Review of Born from the Same Stranger – beautiful, heartfelt … and a moral dilemma.
Fans of Doctor Who can rest easy knowing that Davina McCall has resumed her work on DNA documentaries following her Christmas Day experience. The creators of Long Lost Family have now released Born from the Same Stranger, a four-part series that delicately explores the search for and discovery of biological family ties.
In the initial installment, we observe individuals who were born through the use of donated sperm in the 1990s. During this time, donors were guaranteed full anonymity. However, in 2005, legislation was passed allowing individuals conceived through donor sperm after that date to obtain information about their donors. For those conceived before this change, locating their biological parent (referred to differently based on personal preference) is a challenging task. We follow Liam and Sarah, who have distinct experiences, as they utilize the internet and new technology to track down their sperm donors.
Liam was raised in Jersey by his mother, Julie, who always wanted children and chose to have him on her own. In the 90s, Julie gave a few interviews about her experience as a single mother, and Liam fondly remembers looking through old newspaper clippings with her at the kitchen table. Some of the headlines read “My Beloved Sperm Bank Baby” and “My Catalogue-Derived Father”. While Liam admires his mother, he also admits to feeling a sense of curiosity about his unknown father. As a child, he would even write Father’s Day cards to an imaginary dad. Julie supports Liam’s search for his biological father, but also worries about him. She recognizes the difference between searching for a biological connection and searching for a father figure.
Sarah, on the other hand, was raised in Singapore as an only child. However, unlike Liam, she was unaware of her donor-conceived background until her mother revealed it to her four years ago, following her father’s passing. She also shares a similar feeling of detachment and curiosity about her identity. “When I look in the mirror, I can’t help but wonder who I am staring back at,” she expresses.
Technology has completely altered the lives of Liam and Sarah. The abundance of websites for commercial DNA testing has made it possible to locate blood relatives who were previously untraceable. This can be achieved either through the individual’s own profile on the site or through the profiles of their parents or siblings. Liam and Sarah have limited information about their donor, such as their physical attributes and interests, before they send in their DNA samples. These fragmented details have different impacts on Liam and Sarah. Liam sees his donor as a tangible person, while Sarah is left with the thought that “it could be anyone”.
After submitting their DNA, they are pleasantly surprised to discover more than they anticipated. A device facilitates text chat groups that appear on the screen. Liam has a group for his DNA matches, while Sarah receives support from individuals who have gone through similar experiences and provide assistance, guidance, and empathy. Initially unsure if it would be an effective storytelling tool, it proves to be surprisingly successful, especially considering that it reflects modern communication methods. The quickness at which half-siblings can connect is remarkable. As Liam describes it, the past week has been a “rollercoaster.”
Think of a different platform or website that could potentially use these stories for their own gain and sensationalism. However, Born from the Same Stranger is a documentary that fits the style of ITV. Fans of Long Lost Family will be familiar with the tone – sensitive, gentle, heartwarming. The topic of ethics is touched upon towards the end, acknowledging the complexity of the situation and the difficult decisions that must be made. Liam and Sarah are brave in sharing their thought process. This is not a fairytale ending, but the show allows for a deeper understanding of the complexities involved. In future episodes, we will also hear from sperm and egg donors searching for their recipients, adding another perspective to the story.