How important is the intention to parent?

Once again it is an article in Bio-News that has prompted me into writing.  In this week’s edition Elizabeth Marquardt questions whether intending to become a parent is a good enough condition for conceiving a child by donor conception on the basis that wanted children are likely to do better than those conceived without intention.  Marquardt’s background and CV http://familyscholars.org/bloggers/elizabeth-marquardt/ put her firmly on the religious right, one of the many  perspectives from which it is possible to view family matters.  What is perhaps less credible is her claim to academic respectability where no such bias is declared and she publishes non-peer reviewed ‘research’ under the banner of the Institute for American Values.  Established academics in the field of donor conception, such as Eric Blyth, have serious misgivings about Marquardt’s ‘research’ methods and ability to come to conclusions that are not supported by the apparent findings (see My Daddy’s Name is Donor: Read with Caution, Eric Blyth and Wendy Kramer http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_65970.asp)

To get back to the question of parenting by intent, Marquardt’s current article uses her ‘research’ on donor conceived adults (My Daddy’s Name is Donor) to attempt to demonstrate that apparently much wanted DC adults are more, rather than less, likely to have psycho-social problems and unhappy lives.  She quotes Damian Adams, an Australian donor conceived adult who on the topic of the difference between adoption and donor conception, writes,  ‘The key and most important difference is intent. Adoption is used as a last resort to ameliorate, but not solve, the tragedy of an existing child whose biological parents are unable for whatever reason to care for it. In contrast, with donor conception the intent is to separate and deprive the child of one or both biological connections, even before the child is conceived.’

Of course would-be parents of donor conceived children do not have biological separation in their minds at all when they use a donor to create their family.  The intention is to parent and parent well, having had to work so very hard to achieve the family they have longed for.  Deliberate deprivation of something fundamental is far from their thoughts. The reality undoubtedly is that the child will have a genetic connection to the donor and at DCN we always encourage parents to acknowledge this and honour the donor with thanks and recognition.  But it seems that if parents are comfortable with the decisions they have made and are honest with their children, ideally from the start, then the lack of actual connection with the donor need not compromise the children’s sense of identity.  It is beginning to become clear that the quality of relationships in the family can be protective for many donor conceived people, even if they are told of their origins when they are fully adult.  This has been noticed with a number of registrants at UK Donor Link and at DCN too we have seen how some DC adults remain comfortable and confident in themselves, albeit following a period of shock and adjustment when first told.   It is particularly helpful if parents have remained together and have prepared themselves before they share information with adult children…and Walter and I are seeing an increasing number of older parents who are now facing up to their responsibility to tell.

Given the often difficult and sometimes traumatic ways in which they learned of their origins, it is not surprising that there are a number of donor conceived people who feel very aggrieved about their situation.  Some regard their donor as a parent from whom they have been deliberately separated.  Others do not.  Those who are most upset often come from families where parents clearly were not confident and comfortable about their decisions.  Sometimes the news was shared early but children were made to feel that this was not a subject that could be talked about.  For others it was felt sub-consciously.  Something was different in their family, it was to do with them, but they didn’t know what it was. Fathers were remote and parents did not talk about likenesses or inherited traits as most families do. These are often the people who would like to see the fact of donor conception on birth certificates so that parents have no choice but to share origins information.  An article in The Guardian Family section last weekend highlighted some of them http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/nov/05/donor-conception-adult-secrets

The difference between those DC adults who feel comfortable with whatever level of knowledge they have about their origins and those who don’t, is that the latter group seem to have a resilience that comes at least partly from knowing they were wanted and are much loved.  No matter what their level of curiosity about their donor…and many are very curious…they believe their sense of identity comes from the quality of the relationships they have and their life experiences, not their genetic make-up.

Marquardt is wrong.  Intention to parent is vitally important.  But it is isn’t everything. Comfortable and confident parents really are the key to children doing well.

ghttp://www.bionews.org.uk/page_110886.asp?dinfo=2uL952VlWahLy5RT8ZNOYW3

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About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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31 Responses to How important is the intention to parent?

