Peter J. Boni is the author of the new memoir Uprooted: Family Trauma, Unknown Origins, and the Secretive History of Artificial Insemination. He also has written the book All Hands on Deck. His business career included experience as a high-tech CEO, board chairman, and entrepreneur. He lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir about your experiences discovering your family history?
A: The book idea hatched in two stages over the two decades of my research.
My research first detailed my conception during the relative infancy of what has become a high growth multi-billion dollar industry that I thought would excite the likes of Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.
When a close friend who had bred Rottweilers gave me his view… breeding of puppies enjoys superior regulatory oversight...it occurred to me that this could be a thought-provoking book.
Once I completed my own story in 2017, I knew I had to share what I had learned, not only about myself, but about the entire fertility field.
Q: How have attitudes about donor insemination changed over the decades, and what do you see looking ahead?
A: Science, sociology, and law have advanced exponentially. Assisted reproductive technology has gotten far more sophisticated and enlarged the target market much beyond enabling infertile men to conceive.
We live in an increasingly permissive society. The market demand for fertility services has lost its stigma. More couples who comprise that 15 percent or so of people who have fertility issues have been willing to seek treatment and explore alternatives to have children and raise a family.
Family law has recognized and embraced these sociological changes and granted those same donor-conceived rights to same-sex couples and their children.
Just within the last decade, the population of donor-conceived people has catapulted by 50 percent. What I see looking ahead is an assisted reproductive technology industry in need of a serious fix. Gamete sourcing and distribution has become an on-line flea market with no regulatory oversight. Fix the guidelines and convert them to federal laws.
Q: What impact did your search have on you, and how were you affected by writing this book?
A: I tease my wife at times. Our now 53 years of marriage have been the happiest 42 years of her adult life. That number keeps going up, so we’re having a good run.
That good run I attribute largely to my mother’s spilling of my donor-conception secret. The fallout of truth moved us to a desired place.
With the help of a therapist and a full bucket of truth, I was able to come to terms with my demons, express my feelings, reveal my vulnerabilities, and create a far greater sense of intimacy and trust in my relationships…not only with my wife (and my mother when she was still alive), but also my now grown children, my friends and business associates.
The family bond grew when I shared my discovery with my dad’s family…my Italian cousins. They lovingly refer to me now as a “logical” Italian, their “logical” cousin!
We all know that I’m not biological, but it hasn’t mattered to any of us. We share a common bond of memories, upbringing, food, and values. “Family” is more than just blood.
Q: What do you hope people take away from your story?
A: I’d like my story to bring together my past experiences and turn it into an opportunity to change history for the future—specifically where things can and should change in the RIGHT direction for the world of assisted reproduction.
I aspire for this book to make a meaningful difference and become the go-to book for those (past, present, future) using, donating to, or working in assisted reproductive technology…to impact its attitudes and practices positively, and, as a case study, to be representative for the feelings and well-being of the “misattributed.”
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Uprooted is a natural catalyst for my advocacy.
It’s wonderful that medical science has advanced to the tune that it has to enable wanting people to have a family. That’s fine, but the laws on the books all lean toward protecting the donors and the recipients. Sure, they have “rights,” but can you point to federal laws which protect the rights of a donor-conceived child…someone like me? They don’t exist.
I’m seeking to impact the legislative agenda on behalf of the donor-conceived. I’m advocating for a Donor-Conceived Bill of Rights.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The donor-conceived, only half-kiddingly, term the month of February as “New Sibling Season.” After Black Friday and holiday sales of 23 and Me and Ancestry.com testing kits, with another nearly 2 million people entering the 50-million-person DNA database, there are countless unknowing surprises out there to be discovered.
The “experts” estimate that 2 to 4 percent of us are “misattributed” in a Non-Parental Event (NPE). Birth certificates and DNA don’t jive. How could that be? Late-discovery adoption, an extra-marital affair, a one-night stand or sexual assault, switched at birth, raised by another family member (“cousin” Mary may really be Mom), or, like me, semi-adopted in a hush-hush practice called artificial insemination by an anonymous donor; in my case an anonymous sperm donor.
Twenty-first century DNA technology had answered all my questions…all but one. I’m not the product of the frozen sperm generation or the result of an unethical fertility doctor using his own sperm on his multiple patients. But I have to ask, how many siblings do I have, really? I’m one of six at last count. That number also keeps going up.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb