After a nearly 13-year career as a detective with the Clackamas County, Ore., Sheriff’s Office, Wendi Babst thought a genealogy kit was the perfect Black Friday gift for herself following her retirement. As she scrolled through her results in March 2018, she discovered she had matched with a large group of first cousins.
There was just one problem: Babst didn’t have any cousins, aunts or uncles. Her suspicions grew deeper when she also found matches for numerous half-siblings. Babst had been conceived after her mother, Cathy Holm, was artificially inseminated at a Las Vegas fertility clinic — supposedly with her husband’s sperm.
“I knew something was up,” Babst, 54, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “That was really hard for me.”
One name kept popping up from her mother’s past: Quincy Fortier, the widely respected obstetrician who had helped her mother become pregnant.
In fact, without Holm’s knowledge or consent, Fortier allegedly used his own sperm to conceive Babst, according to a new documentary premiering this week. And there were dozens of others just like her.
Babst is one of at least 26 people who have accused Fortier of being their biological father, many with mothers who say the fertility doctor secretly inseminated them with his sperm while being treated at a women’s hospital in Las Vegas. The story of the once-acclaimed fertility doctor and his newly discovered offspring is retold in “Baby God,” premiering Wednesday night on HBO.
It’s a tale that rocked Sin City and raised serious questions surrounding the ethics of artificial insemination. Fortier, who died in 2006 at 94, was never charged with any crimes, did not admit to any wrongdoing and never lost his license while delivering thousands of babies. Named as the Doctor of the Year by the state medical association, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, Fortier was later sued by at least two patients for fraudulently using his own sperm to artificially inseminate them. Both cases were settled out of court and those accusers have reportedly been prohibited from speaking about their cases after signing confidential agreements.
It was only after his death that the doctor acknowledged in his will that he was the biological father to the four children of the two patients who had sued him, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. And in court documents filed in 2007 in connection to his estate, the newspaper reported, Fortier added a footnote that suggested more biological children could come forward.
The film about his case came about thanks to Hannah Olson, who saw firsthand how commercial DNA tests had unraveled the world of genealogy while working as a producer on “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.,” a show that had celebrities discovering surprises in their ancestral histories.
“It was this phenomena,” said Olson, the film’s director. “I wanted to show how unfinished this act could be and how it goes on forever.”
Nineteen children and counting
Born on Sept. 16, 1912, in Auburn, Mass., Fortier first became interested in infertility at the age of 11 after one of the family’s cows, Faith, was unable to get pregnant a second time.
“They were my first patients,” Fortier said of the cows to the Las Vegas Sun in an interview in 1991.
The former Air Force physician started his private practice in 1945 and would open up the first women’s hospital in Las Vegas in the 1960s, “fulfilling his wish for a hospital dedicated solely to women,” according to his obituary. (The hospital closed in 1994.) Known as “Doc” to his thousands of patients, Fortier became a Las Vegas legend, practicing medicine for more than 60 years in Nevada, and was named Doctor of the Year by the Nevada State Medical Association in 1991.
But the doctor allegedly harbored disturbing secrets for decades. Over the years, multiple families came forward, alleging that Fortier was actually the biological father to their children.
His son, Quincy Fortier Jr., has also accused him of sexual molestation for years, the Sun reported. Another sibling, Sonia Fortier, said in “Baby God” that she did not want to know if the abuse allegations were true. No charges were ever brought against Fortier, who had denied those allegations and accused his son of extortion, according to the Review-Journal.
In the documentary, Olson interviews many of Fortier’s alleged offspring who traced their ties to him back through genealogy tests.
After learning of her connection to the doctor two years ago, Babst became obsessed with finding out more. Soon, she discovered half-siblings born between the 1940s and 1980s. With each message she sent to potential half-siblings in hope of connecting with them, she wondered exactly how many other family members are out there.
“I don’t know if he ever cared that he’d get caught,” Babst said of Fortier. “I don’t think he could foresee that for $69, you could send in a sample and connect yourself with people all over the world. I don’t think he could see that coming.”
Brad Gulko, a human genomics scientist in San Francisco, never thought he might also be one of Fortier’s offspring. He knew his mother had gone to see Fortier so she could be artificially inseminated with her husband’s sperm, but he was a friend of Fortier’s from the Civil Air Patrol. He couldn’t imagine the doctor would treat his mother’s husband like that.
When he got a genetic test in 2017, Gulko envisioned his sequence would mirror that of his younger sister, who was conceived naturally and came in at 99.5 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. But when his sequence showed he was just 51.2 percent Ashkenazi Jewish, he had to sit down inside the family’s Southern California home to digest the news.
“I said, ‘Uh oh,’” Gulko, 54, said to The Post. “My mom was in the next room and she heard me say that. She said, ‘What do you mean, uh oh?’ That’s when I told her it looked like I was one of Quincy’s biological children. She responded, ‘Ahh, damn.’”
For years, Gulko, who describes himself as introverted, thought there was something wrong with him because he was nothing like his extroverted father. Now, while he doesn’t want to know anything else about Fortier, he said he’s grateful to have met several of his half-siblings to talk about their experiences last year. The gathering, he said, “gave each of us a glimpse into a life that might have been.”
“It’s like a puzzle we all have pieces to,” he said.
Babst agrees, saying she considers these people connected by the fertility doctor’s alleged misdeeds to be “a gift.” Though she’s found peace, the former detective wonders why Fortier deceived her family in a way that will last long after she’s gone.
“It’s like a chain reaction I can’t really stop,” she said.