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.