‘Finding our Families’

My experience of Americans is that they can be gushingly naive and sentimental (see some of the self-published books for children conceived by egg donation) or refreshingly wise and direct.  I am delighted to say that the new book from the Donor Sibling Registry  ‘Finding Our Families’ (of which I am privileged to have an advance copy) is definitely in the latter camp.  This book, to be published at the beginning of December, is aimed at all members of the donor conception triangle with a slight bias towards parents as gatekeepers of much of the information to which their children are entitled.  Whilst it will be of enormous value to all family types, the very many helpful examples and quotes reflect the DSR membership of 50 per cent solo mums, 33 per cent LGBT families and 17 per cent heterosexual couples.

DC Network does not pull any punches when talking with potential and actual parents about the challenges of donor conception parenting but this book is blisteringly direct about the importance of ‘telling’, whilst at the same time recognising how very difficult many parents find starting the story.  As the book says, “Anyone who chooses donor conception has already chosen an unconventional path and therefore, is, one hopes, strong enough to face its unconventional rewards and challenges.”  Unfortunately this is often not true, with many people simply focusing on ‘having a baby’ – using, rather than choosing, donor conception as a means to an end, thereby choosing to ignore the perspective of the person being created or telling themselves that ‘love will be enough’.  In a straightforward yet supportive way Wendy Kramer and Naomi Cahn  address  the most common reasons why parents say they won’t be telling or want to delay telling until later.  Through real-life examples and quotes from parents and offspring, mums and dads are strongly encouraged to deal with their own feelings elsewhere and focus on the needs of their children and the well-being of the whole family. And that means telling early.

Having dealt with the issue of ‘telling’, including ‘how to’ at different ages, and a very good section on terminology, the rest of the book is devoted to questions around searching for and finding half-siblings and donors.   As someone who around thirty years ago used two anonymous donors, about whom we have no information whatsoever, to create our family, I found strange the assumption in this book that making connections with others who are genetically related to our (adult) children could add to the richness of our family life. But as I thought more about it the prospect became oddly attractive.  My family is close but small and we rarely see Walter’s family now that his parents are dead.  It could really be fun to have these other people around who have a genetic link to our children but who were not included in their upbringing.  Of course, if connections are made early enough then this participation might occur.  At this point in our life neither Walter nor I would feel threatened by the appearance of a donor or half-sibs, although I can imagine that earlier on we might have done.  ‘Zannah would certainly welcome it.  Will probably wouldn’t.  All these questions and many, many more are raised.  As it says, “be prepared to have multiple, potentially ambivalent feelings about the different levels of connecting’.  And it is just these feelings that are explored, sensitively, from the perspective of the parent, the offspring and to a lesser extent the donor.  A focus on the positive is encouraged, whilst taking it all very slowly and respectfully (and having expectations of the person being contacted also taking their time) is recommended.

Extraordinarily, I had only just read the chapter on how to approach a donor – particularly when he or she has not registered their interest in contact on the DSR – when I received a Facebook message from a donor conceived adult who is very, very close to finding her donor via one of the family finding DNA websites.  It is very exciting and scary for her but I was pleased to be able to share some of the wisdom and experience from this wonderful book.

Whilst much of this book was very familiar territory to me, I found myself being taken forward in my thinking by the approach to talking with children about half-siblings from a young age and the encouragement of  a perspective that includes the donor (or whatever each person decides to call this person), members of the donor’s family and half-sibs in talking about the extended kinship group, even if connections are never actually made.    Ryan Kramer’s story of finding his donor but actually becoming closer to his parents (Ryan’s bio grandparents) than the donor himself is very heartwarming.  It made me feel that there is everything to gain and little to be afraid of in reaching out as long as respect for the others involved and the boundaries they choose to set is kept at the heart of it all.  Thank-you Wendy and Naomi.

Finding our Families can be pre-ordered on Amazon and probably other sites as well.

