Archie and Jemima’s family detective story

Time to lift the lid I think on DC Network’s current exciting writing project.  No, not another one of my booklets but an hilarious illustrated story book for donor conceived 8 to 12 year olds.  I am part of the advisory group for this project and as far as we know nothing exists for donor conceived children who have known about their beginnings since they were little but are wanting to explore and understand more about genetic and non-genetic connections and the meaning of family.  There used to be a wonderful American book called Let Me Explain by Jane Schnitter, but this went out of print many years ago now…possibly because at that time there were too few children of this sort of age who had been told about their donor conception.  It was also only suitable for a child born into a heterosexual couple family by sperm donation.  Today’s donor conceived children are to be found in increasingly diverse family situations and of many different donation types.

DC N has wanted to produce a book for this age group for years – there is certainly demand for it amongst the membership – but writing for children is not one of my skills and the task felt immense.  Funding from the Nuffield Foundation was a good starting point.  At least it would be possible to pay an author and illustrator.  DCN appealed to it’s very talented membership but in the end it was extended friendship connections through two of the people closest to the Network that brought forth the writer and illustrator who are now well on their way to producing what is hoped will be a hugely enjoyable but also thought provoking and informative book.

The style is that of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid for those of you familiar with the literature of this age group.  I wasn’t, but when I saw the books I could imagine how well they could be adapted for this subject matter.  This way of reaching the 8 – 12s was identified as appropriate by a focus group of children between these ages before the writer and illustrator were found.  Archie age 11 is the author of the diary. He records his thoughts on all sorts of daily happenings, including how his twin sister Jemima and he are being set the task of researching their family.  Archie is a chilled-out, low key kind of guy and is horrified at this class project but Jemima is a bit of a show off and is dying to let her teacher and all their friends know how interesting their family is.  Through their friendships with other children and their research for the project Archie and Jemima come across all sorts of interesting facts about genes and families and also other types of donor conception families.  The tone throughout is light and humorous and the illustrations, as in the Wimpy Kid stories, help with engagement of the reader and  also sometimes act as an explanatory tool.  Lightness of touch does not mean that potentially difficult topics will be avoided, but it does mean that they will be handled in a way that is supportive of a child who is wanting to explore more about what it means to be donor conceived and moving towards the years when they will have their own thoughts about it.

As the text and the illustrations slowly come together DCN has now found from within the membership a designer to help make everything look good on the page.  There is huge excitement that this long held dream is now really happening.  And as it will be home published and printed in Scotland, like all DCN publications, it is hoped that it will be available to buy not only via the DCN website but also from other on-line outlets by the summer.  Fingers crossed.  Watch this space and http://www.dcnetwork.org

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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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35 Responses to Archie and Jemima’s family detective story

  1. Silver says:

    Speaking as a DCN member living in Scotland, I’d love to see a bit more activity up here – anyone else out there?

  2. oliviasview says:

    I’m afraid it is just the design/printing of DCN materials that happens in Scotland, BUT I know that the office is determined to revive the Scottish member group this year. The last co-ordinators have stood down after many years of organising. We need new blood to help with new groups. Any chance you could help?

  3. Silver says:

    Funnily enough, have been discussing that with a couple of friends who I knew through an infertility support group who also went on to have donor babies – one heterosexual couple and one single mum, one went abroad and one went to the same Scottish clinic as me (I’m part of a heterosexual couple and we had egg donation through egg-share IVF). Both friends did double donation, so we have a fair spread of experience between us. Who would we get in touch with?

  4. oliviasview says:

    Hi Silver
    Please email Nina in the DCN office on enquiries@dcnetwork.org She will be delighted to hear from you.

