I have just been sent a lovely photo of a young woman. She has been volunteering in the DC Network office for some weeks gaining work experience before going abroad for a year as part of her language degree at university. She is a donor conceived adult and is going to write about her time working in the office for the DCN Journal – hence the photo. Although she is very happy to talk about being donor conceived you won’t find her on the internet because she feels no need to post there. Very comfortable about her beginnings she is, as yet, uncurious about her donor or half-siblings. Although entitled to put her name on the HFEA’s Sibling Register in order to be in touch with others conceived from the same donor, she has yet to do this thinking she might once she has finished at uni. At the moment her life is too full of other interesting projects.
This particular young woman happens to be very beautiful, intelligent and talented but in her comfort about being donor conceived she is no different from many, many young people growing up in DC Network families. None of these people regard their donor as a parent. An important contributor to their genetic make-up, yes, but not a parent. The arguments put by some commentators to this blog about the importance of being brought up by both the people who contributed their gametes to their creation, would not be understood by this group. A parent is someone who cares for you, gets up at night to comfort and clean up sick, helps with homework and sets the boundaries for teenage adventures. A donor is someone who gives a precious gift to help create a life for those who need help in founding a family. The contribution he or she makes deserves acknowledgement and profound thanks, particularly if they have agreed to be identifiable to the donor conceived person from 18. Curiosity about the donor, in a greater or lesser degree, feels like a very understandable response to knowing that an unknown person’s genes have contributed to one’s make-up, but identity is made up of so much more than genetics. The young woman who worked in the DCN office was very clear who she is and who her parents are.
I completely accept that talking with anyone can only give a snapshot in time of how they are feeling. People evolve, grow and change and it may be that as this group of young adults think about making families themselves, the attitudes and feelings of some of them will move more towards wanting more information about their unknown progenitor. But I just can’t imagine them changing their minds about who their parents are. Surely parent/child relationships are based on emotional ties and shared experiences not genetics, or more viscerally, blood.
Is a donor a family member in any shape or form? Are his or her parents, children, aunts and uncles also relatives of a donor conceived person? Perhaps the answer is both yes and no. Yes, in that there will be genetic traits in common but no in that they are all strangers to each other with no shared history or experiences. To my mind family are people who share more than genes. These are intriguing questions that are coming to the fore with so many more donor conceived people knowing about their beginnings and donors beginning to become real people rather than shadowy background figures. I’m much looking forward to Ken Daniels thoughts on this topic when he speaks to DC Network’s Nottingham conference on 21st September. It will be an interesting and I suspect a rather controversial presentation.