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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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7 Responses to ‘Finding our Families’

  1. Tracey Siansbury says:

    It’s great that you can pre-order on Amazon UK as well as Amazon.com!

    Thanks for sharing Olivia I cannot wait to read it.

    Tracey

  2. marilynn says:

    Olivia I could hug the stuffing out of you!!!!!!!!! I am so happy to read that the book got you to think about how great it would be to have their relatives included in their lives earlier and how it does not need to be thought of as a threat. No more threatening than relatives in general.

    When I first commented on your blog I was asking what you tell people to say after they say “your donor conceived”, like what does it really mean. I was asking if you tell people to explain that they are not related to the father that they know or his relatives but that they have a biological father and a whole host of paternal relatives out there and very likely siblings in addition to cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles. Even if you are not raised to think of them as family these are technical family members and not people the person should date at least and for medical reasons. I asked how people telling someone they ware donor offspring deal with the conversation about all their relatives and you said you though telling them they had relatives other than those they are being raised with was a horrible idea especially considering they don’t know them and can’t see them and you thought it would be horrible to tell someone they had aunts and uncles and grandparents because you thought they would want to see them ant it would create problems.

    I thought that was sad. I am so glad Wendy’s book made you think about their relatives in a human light. I admire you for not being so stuck in your ways that you could not be open to new ideas. It’s rare for people in powerful positions to change their opinion or grow their opinion.

    You love your kids so much wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world was filled with even more that were similar to them? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if more people had your kids compassion or senses of humor?

    Really nice post and good book review. In reuniting separated families people often find that their parents turn out to be shmucks but not the grandparents or aunts or uncles or sometimes not their siblings who agree that dad or mom was a jerk. It’s not always the parent that does the bonding or even looking. If I found out my brother was a sperm donor II’d be beside myself looking for nieces and nephews my daughters full first cousins! You kidding? You’d be surprised how families of donors feel.more warmly than you’d expect.

    • oliviasview says:

      I thought you might be pleased Marilynn. However, I still do not believe that donors are ‘parents’ in anything other than a strictly genetic sense. And as for telling a child that they are not related to their father/mother but are related to loads of people connected to the donor, how damaging or crass would that be? I have simply acknowledged the potential for donors and their relatives to be included in talk to children about extended kinship networks as a way of recognising donors as real people and introducing the idea that connection with these people MAY add to the richness of family life. On the principle of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ it is also true that children benefit from having many people who love and care for them. But (in the western world) it is undoubtedly threatening to parents (those who are raising a child) to suggest that the donor is a parent who should be taking an equal part in child raising. There are few donors who would want this anyway. If you are genuinely wanting the best for donor conceived children, rather than trying to undermine donor conception as a method of family creation per se, I would suggest you stop trying to insist that donors are parents and instead support (raising) parents in viewing donors as human beings who have something special to contribute but do not pose a threat to the integrity of the existing family. In this way children could then make up their own minds over their growing-up years what level of contact/relationship they wanted with their donor and his or her relatives, whilst at the same time remaining very clear about just who their parent or parents are.

      • marilynn says:

        I still just adore you for expanding your worldview. You are the only one really writing guidelines teaching people how to “tell” and “telling” means they have relatives who are not currently in their daily lives. It is the next logical step in the conversation and sadly those conversations are going to happen outside the home and away from whoever did the telling unless they lead the conversation in a way that acknowledges those relatives as being special to whoever is doing the telling because anyone slightly similar to the wonderful child they’re raising must be fantastic too. Something like that I don’t know, you are the psychologist, you’ll think of some way to spin it.

        I never said they should do the raising necessarily Olivia. Not everyone is cut out to raise their own offspring. The job is frequently done far better by an unrelated individual. My point has only ever been that that that if they are not officially recognized as parents of their own offspring first all the mechanisms we have for keeping track of who is related to who fail and individuals, families and public health winds up with a mess on its hands.