  5. marilynn says:

    Olivia this is a most sincere question/thought/statement: Clearly you have led the campaign to at least tell people that they are the offspring of a donor. I think this is wonderful of course as people should not ever be under the impression that they are the biological offspring of a person when it is not the truth. I do think it is unfair that members of your group are in the position of telling the truth yet having it be in conflict with all of the person’s identifying paperwork because it just then looks like they are telling the truth but the government is lying about it, but that is a separate issue to be corrected. Supposing the paperwork is never corrected to match the truth as told by your members, still there is that next challenge of telling them whose offspring they are then, if not the offspring of the people raising them. It is sort of the next conversation to follow in logical progression. If your membership follows your instructions and is comfortable and confident and truthful then the child they are raising will be comfortable and secure in the family raising them so then what guidelines are people to use when dealing with the child’s feelings about the family that is absent from their lives?

    Is the goal of DCN to just focus on the first hurdle of getting people to at least tell that first half of the truth because it is the most difficult one? Have you thought about writing guidelines for people about how to explain why it was decided that they’d not be able to have contact with their maternal or paternal relatives for 18 years? You know trying to explain why it is better for them not to know them for such a large period of time when other people don’t have to wait at all? I know that you say that people should just tell kids that they are there for them if they have any questions and will be supportive of their emotions, but your terribly specific when it comes to how people should approach the first half of the conversation and then are real vague when it comes to how to go beyond telling them who they are not related to, move forward into telling them who they are related to and telling them why they are absent etc. Is talking about the absent family ever going to be a topic the DCN helps people tackle? Certainly no organization is better suited toward the task of writing helpful guidelines than the DCN.

    • gsmwc02 says:

      They are related to their parents raising them regardless of whether there is a genetic connection. You can be related to people you don’t have a genetic connection to.

      Everyone processes things differently so I believe it’s impossible to have specific guidelines that are going to be different for each person.

      • marilynn says:

        Greg DCN has been diligent in trying to get people raising donor offspring to tell them that they are the offspring of a donor. It’s important to tell obviously because their records indicate that they are the bio offspring of other people; unless the people raising them tell them, they’ll never know. They have written extensively on telling them who they are not related to what they have not touched upon is writing about who they are related to. It is part of telling the whole truth. By related of course I mean in the medical sense, in the vital record keeping kind of sense, in the sense that there are some people we might choose not to french kiss if we knew we had the same grandmother for instance. Related like that.

        I can’t imagine any organization in a better position to write a script guiding people on how to deal with the questions or emotions that come up about the family that is absent. The family that is present has that on their side and the kid is apt to feel secure and happy with them but confused about who half their family is and where they are and why they are not allowed their identities and contact with them.

        Greg I hope you will note that I did not say they’d be miserable. If you are not related to one of the people raising you as their offspring that can be fine and no big deal. But if the people raising the kid don’t deal with the other logical questions that follow like “if you are not my bio father then who is? “Why does one bio parent care while the other does not?” Then they’ll go figure out their own answers to those questions and the people raising them might not like the conclusions they end up drawing. I was just wondering if they ever plan on addressing the second half of the conversation which is how the minor will process the loss of half their relatives at least temporarily until they turn 18. How will the minor process the reality that it is unlikely they’ll ever know who all of their siblings are or how many their are of them even if they do find their absent bio parent and meet his immediate relatives when they turn 18.

        Maybe the better question is how would the people doing the child raising like the person they are raising to process the loss and separation from the biological family? They will have separate feelings about the family raising them from the family they lost.

  6. marilynn says:

    “They are related to their parents raising them regardless of whether there is a genetic connection. You can be related to people you don’t have a genetic connection to.”

    Yeah I know what you mean, but it does not really work that way in practical application. Here, I’ll give you an example:

    Have you ever wondered about the adoptive mother who did not raise you? Have you ever thought of trying to find out who she was and want to know why she did not choose you? Have you ever wanted to see a photograph her just so that you could marvel at the physical resemblance? Have you ever want to at least know who your adoptive mom’s other children and relatives are so you could exclude her relatives from your dating pool? Have you ever needed to let your adoptive mother know of a medical condition that you have so that she could have herself and other kids checked out?

