In 1945 my father, a surgeon in the United States, arranged for my mother to undergo this procedure at the University of Chicago Medical School. After the second world war DI was introduced as a new technique. I was one of the first produced in this way. My parents were very anxious to have a child, and this was the only way my mother could conceive.
I have no idea who my natural father is. He was a medical student at the university who donated his sperm, and my parents were not told his identity. I understood he was health, good looking and intelligent, but that is all I know. I have never sought to uncover who he is. I would rather remain ignorant. I want to dispel the illusion that those born through DI are likely to undergo an identity crisis. As far as I am concerned, I grew up in a Reform Jewish family in Denver, Colorado. Given my background, it is not surprising I decided to become a rabbi.
As a child I was not told of the circumstances of my conception and I was fortunate in having a secure home with two parents. I had loving grandparents, many aunts and uncles and I knew where I belonged. Even when I discovered the truth in my 20s, it made no difference. My family is till my family. But, in retrospect, I think it was a mistake not to have told me from the beginning. With the best intentions, my family wished to protect me from reality. No doubt they felt the truth might prove unsettling.
In the event, I felt a sense of liberation when I learned the facts of my birth. From my earliest years I was aware that my adopted father was different from me in many respects. We do not look alike, we have very different temperaments and we have few interests in common. As a child I was conscious of this. Now that all has been revealed I can understand what for many years perplexed me. It was as though a missing piece in a jigsaw had at last been put into place.
I feel no shame or embarrassment at the way in which I was conceived. Indeed, I am deeply grateful to the doctor who arranged my birth and to the medical student who donated his sperm. I literally owe my life to them. I know what joy my birth brought to my parents. DI is a miracle of science, and as one whose life was the result of such scientific advance, I can only feel indebted.
It can be very threatening for the husband to see his wife become pregnant and known that it is through another man. The child born may not resemble the husband in any way. All too easily the child can be seen as a symbol of the husband's inability to reproduce. Understandably, such factors can bring about considerable trauma within the family.
For the child, it is of fundamental importance that such feelings be recognised and overcome. He or she must be wanted and treasured. Without this, problems of adjustment and development are inevitable. It is probably easier for everyone if the truth of the child's conception is acknowledged. It is not a nasty secret to be buried and forgotten, but a cause for gratitude. A child conceived through DI was no mistake. He or she is truly wanted.
At first sight test-tube babies, virgin birth and surrogate motherhood all seem very troubling. Yet there is nothing to be disturbed about in the actual technique of DI. Rather it should be regarded as a gift from God, one that gives humanity yet further opportunities of forging new and loving families.
Editor's note in 2014: Dan Cohn-Sherbok wrote this story almost 20 years ago but despite some of the language sounding a bit old-fashioned, it is as relevant today as it was then.