Saying goodbye

Had a wonderful week in the sun in France but have come back to friends, neighbours and family members struggling with lots of loss – marriages, jobs, a much loved wife, sanity…all of which puts me in mind of the losses involved in infertility and donor conception in particular.  Hopes, dreams, sense of self, masculinity, womanliness and control over ones life are just some of the sadnesses and challenges faced by men and women who had thought that in a modern age starting a family – having a baby – was just one of the lifestyle choices they could make when they chose…until they found that they couldn’t.  Grieving the loss of the child you had hoped you could create with a loved partner – or for single woman the loss of the hope of finding a partner with whom to have a child – is something that needs to happen before being able to accept the responsibilities that go hand in hand with having a child with the help of a donor.  Letting go of ‘trying to create a perfect image of us’ is how one couple put it, which sheds a different light on current debates on just how much detailed information should be available about donors.  At a recent open meeting with the HFEA’s Donation Strategy Group, the only donor conceived adult in the room was shocked to find people in her workshop wanting information about shape of nose or ears of donors.  ‘Don’t try to make my face’ was her response.  ‘What if that child turns out to have the hook nose or cauliflower ears of someone from generations before.  Are you going to send them back?’  My own take on having donor conceived children is that it is a wonderful opportunity to accept a new human being for exactly who they are and not to project your own expectations or assume a child will be a mini-me.  And those parental responsibilities?  Well the most important one is to begin to tell a child ‘their story’ from very early on, preferably being able to include the information, as they grow, that it will be possible for them to have contact later in life with their donor and half-siblings because they chose someone to help who agreed to be identifiable.  Some DC adults might refer to this as not passing on a loss to the next generation.

Meanwhile, sometimes it can help the grieving and healing process to have a loss recognised in a slightly more formal way by taking part in a ritual that acknowledges the pain and sadness.  I was glad to have brought to my notice a series of Saying Goodbye services in Anglican places of worship around the UK that are open to people of all faiths or none.  If you or someone you know might be helped by attendance at one of these do go along or let your friend know about them.


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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41 Responses to Saying goodbye

  1. Pingback: Saying goodbye | oliviasview - Christian IBD

  2. peggy says:

    olivias blog thank you

  3. marilynn says:

    If they were accepted for exactly who they are the individuals who reproduced to create them would both be named as their parents on their birth records and there would be no need to conceal anyone’s identity and no need to name one’s spouse or partner as a parent instead. They would just be who they are the child of two individuals who are not a couple and both would share the responsibility of raising their offspring with one another and that effort would be shared by their respective spouses, if any. That would be the way to respect who the child truly is embraced fully by both families and step families and fully recognized as kin in their biological families and as a step relative in their step families. Nobody would have to loose anything or grieve any loss if the child were respected for who they actually are.

    If you think people ache and grieve the loss of children they never had that were never born just imagine grieving the loss of a parent you do have because you were born. Imagine grieving the loss of not just one imaginary child that never lived but of an entire half your biological relatives that do really exist in reality who your prevented from knowing. Imagine knowing that your mother did not want a child by another man, she wishes that your father was her husband but she’ll settle for you if it at least appears to the world that her husband is your father which requires erasing your own from her reality.

  4. oliviasview says:

    I leave your comment in Marilynn because I think it is important that others know that these odd-ball views are out there. Once again I will say clearly that in my view donors are not parents. Parents are the people who intended to have a child and raise that child. Donors do not intend to become parents (of that particular child). Their role in contributing genetic material is an important one that should always be acknowledged but genes do not make a person or an identity. I do not know ANY young donor conceived adults in the UK who were told early about their conception who feel remotely the way you think they do. Many would consider your perspective strange and possibly frankly bonkers.

  5. m says:

    I appreciate your leaving my comment up Olivia. You are giving belittling labels to my opinions which are kind of mean spirited actually. My opinions come from a genuine desire to see people be treated justly. I’m a nice person. I’m not against anything. Not trying to ban anything. Not trying to restrict anyone’s right to do anything. I just think all people with offspring should be held to the exact same standard of care when it comes to being listed as their offspring’s parents so that all people have the same rights. That is not bonkers. If some people get to have medically accurate vital records why not all? That is not a strange thing to say. It’s strange to suggest that anyone deserves less than absolute medical fact on their medical records. There are laws that say you can have technical errors in medical records corrected. You made me feel like I was saying something illogical. I felt bad to read that.

    • oliviasview says:

      Medically accurate records is one thing Marilynn, longing to be brought up by your biological parents is another.

