No legislating for feelings

The Daily Telegraph carries a story today about a Court of Appeal case concerning the future of a boy who was born to a lesbian couple, his conception having been made possible with the help of a close friend, a gay man.  The couple claim that in an agreement, made in a restaurant before the conception, they made it clear to the man that they wished to be the parents of any child born, but that he would be welcome to see the child in their company as s/he grew up.  His position would be neither one of a father nor a traditional sperm donor.  The man, whilst agreeing that the women are the main parents,  is now insisting that he should have the same sort of access and visiting rights as an ‘estranged father’ in a heterosexual couple.  Judgement in the case has been set aside to another time.

This situation almost exactly mirrors that of a lesbian family I recently interviewed for my Mixed Blessings booklet.   An arrangement had been made without signing agreements (although all parties were professionals and should have known better).  Everyone thought they were on the same page but no-one understood or realised prior to conception the powerful feelings that can be aroused in both men and women by the birth of a child.  There is just no legislating for feelings particularly, as in both the current court case and the family in my booklet, the man is around at the time of the birth, holds the baby and attends the christening.  How could he not want more than to be an occasional visitor.  How could it be right for the child not to see him regularly.

Of course written agreements can only state intentions and are not legally binding.  Courts can and do make judgements in the interest of the child that do not reflect the wishes of adults concerned.  But at least signed, written agreements can lay out in cold print what both parties intended and that is a starting point.  But a document can never take feelings into account.  A ‘hands off’ agreement between adults may also be drawn up without realising how a child might feel about a man who is part of his parent’s social circle, is known to have contributed to his creation but who doesn’t seem to want to be a father to him.  Isn’t this going to feel rather dispiriting at least and a rejection at worst?  Surely better that a known donor, where there is no social father, plays an active parenting role, even if the two women are ‘main’ parents.

Not all known donors behave as responsibly as it sounds as if the man in the current case is doing.  In the family I interviewed the man regularly fails to consult with the women about presents he brings to the child, which are often completely inappropriate.  He tried to force the child to call him ‘Daddy’ long before the little boy was ready to do so and has made life very difficult at times for the women.  But they persist because they hope that their son will eventually be pleased that he has his father in his life.

Raising children is one of the most challenging tasks anyone can ever take on.  The feelings on becoming a parent are overwhelming.  It is not surprising that things are going wrong when emotion is not taken into account.  This court case, which no doubt is causing turmoil to the people concerned and their wider families, is a sad failure of adult’s best intentions not taking into account changing feelings and circumstances and the best interests of the child.


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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11 Responses to No legislating for feelings

  1. marilynn says:

    “A ‘hands off’ agreement between adults may also be drawn up without realising how a child might feel about a man who is part of his parent’s social circle, is known to have contributed to his creation but who doesn’t seem to want to be a father to him. Isn’t this going to feel rather dispiriting at least and a rejection at worst? Surely better that a known donor, where there is no social father, plays an active parenting role, even if the two women are ‘main’ parents.”

    2 people reproduced to create the child. If the child knows that one of those two people does not want to know him, take care of him and act in his life as parents are generally inclined to then it might well be dispiriting. The child might well feel rejected by that person. But won’t that occur regardless whether that person is in the social circle of the people raising him or is completely unknown? In the end one of the 2 people who created him is not interested in being actively involved in his upbringing. If that person is there as a cool uncle or not there at all the fact is just as you said, that person does not seem to want to play that roll of parent in his life. Other men who contribute to the creation of a child generally want to know them and want their families to know them and the fact that their male genetic contributor does not have that level of concern for him might make him feel bad.

    You say to avoid those feelings its better to have a known donor. I’d agree. But you say that is what you should do when there is no social father. I am not seeing how the existence of a social father is suppose to make the child not feel rejected by the person who contributed to his creation because that guy still should have wanted to take care of him but does not. Why would it be good for the man who donated to play an active roll when the partner of the mother is a woman but not when the partner is a man. I understand the partner is playing the roll of parent to the child but your implying that the man who donated can also play a parental roll without threatening the relationship with the mother’s partner and I agree. It just seems like you have a gender bias going on and I’m not sure how it operates to eliminate feelings of abandonment the child might have regardless of his social parent’s sex.

    • oliviasview says:

      Hi Marilynn
      Thanks for your continued interest in my blog. Your responses often cover such wide ground it is very hard to know where to start in addressing the issues. I suppose the bottom line for me is that I have yet to meet a donor conceived adult who was told about their origins at an early age, who sees their donor as someone who has abandoned them. I also know some who did find out later, and sometimes in traumatic circumstances, who also do not believe their donor to be a parent. Maybe they aren’t telling me something but I am totally open to hearing difficult or painful feelings – and as the majority are not related to me – they would have nothing to lose by letting me know their true feelings. I am not denying for one minute that some DC adults do feel this way but the existence of an involved and loving ‘social’ father (the only real father in my estimation) is usually more than enough male parenting for most DC children.

