When the past provides a guide but not an answer to the present

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.’

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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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6 Responses to When the past provides a guide but not an answer to the present

  1. RachelP says:

    I honestly think even if I’d learned early on in life about being donor-conceived it would still hack me off that I can’t know who my donor is. And if I’d been conceived abroad and was told ‘You can’t know who your donor is but you can follow his football team’ I’d feel fobbed off.

    Also you have to be careful with your choice of words Olivia – ‘confident’ does not necessarily equal ‘ok with being donor-conceived’, just as ‘not being ok with being donor-conceived’ does not equal ’emotionally damaged’.

  2. oliviasview says:

    Thank you for this Rachel. I particularly agree with your second paragraph.

  3. m says:

    You don’t mention that they should join FTDNA or 23 and me so that their relatives can find them and vice versa. This would be a much more helpful thing to do than to have them embrace the heritage or the football team we are talking about acutally finding their family members they are separated from that is what they need the contact info for anyway. It is possible to find your family through these DNA websites although its very difficult and very time consuming and very exhausting which can be insulting in and of itself they should not have to work hard at all to know their own relatives like everyone else. Of course there will always be that sense of resentment for having put them in a situation where their own info is inaccessible but helping them get that info is much better than taking them on vacation.

    And totally disregard any talk of letting them decide if and when they want the info on their relatives because nobody else in the world has a choice in the matter you simply know who your family members your relatives are whether you like it or not actually! So best not place them in a situation where they even have to think about it simply get the info for them. If you think about it the person responsible for causing a problem is the one who should be fixing it. Its incumbent upon anyone who helped cause a lack of information to right that situation BEFORE the person gets irked about it. Don’t sit around waiting for them to get mad and say something. That’s like sitting around and waiting for people to remember it’s your birthday or to ask if something’s wrong. You know it is better to be late than tardy. Why? Because being late wastes other people’s time, not just your own. We don’t say “well there is no telling how my being late to the job interview will be perceived, they may care they may not – I’ll just plan on being late”. Anticipate that cutting a person off from their relatives will not be OK with them and do whatever you can like submitting dna to a family search website. It could mitigate a lot of damage and make one seem empathetic to the position the person was placed in.

  4. marilyn says:

    Why would you endorse the idea of getting to know the culture or the football team rather than getting to know their actual relatives. I thought you were outlining things people could do to mitigate the damage in situations where the donating parent was anonymous. Having them join FTDNA is just one more thing they can do in hopes of getting back the information that was lost through the anonymous process. It may or may not be successful, may or may not make them feel better but surely its at least as good an idea as have them root for their football team.

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