Sperm donation has helped thousands of people become parents, but the process typically is private. Because of this, donor kids often never get to meet their biological fathers. But when Peter Ellenstein was 57 years old, he found himself a divorced, out-of-work actor with a lack of meaning in his life. That's when he received an incredible message. His side hustle from when he was a young actor in the '80s and '90s had just come through with a major reward: a daughter, and the later discovery of 23 other children, all from his time donating sperm. Now, Peter is speaking out about the "life-changing" experience and what it's like to finally be called "Dad."
Peter first learned that he was a father a little over a year ago, when his 24-year-old daughter, Rachel, reached out to him hoping to meet.
According to The Daily Mail, Rachel White, a musician from Malibu, California, first reached out to her biological dad in a message on Facebook in October 2017.
"Hi Peter," she wrote. "I am messaging you under very strange circumstances and I want to prematurely apologize if I have been led to the wrong person. This is a very sensitive subject for us all and I can understand the surprise it might bring. To give you a bit of my background, I was born in 1994 due to in-vitro fertilization."
Rachel then went on to explain that her mom "had always wanted a kid" and that IVF had allowed her mother to finally achieve her dream. "The reason I am messaging you is that I believe you may have been the donor," she explained.
The 24-year-old said she didn't know "the proper protocol" for reaching out to a sperm donor. "I am still just stupefied," she said. She continued that while she would "understand completely" if Peter would rather have nothing to do with her or if he didn't respond, but she hoped that he would stick around to "go down this crazy rabbit hole" together. "I am here and would love to keep exploring," she said.
When Peter received his daughter's message, he wasn't exactly surprised that he was, in fact, a father. Between 1987 and 1994, he was a frequent donor at two Los Angeles sperm banks, using the money he received after his donations to help float him while he pursued a career as an actor. As a donor, Peter could sometimes receive as much as $900 a month, and he told reporters that his sperm was described as "'very potent."
Still, he had no idea about Rachel and was further surprised when he discovered that he wasn't the first person Rachel had contacted in an effort to figure out where she came from. First, she tracked down some of Peter's other donor children.
The siblings had found each other through the DNA testing kit 23andMe.
Rachel was the first of her siblings to make contact with her biological father, and after waiting eight hours trying decide what he wanted to do, Peter agreed to meet Rachel at a friend's house in Beverly Hills, hoping to impress his new daughter.
The two had a joyful meeting; they hugged and cried. “I felt like I owed her something," Peter told Los Angeles magazine. “My best self.”
Three weeks later, Rachel told her dad that there were more of his donor kids that wanted to meet him. First were the 11 other kids that Rachel knew about. Since then, in a year's time, the clan of Ellenstein children has grown to about 24 known donor offspring. Considering how often Peter donated in the seven years that he frequented the sperm banks, there is always the possibility that there are more kids out there.
In addition to the popular DNA testing website 23andMe, the siblings also found each other through the Donor Sibling Registry, which is a website dedicated to connecting donor kids with their parents or donor siblings.
After Rachel broke the ice with their birth dad, the rest of his kids followed suit, and now Peter has met all of his 24 known kids.
Speaking of the first time he met his Rachel, Peter said "it opened up an entirely different part of my heart and my brain."
In a recent interview with "Good Morning Britain," Peter said that meeting his biological children has completely changed his life. "If I was told a year and a half ago that this was going to happen, and it was going to be a good thing, I would have said, 'No, no thank you, I don't want that to happen,'" he explained. "But having had it happen, it's the best thing that's ever happened to me in that it opened me up to a whole new experience of what being alive is."
The new dad continued that he completely respects the parents that raised his biological offspring. The self-dubbed "Sperminator" explained that he now tries to spend as much time with his kids as possible. They even have a private Facebook group and a spreadsheet, so they can organize their family get-togethers.
As of yet, all 24 of Peter's biological kids have yet to be in the same room together, but they hope this it will happen soon.
The dad, who now drives for Uber instead of donating to make extra money, told Los Angeles magazine that having kids has given his life meaning. "I can't believe I was a part—even a small part—of creating all these wonderful kids. I feel like I get to be a part of 24 different adventures," he said.
"I feel an incredible responsibility to all these people," he continued. "This was what was lacking in my life. It's the perfect thing to have come along."
This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site CafeMom.