Donor conception can challenge how we think about families

As I will be tucked up in a hospital bed tomorrow having just had my heart arrhythmia corrected, I will miss the event to launch the long-awaited report from the Nuffield Council on Bio-Ethics into Donor Conception: Ethical aspects of information sharing.  It’s very frustrating as I have had a peek at an advance copy but can’t say anything as it is embargoed until Wednesday 17th.  Let’s just say they have done a very thorough job.  Detailed comment at a later date.

In the meantime I’m delighted (and relieved) to say that I have been getting very enthusiastic comments about my booklets from the contributors who have been checking their quotes.  I always find it hard to know if things I have written are of any value to anyone when I have become so familiar with every word.  It seems that they might be.

As I’m going probably not going to blog again before sometime next week, here’s a taster of the booklet aimed at family and friends of anyone choosing donor conception to start or add to their family –

“Donor conception can challenge how we think about families

Sperm, egg or embryo donation is not a cure for infertility but it allows infertile heterosexual couples, single women and lesbian and gay couples to build families.  All will have a strong intention to parent, and parent well, and will have given considerable thought to what it means to create a family using gametes from another person.  They may have started off feeling that a genetic connection to their child is an absolute requirement for parenthood and it may be that you feel this way also.  However, during the grieving period many couples slowly revise their views, discovering that loving relationships, commitment and shared values are the foundation of a family. They move from despair to hope as they realise that donor conception gives them the opportunity to go through pregnancy and birth together, building a family that has a ‘difference’ but has been created through love in the same way as any other.

If you tend towards feeling that genetic connections are the only real basis for including someone in ‘the family’, I invite you to reconsider.  The modern family is rarely mum and dad and genetically connected 2.4 children.  Many children live apart from one parent or in re-formed families where there are children from each partner’s previous relationship.  Children are raised by grand-parents, single mums and dads and by same sex partnerships.  All can do well if there is a strong intention and commitment to parenting and the family is well supported.  Donor conception families, particularly heterosexual couples, are amongst the least complex of modern families.  Research has shown that ALL types of donor conception families do at least as well as or better in terms of family warmth and functioning than those where children were conceived without donor help.

Older generations are sometimes, but not inevitably, more inclined towards keeping ‘difference’ under wraps.  Feelings used not to be talked about so freely and infertility was considered something to be kept private, if not actually shameful in itself.  Single parenthood by choice and same sex couple parenting are fairly recent phenomena that would have been impossible or concealed because of significant stigma only a short time ago.  Thirty years ago when my husband and I discovered that sperm donation was the only way we were going to be able to have a family, clinics suggested that no-one was told about donor conception.  You may have assumed that any child conceived this way would not be told how they came into the family.

If you find yourself feeling embarrassed by what you are being told by your adult child and wonder why this topic needs to be talked about at all, you may want to say something like, ‘I’m finding this a bit difficult.  How about writing it all down for me so I can take it in in my own time.”  Although some parents insist that their child’s grandparents acknowledge the fact of donor conception, many others respect their own parents’ reticence on the topic, particularly if grandparents are warm, loving and accepting of the child.  If you have a good relationship with your son or daughter who is using donor conception it should hopefully be possible to ask them to respect your wish not to have conversations that make you feel uncomfortable.  In turn you could show your support with gestures like an arm round the shoulders or a squeeze of the hand.  When it comes to a young child mentioning their conception to you, however, you may have to prepare yourself with some simple responses like, ‘I know, mummy told me’.   The chapter on Openness below will hopefully give some insights into why talking about infertility and donor conception are considered to be better for the whole family these days.

“My parents completely accepted that their grandson had been conceived by egg donation but assumed that we wouldn’t be telling him.  However, they ‘got it’ straight away when we explained that we were going to be open from the start.”Catherine, mum to egg-donation conceived son, 2012″





About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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2 Responses to Donor conception can challenge how we think about families

  1. Tracey Sainsbury says:

    Olivia – another super blog and wish you a speedy recovery. Just to add I often have emails and calls from Grandparents seeking resources and/or research in to donor conceived children, planning to be a pro-active as possible in supporting their children in becoming families and why I’m still so pleased DCN put the Noodle Granny article back on the website.
    You will be missed tomorrow


  2. oliviasview says:

    Thanks Tracey. Interesting to hear about the calls you get from grand-parents. I hope the new booklet aimed at family and friends will be helpful for them.

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