  1. Damian Adams says:

    Hi Olivia
    thought I’d chime in seeing you have quoted me. Not trying to be too negative about what you have written, but thought I’d throw this up for debate. (note: the following has nothing to do with the Marquardt report as I have not read it yet)
    I would argue that the intention is to separate a child from the biological connection based on the whole paradigm of why donor conception was started in the first place. It was recognised that it was highly important to the parents that at least one of them were genetically related to the child.
    See the following for reasons why many choose donor conception (the biological link):
    Milsom, I., and P. Bergman. 1982. A study of parental attitudes after donor insemination (AID). Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 61(2): 125-8.
    Daniels, K. R. 2004. Building a family with the assistance of donor insemination. Palmerston North, New Zealand: Dunmore Press Ltd.
    So if we are to acknowledge the importance of one connection but then in the same breath make the other one disposable then the paradigm is hypocritical. Maybe many recipient parents try not to view it in that light as a defense mechanism but that is what they are technically doing.
    You argue above that the quality of relationships is protective for DC people. Maybe I am an outly but I had an outstanding relationship with my parents, I could not have asked for better, I have also always known since a very small child, it was never a secret and never hidden – yet the complex ramifications did not hit home till well after adulthood started.
    You argue that the sense of identity comes from the quality of their relationships, however we know that at least 41% of our behaviour is inherited:
    Malouff, J. M., S. E. Rooke, and N. S. Schutte. 2008. The heritability of human behaviour: results of aggregating meta-analyses. Current Psychology 25: 153-61.
    Part of identity construction is the mirroring of ourselves we see in our progenitors. Knowing that certain traits, behaviours or looks comes from our progenitors helps frame this construct. Without it many are having trouble grounding their construct. Yes the relationships we have around us are vitally important, but as you say “not everything”.
    Just because a person does not agree with their mode of conception does not mean that they lack resilience. Additionally just because I was wanted and much loved has no bearing, nor should it on how I view my conception. If we are to say that because I was wanted and loved that I must be happy about my conception imposes existential debt which is an unethical proposition to place any person in let alone a child.

  2. oliviasview says:

    Damian – good to have your response. I agree that knowing you are loved and wanted does not mean that you should agree with your mode of conception. Donor conceived people certainly should not have to feel grateful just to be alive (I have heard this said many times). I can only say that I have heard many DC adults say that knowing they were wanted makes a considerable difference to how they view themselves and their origins. For these people, it helps to give a very positive sense of identity and self-worth that seems to contribute to their resilience to manage the lack of knowledge about their full genetic make-up. I am absolutely not claiming that this is true for all DC adults known to me or that there is something missing in those who do not feel this way. There is clearly a spectrum of both need and experience here. Full knowledge of progenitors is important for some, but not for everyone.

  3. Jay says:

    I am glad that you put “research” in quotation marks because Marquardt and Blankenhorn et al. don’t do real research, just the facsimile of research. They gussy up their opinions in the accoutrements of research and try to pass it off as such. There is a blog posting at glbtq.com that points out that the real audience for books like *One Parent or Five” is other “family scholars” like those at Family Research Council and other hate groups so they have a selection of “junk science” to quote as they attack gay and lesbian parents and other novel families. See “More Dubious Research from American Values Institute” by Claude Summers at glbtq.com: http://www.glbtq.com/blogs/more_dubious_research_from_the_institute_for_american_values.html

  4. My parent's donor is my father says:

    “don’t do real research”, “pass it off”, “junk science”, “hate groups”, “attack”? I’m surprised you allowed this comment.

    Some people may be surprised I allowed yours too. Olivia

  5. My parent's donor is my father says:

    My comment was not inflammatory or making any accusations, there is nothing there to be surprised about.

  6. Jay says:

    I think Professor Eric Blyth in BioNews has pretty much summed up the scientific value of Marquardt’s work when he points out that her sources are “an eclectic mix of newspapers, TV reality shows, online chatrooms, Wikipedia, and a lunchtime conversation between the report’s author and a friend–with no attempt to indicate on what basis these sources were either selected or evaluated. Inexplicably, and troublingly, given the claims made, the report makes virtually no reference to studies published in peer-reviewed journals concerning families built as a result of reproductive technologies. Beyond unsubstantiated assertion, there is no evidence of the report’s ‘social scientific’ credentials.” How could anyone take such a book seriously as a contribution to social sciences? It is simply a collection of opinions designed to prejudice people against novel families.

