I’ve been having a fascinating time over the last couple of days reading through all the stories on the DC Network web site written by donor conceived adults. I’m doing this because we are soon to move to a new site and this is an opportunity to re-visit all the personal stories (not just the ones by DC people) and decide which ones remain absolutely pertinent and should be moved over, those that have become dated in one way or another or others that just need a little bit of work to keep them relevant. What is particularly interesting is the wide spectrum of feelings about being a donor conceived person. Taken together with what I broadly know about registrants to UK DonorLink – and I am absolutely not party to names or details – the DC adults that ‘Zannah has been interviewing and the contacts I have had over the last twenty years, my perception of the range of perspectives goes from having no interest whatsoever (not many), to comfortable, curious but not actively searching (large number); comfortable, curious but in touch with others and would be interested in learning more (large number); uncomfortable, curious, looking for info but status does not dominate life (largish number); uncomfortable, searching, status takes over life from time to time (small number) to angry, distressed, status dominates life much of the time (tiny number). It is also my experience that all donor conceived adults, no matter where they are on this spectrum, would say that they have the right to know about the way in which they were conceived and the vast majority would support removal of anonymity for donors so that offspring can choose when they are 18 if they wish to have information about the man or woman (or both) who helped to give them life. It tends to be those at the ‘uncomfortable and searching to angry and distressed’ end of the spectrum who see these men and women as a parent from whom they have been deliberately separated and/or are against the practice of donor conception per se because they feel it is inevitably damaging. Of course we are not talking about large numbers here…hundreds rather than thousands…because of the long history of secrecy surrounding donor conception. And those who make their feelings public tend not to be those who are comfortable with their status and genuinely feel they have nothing to say.
What we know very little about is how these differences in attitude and feelings come about…other than the rather obvious truth that all humans are different and will have a range of perspectives on any topic you care to name.
One of the variables is obviously when and how a DC person has come to know about their conception. But even here there are no absolutes. I personally know and know of some people who learned of their status as adults but who defy the stereotype of this being an experience that threw their identity into question and undermined trust in their family. A small number have even said that they thought it was probably easier to manage the knowledge as an adult and were glad they had not been told earlier. Others have talked of the profound shock and lasting negative impact of the information. I have no reason to dispute either account. Another small cohort seem to have been told the information under age ten but because of other things going on in their family were either actually told not to talk about it or gained the distinct impression that it was information that was somehow shameful and should not be mentioned. So far I have only heard one account of someone who claims to have been told early and felt very comfortable with the knowledge until he had children himself. But no doubt there may be more people like this as the many children told early within DC Network, and elsewhere, start to become parents themselves. This could include our own children.
I think some clues as to differences in feeling may come from the group mentioned above who were told early but felt under pressure not to mention the subject very much. How rather than what a child is told…the language, tone of voice, comfort or otherwise of the parent or parents give strong indicators to children of the meaning of information being conveyed. If parents of a donor conceived person of any age are uncomfortable about the decisions they have made – and Walter and I recently saw a couple with children in their twenties who could hardly believe that they had actually gone through with DI so many years ago – then it will be hard for them to share this information with children in a positive/matter of fact way. Many donor conceived adults who were told or found out late are still having to keep the fact of their enlightenment from some members of their family. This is usually to protect their non-genetic parent from the presumed ‘humilitation’ of being outed as infertile and to preserve ‘normal’ family relationships. This cannot be supportive of feeling positive about yourself as a donor conceived person and I am admiring of those who seem to manage this.
Parents in DC Network would kill to be able to bottle ‘getting it right’ for their children. I am clear that grieving for the child you cannot have first; only going ahead with DC when BOTH would-be parents (in the case of a couple) are agreed and ready; feeling comfortable with decisions made – probably being the sort of people who feel that families are made through warm relationships rather than simply genetics; being open with the child, friends and family from early days; being prepared to accept that your child will develop their own version of their story and have their own feelings about it PLUS general good enough parenting, is likely to give a child/teenager/adult the resilience to manage difficult feelings should they arise without permanent damage. I’d like to add choosing an identifiable donor as well because whilst I don’t think all DC people will want information or contact about their unknown progenitor, some definitely will and it is taking a risk to choose an anonymous donor, particularly one about whom little is known (many European clinics give only tiny amounts of information about donors).
The bottom line is that we can never know how our children are going to feel. Truly, we should do no harm.