  2. marilynn says:

    Well you do think that offspring of donors have the potential to feel rejected by them not wanting to play the roll of parent in their lives even if they are told young or you would not have written that you think its best that the gamete donor not only be known, but be known and play the roll of something akin to a 3rd parent in order to prevent those feeling of rejection. I agree.

    What I don’t understand is why you think that the gender of the social parent in the primary caregiving roll would make any difference to the child who knows that they are the offspring of a donor. The fact that the social parent happens to be male does not change the fact that they are the offspring of someone who did not want to play the roll of parent in their lives right? The fact that someone else wants to play the roll of parent means they will have a good relationship with that person, male or female. The fact that one of the two people who created them does not want to play that roll might hurt them – as you said in your post. You said its better to have that person be involved to prevent the child from feeling rejected.

    I think what you have just explained to me is that as long as the social parent is a male, the child won’t feel rejected by not being allowed to know or be known to their paternal relatives. If there is no social parent or if the social parent is female then you feel rejected feelings are likely and should be avoided by having the donor act as a parent.

    A person who reproduced to create them does not want to act as a parent – the child could feel rejected by that fact even if they are perfectly happy with the people who do want to play that parental roll. You say its true for children of lesbians not taking into account how the child feels. Do you really believe that heterosexual couples are fully taking into account how the child might feel? How the donor might feel? Does having a male social parent make the fact their bio parent wants no involvement a non-issue?

    • oliviasview says:

      Marilynn, We know it is quite hard to find and get to know a good number of donor conceived adults. We have met a lot in 19 years of our Network – as they tend to find us on the internet – but we also meet at conferences in the UK and abroad, via UK Donor Link and more recently through the film Donor Unknown. I’d be really interested to know how many DC adults you know, how you came to have contact with them and how many of those you know learned about their origins as small children from parents who were comfortable with their choices. I think this would help me understand where you are coming from.

  3. marilynn says:

    You win you know more donor offspring than me. I’ve been reuniting separated families for free for about 15 years and I know a s-load of people have had their records stepped on where there is no adoption but their mother’s partner is named on their birth certificates, many of those people are the offspring of donors but not all of them. I know a bunch of people whose mother’s just did not put their fathers on their birth certificates, some of them are donor conceived some are not. I know more offspring of donors than probably most people but I know the ones who what to find their families not the ones who don’t so obviously I don’t get enough of your particular brand of opinion. I know more that were told very young as children than I do ones who were told as adults. I know maybe 50 or 60 and about 10 of them have come to be very good friends that I talk to throughout the week on line and on the phone, here and there in person. They happen to be the most vocal activists and get lots of air and press. I’m flattered they wanted to meet me because as you have noticed, I’m nobody. I’m not an expert on anything, I am not the offspring of a donor, I’m not in the industry. I’m just a girl that hooks people up with their families. I’ll never write a book or do anything that would capitalize on the anguish of people trying to put their families back together. I don’t want my little back doors to close up if anyone finds out how I do certain things so I talk to each person that wants help privately and we work together to find their families. I’m really just interested in understanding what motivates people to want to cut people off from their families what motivates them to try and give them replacement families.

    The age at being told impacted their feelings about the people raising them, but it does not appear to matter to how they feel about not knowing their biological father. Those feelings are going to be the same whether they learn at 2 or 42. That is as far as I can tell from those I’m in contact with. But really they could all be thrilled about it and I’d still be against it because its a violation of equal rights and of their civil liberties and we need to fix that.

    • oliviasview says:

      Thanks for your honesty Marilynn, but this is not a competition about how many DC adults each of us knows. It is really to do with exposure to a whole range of views about being donor conceived and, as you admit, you tend not to come across those who are comfortable with their situation and do not regard their donor as a parent. It is also not necessarily about the age at which they learned they were donor conceived. I know several DC adults who were told late, are curious but feel OK about their origins. I also know a small number who were told young but, because there were many other things going on in their family as well, have turned to their donor as something of an ‘ideal’ parent and pinned their pain on donor conception when there are likely to be other explanations for their unhappiness. It can feel easier to do this than confront (probably loved) parents with failings that have nothing to do with donor conception.

  4. marilynn says:

    So back to my questions since I answered yours:

    I’ll cut to the chase you flip flop a whole lot on whether the donor is or is not a parent and flip flop on whether or not the child will be traumatized by his decision not to help raise them.

