‘I wish I was 3 years younger so I could legally find out my egg donor mother’s details’

‘I wish I was 3 years younger so I could legally find out my egg donor mother’s details’

Sophie Cook compares the experience of being donor-conceived to having a cupboard overflowing with items that you can never properly shut.

“It feels like a cupboard at the back of your head which is full of stuff and you can’t quite keep the door shut all the time,” the 22-year-old, who lives in Chichester, tells The Independent.

Ms Cook, a law graduate, has known she was conceived using an egg from an anonymous donor for her whole life, but unsurprisingly enough, questions preoccupy her about who her biological mother is, and her health history.

She is telling her story as new first-of-its-kind research has found those conceived by donors are more likely to struggle with their identity and find it hard to trust others.

The study, from King’s College London, says more than 70,000 donor-conceived people have been born in the UK since 1991 when records started. However there is little research into their long-term psychological wellbeing, researchers warn.

I think about having a child and not knowing what DNA is going to it.

Sophie Cook

Researchers, who analysed 50 reports and data on 4,666 donor-conceived children and adults, predominantly from high-income Anglophone nations, discovered most studies revealed higher scores on wellbeing, self-esteem and relationship warmth among those conceived by donor compared to the broader population.

The study, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found children fared better in instances when they were informed they were donor-conceived early on in life.

“It is something I think about every day,” says Ms Cook, who helped set up Donor Conceived UK which she now works for. “I think about having a child and not knowing what DNA is going to it. It is an ongoing big part of my identity.”

Her comments come after new laws came into force in the UK last October meaning individuals born using an egg or sperm donor who turn 18 from that point onwards will be able to learn who their donor is.

A historic change was made to the law covering donor anonymity in 2005, meaning thousands of people born through egg and sperm donation are now able to trace their biological roots for the first time.

But Ms Cook believes the legislation fails to go far enough. She is calling for UK laws to be reformed so the government is legally required to inform people conceived via donor, arguing donors should never be allowed to be anonymous and this is akin to “neglect of the state’s duty of care”.

“Sometimes the reason parents don’t tell their children is to keep families together but actually it can tear families apart,” she adds.

Ms Cook said she wishes she was younger so she would have legal access to her egg donor’s details, adding she has not tried “particularly hard” to track her down but has done one genetic test.

“It is not even that I am particularly keen to have a relationship with her but the legal protocol that you can go through with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is much easier than going through genetic testing,” she explains.

“Sometimes the reason parents don’t tell their children is to keep family together but actually it can tear families apart.

Sophie Cook

“People who are three years younger than me have a completely different experience because it is not anonymous anymore. If I was three years younger I would be able to contact my donor parents. I would be able to ask if there are any updates to my medical history.”

Ms Cook explains she was conceived via an egg donor and her biological father who has brought her up - adding she is very close with her parents.

“Any hang-ups that come from being donor-conceived come from these deeper psychological things which need to be studied,” she says.

While growing up she would wonder where traits which were unlike either of her parents came from, she added, saying she does sometimes experience health anxiety due to not knowing her biological mother.

"You go to the doctor and they always ask if you have a medical history of this in your family,” she recalls. “You answer that to the best of your knowledge but you don’t actually know.”