    Like there is zero possibility that one day you’ll get a knock on your door from your long lost adoptive mother. A bio parent who does not choose to raise their kid is still related to their kid as a parent in the medical sense of the word. An adoptive parent who does not choose to raise someone else’s bio kid is not related socially or legally at all. A bio parent will go looking for their kid not knowing what that kid has been named or what type of person they’ve become because all that does not matter, they are looking for their kid. Their kid is their kid no matter what name they have what job they have, the kid is related to them. An adoptive parent who chose one infant over another has no cause to go looking for the child they did not choose to raise. They won’t look for them not knowing their name and the child not adopted won’t be at risk of dating anyone within the family of the person that did not adopt. They are not related in the sense that matters at least for record keeping and health.

    So yes of course there is a relationship there but it only exists because of the care giving performed whereas the other relationships exist in spite of the fact that no care giving was performed.

    • gsmwc02 says:

      This makes no sense. The only purpose I see in this post is to say that non biological relationships are not real or important. While that’s your opinion, I strongly disagree. Who cares how they are related the fact is they are related.

      • marilynn says:

        Greg I commented on the fact that DCN has guidelines for telling children they are unrelated to one or both people raising them but they don’t have guidelines about telling them who they are related to or why that half of their family is absent from their lives. I was saying that if the rearing family does not get the jump on talking about the family that is not present then the kid will find other means of satisfying that curiosity without including their rearing family. I do know lots of adopted people and offspring of donors and it is common for them to just not bother talking to their rearing families about the half of their family that is absent. This is chiefly because the people that raised them don’t view their relatives as family and don’t want them to either which puts their relatives and family members on a back burner ie a big part of who they are is something that nobody wants to talk about at home and would rather did not exist. I think it would be appropriate for DCN to have a step 2 but Olivia is saying those thoughts and feelings I mention just never come up. Maybe the script they have people use to tell works super well and eliminates curiosity or questions about why a bio parent would not want to raise them and would not want them to be part of their family.

        I was talking about their missing relatives and then you said the unrelated people are their relatives to and I was just trying to put it in perspective for you. I mean in the permanent kind of medical sense which is why people who never met and don’t know one another’s names still seek one another out because the kin relationship is there whether your raised together or not. If you are raised by a bio parent you never go in search of a person who did not adopt you because you are not related to them. If you are raised by an adoptive parent you might still go out and look for a bio parent or bio relatives because you are related to them even though they did not raise you. That is why adopted people will always say they have two families because you can’t replace the one with the other they are entirely different since it was granted in court rather than just being a fact that one is responsible for the other because one made the other.

  7. oliviasview says:

    Marilynn
    I was just about to respond to your first comment on this particular blog when the second one popped up as a response to Greg. The questions you raise are of interest to me, mostly because the circumstances of which you speak rarely arise. You say, “the kid is apt to feel secure and happy with them (the raising family) but confused about who half their family is and where they are and why they are not allowed their identities and contact with them.”
    Our experience at DC Network, and in my own family, is that children and young people are not confused about who half their family is, where they are and why they can’t contact them. As far as they are concerned the people raising them ARE their family, on both the genetic and the non-genetic side. They understand that there are people elsewhere who are genetically connected to them but do not consider them to be family because they don’t know them, ie. they don’t have relationships with them and they are not part of the family structure or history. IF children and young people were asking these questions – and believe me I would be entirely open to them doing so, as would most DCN members, – then DCN would be developing scripts and guidelines to help parents explain.
    You talk about loss and separation from the biological family and I agree these could definitely co-exist with strong feelings of love for the raising family, but, as I said, we are not hearing about this loss and, therefore, do not feel there is a need we have to meet. If it starts to arise, be sure that DCN will be there.

    • gsmwc02 says:

      Olivia,

      I would imagine it’s curiosity not confusion that those children face.

