I have recently been approached by a counsellor who works with many people going abroad for fertility treatments including donation. She was looking for examples of children and young people feeling comfortable about having an anonymous donor. This is how I replied to her –
The issue of acceptance of knowing little about a donor because they are anonymous and/or clinics giving little information, is not straightforward.
In the experience of DCN and others, it is clear that parental comfort and confidence about the choices they have made and early ‘telling’ are the most important factors in children being able to integrate the facts of donor conception (whatever they are) into their lives. Children learn best through the telling of stories and having a coherent story shared casually from an early age and with increasing detail as a child grows older (and asks questions) is undoubtedly the best way for them not only to accept their beginnings but even to be proud of them…wherever they were conceived. This does not mean that children will not be curious about their donor. Some, some say most, will. And this is where the complications can start for those with anonymous donors and the importance of parental confidence with choices made really counts.
Children and young people conceived in the UK prior to 1991 and post 1991 and pre 2005, all know that their parents had no choice about having an anonymous donor. They may be curious, go through periods of anger or sadness about not being able to have more information or contact, but ultimately they know that this was the law at the time. Parents have a coherent story to tell and if, in addition, they are able to listen to their children’s feelings rather than denying them, then it is unlikely that permanent emotional damage will result.
People who have chosen to go abroad since 2005 and have conceived with the help of anonymous donors (many in the early days because of severe shortages of donor eggs in the UK) have to understand that their children will have different rights to those children conceived in the UK. It is possible that there will come a time when their children will ask why they didn’t stay in the UK for treatment with an identifiable donor. Parents will need to be able to answer these questions without getting upset or defensive and to listen to their children’s feelings in the way described above. DCN encourages members who have been abroad to talk with their children in a very positive way about the country in which they were conceived and/or the ethnic identity of the donor (not always the same). They can encourage their children to learn the language of that country, celebrate their football team, know something about the music and culture and the whole family go on holiday there. Where there is little information about the donor, this sort of celebration MAY help with lack of concrete information. Of course no-one has any hard information as yet about how children conceived abroad feel about it, but these principles mirror those that are successful in other circumstances.
What I have been trying to say in a rather long-winded way is that examples from the past of integration of anonymous donor conception into the lives of young people, do not necessarily stand up in modern circumstances. DC Network’s films, A Different Story and Telling and Talking all feature confident young people and families where children were conceived with help from anonymous donors. But these were all pre 2005. They do not reflect the different situation post 2005 or having been conceived abroad…which MAY prove to be significantly different.
The two first Telling and Talking booklets (0-7 and 8-11) I wrote in 2006 have now been updated to include issues to do with going abroad so the people you are talking to may find these supportive, but I do think that it may not be possible to provide the reassurance that they may be looking for from the past because the landscape of donor conception has changed so much in the meantime.
Or as the psychotherapist Adam Phillips has so eloquently said, ‘The past influences everything but dictates nothing.’