      Of course you are a nice person and I’m sure are motivated only by good things. I just happen to think that you’ve got things a bit twisted along the way.

  6. m says:

    “Once again I will say clearly that in my view donors are not parents. ”

    Not in the social sense. I was talking about biological parents and children which was the whole point of your ‘saying good bye post’ right? Donor offspring are the biological children of the donor.

    If people raising donor offspring need a special ritual to address the profound loss they feel at not getting to realize the dream of having biological children with a spouse. It is pretty obvious that a person would have the same exact sense of profound loss at not getting to have their dream of being raised by their biological parents. Right? How is that bonkers. If not getting to raise their own biological children is profoundly sad for people raising donor offspring. Why would not being raised by their own biological parents the donor not be equally sad for biological children?

    I don’t see how you can recognize anguish felt by adults over the loss of a dream of a biological child and not give identical recognition to anguish felt by children over the loss of real living biological parents and relatives on the other.

    In fairness not all people will be bothered by not being able to have a biological child and in fact not having biological children is upsetting only to those who find out late. Those who learn early that they can’t have biological children think that its just part of their story and not a big deal at all. In fact they find it makes them feel unique and special.

    Can you explain why the person giving up the dream of a biological child would need that ritual more than the child having to give up the dream of a biological parent? I think its worse because there is actually a living biological parent and biological relatives that they are having to give up. Maybe a bigger ritual? Over the course of a week. How long should it take for either of them to grieve the loss before moving forward with the donor offspring as-if they were their bio child or with the social parent as-if they were their bio parent. I know second choice is not second best and that is what they come to accept moving forward that is good accept people as they are for who they are.

    I’m going to copy my response to some donor offspring an get their take I could be off base but I think the ritual idea needs to be more balanced. Maybe you should include the kids and you can both say goodbye to the dream of biological relatives together so that you can accept one another jointly for who each other is instead of who you wish they were. That is the goal right? Acceptance of never getting to have a biologcial parent/child relationship saying good bye so you can say hello without any reservations?

    • oliviasview says:

      Hi Marilynn
      I would be much more inclined to take you seriously if I knew any DC adults who were told early who feel, in your words,
      “the exact sense of profound loss at not getting to have their dream of being raised by their biological parents.” Their dream is NOT one of being raised by bio parents. They are entirely happy with the parents they have. Damian Adams in Australia is the only DC adult I have heard of who, told early, later in life began to long to know about bio relatives. I have not met or heard of any in the UK who feel like this…and I know a lot of them.
      I am not denying curiosity or interest in or about donors or half-sibs, but a need to be raised by bio parents…I don’t think so.

  7. m says:

    Yes and you are entirely happy with the kids you have, does that mean you were not filled with that profound sense of loss you describe at not getting to have biological children with your spouse? The whole post is about letting go of the dream of having a bio relationship with the children you raise – why would that be any different for a child? How’s this what I should say is that the kids would have preferred a senario where they were not given up but had full access to their other family full membership legally. I’ll go get some commenters. Also having access to half sibs and info later in life is not the same as growing up with them knowing them being part of the same functioning family with no possible missing and unaccounted for members. Nobody knows for sure how many siblings there might be and their aunts uncles and cousins oh its such a huge thing to come to grips with not ever getting to have…Just like you were saying. Of course you do exactly understand or you would not have suggested a ritual of letting go of biological parent/child relationships

  8. m says:

    If nobody felt that way it would still be logical to assume it works both ways illogical to suggest it does not work both ways. Why would it only work one way? As far as wanting to be cared about and raised by both bio parents?

  9. m says:

    You’d be surprised the donor offspring from the UK who contact me looking for their parents Olivia. You do know alot of them in fact you know all of them.

    • oliviasview says:

      I would be surprised Marilynn but if you would like to invite these people to get in touch with me I’d be happy to learn more. I’m always open to having my mind changed.

  10. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Marilynn is telling you the truth Olivia. She is in contact with many ‘donor’ conceived, some you know and some you do not know. Whether or not they wish they were raised by both their bio-mother and bio-father, I do not know. I know that I personally do not because that would have been impossible. That does not mean that the feelings of loss, sadness and betrayal are not real. Scripts don’t do much to lessen those feelings but often do disenfranchise and amplify them.

    • m says:

      WHEW Thank you. I only said it like she said it to make a point i know its more complex than that and hopefully so does Olivia

  11. oliviasview says:

    I don’t doubt whatsoever that Marilynn is in touch with many donor conceived people. I’m sure she does a lot of good work. I simply doubt that there are a lot, particularly UK people who were ‘told’ when young, who wish they were raised by their full bio parents. I’m not quite sure what you mean by scripts.

