(This article was one I originally wrote for The American Word).
When the winter television season started, Hilit Jacobson was more nervous than most.
Hilit, an AU freshman, had good reason for being nervous. On Nov. 25, 2013, she, her twin brother Jonah, and 7 of their 13 half siblings starred in the first episode of Generation Cryo, MTV’s newest reality show.
“I learned more about my immediate family than I ever thought I would,” Hilit said. “I got to hang out with my siblings more than we probably ever will in a few given months. I got to go to California like six times in half a year, and I got to meet an outstanding crew who helped make our show as real as we are as people,” she said.
Over the course of taping, the siblings discovered similarities among themselves. Most of the siblings on the show, Hilit, Jonah, Breeanna, Jesse C., Molly, Will and Jesse B., share the same dark hair color.
Hilit’s brother Jonah, in the first episode, discovers that he, Hilit and Breeanna have the same bottom lip. Two of Hilit’s half brothers share the same name, Jesse C. and Jesse B.
Their physical traits might be the same, but their connections with each other are not.
Hilit says she’s closer to some of her siblings than others because she’s known some of them longer and and hung out with others more often.
“We’re all family and I love each of them,” she said. “It’s like you’re meeting someone who you know is your brother/sister, but you don’t actually know them, so you skip the awkward stage of ‘oh nice to meet you, blah blah blah’ and kind of just get into it.”
Hilit grew up in Atlanta knowing that she was different. Her parents never hid from her and Jonah that they were conceived by donor insemination. She remembers that her parents would read children’s book to them on the topic. “My parents must have told us we were born differently from even before we could comprehend anything at all,” she said. “Knowing we were born using a sperm donor was like knowing we both have brown hair, nothing too shocking.”
Hilit was never curious to learn about the sperm donor.
“The only thing that made me curious was to know what he looks like, and that need wasn’t even too strong.” Hilit says her father is “100% my dad, we just don’t share DNA.” Hilit said they connected with the first half sibling through the Donor Sibling Registry when they were 8 and her half sister was 9. Hilit’s mom found out about the site when it was just starting up and signed up their family.
As the site gained popularity, the Jacobsons kept connecting with more siblings who come from California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Amsterdam. The Jacobsons have currently connected with 13 half-siblings.
The MTV Stage
The Donor Sibling Registry website is how MTV found Hilit and her family.
MTV contacted the Donor Sibling Registry website creator Wendy Kramer who gave them a list of families to contact. Then, MTV interviewed the different families and eventually Hilit’s family was selected for the show.
“I guess they liked us best,” Hilit, a Public Communication major said.
The show focuses specifically Hilit’s half sister, Breeanna. It shows her journey meeting some of her half siblings who help her search to find out more about their sperm donor. Once they began filming, Hilit saw that the show brought out many different feelings for everyone involved.
“It pushed us out of our comfort zones, but respectively, pushed us even closer as a family. At times, filming was tiring and annoying and boring, and at other times, it was exhilarating and adventurous,” she said. “There were parts we had to film that were hard, because of a deep conversation we needed to have.”
Sometimes she said these conversations hurt people’s feelings and even caused tears among her family members. One part of filming that further connected the family was the process of discovering the donor.
“Some want to [find out about the donor], but only want to meet him, some want to get to know him, some wanted to see a picture, some wanted to search for him but not see or talk to him, some did not want to have anything to do with it, or him,” she said.
In one episode, the siblings who wanted to search for the donor finally heard back from him. He said he would be fine with anonymous contact but only that.
“That means no name, location or any information that would give away where we could physically find him or search for him by name,” Hilit said.
Some siblings were confused and taken-aback by this response because they had already found out personal information through their own search. Hilit said that “they felt as if they had violated him and and his choices.”
“It’s a hard thing to figure out, what’s right and what’s wrong,” she said. “I do not see it as going against his privacy because he did become a donor knowing what could potentially happen in the future. It’s a mutual journey from the siblings’ side and from the donor’s.”
Once the show aired in November, Hilit realized that she had no reason to be nervous. She was more hopeful that the audience could take something away from Generation Cryo.
“I hope those watching saw more than just a documentary-style television show, but a love for family, a place for personal growth, and the simple joy of taking part in an adventure.”