To continue on the theme of new beginnings, I have just given birth to a new baby! No, this is not my wonderful grand-daughter whose big blue eyes and chubby cheeks look out at me every time I open my iPhone, but my new booklet Mixed Blessings: Building a Family With and Without Donor Help. For a long time it existed as a rather boring ‘forever being amended’ Word document but it has just been returned from our design/print team looking fresh and professional and with a picture of a family on the cover. It’s amazing what a bit of formatting and colour can do.
Mixed Blessings refers to families where there is one child conceived with a couple’s own eggs and sperm and one or more children (they are often twins) conceived with the help of a donor…usually egg, but sometimes sperm. In 2010 it was becoming clear that increasing numbers of families in this situation – or thinking about having a second child by donor – were joining the Network. They were asking for guidance about if/when/how to share information with their children and with others. Some were also very anxious about how they would feel about a donor conceived child, given their enormous love for their genetically connected one, and indeed if that child might reject them in the future.
Oddly, it took me a little while to realise that this was a situation that I actually knew something about personally. My own family includes a son conceived in my first marriage without help and two sperm donor conceived children in my marriage to Walter. We are all so comfortable with this situation and have lived with it so long that I never think of us as a ‘mixed origins family’. In writing the booklet I wanted to include a broad range of experiences – those who had young children, but also others whose children were older. In the end I talked with members of eleven families, eight headed by heterosexual couples, two by lesbian mothers and one solo mum. I have also included some reflections on my own family as well.
We recruited participants by way of the DCN eBulletin. Some of the women I spoke to said they chose to take part because they knew talking with me would force them to stop and think about how they felt about having a family this way. From a time when they were pre-occupied with fertility matters and anxieties over using donor conception, they had gone to being madly busy with being ordinary women juggling children, jobs, childcare etc….something they were delighting in and were very grateful for. But they welcomed time to be reflective as well.
The topics in the booklet range from the pain of secondary infertility, through fears and worries, some language on sharing information with older and younger children and a chapter on ‘difference’ – what this can mean for a family and how it might be managed. All the sections are illustrated with quotes and insights from the families I talked to. Some stories are told at length and some referred to more peripherally.
As an author I am thrilled to see my work turned into something that looks so very attractive and professional and that I hope will be of help and support to families. As an author I am also anxious about my work appearing publicly and so being open to comment and criticism. Not everyone is happy to have another booklet from the DC Network helping to reassure people that creating children by donor conception can be managed without causing harm. But as a woman with three children by three different men I’m very clear that it can be.