    You talk about how children are likely to feel rejected by the fact that one of the two people who reproduced to create them does not want to play a parental roll – you say that the child’s hurt can be avoided by having the donor play the roll of a 3rd parent in the child’s life – even if the mother has a partner acting as the 2nd parent.

    But then you respond to my question by saying that you never heard of any offspring that felt abandoned. This whole post is about offspring feeling rejected and how to avoid it right? Why do you believe the that there will be no feelings of rejection so long as the mother is married to a man not a woman or is not single?

    If you do not believe that donors are or should be considered fathers they why do you alternate between calling the man a donor and a father? “But they persist because they hope that their son will eventually be pleased that he has his father in his life.”

    Why do you believe that people should anticipate donors to want to know their offspring when the mother’s partner is female but not male? Why do you anticipate pain of rejection only if the social parent is female not male?

  5. oliviasview says:

    I’m sorry you see my responses as ‘flip-flopping’. I think if you can view everything I say as coming from a relational rather than a biological perspective you will see more consistency in my writing.
    I refer to ‘father’ when there is a known donor who is part of same sex parents social circle…particularly if he was involved around the time of the birth and sees the child regularly. I don’t think anyone could be called a donor under these circumstances. A child may well feel rejected (abandoned) if this man does not play a ‘fatherly’ role in his life, but simply turns up from time to time, possibly bringing unsuitable gifts….fulfilling his needs but not those of the child.

    I refer to ‘donor’ when the man concerned is not known to the mother and does not play any part whatsoever in a child’s life, until possibly after the child is 18 and chooses to seek him out. It is offspring from these unknown (but hopefully identifiable) donors who have been told about their origins by parents who are confident and comfortable with their decisions, who I think are unlikely to feel abandoned. Indeed, I have never met anyone with this background who does.
    I do not think I was discriminating in any way when I said that the child in the case I was quoting, might feel abandoned. This was based entirely on the fact that the donor was part of the social circle of the women involved.

    It also has to be acknowledged that it takes contributions from a man and a woman to make a child. Children can adjust very easily to having same sex parents – women or men – but at some point, usually before they are five – children ask, ‘do I have a daddy/mummy?’ using observations of other families and language they have heard other children use. Parents need to explain about how they conceived and came upon the ingredient that was missing from their family set-up. If parents are confident and comfortable with their situation then they are able to communicate this sense of ease when they explain in simple language how that child came into being. More importantly, if they are providing all the elements of nurturing and good parenting that children require a child will remain feeling secure and is unlikely to feel that something is missing. They may well have significant curiosity as they grow older and maybe some sadness or anger, but if these emotions are responded to well by parents, then a sense of abandonment by their donor is less likely to be the outcome.

    We know some heterosexual couples whose sperm donor was a family friend. Most of these children are now teenagers and there is no question of them thinking of their donor as a parent. He is someone to whom they have a genetic link and to whom they can turn for medical or any other information if they need it, but they have a good dad at home.
    I hope this helps you understand where I am coming from.

    • marilynn says:

      OK so the bottom line for you is that because there is a male around in that father roll it would be a threat to the mother’s marriage to have the donor around playing parent number three. I really see it as an equal threat to the mother’s relationship with a female, she’s apt to be just as jelous since, just like her male spouse counterpart, she’s the 2nd mother as he is the second father regardless of them being in the primary second parent position. I think your suggestion that they get over their insecurities and consider the child’s feeling is great. But why should children of lesbian mother’s be the only one’s to benefit from that kind of selfless colaborative effort. It would not be fair to exclude children of heterosexual mothers from having both people that reproduced to create them actively involved in their life from birth to 18 and beyond. Why should the child of a heterosexual mother be any less deserving of knowing that they are important to both the people that created them rather than just one? Its not a fantasy to think it can be achieved, people do it all the time with step families and frequently same sex couples do it and I am sure they face their insecurities about their relationships with their spouses in order to make sure the child has all of his or her family. I’m pretty up beat about the idea actually. And then nobody would need my help.

  6. oliviasview says:

    No, it wouldn’t necessarily be a threat to the mother’s marriage, it is simply because the child has a father to perform that role in his life…why would s/he need another one? Having a daddy and a donor seems fine, particularly if the donor is known and available. In lesbian families there are two mothers and no father. In gay families there are two dads and no mother. In each case there needs to be a different explanation from that which pertains in a heterosexual couple family. I am not anti-gay or lesbian families in any way whatsoever but heterosexual couples are still the ‘default’ model if you like. Well in the UK they are…perhaps not in California. In step-families etc. there is a history of relationships that should not be broken, so people have to manage the complex emotional relationships involved. Unless the donor is a known person, there is NO relationship with him/her to explain or manage.

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