    • m says:

      But ideally of course Olivia you have to admit that it is always better for for people to have parents who both are prepared to raise them and love them and are happy they are born and want to raise them and take care of them. It is always tragic when one or both parents – as in people who cause the existence of their own offspring, can’t for whatever reason raise them themselves. A donor becomes a biological parent when their child is born and if they don’t take care of their offspring its a tragedy no matter how much anyone else feels like doing their job for them it will never really be their job to do. They are only playing that roll because one or both parents failed their offspring. The tragedy and loss is an ever present specter. Its not to say that they are not just as good at raising kids as the parents its just not their responsibility.

      • oliviasview says:

        “A donor becomes a biological parent when their child is born and if they don’t take care of their offspring its a tragedy no matter how much anyone else feels like doing their job for them it will never really be their job to do. They are only playing that roll because one or both parents failed their offspring. The tragedy and loss is an ever present specter.’

        I could not disagree with you more Marilynn. In my book it is a tragedy if a person who wants to become a parent and raise a family is unable to do so for whatever reason. As I have said many times to you before, donors do not intend to become parents. They are giving their gametes so that someone else can become a parent. This is not denying the genetic link between donor and offspring, but it is celebrating the generosity of the donor and the possibility for those whose desire and intention is to raise a family to be able to do so. Relationships make families, not genes. Raising parents do have a responsibility to tell their children that they are donor conceived and, if they can, choose a donor about whom there is information and whom the offspring can contact later if it becomes important for them to do so. But NO it is NOT a tragedy that donors do not raise the biological children of their donation and NO, raising parents are NOT failing their offspring as long as they fulfil their responsibilities.

        We are clearly completely at odds on this point and I will not be responding to any further posts you make about it.

  12. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Script: “Once again I will say clearly that in my view donors are not parents. Parents are the people who intended to have a child and raise that child. Donors do not intend to become parents (of that particular child).”

    The ppl who you are in contact with, contact YOU for a reason. This is not a fully representative group. (nor is Marilynn’s contacts) Your authority only goes as far as your advocacy.

    I appreciate what you are trying to do Olivia. I also appreciate the voice Marilynn gives to those who cannot advocate for themselves for fear of hurting others (and their own feelings of shame because of these legitimate but disenfranchised feelings).

  13. oliviasview says:

    I of course accept that the people I am in touch with are not a representative group and thank you for acknowledging that those in touch with M are not either.
    There are a group of young DC adults who have grown up within DC Network (their parents having joined when they were young). They genuinely appear to be totally comfortable with their lives and status. Are you intimating that they might not be telling the truth for fear of hurting others or because they are ashamed of their own feelings in some way? This seems unlikely as we give them many opportunities to be completely honest about how they feel. How can we learn if they are not. The co-ordinator of their group is a late-told DC adult who has had to face some difficult stuff herself but talks about having ’emerged’ out the other side.

    • m says:

      No my gosh I would not describe anyone I’ve ever spoken to as being ashamed of their feelings no, More like co-dependent. They are managing the expectations of the people who raised them. They are just giving them their money’s worth playing the roll they want them to play because doing otherwise would not go over well. They don’t wish to be raised by their missing bio parent now they wish they never had to have been abandoned in order to be part of the family that raised them. You know its not really pleasant for people who wanted to raise their own kids well its not unreasonable to want to be wanted or at least not rejected by your own parents. You are quick to say they are not parents because they did not raise their offspring. Well these people you reach out and comfort for not getting to raise their biological children well they did not raise them those are not children what is there to comfort there is no loss and nothing to say good bye to. If not raising a biological child voids any emotional connection between the parent and the child then why would anyone need a saying good bye ceremony? Does it all boil down to intent? Intent to create and raise a bio child gets to have a ceremony when they can’t.

      So donor offspring are suppose to see you comforting people over the loss of an imaginary bio child – knowing they are someone’s real bio child – someone who does not care enough to cry for them, cry for them being lost to them. Someone who did not care and walked away not needing a special ceremony… expect them to feel wanted so special and wanted? When one of their bio parents appears to have shed no tears over loosing them? To strangers?

      • Kriss Fearon says:

        Are you talking about donors who ‘did not care enough to cry for them, cry for them being lost to them’? Seriously, are you speaking for us, about our motivations and feelings, as if you know?