    • marilynn says:

      Well that’s really great Olivia. That you see that those are potentially the next questions. I was not assigning any particular feelings about the missing relatives other than it is reasonable to question why one bio parent would want to be present while the other would not. OK so what kinds of next questions are you getting? You get kids used to the idea that they are not the offspring of whoever is raising them and then are you saying that you have never had a kid inquire who they are related to and where those individuals are or ask why they are not allowed to know them? I think that in a nutshell is what your describing as curiosity about their biological heritage even if they don’t want to meet their bio parent, those would be all of the underlying questions, why is this happening to them but not others etc. I know a lot of donor offspring as well Olivia and it seems to me that if the conversation is not led by those raising them that the conversation is going to be had outside the home possibly on blogs that they don’t tell their rearing families about (that seems to be almost epidemic). Again I did not say anything about how they should feel about not being around their bio family just that obviously its going to be a curiosity to them that one bio parent opted to be absent while the other did not and that they are not allowed contact with their bio family.

      You don’t think that donor offspring group their mother and social father on their maternal side and then view their paternal family as being absent? There is no other way to slice the pie in a factual sense with out understanding of science. There are still only two bio parents one maternal one paternal and so the mother’s spouse their social father is not a paternal relative he’s on their mother’s side. So half is still of course missing, they do have real relatives to avoid dating.

      • gsmwc02 says:

        In terms of genetics this is simply not true because the mother is not biologically related to their dad. Their dad isn’t part of their genetic heritage but he is a part of their biographical heritage.

      • oliviasview says:

        I feel weary Marilynn. We go round and round on this one. You believe in genetics. I believe in relationships. It does not appear as if the twain will meet.

  8. oliviasview says:

    Yes Greg, curiosity not confusion. Quite different.

    • marilynn says:

      OK so lets say they are curious as to why one bio parent wanted to raise them while the other did not – how should someone raising donor offspring explain the reason why their other their other bio parent did not intend to be a parent? How witll they explain why he’d want to help someone have a family by letting them have one of his offspring to raise while he potentially kept others to raise? How do they pick which ones to give away and which to keep? Once the kid is born they have offspring that they are not raising and they knew that was the ultimate trajectory of their donation and they did sign an agreement to give up their offspring not just their sperm so the issue of their bio parent giving them up is quite tangeable since its written into the agreements they siign. It is something they could be curious about and I would be interested to see how that curiosity is responded to. My thinking is that they are not encouraged to ask about the missing family they are told they are not family and don’t count.

  9. oliviasview says:

    Marilynn….
    “they are curious as to why one bio parent wanted to raise them while the other did not” I have never heard or heard of any early-told DC adult thinking this way. If raised in a heterosexual couple family why would they be looking for another parent anyway? Curious about the person, YES, curious about why they didn’t want to raise them, NO.

    “How will they explain why he’d want to help someone have a family by letting them have one of his offspring to raise while he potentially kept others to raise? How do they pick which ones to give away and which to keep?” To my mind this is a weird and twisted question. Donors do not consider the children conceived into other people’s families as ‘their own’. Their own children are the ones they have with a person they have a relationship with.
    In my, now long, experience, DC children and young people do not ask these questions. No, they are not encouraged to ask about the ‘missing family’ because virtually no-one thinks of the donor and their relatives that way. But the children and young people in DCN are not blocked or discouraged from asking about genetic connectedness to others either. If these thoughts or feelings come up then parents are encouraged to listen and respond supportively. If a child/young person wants to search, parents will mostly help with this.
    Children in solo mum families sometimes go through a period where they wish they had a father and fantasise about the donor filling this role, but I have never heard of them wondering why he didn’t want to raise them.
    UK parents by donor conception are becoming much more open to hearing their children’s feelings, whatever they are, about being donor conceived. It is possible that in the near future we will start to hear these questions being raised but for the time being I can only say that they are not.

    • gsmwc02 says:

      Olivia,

      I agree , I see those questions as highly unlikely. If the child was rejected by their non biological father they would experience justified resentment and anger from it. However, I don’t see them questioning why the donor who helped conceived them didn’t want to raise them. To me those questions come from a point of view whose objective is to distract the DC from their true hurt and get them angry at something that in reality doesn’t make sense.

