Interrante, left, and Bertolacci. Photo courtesy of Laurie Bertolacci.
Finding love as a single parent can be a challenge, and sometimes, it turns out, the most promising route to meeting someone is through your kid. It certainly worked for Laurie Bertolacci and Valerie Interrante — although the amazing story of how they came into each other’s lives has nothing to do with sparks flying at school drop-offs or soccer-game sidelines. Instead, it goes back to their children’s conceptions, and the fact that each woman — years before, on opposite coasts, each with her own partner at the time — chose the same anonymous sperm donor.
“When my first child was a year old, I wanted more [sperm from the donor we used] and I didn’t have anymore,” Interrante, 43, tells Yahoo Parenting, recalling her situation in 2009. So the Philadelphia-based Health Education teacher logged onto the Donor Sibling Registry, a nonprofit website service that helps connect people — typically half siblings — who share genetic ties resulting from sperm, egg or embryo donations. “I posted I wanted vials,” Interrante says. “She posted she had more vials. So we connected that way.”
Bertolacci, also 43, recalls that at the time, she and her ex-partner (who had birthed their daughter) came to the final decision that they would not be having another child together. They were two years out of their relationship, and though they had purchased 12 vials of that same donor’s sperm, Bertolacci’s partner had gotten pregnant on the first try, so they had plenty to spare. “We figured, let’s afford other families who may have used this donor the opportunity to have it,” she tells Yahoo Parenting.
The half-siblings in New York soon after they met. Photo courtesy of Laurie Bertolacci.
As it turned out, Interrante had already acquired some of her donor’s remaining vials directly from the sperm bank, which she and her partner successfully used to conceive their second child. But she and Bertolacci stayed in touch anyway — they had kids from the same donor, after all — becoming Facebook friends, and also sending casual emails back and forth between Philly and San Francisco, where Bertolacci lives. Then, in November of 2013, Bertolacci reached out to Interrante in a private Facebook message: She had started a new job in the healthcare industry, she said, and would soon be traveling to Philadelphia. Did she want to meet while she was in town? Interrante said yes.
“When I ‘liked’ her pictures [on Facebook], I always thought she was so vibrant — there was a personality there that was so attractive to me,” she recalls. “Still, I figured I was just going to meet her, no big deal. But when I met her at the airport, it was love at first sight — and I honestly I don’t believe in that! I think it’s corny. But it was very much love at first sight to me.”
For Bertolacci, who was just coming out of her own relationship, the prospect of meeting up made her nervous, because, as she puts it, “this was engaging in a whole new arena.” But it took her only a day of spending time together for her to realize she had reciprocal feelings. “We were supposed to just meet for drinks and we wound up going for dinner, and visiting some of the different downtown areas, and being together for about four or five hours,” she says. They talked nonstop, she recalls, and had a connection that started with the kids, but moved on organically from there — to topics including their recently deceased parents (Bertolacci’s mother and Interrante’s dad, both to cancer) and their similar Italian backgrounds. The next day, after Betolacci’s conference duties, she went to Interrante’s home to meet her son and daughter, now 8 and 6.
The kids in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of Laurie Bertolacci.
“I meet the kids and I’m completely blown away because the resemblance was surreal. There was so much in common, I was completely freaked out — in a positive way,” Bertolacci recalls. “At one point in the evening I said, ‘I feel like I’m home.’ There was something there beyond just the kids.”
But the children are where it all began, and when all of them — Interrante’s two and Bertolacci’s one daughter, now almost 9 — were told about each other, there was excitement all around.
“They met Laurie first, and they all connected, just like Laurie and I did,” Interrante says. “They knew she had a daughter and wanted to meet her daughter, period. But then when we decided we liked each other and wanted to see each other more, we each told our kids: ‘We’ve got something else to tell you.’ They were so excited! They were fired up.” They became pen pals, and would send messages back and forth to each other whenever their moms visited. Then, this past August, the kids all met each other in New York.
“Oh my god, they love each other,” Interrante says, adding that the children now have FaceTime talks with each other several times a week. “The kids are icing on the cake,” Interrante explains about their relationship. “The kids and the donor led us to each other. And this is going to sound ridiculous, because I don’t believe in it, either, but it’s fate. It wasn’t coincidence. There are just so many signs.”
Least of which, of course, is their narrowing it down to the same sperm donor — one of at least 1,000 accessible through a handful of sperm banks at the time, according to a spokesperson for the California Cryobank, one of the main sources then.
Ironically, Bertolacci says, she and her partner at the time specifically used an East Coast sperm bank. “We wanted to select a cryobank that was as far from San Francisco as possible — just to avoid the possibility of our child running into siblings,” she says, “which is hysterical.” She says they looked at 220 profiles, narrowing them down to 19, which they then ranked and then narrowed to a top five. When it was down to the top two, Bertolacci explains in a conference call with Yahoo Parenting and Interrante, she called the Cryobank to speak with the woman who had done the intake interviews, to see if she had any helpful details to offer.
“Me too!” Interrante interjects. “Oh my god, same here.”
Bertolacci recalls the woman telling her that the donor she would wind up with was “attractive, with blue-green eyes.” She also noted that he was “very confident and personable,” and really put her at ease. “[He was] just an extrovert — someone good with people and who had life skills that really made him stick out,” Bertolacci says. “I was like, ‘done.’” Interrante got the same report and, after choosing another donor from her top two, awoke in a panic in the middle of the night, and called the next morning to make a last-minute switch.
Whether she or anyone else involved will ever meet the popular donor remains in the hands of the women’s three children. “I specifically picked a donor who was open to being known,” Interrante says. “I wanted my children to decide for themselves; I didn’t think it was fair to take that right from them. So if they want to meet him when they become of age, 18, I will absolutely support it.” Bertolacci agrees.
For now, having each other and each other’s children in their lives is perfect — and a wonderful, real-life foil to “The Kids are Alright,” the 2010 Hollywood film starring Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a couple pushed into chaos after their older child contacts his sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) and Moore’s character winds up in bed with him.
That fictional tale used the Donor Sibling Registry to make the donor-child connection, said Wendy Kramer, who founded the nonprofit service in 2000 after being spurred on by her own son’s curiosity about his sperm-donor origins. “After 14 years and with 44,000 members, a third of which are LGBT, I kind of have heard it all — but this one just blew me away,” Kramer tells Yahoo Parenting regarding the story of Interrante and Bertolacci. “This one made me so happy.” The DSR has connected 11,600 people to date, she says, noting, “Not a day goes by without two people connecting.”
While the two families still have much to work out — such as how they will all live together and when — for now they’ve been committed to monthly visits, at least for the two moms, and some holidays spent all together. “I want to move forward with Laurie. I can’t imagine not having her in my life as a life partner,” Interrante says. “If you want to make it work, you’re going to make it work. And we want to make it work.”