  7. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Jay, I see this as an effort to try to discredit a debate very much worth engaging in. Many of these issues have already been addressed in past discussions on both BioNews and at the Family Scholars blog (If you’d like links I can provide). Elizabeth Marquardt commented, very diplomatically and thoughtfully, in response to Eric Blyth’s recent commentary (that both you and Olivia have referred to) at the Family Scholars blog:
    http://familyscholars.org/2011/11/01/professor-blyth-responds-to-one-parent-or-five/

    AND a commentary she wrote on her report was recently published at BioNews:

    http://www.bionews.org.uk/page_110886.asp

    I do think the My Daddy’s Name is Donor study and Elizabeth’s though process is worth considering. I don’t think there is necessarily an absolute right or wrong but I do very much think it is wrong to dismiss (discredit, accuse, attack…) thoughtfully engaging in a debate because some people don’t like another’s opinion (or thought process). I happen to agree with Elizabeth.

    Another comment readers here might be interested in reading, by Damian Adam’s at his blog “Donated Generation”, (“What does religion have to do with it” http://donatedgeneration.blogspot.com/2011/11/what-has-religion-got-to-do-with-it.html)

  8. Jay says:

    Damian, my criticism of Marquardt and David Blankenhorn is mainly for their anti-gay activism, but also for their attempt to pass themselves off as “experts.” They are not qualified to make the pronouncements that they make. Blankenhorn was exposed as a fraud in the Prop 8 trial. He simply is no expert on marriage. The books churned out by the IAV are not peer-reviewed. They are, as Claude Summers described them, simply a “facsimile of scholarship,” produced so that other right-wing groups (some of which have been designated as hate groups) can quote them to create their own facsimiles of scholarship. I do not have strong feelings about donor conception, but given the chicanery these people are up to in regards to same-sex marriage I am deeply skeptical of their opinions (and that is all they are: opinions) about anything.

    • Marilynn says:

      Jay
      It sounds like the IAV has a long way to go in demonstrating that their opinions on things unrelated to marriage hold water. I am a strong supporter of making it legal for same sex couples to get married and am a strong supporter of Elizabeth’s opinion on this particular subject, even though, I’ll agree more supporting data would help her point. I think the psychological ramifications are much harder to prove or are much easier to argue than the legal aspects. She is not wrong on this issue. I am trying to keep an open mind and keep the two issues separate myself and there are lots of reasons why her opinion on this issue are correct .

  9. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Jay,
    Neither Elizabeth Marquardt nor David Blankenhorn are anti-gay. They have concerns about redefining the definition of marriage for many reasons, non of which are about biogtry. For example read David Blankenhorn’s latest article, co-written with Jonathan Rauch, on Bloomberg, (Old foes agree to agree on gay marriage -http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-11-08/old-foes-agree-to-agree-on-gay-marriage-blankenhorn-and-rauch.html)

  10. Jay says:

    Damian, I know very well that David Blankenhorn and Elizabeth Marquardt say that they are not anti-gay. However, their record is clearly anti-gay. See “Confessions of a Blog Addict. Or Why I Love to Hate GetReligion.org and FamilyScholars.org” at glbtq.com, especially the sections “The Sad Case of David Blankenhorn” and “FamilyScholars.org.” Blankenhorn campaigned against Proposition 8 in the most scandalous way, evoking Anita Bryant’s mantra about “protecting the children.” It is really unforgiveable. Here is the url: http://www.glbtq.com/sfeatures/confessionsofablogaddict.html

    As for Marquardt, she is so anti-gay she whines that when gay parents want official forms (like passports) to use the terms “parent” rather than “mother’ or “father,” they are “redefining parenthood,” as though straight parents never call themselves parents.

