Feel the fear and do it anyway guys

Just because I wrote the Telling and Talking booklets six years ago and thousands have been downloaded or sold via DCN, I sometimes delude myself into thinking that no-one now fears sharing information with their children about donor conception.  I live in La, La land.  And it is good to be reminded of the reality of people’s lives.  There is another WordPress blog called GENdMOM.  The woman who writes it is a Canadian mother of three donor conceived children age 3 and twins of 20 months.  She and her husband believe in openness but yesterday she posted about her husband wanting to enjoy the years before the children have to be told as he feels sick to the stomach at the thought of having to tell them that he is not their biological father.  I wonder when they are thinking of telling?

I may be completely wrong but it sounds as if they see the moment of ‘telling’ as being an event. A sit-down occasion when the children will be told solomnly that their dad is not their real dad.  Oh, I so hope not.

It cannot be said too often that the earlier ‘telling’ is started the easier it is.  It is also a process, never an event with under-fives or even under-sevens.  Little children do not understand the first language that is used with them…something about Daddy not have enough seeds to help make them, so a nice man had to give some of his seeds to help, but it doesn’t matter because it is beginning a story that will grow and be elaborated over time…and, most importantly, parents are getting the opportunity to practice.  Once the story is started there is always something to build on…You remember when we talked about the nice man who helped make you, well…  ”   Parents get to see that the world does not crash in on itself when the ‘nice man’ is mentioned and that most small children’s response is to ask what is for tea or if you are going swimming tomorrow.  What matters to small children are parents who are comfortable in themselves and able to surround them with the love, security and consistency that they need to grow and feel safe.  Age two or three is an ideal time to start reading one of the My Story or Our Story books to them.

As children get older they come to realise very slowly that donor conception must mean that they are not linked ‘by blood’ to one or other parent (or both).   This usually happens around the ages of 8 to 10.  Sometimes there is sadness when this truth sinks in.  But, as always, what is important is not these feelings in themselves but how they are responded to by parents.  Children whose parents are able to listen, understand and respond with warmth and empathy will be able to manage the feelings and move on without any harm being done.  Parents who find it difficult to hear a child’s sadness, or who reject the notion of pain, may find themselves with a child who feels they have to protect their parents from ever knowing how they feel.  This can result in someone who is afraid to express him or herself and has low self-esteem as they believe that their existence causes difficulties for their parents.

Instead of feeling sick I would encourage GENdMOM’s partner to join his wife in the cyber world and talk with other guys.  Share how you feel and then decide to feel the fear and do it anyway.  Start ‘telling’ your children, find out for yourselves how unremarkable they find the information and stop your anxiety from getting in the way of your relationships.  You have only your children to gain.

The four Telling and Talking booklets for parents of donor conceived children aged 0-7, 8-11, 12-16 and 17+ can be downloaded from the DC Network website for a small fee or printed copies can be bought on-line.  The My Story and Our Story books for young children can also be bought on-line.   http://www.donor-conception-network.org/telltalkpubs.htm

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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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9 Responses to Feel the fear and do it anyway guys

  1. marilynn says:

    May I have your permission to speak freely? I have so many questions about the tell early often stuff. I sincerely want to understand where you are coming from almost as much as I’d like to say something in a way that makes you at least scratch your head a little. But I don’t want to spend too much type writing it all out if it won’t get posted. I still enjoy reading your site very much either way.

  2. marilynn says:

    Ok I’m going to try without your official blessing to frame and ask some questions. Here goes:

    Agreed that telling early and often is preferable to telling better late than never. Agreed that the term “real” should not be used as a prefix to any familial title. I would like to think you agree the point of the conversation is not conception or reproductive technologies or even gamete donation – the point of the conversation will be to make sure that they understand who their biological father is, and who he is not, and to make sure that they also understand who their paternal relatives are, and are not. The point of the conversation really is not the method of their conception or that they fall into a category of people who describe themselves as donor conceived. The reason people choose to tell is that if they don’t tell the children they raise are likely to assume what outsiders assume which is that they are the offspring of either one or both of the people who are raising them and that assumption would be false. Allowing a false assumption to go uncorrected is the same as pointedly telling a lie and that would make for a toxic relationship. Some terms commonly used when talking about telling and talking are not real clear and vague unclear speach is typically interpreted as not being truthful or at least interpreted as kinda shifty.

