When Lindsay Harris was trying to get pregnant, she turned to her own mother for advice — and discovered a family secret.
After Harris got married, she and her wife began thinking about starting a family. As a gay couple, they weren't completely sure how that would happen.
"I knew I really wanted to carry a baby," said Harris, adding that her wife also hoped to carry a child. "It wasn't so much about my blood baby, but I wanted to know the whole experience of pregnancy."
The pair decided on pursing sperm donation via a sperm bank, and planned for Harris to become pregnant first.
After two unsuccessful attempts at intrauterine insemination (IUI), Harris, who works as a licensed clinical social worker, turned to her own mother for advice.
"I did it and never told a soul."
"I was curious about her journey," she told TODAY Parents. "I wanted to know if it was hard for her to get pregnant and all kinds of stuff about her pregnancies."
Harris' mom, Kathy Harris, then shared a secret she and her husband, John, had kept for more than 30 years.
"She jumped right to it and was like, 'Well, not only are your kids going to be conceived using a sperm donor, but you were also conceived by using a sperm donor,'" Lindsay Harris recalled. "I had tears and I had questions — I was 32 at this point and it was mind-blowing."
Kathy Harris told TODAY that after learning her husband was sterile in the '80s, her OB-GYN referred her to a specialist for artificial insemination. Today, she still has the specialist's business card, which lists the procedure as "AIDS (Artificial Insemination Donor Sperm)."
Kathy Harris remembers little about the process, which, at the time, she says wasn't something women spoke openly about. She'd occasionally worry her children would need a medical procedure or learn her husband's blood type and make the connection that he was not their biological father, but for the most part, she put those thoughts aside.
"I just wanted a baby and that was the only way to do it," Kathy Harris said.
When her daughter began struggling to become pregnant, Harris says she felt like she was directly lying to Lindsay by withholding the truth about how she was conceived.
While Lindsay Harris says she was astonished by the revelation, she also understood.
"I really felt there was no better time when I could have understood what they did," she said. "I was doing anything I could to have a baby and they really did that as well — especially in a time when it was so new and not spoken about."
Lindsay Harris became pregnant with her son, Callahan, now 4, a few months later. Eight months ago, her wife gave birth to their second child, Jameson. Because it was important to them that their children have a biological link to each other, they used the same sperm donor both times.
The donations came from a "known donor," meaning when Harris' sons are 18, they'll have the option to know more about the man who helped their moms conceive. In the meantime, Harris says she and her wife speak openly with their boys about the way they came into the world, and are open to them meeting their donor sooner if they're ready.
"We really are still navigating" said Harris, who has connected with her sons' sperm donor and other families who have had children using his sperm. "We don’t have a clear path except they will always know where they came from."
The couple reads books about different families and ways of being conceived with their oldest son, Callahan.
"We share basic information without too much detail and then let him take the lead from there," she said. "We’ll continue to answer his questions, and he knows any time he wants to talk about his donor or ask questions about him, it's OK. He knows Mommy and Mama needed help from a man to make a baby and he helped us."
The Peachtree City, Georgia mom also thinks her history will help her relate to her sons.
"I feel even more connected to them for sure," she said, "like I can at least understand a little bit and hopefully they'll feel like I understand what they've gone through."
Harris also enlisted an organization that helps adults search for their sperm donors to locate her own donor, with whom she is currently building a relationship.
"I reached out to him right away and I couldn’t have been more pleased with his response," Harris said. "He said he was told he produced boys mostly and has sons of his own, and he said, 'I'm thrilled to have a biological daughter and I want to know all about you.'"
Kathy Harris says she's been glad to see her secret come into the light and to see her daughter's way of handling her own story.
"I really was so relieved, she said. "I didn’t know how to get out of it and the longer you don’t tell a secret the harder it is."
Kathy Harris says she'd recommend others in her situation consider sperm donation, with a few caveats.
"I have never regretted doing it," she said of the procedures. "It's definitely an option I would pursue again, and I would tell people considering it they should handle it the way Lindsay has handled it — it's just an open thing in their family and I think it's so great they can do it that way."
"I just wonder how many people from my generation are out there who have that secret and feel like they have nobody to talk to about it. For my daughter's generation, it's so much different."