    Blankenhorn has made a lot of money off his anti-gay activism. He suddenly fears that maybe he bet on the wrong horse, so he keeps saying, “I’m not anti-gay, I’m not anti-gay.” But his actions are anti-gay.

    I have read the Blankenhorn-Rauch article. It is not a very convincing article. Blankenhorn desperately wants to be able to continue his anti-gay activism without being labeled anti-gay. I’m afraid it doesn’t wok that way.

  11. Damian Adams says:

    Jay, you are responding to a different person, not me.
    Olivia, or Jay can you please edit those comments so that they are not directed at the wrong person?

  12. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Jay, This is not Damian. Those blogs and references you linked to I find to be quite inflammatory, aggressive, underhanded, uncivil and just plain wrong. Which in my view, completely discredits them and anyone who associates with or references to them. I do not wish to engage with the unreasonable.

  13. Jay says:

    My parent’s donor is my father: sorry if I misdirected my reply to Damian, instead of you. I be will happy not to engage with you. Your uncritical defense of David Blankenhorn and Elizabeth Marquardt makes it impossible to have a discussion. The facts of the funding of the Institute of American Values and of Blankenhorn’s anti-gay activism are just that: facts. And all the nutty quotations from Marquardt and others from FamilyScholars.org come directly from FamilyScholars.org. So much for unreasonableness.

  14. Jay says:

    Damian: sorry for having confused you with My parent’s done is my father.

  15. Elizabeth Marquardt was the first person to ask me (and truly listen) “what was it like for you growing up donor-conceived?” When I tried to tell my own mother how I felt, she wanted to kick me out of the car after midnight in the middle of the countryside. She told me “your father doesn’t matter.” When i tried to tell Theresa Erickson, Patricia Mendell, a whole bunch of “intending parents” and American Fertility Association entrepreneurs how I felt being donor-conceived, they literally ripped the microphone out of my hand and silenced me.

    Elizabeth Marquardt will ALWAYS have my support and loyalty as a donor-conceived person, because she is the only person who has asked, listened, and truly attempted to be a microphone for the inconvenient perspectives of donor-conceived people.

    And she is very interested in the health and thriving of gay individuals, the gay community and general, and also I should add infertile people- both medically infertile and socially infertile.

    She just doesn’t think that those people should be handed out other people’s kids just because they want one and they’re nice.

    And I couldn’t agree more.

  16. oliviasview says:

    Hi Alana: Thanks for your comment. Listening to donor conceived adults, no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable their view, is very important, but unfortunately it doesn’t make EM a good social scientist.

    • My parent's donor is my father says:

      Did Elizabeth ever claim that she is a “social scientist”? I haven’t seen that written anywhere on her biography (http://familyscholars.org/bloggers/elizabeth-marquardt/). Does that mean what she has to say or add the debate should be dismissed? I don’t think so. Norval D. Glenn (http://www.prc.utexas.edu/biosketch/Glenn_N_bio.pdf) was the social scientist who oversaw the execution of the My Daddy’s Name is Donor study.

      About Norval D. Glenn
      Full Bio | CV

      Until shortly before his death on February 15, 2011, Norval D. Glenn was the Ashbel Smith Professor in Sociology and Stiles Professor in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He was a former editor of Contemporary Sociology and the Journal of Family Issues and served on the editorial boards of such journals as the American Sociological Review, Public Opinion Quarterly, Journal of Marriage and Family, Demography, and Social Science Research. He was a beloved and generous colleague and is missed by us all.

  17. oliviasview says:

    I think we are getting way off the point and nitpicking here. No more comments please unless you are back on topic of intentional parenting.

  18. My parent's donor is my father says:

    “…back on topic of intentional parenting.”

    Here’s a POV to consider about “intentional parenting” involving the “intentional non-parenting” of so called “donations”.