        I love love love that a leader in telling like you has the feeling it might be nice to know other individuals related to the kids you love so much. Yay! You have done such a good job in changing the world Olivia, you really have. I know you have not believed me that donor offspring told early raised lovingly by social parents might be expressing thoughts about it being unfair that they don’t have access to their relatives throughout their lives to others, but if the conversation about their relatives is not happening at home it’s worth entertaining the idea that it might be happening with others. I think very few activist’s rearing families even know they blog on the topic, same with people who are adopted and it’s all supposed to be out in the open at home.

        Although it can be said that people generally don’t tell their family everything they do. There’s that too.

  3. marilynn says:

    Everyone has the right to access the vital records of relatives by blood, or marriage but there are sometimes things that stand in the way of that and in the case of many people it is that their original records are incomplete and or inaccurate for the names of their biological parents. If your bio father is named on the certificates of all their children as people are normally required to be then you or anyone of his children can request those vital records and thereby obtain identifying them and information about who their other parent is. Imagine how helpful this would be to donor offspring who have literally hundreds of siblings all over the world! The DSR does not guarantee that you will find even a fraction of the siblings they actually have. Requiring Dononrs to be held to the same standards in terms of being recorded as a parent on the birth record would mean that their offspring’s rights to information were no longer being inhibited and the donor’s relatives rights to information would no longer be inhibited. Donor offspring would be able to exercise their rights finally and know exactly how many siblings they have and what their names are. They would have equal rights finally in that regard to everyone else.

    You were saying that maybe it would be better to know their relatives early on and your correct. Can you see how it would be beneficial to treat donors like any other person who reproduced so that they would be accountable for all their own offspring and their children could find one another the way normal people can?

    What’s the difference between willing to be known at 18 and willing to be known now? If they are willing to be known then lets get started right off the bat his relatives and his offspring have equal rights to one anothers vital records. There is no reason not to it could only benefit them socially and benefit their health. There is a reason why it works for the rest of the population to record the identity of the people who reproduce

  4. marilynn says:

    They should not worry if someone has not registered on the DSR and also don’t worry about the fact that they might not want their lives disrupted. I’d say if you have the contact info for their other children (your siblings) or your aunts uncles or grandparents, contact them first and then contact the absent parent telling them you already spoke with your aunt or your siblings so that the jig is up, there is nothing to hide. I always like saying “your sister was so sweet she said the more the merrier and it made a world of difference to my friend to be treated so warmly by her aunt but she’s still scared to contact you so I’m doing it for her. I said you’d be just as nice as your sister it probably runs in the family.”

    Here’s the thing about waiting for contact that is mutually desired; one person does not get to be the gatekeeper of information for an entire family. They may not want to talk to their child but it does not mean nobody else in the family won’t want to and it certainly is not up to them to conceal the fact that they have a cousin or a grandchild or a nephew. They need that information and they can do whatever they want with it but they certainly should be told. If you have their contact info and you don’t reach out and let them know you exist because your estranged parent is unresponsive or said not to tell them and your hoping that complying with the request will get you in their good graces – forget that. Your not anything to be ashamed of and you don’t want to conceal information from anyone the way information may have been concealed from you. In every case so far the parents have been very cool people but I always contact the other relatives first if I have the chance because they don’t need the option of trying to conceal. Yes it might upset them, but they don’t own their parent’s grand parenthood or their nephew’s cousinhood or their other daughter’s sisterhood. Its a control thing if they feel that way just because it’s their kid and they are the parent they should be able to control what their kids know and don’t know well, they did not act like a parent which is why they are in the kettle of fish they are in. Most people want to know if they have a sibling and most people won’t reject their sibling. Be delicate and sensitive to timing if they are married, if your birth was during their marriage, be gingerly about it but still do it. It’s a free country and nobody can sue you for introducing yourself. If telemarkers can call to sell timeshares in Mexico,you can call to say your somebody’s sister. Oh and offer to foot the bill for their ftdna membership. That is a charming way to ask for a test.

  5. Pingback: Mixed perspectives on being donor conceived | oliviasview

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