Last Sunday I contributed to one of DC Network’s Preparation for Donor Conception Parenthood workshops by running the session on psycho-social and emotional issues. Participants first of all watch the film A Different Story featuring seven sperm donor conceived children and young people between seven and twenty talking about how they feel about their donor, half-siblings, their parents, sharing information with friends and family and life in general. Although this film is now nearly ten years old it remains challenging to watch for would-be parents as some of the young people use terms like ‘real father’ to describe the man who helped create them, alongside and often in the same sentence as ‘biological father’ and the more conventional ‘donor’. The word ‘donor’ is the only term that had been used by their parents.
These potential parents were just as taken aback by this language as previous groups have been, but it provides a very good platform to talk about the stages of development that young people go through. Young children inevitably use the language that has been commonplace in their family as they grow up, but as they reach older childhood and teenage years they must inevitably start to have ideas of their own and to put their own interpretations on information received from parents. Some DC adults would claim that the use of ‘real father’ (all the children in the film are conceived by sperm donation) is nothing more than a recognition of ‘the truth’, but being in the privileged position of knowing most of the young people and how they have moved on over the years, I see it more as a reflection of an experimentation with ideas, something they would be doing with many concepts in their early teenage years. It certainly is not an indication of anything being amiss with the emotional relationships within their families, either then or now. As one of the participants in Sunday’s workshops insightfully said, “It looks as if it is helpful for parents to expect a change in language at around this time so that they can be prepared not to be shocked, upset or become defensive”. Quite so.
I was asked by the group if my own children’s attitudes had changed substantially over the years since the film was made (they both feature in it). I was able to say that they had not. Will at 29 remains as disinterested in his donor as he always has been and Zannah is curious but untroubled on a day to day level. In the film, shot when she was 16, she talks about ‘holding her breath’ until she can have some solid information about her donor or half-siblings. My sense is that she would not say that now. She has been registered with UK DonorLink since she was 18 without a sniff of information coming her way but more importantly in the meantime she has become a mature young woman who believes that it is up to her to make her own identity and way in life. Being donor conceived IS part of who she is but it is a small slice of the well-rounded whole that makes up her sense of self.
They were a lovely bunch on Sunday. The choices they have before them are so much more complex that those Walter and I had to make thirty years ago. I wish them so much luck and admire their courage and foresight in wanting to prepare themselves as best they possibly can for creating a different sort of family.