Parenting

'Learning that a fertility doctor was my biological father was painful – but on the upside I have hundreds of new siblings' | Fiona Darroch


I was born in Durban, South Africa, in November 1962. My parents tried for a baby for more than five years before hearing about Dr Walker and his miracle babies. They were always a bit vague when explaining how he had helped Mum to conceive but clearly held him in high esteem, so much so that he became my godfather.

My brother arrived two years later, and my younger sister was born just before my sixth birthday. We had a very happy childhood and my godfather, Tony, and his wife, Molly, played a big part in our lives. He and I became close after our family moved to Cape Town. We sent letters to one another and he visited often. My mother typed his novels.

Fiona Darroch as a baby, with her mother
Fiona Darroch as a baby, with her mother

When I was 16, Molly developed breast cancer. Tony was heartbroken and took his own life a month after she died. I was devastated. I kept his letters along with other mementoes such as his war medals and his first driver’s licence, which he had given to me because I liked the photo. Life went on and our family eventually emigrated to Australia.

It wasn’t until 2014 that I began to question the nature of our relationship. It started with a joke in the tearoom at work about how some children look nothing like their fathers, which evolved into a heated discussion about genetics and eye colour. I googled the likelihood of two dark-eyed parents having a blond, blue-eyed child like me – sure it was rare, but it could happen. I then noticed that there was even less chance of them having a green-eyed child, and thought about my sister’s green eyes. Something shifted deep down in my subconscious and I immediately started to picture Tony’s piercing blue eyes. I think I knew the truth at that moment.

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Later that night I went online to see if I could find copies of Tony’s two novels and was intrigued to find a review left on one of them. A few years ago, a woman in Ireland named Anne had written that Tony was her mother’s sperm donor, and her biological father. I felt numb at first – going through the possibilities in my head. I didn’t know what to think.

Acting on impulse, I emailed her offering to share my letters and photos with her. Her reply was curt and dismissive. She made it plain that she thought I was trying to scam her! I would later find out that she had attempted to obtain her mother’s medical records from when she was undergoing fertility treatment. She was informed that they had been destroyed after Tony’s death.

Norman ‘Tony’ Walker as a young man in uniform
Norman ‘Tony’ Walker

Anne told me that she had been two years old when Tony died and that her mother had immediately contacted the clinic to see if she could locate her sperm donor to have a second child. She was told by staff that Dr Walker was the sperm donor, and that he had assisted more than 100 families in this way, many with multiple children.

I subsequently confronted my mother with what I had discovered about Tony. I was absolutely furious with her for deceiving us – there were so many opportunities for them to have told us the truth.

I had to wait a few months until I could calm down enough to handle it with some degree of tact. She admitted to using a sperm donor but denied knowing the identity of the donor. She had been told they would use a medical student’s donation. I didn’t believe her then. My dad had been dead for a decade so I couldn’t ask him to explain.

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For a while, I was very angry with all three of my parents and was overwhelmed with feelings of grief and loss; it felt as if I had lost both of my fathers all over again. When I looked in a mirror my face looked different – I found myself looking for Tony’s features and finding them in the faces of my children.

Fiona Darroch today
Fiona Darroch today

I would later find out that it was common practice for parents to mislead their offspring. Many doctors recommended that they just go home, make love and forget about the insemination. Some doctors (including Tony) would combine the donor sperm with a sample from the husband, to make it easier for the couple to convince themselves there was a chance they were both biological parents. My mother had pictured the donor sperm as strong swimmers who would give Dad’s weaker swimmers a push to the finish line.

In early 2018 one of my daughters took a consumer DNA test after receiving a kit for Christmas. It wasn’t long before the results came in and she started matching with close relatives she had never heard of. After a flurry of emails and some difficult conversations, I suddenly found myself with a bunch of new brothers and sisters!

We tested on other sites and found more siblings. The age gap between the oldest and the youngest donor sibling to date is 14 years, suggesting that there are likely to be many more siblings to come, as testing becomes cheaper and more popular.

To date, none of us were told the truth about our conception, before discovering it for ourselves. All the parents had been fed the same line, that a medical student’s donation was used. In those days, nobody really asked questions about the donors, no details were provided or records kept. Some siblings have taken the news in their stride, while others haven’t coped well at all. The task of explaining how we are related to a new sibling hasn’t become any easier over time.

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I wouldn’t want anyone to think what Dr Walker did was OK. It has caused a lot of people a great deal of pain. But I now understand why my parents did it and am at peace with my own situation.

You can have a good life and be very happy, yet still feel strongly or passionately about injustice. My anger these days is directed towards the fertility industry and towards recipient parents who continue to use anonymous donors, despite knowing the repercussions for their offspring.

On the upside, one of our new paternal cousins has added the donor siblings to the Walker family tree on Ancestry and there have been meetups in person, by video and via a family chat group. We are in constant contact and are enjoying getting to know one another, along with our extended families. We look forward to meeting the rest of our brothers and sisters one day. Now I see myself as lucky to have had two wonderful dads.



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