Atlanta musician Jake West used to envision himself on VH1’s Behind the Music, his band members by his side as the rock group talked about how their donated sperm produced some of the industry’s rising stars.
West’s band has since dissolved, but his dream is still alive today.
The 25-year-old performer is one of the first sperm donors to participate in xyConnects, a new service launched in Augusta this summer to give mothers and their children the opportunity to communicate with – and possibly meet – the men who helped build their family.
West exchanges pictures once a month through the program managed by Xytex Cryo International Sperm Bank, recently receiving a photo from Ashley and Denise Lane-Chamberlain, the two female musicians who used his sperm to conceive a baby in 2011.
The image showed the now-2-year-old child playing on his first drum kit, some 1,700 miles away at his parents’ home in Tucson, Ariz.
“I still can’t believe it,” West said of watching the young boy grow up. “It really is an awesome experience to see how he is sort following in all of our footsteps.”
XyConnects is believed to be the only service of its kind in the United States.
As more women choose to have babies on their own, and the number of children born through artificial insemination increases, the program debuts at a critical time when parents and their offspring are becoming more and more curious about their donor’s health, medical history and personal life.
Unlike Internet message boards, online chat groups and Web-based registries, the program uses “internal correspondence” to formalize the process through which sperm donors connect with their biological offspring, said Dr. Michael Tucker, an embryologist and the CEO of Xytex, one of the world’s largest sperm banks.
“The sperm bank is the common denominator between the donor, the child and their parents – meaning we are in the ideal spot to facilitate connections between those parties in a controlled manner,” Tucker said. “We have the information in place to verify each party’s identity and create a safe experience.
“Beyond security, it’s the right thing to do if all parties want to pursue it.”
The way the service works, Tucker said, is Xytex accepts and holds a letter, card or photo from the child of one of its sperm donors.
Using a donor’s ID number, the company confirms the donor’s identity, the recipient of their sperm and the recorded birth to ensure all parties are represented accurately.
Then, if the donor agrees, Xytex will share the child’s mail.
From there, Tucker said, interaction between the two can simply stop, or proceed however the donor and child wish.
“If a donor is open to reading a letter from or seeing a picture of the person he helped produce, we’re happy to share it with him,” he said. “Or if the donor and child want to exchange e-mails, talk on the phone or – over time – decide to meet in person, xyConnects can be the first step in bringing those opportunities to life.”
Denise and her partner, Ashley Lane-Chamberlain, began a six-month-long search in 2010, consenting to blood tests, reviewing online photographs and researching sperm banks nationwide to find the perfect donor.
West was the second choice, but after their original donor failed, Denise conceived a child on the first try using West’s sperm.
“It was fate,” said Denise Lane-Chamberlain, the boy’s birth mother.
It was also a sign, said the couple, who have been together 11 years and are members of a folk rock band called The Spurloafers.
At first, Denise and Ashley Lane-Chamberlain, said it was not part of their plan to introduce their son to West at an early age. But after the couple learned of xyConnect and that they had many things in common with West – the same breed of dog, sense of fashion and career aspirations – the couple decided to participate in the service, particularly Ashley.
“My father was adopted and he never found his birth parents,” Ashley said. “It was always a mystery and we do not want that to be same for our son. We want him to have that option available to him.”
Ashley and Denise said they have been open and will continue to be open with their family about the process.
When a the child turns 18, Xytex said it will, if requested, they will provide them with the donor’s last available contact information.
“I don’t know how it will be down the road if our son asks questions, but hopefully as long as we are really open with him, he will be OK with everything,” Denise said.
Moved by the pictures he has received since he donated the sperm that help Denise and Ashley conceive a child, West said he is open to meeting his biological son one day.
“Keeping up with people that are going to grow up with my DNA is a powerful thing that I would like to be a
part of going forward,” West said.
West said he began donating five years ago, when members of a former rock band of his each agreed to sell their sperm at $100 per sample to buy new equipment.
West was the only musician who qualified to donate, due to his being the only – he was the only musician one who was a nonsmoker and in good health.
Despite taking a one-year break, he has gone in each week since to give his sperm. He estimates he has donating donated about 250 samples, a contribution that has paid for helped him to graduate from Kennesaw State University with a four-year degree and while remaining a full-time musician.
“The money is not really why I do it,” West said. “I really started to get a passion for it when I saw there were so many people who can’t have children and this is their only opportunity they have to become parents.”
West said he first laid eyes on saw Denise and Ashley’s son in the spring of 2011, when a Xytex technician asked him to come to her office to see a baby’s picture.
“That’s yours,” she said.
“Oh my gosh,” West said. “Wow!”
West said the revelation seeing the picture was a powerful experience and made him proud that Denise and Ashley chose him to help them grow have a family.
“After that,” he said, “I have wanted to try to be a part of or at least know about anyone else that had been able to use my donation.”
West said he has not made a ny connection with any other children or parents, but he said he has accepted his role as a donor.
It is not a responsibility of financial support or in helping with making life decisions, he said, but a job that mainly focuses on providing insight into his and his family’s medical history.
“Our responsibility is limited – for better or for worse. Everything is still in the parent’s hands,” he said.
“If nothing else, the family having my contact information could save a child’s life, and I think that is a good thing.”
Ashley and Denise said they appreciate everything West has done for them.
“Our life is so different than it was just a few years ago,” the two said. “It’s hard to imagine our lives without our child. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”