    Do you feel terms like “method of conception” and “donor conceived” clearly convey the truth that is so important to be told? If those terms are viewed as supplemental rather than wholy descriptive, can you explain how they help a child understand the message better than they would just speaking plainly? I’m thinking of comparing it to a conversation about where babies come from and using terminology for body parts that are cutsey or using phrases like birds and bees, how they don’t end up helping the kid but they make the adult more comfortable.

  3. oliviasview says:

    Some interesting points here Marilynn.. I agree when you say –
    “The reason people choose to tell is that if they don’t tell the children they raise are likely to assume what outsiders assume which is that they are the offspring of either one or both of the people who are raising them and that assumption would be false. Allowing a false assumption to go uncorrected is the same as pointedly telling a lie and that would make for a toxic relationship”
    I disagree when you say –
    “the point of the conversation will be to make sure that they understand who their biological father is, and who he is not, and to make sure that they also understand who their paternal relatives are, and are not.”
    Are you saying here that a child’s paternal grandmother is ONLY the mother of the donor? In your world would you have it that the father’s relatives have no role or status with a child? I cannot believe this is true. What matters to children is that they have secure and loving social and emotional relationships with the people who care for them day to day. Telling young children that they have grandparents, uncles, aunts etc. whom they cannot meet or see and that their dad’s parents, brothers and sisters are not their relatives would be a cruel act that could only serve to undermine the security of a child. I hope what you mean and what we are talking about here is when and how a parent reveals to a child that they are genetically connected to another person (their donor).
    Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am the most straight-talking person they know. I don’t go in for cutesy phrases or euphemisms. If someone has died I will say they are dead, not that they have passed away etc., Small children need simple language to be introduced to complex concepts but I do believe that by the time a child is ten or twelve parents should be using very straightforward language with them about being donor-conceived. However, I do not see this latter term as being anything but the truth. And I guess this is where we differ. I think I am right in saying that you believe the donor to be a parent who has given up their right to their child. I, and those of us in DC Network, believe the parents to be the people who are raising the child. The donor has provided an important ingredient for the potential for life but has not relinquished ‘a child’. The DC child has an undoubted genetic connection to the donor and may or may not wish in the future to have information about and a connection to that person (in the UK this will be possible for those conceived after April 2005). A priori family, however, are the people raising the child.

    • marilynn says:

      Good I’m glad we’re talking. We agree on the concept that letting a false assumption stand is like telling a lie.
      You disagreed with my statement
      “the point of the conversation will be to make sure that they understand who their biological father is, and who he is not, and to make sure that they also understand who their paternal relatives are, and are not.”

      If you want to prevent a false assumption from forming, you identify the types of assumptions that are likely to develop if nothing is said. If nothing is said the child will assume they are a a descendant of their Mother’s Husband and his relatives. The child will falsely assume that their mother’s husband and his family are his/her paternal relatives. That is false and that assumption is staved off by telling them early. This is good this is part 1 and in part 1 of telling the truth there are no secrets kept from the child.

      Part 2 of the truth does not involve preventing a false assumption from forming. Part 2 is telling them who their paternal relatives are; you tell them they are the offspring of a sperm donor and his family are the child’s paternal relatives. This is good but part 2 of telling the truth involves secrets being kept from the child. Lots of people conspire to keep the child from learning the identity of their paternal relatives – even if only for 18 years, this is a secret and can be offensive to the sensibilities of the person being told the info is there, but they can’t have it. This has the potential to breed mistrust and toxic relationships. Is there a part 2 of your telling and talking series that addresses the issue of secrecy and non-disclosure about the identity of their paternal relatives?

      You said “Are you saying here that a child’s paternal grandmother is ONLY the mother of the donor?” Paternity is a scientific biological thing, so yeah, how could the paternal grandmother be anyone other than someone in the child’s paternal line?

      “In your world would you have it that the father’s relatives have no role or status with a child? I cannot believe this is true.” Your right, of course if she’s alive the mother of the social/legal father is going to be the social/legal grandmother, she’s in the role of paternal grandmother clearly – precisely why its so important to prevent those false assumptions from forming right? The child needs to understand that she is not his paternal grandmother but that she is his real legal grandmother and she loves him just the same as his real legal father does. Again preventing those false assumptions from taking hold.