        Donors do care. It may be that in your definition of caring, donors would not donate at all because you disagree with the practice. To say we do not care, because of this view, that simply is not the case.

      • m says:

        No Kris I’m drawing a comparison to Olivia’s words about crying over the bio children that they cannot have and then the donor’s offspring are not suppose to observe the stark contrast or are suppose to observe it and not feel rejected by their bio parent who did not cry at least that they know of

  14. My parent's donor is my father says:

    I could ask this same mirrored question of you:

    There is a group of young and old DC adults who have learned of their DC status at various stages in their lives who genuinely appear to be seriously struggling with their status (but not their lives – that’s a non-starter). Are you intimating that if only their parents were open and honest (and they knew the identity of their – scripted from an early age – so called “donor”), that they wouldn’t be experiencing these struggles?

    I’m simply saying that your focus group and authority is biased – but with good intentions.

  15. oliviasview says:

    I will answer your question and I’d love you to answer mine. No, I don’t necessarily think that if parents are open and honest and they knew the identity of their donor, they wouldn’t be struggling. I completely accept that this response is possible in otherwise entirely ‘normal’ people (ie. I would not dream of intimating that there is something wrong with people who struggle this way). Do you and Marilynn accept that it is possible not to struggle with DC issues…that it is not an inevitable corollary of being donor conceived? Incidentally, I do find it much easier having a conversation with you than with Marilynn.

  16. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Marrilynn is a sweet heart, she asked me to comment, that’s why we are now having this exchange. Of course I would not dare to speak for others…but this is a seriously complicated practice – I’m sure we can at least both agree on that fact.

    Olivia, I actually don’t want to advocate but I found myself here and feel a responsibility, trying to speak up for those who cannot. That’s why I agreed to be a co-investigator on the My Daddy’s Name is Donor study. I AM very much my father’s daughter…What more can I say?

    God bless.

  17. oliviasview says:

    No problem Karen. Definitely seriously complicated. Best wishes to you too.

  18. m says:

    His name is not Karen what’s wrong with you Olivia that was a bit forward of you.

    I will say this about the varried range of emotions – they all have lost the exact same rights and I care about the human rights abuses. How each abused person feels about it is really their problem. I’m concerned with making sure that countries change their laws so people have equal rights that people stop being bought and sold in and out of their families. Buying parental title. Whether they care about it or not or feel distressed by it is going to vary for each person no point in wasting time on the psychology of whether or not people who are bought and sold are damaged mentally by it. Just quit selling people its wrong.

    • My parent's donor is my father says:

      No worries Marilynn (and Olivia),
      Olivia knows who I am. I’ve made it obvious on this thread and on others but thank you my dear!

  19. m says:

    I find it easier to have a conversation with donor is my father too, but they are not posting wacky stuff about ceremonies for lost biological imaginary kids. You are more interesting.

  20. m says:

    I did also ask a question. Can you explain why the child would not feel the same sense of loss?

  21. oliviasview says:

    It is an accepted and expected part of heterosexual couple relationships that they will have children together. They mostly want to have a child with the other person because they love and admire them and would like to have this love celebrated by having a child together. When this proves impossible sadness results and grieving is necessary. During the grieving process many couples come to realise that becoming parents and raising a family is really what they want to do, that genetic links are not the most important aspect and that they can reflect their love for each other by passing on their values and giving a child a good life.
    A donor conceived child is born into the family that they will be raised in. They will have two parents who have done a lot of thinking about what it means to have a child. Hopefully that child will be raised from an early age to know about the non-genetic disconnect in the family. We know from child and family psychologists that what is important for children is becoming attached to caregivers through love, warmth and security. These are the conditions under which children thrive. In adolescence there begins a natural process of separation between parents and children and at this time ALL children question their parents and may wonder who they are. If they have been raised in honesty they will be able to answer some of the questions about why they feel and look different to parents…but ALL children do this anyway, whether or not they are donor conceived. There may be considerable curiosity about their donor and half-siblings but I have NEVER come across someone who feels the loss of a bio ‘parent’ because they already have parents.
    Families are established through relationships not genetics. Why would a DC adult have a sense of loss if they have been raised in honesty since they were young and the relationship with parents is good?
    Now I know you are not going to accept or understand this, but I think we will have to agree to differ.

  22. My parent's donor is my father says:

    As someone who agrees that this is a seriously complicated practice, I’m surprised (well, actually not really) that you would make this generalization. I understand that from your perspective this is what you believe, but it’s not that simple.

