Well, DCN will have the money from the Nuffield Foundation next month so my work on the two Friends and Family booklets will start in earnest then. But I already have quite a fat folder of cuttings and downloads from emails and blogs about this issue and am only too aware that it is one that donor conception families stumble over, even more than telling children. We are doing two booklets so that would-be and existing parents have one for themselves to help share information with family and friends – and deal with their responses – and another for DC families to give or recommend to those close to them to help them understand what they are (or have been) going through and what is most helpful to say or do to be most supportive. As Alice Ruby from the Sperm Bank of California wrote to me when I first publicised the idea of these booklets a couple of years ago, DC families need to be prepared to educate others. The problem is that when you are feeling pretty vulnerable going through the rollercoaster of treatment cycles, you don’t much feel like being the wise educator of your own parents and best friends. You just want them to instinctively know how to be and what to say, but this does not come easily to many people. Alice’s straightforward advice to DC couples and individuals is, ‘Ask for what you need’ and to their families and friends, ‘Think before you speak’. If only this were always possible!
One thing is true though. The longer a secret is kept the harder it is to tell because it means admitting to long-term deception. This applies as much to family and friends as it does to children. Secrets also fester in corrosive ways, destroying spontaneity in families and causing relationship breakdown. But just because it is healthy for close relatives and friends to know about the role of DC in the creation of a family, this does not mean that every time someone in the supermarket comments on how much your baby looks like you or his dad, you have to blurt out that s/he is donor conceived. Unless it is the shock effect you are going for, then your kindly commentator is likely to be taken aback by the result of their rather everyday remark producing information about how the baby was conceived! It is a rare person who shares this information with anyone, let alone a stranger. In fact an American counsellor friend of mine has suggested that self-conscious ‘telling’ of everyone may convey as much a sense of shame as not telling anyone at all.
A measured, self-confident, matter-of-fact conveying of information to those who need to know is likely to bring forth a response that is equally calm and hopefully supportive. For those who don’t, then bland thanks or euphemisms will do. This is one of those occasions when the truth is not what is most important.
If anyone reading this has stories about talking with friends and family – either positive or negative – that they think it might be helpful to have included in one or both of my booklets, then I’d love to hear from you…particularly if they illustrate a wider point. Do please indicate your interest in the comments space below and I’ll be in touch.