      Can we explore what you said here a little because I want to get into your head on this one.

      You said ” What matters to children is that they have secure and loving social and emotional relationships with the people who care for them day to day.” Sure I totally agree. That is what matters. Its not the only thing that matters to children but its a biggie. Its in the top 10 for sure.

      “Telling young children that they have grandparents, uncles, aunts etc. whom they cannot meet …. would be a cruel act that could only serve to undermine the security of a child.” Yeah I imagine this is where it gets dicey. This is the part you really focus on when you teach telling early and often right? Let me get this clear, you do have people do that part 2 of telling the truth – you do have them explain who their paternal relatives are and you don’t stop with the person who donated do you? The donors relatives are the child’s relatives and its true that the child cannot see those people. You are right when you say that is cruel and you are right, from all accounts that particular thing really plays hell with a person’s security well into adult hood.

      The second half of that sentence I quoted (sliced) above was “Telling young children…that their dad’s parents, brothers and sisters are not their relatives would be a cruel act that could only serve to undermine the security of a child.” I would never suggest telling the child that your right that would be traumatizing. I am only assuming that they be told they are not their paternal relatives. I do take issue with the term relative as in related because so many words that are rooted in biology have been hijacked that it gets harder and harder to be crystal clear when trying to keep those false assumptions from taking hold. I’d say family I suppose, or just their titles used daily gramma grandpa is fine. The critical point is making sure the child knows those are not their paternal relatives. And of course knowing who those people are. I am not making judgement on the quality of relationship that can be had with or without dna. I’m just talking about the critical elements of telling and talking. there is more but i’ll pause here.

      I hope what you mean and what we are talking about here is when and how a parent reveals to a child that they are genetically connected to another person (their donor).

      • oliviasview says:

        I do find your comments a bit tortuous and difficult to unravel Marilynn, but I think what you are asking me is if we at DC Network believe that it should be made clear to children that they are not related ‘by blood’, so to speak, to their non-genetically connected parent’s relatives. In the Telling and Talking booklets we do not encourage mothers and fathers to make this point with their children. To be honest, I don’t think it is necessary. My experience is that in open families where the subject of DC is on the family agenda, this fact becomes clear to children as they grow up. Why push it down their throats when it will be obvious that if they are not connected to Dad by blood, then that must mean they are not connected to his mother, father, brother and sisters. Why stress this, when their meaningful relationships are going to be with these people. In my own family my children know only too well that Walter’s family are not ‘blood relatives’ but it makes no difference to them. They have no hankering for or sense of being cut off from their donor’s ‘blood family’. I accept that some DC adults feel this way, but absolutely not all of them.

  4. marilynn says:

    You do believe that a donor becomes the biological parent of his offspring once they are born right? The donor does meet the scientific geneological medical definition of the word father or parent. I believe the donor is a parent in that regard. So do you or you would not see the wrong in not telling. Genetic connections and biological heritage – that is people knowing your biological heritage is to know who the people are. Much different than knowing your nationality or race.

  5. marilynn says:

    Ok thank you for clarifying about what DC network teaches as far as content of the talks. I do think you are not understanding that the kids are cut off from their bio family – some are bothered some are not, but they are cut off. I think you should consider teaching folks how to address the fact that there was a purpose for taking those people from them or conversely there is a purpose to preventing the personal relationships from forming. It really does not seem to be enough to create a loving environment at some point these thoughts about why someone would not want to know them will be in their heads and if you train them that you focus exclusively on the family they have rather than the one they don’t or (the donor’s family) then you’ll get that same result your trying to avoid which is kids that won’t feel comfortable or safe expressing these thoughts. Yes I have now met many people who learned young and they are fiercely protective of their mother’s stories. Have major internal conflict as they begin searching telling themselves he is not a father they don’t want him as a father he is a donor just genetics he gave a gift their real dad is or their male role model is blah blah. Its real hard for them to talk about it in ways that might undermine the open vibe of their mom’s story. I think it warrents yall to make a little sub chapter or something on it.

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