It’s the epitome of a modern family: two Vancouver mothers raising their biological teenaged children who share the same DNA through an anonymous sperm donor.
In 2001, Anne Howson gave birth to daughter Ava with long-time partner Natasha Lyons by her side. Despite several male friends offering to be sperm donors, the couple decided on an anonymous donor from a clinic, combing through photos, videos and medical history of men before selecting the man they came to know as AGL9326.
Just over one year later, Lyons gave birth to Emil, a healthy baby boy.
Now 18 and 16, the connection between Ava and Emil is clear. While Ava shares Howson’s nose and Emil’s jawline resembles Lyons’, the brother and sister also look strikingly similar. It’s because their mothers chose to use the same donor, AGL9326, for both children.
The family said they were comfortable not knowing the identity of the sperm donor at first but that when Emil was about eight-years-old he started noticing other students in his school didn’t have two mothers.
“I remember being young – people would ask me about that a lot and I thought, I have my two moms who I love so much. That’s enough for me,” explained Ava.
Still, the family was curious and Lyons began searching an online sperm donor registry for any sign of AGL9326. For years, he didn’t appear on the website. Then, about two years ago, the man was revealed.
“I basically had given up and decided that we would never have the opportunity to find and meet him and then one day I just thought, you know what I'm going to look again,” said Lyons. “And when I clicked on I saw Michael and I literally nearly dropped off my chair. It was very exciting.”
After delicately approaching Michael Gellman, the families began exchanging emails, texts and would occasionally Facetime.
During a celebration for Ava’s 18th birthday in January, the Atlanta, Ga. resident reached out and said he would like to visit Vancouver and the parents decided Easter long weekend would be a good opportunity to meet in person for the first time.
On Thursday night, the family of four gathered at Vancouver International Airport to wait. Going off a few Facebook photos, they debated over disembarking passengers trying to remember whether Gellman had glasses and how tall he was.
“Maybe he’s not actually coming. Maybe he just set this all up,” Lyons joked admitting she had butterflies.
But minutes later, Gellman appeared and made a beeline straight for his biological offspring, embracing Emil and then Ava commenting how tall they were.
“This is very surreal and exciting and I'm just really happy. I feel happiness,” said Gellman.
Gellman admitted he didn’t think the reunion would ever happen. He signed up to be a sperm donor as a way to get money after finishing chiropractic school. Then, he got married and decided not to make himself available to be contacted to protect his wife.
About two years ago, that changed and he signed up on a site that connected donors with siblings and parents. The timing was perfect, and Lyons reached out.
“I only have a living father and a sister and all of the sudden now I’ve been invited into this amazing family in Vancouver,” said Gellman nearly 24 hours after the first meeting.
Already similarities are being spotted. Both Emil and Gellman are allergic to cats. The donor and two teens also share a love for the ocean and all three have the same piercing grey eyes.
“Just even talking to him I notice so many similarities and I can very much see where I get some of the qualities I have,” admitted Ava.
Ava and Emil are not the only ones born with Gellman’s DNA. They know of at least a dozen others across North America. Gellman believes there could be as many as forty people born from his sperm.
The teens have reached out to a number of those people who they affectionately call their "diblings." Most of them are the same age and they communicate through a group chat.
“We have so much in common with all of them and it’s like this whole little like connect support system kind of community that’s scattered across North America and it’s like really cool to see I have all these people that I’m so connected to,” said Emil.
Gellman will spend the Easter long weekend with Anne, Natasha, Emil, Ava and their extended family. Along with sightseeing, they’re looking forward to learning more about one another.
“There is magic in life. There is a lot of darkness and loss in life but there’s magic in life and this is magic, what’s happening,” Gellman explained.
He said he is incredibly proud of the two teens and the people they have become, crediting their mothers for raising the way they did.
Now the entire group is looking forward to a lifetime together. Proof there are many ways to create a family.