  23. oliviasview says:

    Of course I accept that this is not how it is for everyone, but I wonder if you and Marilynn can accept that it really is this simple for others.

  24. My parent's donor is my father says:

    There are so many moral ethical intergenerational social health and psychological factors involved that I can only concede that it is not that simple. But I wish everyone the best.

  25. polly says:

    Having just read the above conversation; I can only say that I have little doubt that being created through DC is (like adoption) a lifelong process for the DC person. Where one’s feelings are (about being DC) at the age of 20 may be VERY different from feelings that are expressed and understood later in life. As an older adopted person (who has cofacilitated a support group for adult adopted persons for three decades), I know that many adoptees find it impossible to address their authentic feelings about their adoptive status, until they are no longer obligated to ‘protect’ the feelings of their parents (ie. birth and adoptive). For myself, it is been late in my life (b.1945) that I feel free to ‘own’ my true feelings concerning the disconnection from my families of origin; my relationship with my adoptive family…and the impact this has had on me throughout my lifetime. It’s not self-indulgent; it’s simply leading an authentic life.

  26. m says:

    Polly, You are so right. The families I’ve reunited exhibit the traits you described. I’ve come to realize that the injustice for donor offspring has nothing at all to do with their conceptions or ART. The injustice is in the laws that exempted their parents from following the same rules that everyone else has to follow when it comes to being accountable to and for their own offspring. The injustice is not in the way they are created its in the way that they are abandoned and adopted by others under the table and off the record so that there is no record of who they really are – they are born into their adoptive families so that they can be named on their birth records as parents and appear to the world to be the original parents of another person’s child. It is the apex of black market adoption. It is black market adoption refined and perfected into an ART so sophisticated that even they find it hard to articulate their losses. The civil rights violations that adopted people are made to endure to this day are very hard to top but there is at least lip service given to a desire to ensure the biological parent has given consent and that they were not compensated for relinquishing their child. There is some attempt to make sure that the adopting party did not encourage the parent to relinquish. It’s failing and falling apart rapidly but the gesture is there where it is completely absent for donor offspring. Why bother with court approved adoption for anyone if private contracts for custody and control of people are perfectly acceptable for donor offspring?

  27. oliviasview says:

    Once again I leave this comment in just to show that such views are out there, not because I accept a word of it.

  28. Kriss Fearon says:

    What’s interesting about this is the gradual acknowledgement over time, in society as a whole (or perhaps just our little part of it) that this whole process has a lasting impact on all involved. For the dc parents who have to support their children with this throughout their life, not just put infertility in a box after the birth. For dc people, obviously, But because this is my specific area of knowledge and interest, I’m thinking particularly of donors, who once were expected to donate and forget (but who rarely do forget) and treated as if they have an unhealthy interest if they don’t. Now, especially since donors became identifiable, it’s accepted as a decision with lifelong consequences that donors could be dealing with decades later even if contact never happens. That this has an impact on donors’ partners and children. Or, perhaps, there is an identity change from donor to biological father/mother, as people’s perspectives about parenthood change through their life. Not as major as the identity issues that adoptive and dc people are faced with but potentially significant nonetheless.

    I like this, though. Like many of life’s really important matters, it is something that you carry with you that is on your mind more or less often depending on what else is going on. Something you can pick up and carry on dealing with like knitting a half-finished scarf. It’s not going anywhere! And I think that’s healthy, to be able to come back to things later, perhaps with a different perspective.

  29. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Thank you for sharing those thoughts Kriss. Very thoughtful and insightful. As I’ve said, this is all very complicated and not that simple. It is very healthy to acknowledge this in an honest way.

  30. marilynn says:

    Kris I think the experience of all parents counts whether they raise their children or not. I think it’s good that more openness has former donors realizing that the term donor describes something they did prior to becoming biological parents, something prior to the birth of their offspring. No they were not a parent in any sense of the word to an egg, but neither is any woman a parent to her eggs. Donors are human and people want to forget that time passes for them the same as any other person and they become biological parents to their offspring when they are born whether or not they are present for the event. Having siblings is a great thing a positive thing because they can learn from one another and they have advantages over single children in all kinds of ways not the least of which we know our siblings longer than any other person we ever encounter generally. They are the relationships that sustain family and provide support in our older years. A person who was a donor and who is a biological parent should find joy in the existence of each child and make a point of figuring out a way to make those they did not raise feel equally important to any they did raise. I always hope that parents won’t put their relationship with a spouse before their kids. Mostly they don’t. If a spouse walks out because they find out you adopted a kid out in whatever fashion, they are not very loving.

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