I was talking with ‘Zannah yesterday about her anthropology dissertation, which is exploring the influence of knowing who your ancestors are in relation to personal identity formation. She has been in correspondence with a number of donor conceived adults about this and noticed that many of them speak in terms of what they feel they are lacking. However, she had one response that was different and it spoke to her in a very personal way. This respondent said that at first she too had thought about herself as someone who was ‘missing’ an essential part. But as time passed, and she joined DCN, she started to feel like part of a community and someone who has something more rather than less than other people. ‘Zannah says she feels like this too. Growing up inside the DCN has given her a feeling of belonging that gives her confidence and a very strong sense of identity in the world in general. Identity that is not exclusively to do with being donor conceived but includes it, alongside the many other components of who she is, in a very positive way. Zannah’s dissertation will report the feelings of a whole range of people conceived with donated gametes and explore them within an anthropological framework and in as objective a way as is ever possible in research, but the more rather than less perspective was an interesting one for her to acknowledge personally.
It makes me think about DCN and the value of being part of a community. At our national meetings we run three types of group for offspring. First of all a creche for children up to age 11, where they are cared for and entertained by qualified children’s workers; a children’s group for 8 – 12 year olds to explore their feelings around donor conception in a fun, age-appropriate way. This is run by child psychologists and experienced children’s group leaders. And finally a group led by a donor conceived adult for those young people of 13 and over who would like to meet together to chat about topics of mutual interest. For our national meeting on 17th March 2012 the creche is now full with over 70 children, there are 34 8 – 12 year olds in three separate children’s groups and several 13s and over booked, with the deadline for bookings (parents and DC young people only now) still a week or so away. All these children and young people are growing up within the DCN community.
Our aim, and strong hope is that, like Zannah and her respondent, children growing up in Network families will share that sense of belonging and that they will experience their situation as one of having something ‘extra’ rather than a missing part. This does not mean, however, that parents are not open to listening to what their children have to say as they grow older and develop their own feelings and views about their DC origins, as they inevitably will. Some DC adults are very keen to stress what they call the ‘brain-washing’ that parents give their children about DC. ‘ Zannah and I talked about this yesterday as well. I wanted to know if she felt she could talk to me about negative aspects of being donor conceived. She acknowledged that she had been brought up with very positive feelings about her origins, but said that it would have been very odd if her dad and I had not behaved this way. Why would we speak negatively about it? How could this attitude possibly have benefited her and her brother, instilling doubts and fears in their minds. She feels that the open minded culture she has been raised in has given her plenty of opportunities to talk about difficult feelings, but that, for her, they haven’t been there. This will not necessarily be so in all families. ‘Zannah’s respondent, referred to above, did not learn of her origins until her early teens and then under difficult circumstances. She has made a long journey to get to where she is now, including painful conversations with both parents. Some families may go through rough patches, even needing outside help or therapy to reach a more comfortable place and perhaps never able to feel that they have something extra instead of something missing. But our community will remain and I am very optimistic about it’s benefits for all family members.
If you are a donor conceived person who would like to contribute to ‘Zannah’s survey on identity, please contact me via this blog or on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will pass your details on to her.