    “Sperm donation: The mediation of kinship and identity issues for the offspring
    Joanna Rose ”

    http://eprints.qut.edu.au/738/1/rose_sperm.PDF

    “Conclusion
    There is a strong possibility that this impetus to mediate paternity is reinforcing values and behaviours that are not in the donors’, their families’ nor society’s best interests. The “Technological revolution… simply increases the range of natural human and non human life forms that are subject to productive exploitation” (Sunderland, 2003, p. 73). In this case, it seems that the potential for the exploitation of men (particularly young men) is enhanced by this ‘reproductive revolution’. Kimbrell (1993) notes a type of “ethical dormancy about DI and sperm sale” which he refers to as “puzzling”(1993, pp. 77-78). A lesson learnt from unscrupulous adoption practice can again be applied to this situation: that “Society must stop teaching infertile couples to covet other people’s children. It is not healthy” (McEnor, 2004). “

  19. oliviasview says:

    Part of Jo Rose’s doctoral thesis no doubt and fine for an academic argument. It doesn’t work like that in the real world. I am happy to declare my bias in this debate by saying that I am the parent of two donor conceived adults who have known about their conception since they were small. It’s in my interest (and I believe that of my children) to promote positive intentional parenting. Let’s just be clear that Jo Rose is a donor conceived adult who is against donor conception as a way of bringing people into the world. She has every right to her opinions, as do we all, but they do influence where she comes from and what she writes about…even in a semi academic context. For me, there is little point in engaging with these arguments as I know that there is no meeting point.
    In the real world, donor conception is not going to go away. People will find ways to have the family they long for. Surely it is better to make sure that that happens in the very best way possible than to come up with complex academic arguments about why it should not be allowed.

  20. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Interesting that you admit your bias. And interesting that Joanna Rose’s academic argument has nothing to do with a religious bias. I agree with Jo Rose but I also agree with you that this doesn’t work in the real world. I think we can and have found a compromise, agreeing to disagree about the ethics but agreeing to agree about the need for more public education, discussion, debate and regulation. Not much unlike Elizabeth Marquardt’s conclusions.

  21. Happy to come to this compromise…although I can’t agree with your last sentence

  22. My parent's donor is my father says:

    “although I can’t agree with your last sentence”

    I can reassure you that that is true. This is Karen Clark.

  23. oliviasview says:

    Happy to talk with you Karen but as a co-author of My Daddy’s Name is Donor, it doesn’t make you a very disinterested observer…

  24. My parent's donor is my father says:

    I didn’t start out as a co-author – you know that. We’ve met and I enjoyed that very much (thank you Diane Allen). You know my story and where I stand. I would never have involved myself with this group if I didn’t feel very comfortable with what they are trying to do. My bias is similar to Joanna Rose’s bias and it has nothing to do with religion. At the same time I support what you (and Wendy Kramer, Eric Blyth et al) are trying to do – because I also have a bias supporting those intentions. But there is a bigger picture to all of this. Margaret Somerville is another person who has tried to address that and whose opinion and thought process I respect very much…working together on that compromise is what we all agree on. I’d like to stop all this *in fighting* and discrediting attempts on all sides – allow the ideas to flow but with the same very positive goals in mind.

  25. My parent's donor is my father says:

    “and discrediting attempts on all sides ” Although I have to add that Elizabeth Marquardt and myself have been very very supportive (go very out of our way not to discredit unless we feel an opinion is unfair/untrue) of all of Wendy Kramer’s and Eric Blyth’s efforts which you also support.

  26. Pingback: Susan Kane at BioNews: ‘Marquardt’s off the mark’ « Family Scholars

  27. oliviasview says:

    Hi Karen – I have emailed you privately. Absolutely agree that ‘in-fighting’ and sniping gets us nowhere. However, it would be so much healthier if everyone could declare where they were coming from and, like Susan Kane says in article referred to above, make sure they are comparing ‘apples with apples’ rather than apples with pears when writing about donor conceived people and their well-being.

  28. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Thank you Olivia, I will respond to you privately. In the meantime, if you or anyone else would like to address some of your concerns/questions directly to Elizabeth Marquardt, she is participating in a live interview on One Parent or Five…
    November 16th from 2:00-4:00 P.M. EST at FamilyScholars.org
    Email your questions by November 16th, 9:00 A.M. EST to:
    web@americanvalues.org

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