I have spent most of today going through the responses to the Talking and Telling exercise I conducted at the national conference nearly two weeks ago now. Many things struck me as I read through the fears and successes noted there. One, from a man, confirmed for me once again the importance of humour in challenging stereotypes of infertility and pricking the bubble of constant solemnity when talking about donor conception issues. Now I can see how controversial this idea might be. Of course infertility causes huge grief and sadness, of course the decision to create a different sort of family with the help of a donor is an immensely serious one, but I would argue that the capacity to see the lighter side (sometimes) is incredibly helpful.
My respondent referred to above was just a shocked as any man would be by finding out that he would need donor help to make a family with his partner. Like others it took time for him to get used to the idea but once he had he decided to face his fears of what other men might say by jokingly referring to himself as ‘shooting blanks’ when he told them about his situation. Now it takes confidence and chutzpah to do this but he decided that he was the same person – the same man – as he had been before the diagnosis of azoospermia and that he wasn’t going to hide something he had no control over and wasn’t ashamed about. His friends rewarded him with warmth and support. Humour is of course often used, particularly by men, to overcome embarrassment and avoid talking about feelings, but it can also be used very effectively to break a taboo and open up conversation.
At the workshop last weekend I was asked whether our children were from the same donor. I get asked this question quite a lot, people assuming that this is the desirable option. Parents can get quite agitated by the idea of children not being full siblings. I’m not going to go into the reasons for this now (although they are interesting) but suffice to say that one of my responses both makes people laugh and takes their breath away. I tell them that we only planned one child at a time so didn’t reserve sperm from the first time around, but that as child number one was such a difficult baby we were very happy when we were told we would have to have a different donor! This opens the door to allowing people to feel the whole range of mixed emotions that everyone with young children goes through. So many parents of long awaited and much wanted children feel guilty when they have negative feelings about their baby or small child and bringing some humour into the discussion can help them feel more kindly towards themselves.
Differences in looks, interests and talents can also be a good basis for humour in a DC family instead of a cause of angst and distress. If the non-genetic parent is able to say jokily, ‘No way you get that from me…that must be your donor’ then the child gets a message that their parent is comfortable with questions of difference and this leaves the door open for the child herself to ask questions. One of the fascinating aspects of having donor conceived children is watching them develop and become ‘themselves’. Of course all parents do this, but DC children invite you not to project your own DNA driven wishes and fantasies, but just allow them, with parental guidance of course, to follow their own drives and passions. Laughter is just such a wonderful way for a family to enjoy being together.