would want to make him happy.

I know that not everyone who was donor-conceived feels the way that I do. But I'd be surprised if deep down - however happy their family lives are - they don't all have some desire to know who their father - or even mother - is. Something is missing, and I think they are probably in denial, and they actually do want to know where they came from. Essentially, what people are doing when they donate sperm or eggs is giving away their own children, and if society thinks that's OK, I'd be surprised.

I have done a Master's degree at Cambridge and am reasonably successful, but it doesn't make me feel any better about not knowing who I am.

There is a saying that there are two lasting bequests we can give our children: one is roots and the other is wings. I think donor-conception denies a child both of these. I feel like a tree that has half of its roots missing. And without them, I can hardly stand up.

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