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.