      • marilynn says:

        K Greg but how should the conversation go when those questions come up for people who don’t meet your ideal situations? For those who don’t have a non-bio father figure? Or for those who have lousy non-bio father figures? Or for those who have the additional mother figure leaving them still with one disinterested bio parent? What about for those told late? How should the rearing party go forward with the conversation about the absence of their genetic kin and the reason for the absence?

        The reason why the other bio parent is absent is stated and considered by Olivia’s literature it’s not as if she does not recognize that the question begs an answer.

      • gsmwc02 says:

        Those conversations don’t occur in those who were told early and weren’t rejected by their non biological parent. The questions that come up that Olivia and her organization address have to do with curiosity not confusion. The questions about who the donor is come up not why he didn’t raise them.

        You know it’s funny, I recently connected with someone on twitter who is going through infertility that I found out today was donor conceived. She was told at a young age and was never rejected by her dad and you know what……..she has no issues. In her words “She has always felt complete”. I know everyone is different but it’s an example of how telling early and often along with no parent rejecting them works for the child.

  10. marilynn says:

    Thanks Olivia. You laid it out all real clearly. I appreciate that.

  11. marilynn says:

    “Their own children are the ones they have with a person they have a relationship with.”

    So does this mean that children are only valuable to their biological parents when they are romantically partnered with the other parent of their offspring? I’m just curious if as a society we decided that our offspring are unworthy of being raised if we are not in love or married to the other parent of our offspring. If that makes it easier to give a child up for adoption or allow other people to raise some of our offspring as part of agreements like gamete donor’s sign.

    So lots of unmarried women are having babies with men that anonymously donated sperm. They have one bio parent who wanted to raise them and one bio parent who did not want to raise them. Its exactly the same if the woman is married in a heterosexual relationship your just saying its less likely to be noticed, they are unlikely to ponder the difference in attitude their bio parents have. OK. But what should a woman that does not have that buffer say to her kid if they wondered why one wanted to raise them and the other did not? If a person’s children are only worth keeping when your in a relationship with the other parent, then why would their mother want to keep them if she does not love him but he would not want to keep them? Also if their mother wanted to keep them despite not being in a relationship with him, and he had kids with someone else how much devaluing of them is that all based on his love of the mother of the other kids. How would you make the kid feel their intrinsic worthiness was not tied to parents loving one another? See I think this is a big challenge cause this is the stuff I hear talked about.

    I appreciate that you answered the first questions. You mention early told donor offspring don’t have these thoughts. But you have pamphlets on late telling as well. If I know mostly the ones that found out in early to mid childhood or ones that found out in adulthood and these are things that get talked about but not with the people who raised them.it might be nice for your late tellers to have your guidance on the second half of the conversation that in many cases happens without them. You have such a following. Primary resource for info. Also its like an organization and not some fly-by-night author who wants to sell books. Your government looks to you guys. So that’s why I ask.

  12. oliviasview says:

    DCN has no evidence that children in solo mum families ask why their donor (bio-dad) did not want to raise them. They sometimes have quite complex feelings about not having a father but I have never heard them being expressed in this way. I talked to a boy of 11 tonight conceived by embryo donation to a solo mum. He was confident and articulate about his conception and the fact that there was no dad in his life. He is open at school about his situation and has not been teased or bullied. Of course any or all of these things may change as he gets older, but having a mum who is confident about the decisions she made, has been honest and is supportive and open to her son’s feelings, has given this boy a great start in life. Why would anyone want to talk with him about what he hasn’t got in life when there is clearly so much going right for him.

    • marilynn says:

      Then why do you tell people to say that the reason was he wanted to help them start a family?
      I’m just saying the answer is very vague not specific enough to not have there be a second half of the conversation

    • gsmwc02 says:

      “Why would anyone want to talk with him about what he hasn’t got in life when there is clearly so much going right for him.”

      Because some people want to see him hurt and become angry to support their cause. They hate it when someone disproves their theories based on people whose circumstances were much different.

      • marilynn says:

        Because they might ask Greg. Cause its a question that comes up its part of the broad statement “curious about their biology”

      • gsmwc02 says:

        And monkeys might fly, doesn’t mean it will actually happen. As long as you tell a child early and no non bio parent rejects them none of the issues you are hoping to happen will happen.

  13. marilynn says:

    Oh wait, OK I know what language Olivia needs used to understand my question. The second half of the conversation involves getting specific about why their absent bio parent donated. Does that make more sense? Donated does mean they agreed not to raise their offspring its in the agreements but how do you get specific about the reason they donated. and would you at all acknowledge the human being sitting in front of you that is that absent person’s bio child? Is the goal never to let the child know what the agreement says? What do you say when they find out on line what the content of those agreements is? I know the first time they read that THEY are addressed and that the donor agrees to give up their Parental roll to THEM their offspring, not just some sperm but THEM and the word parent and parental are used words like relinquish surrender and phrases like “don’t wish to be”. Various clinics have different forms it when they read that how do you keep them thinking all they let go was semen?

  14. oliviasview says:

    The reason the donor donated is to help another family have the child they longed for. I have no problem about DC adults/children seeing the clinic agreement. Why would that be a problem?

    • marilynn says:

      not so much a problem but the agreement does specifically discuss the donor’s offspring, not just his sperm or her eggs so the agreement kind of contradicts statements that the donor only donated sperm or eggs when the document they sign specifically talks about parental rights/obligations for the donor’s offspring being relinquished or abandoned or transferred upon the birth of each of their offspring born resulting from reproductive services they are performing under contract. So from the perspective of a donors offspring reading a standard form donor consent form, the document talks about them, his offspring and his agreement not to raise them or claim his parental title. Its more about them the person and his agreement not to be their rearing parent than it is about his sperm cells. If he had not agreed to let someone else raise his kids then they would not have wanted his sperm and that is more clear in the ontent of a donor agreement than it is in the DCN description of who he is and what he does. Their bio father is often depicted as only having given up sperm, not having given up them his offspring. I’ve had a few offline discussions with friends who are donor offspring that felt their rearing parents were not truthful when they told the truth because they failed to explain what he actually agreed to give up under contract which is his offspring, vs what their rearing parents told them he gave up in conversation, his sperm. Also in conflict would be the reason for donating as told being altruistic and the reason for donating as described in the agreement in exchange for valuable consideration or reimbursement for time and expenses and inconvenience with no mention of wanting to help others start a family.

      Agreements and consent forms obviously differ from clinic to clinic but all have at their heart an acknowledgement that they do not want to be the legal parent of their own offspring and agree not to perform their parental responsibilities or try to make contact etc. Many of the agreements say they acknowledge that its an untested area of the law and that they may possibly be held accountable as parents and in that event they promise to cooperate with the commissioning party who wants to raise their child and will consent to an adopting in court if required by law in order to make the terms of the agreement valid.

      Its just the document they sign talks about being willing to give up their parenthood of their born offspring, not just give up their sperm.

      • gsmwc02 says:

        “I’ve had a few offline discussions with friends who are donor offspring that felt their rearing parents were not truthful when they told the truth because they failed to explain what he actually agreed to give up under contract which is his offspring, vs what their rearing parents told them he gave up in conversation, his sperm.”

        I’m sure that not being told early/often and/or being rejected by their non biological parent has a big impact on their perspective.

  15. oliviasview says:

    Not a problem. The offspring I know do not regard the donor as a parent…even if they are from a single parent family.

  16. Olivia, this is very exciting news! I can’t wait to add Archie and Jemima to my site!! Can you tell us roughly how many pages the book will be?

    • oliviasview says:

      Hi Patricia
      It is exciting indeed. No, at the moment I can’t tell you how many pages the book will be, but certainly a good deal longer than the Our Story books.

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