Just what is the role of parents when it comes to connecting with half-siblings?

The question in the title of this blog has been rolling around in my head since I watched the second episode of Generation Cryo on Wednesday night.  I really don’t have any hard and fast answers to this but all I can say is that it felt very uncomfortable to watch 18 year old Jesse looking at the photo of himself with a group of half-siblings when he was 13 and talk about how his parents virtually forced him to meet them.  Jesse’s opposite sex couple parents talk openly about the donor, their interest him and how they’d like to meet him whilst Jesse squirms and says he’s not really sure he’s interested at all.  The dynamics in this obviously rather well off Boston based family are interesting.  Jesse’s younger sister Emily was conceived without donor help.  “I’m natural” she boasts but with all the talk about and focus on donor conception she is clearly the one who is jealous of her ‘special’ brother.  Jesse’s father is very clear that he loves both his children equally and he and his wife have gone out of their way not only to be open with Jesse but, as indicated previously, have engineered contact with some of the half-siblings and are 100 per cent behind any search for the donor.  What they don’t seem to have is respect for Jesse’s reticence about it all.  His mother speculates that this may be to do with Jesse wanting to protect his father and suggests that the two men have a heart to heart about this.  The conversation that then takes place on the golf driving range between father and son brought tears to my eyes.  Whilst this was a wonderful moment of bonding between the two it remained unclear to me whether or not protecting his dad had been behind Jesse’s lack of interest in his donor or not.  Could it be that he really is fine as he is and genuinely does not want to know more?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  In the meantime Bree expresses surprise that Jesse appears not to want to read the profile of the donor, but then (for the benefit of the camera??) he does so and as he does a change seems to come over him.  He connects with some of the description and as he says… ‘He just got real for me’.  From this point on he seems happier to help Bree in her search.

As I have only seen the film once and don’t seem to be able to watch it again (videos on the MTV site appear only to be viewable in N.America) I’m a bit confused as to the sequence of events, but at some point a plot is hatched between the half-sibs (and others including Hilit and Jonah are involved here) to go to the  sperm bank to see if they will pass on a message to the donor. The woman they speak to at California Cryobank appears happy to co-operate with this plan but we also learn that Julian, another half sib who is the child of a single mom, has already taken this step and the donor has apparently failed to reply.  Jonah, meanwhile, is reluctant to get involved in further attempts to contact the donor but finds it hard to explain to his sister why this is.

So we have the twins Jonah and Hilit and Jesse from heterosexual couple families who have various shades of reluctance about tracking down the donor and this despite differences in attitudes of their parents… Jesse’s being super supportive to the point of being pushy and the twins having a dad who does not see the donor as being part of the picture of what his family looks like. Whilst Bree, daughter of a lesbian couple and single mom Janis, mother to (another) Jesse and twin Jayme are keen to get on with the quest, as is Julian, son of another single mom.  There really do seem to be significant differences here.  And it’s not just lesbian and single moms and their children on one side and heterosexual couple and their kids on the other.  It also has something to do with sons of infertile men.  Jesse’s dad of course was clearly only sub-fertile as he went on to have Emily without donor help and I can’t help wondering if this later evidence of his fertility is a factor in his relaxed attitude to Jesse finding his donor.  Although this may not be so at all.  I know a number of dads by DI, including Walter, who have no problem at all in acknowledging their infertility and need for help in creating a family.

But the central question is, just what role should parents play in making genetic connections for their children?  In the UK, where connecting is difficult because of the lack of donor identifying numbers, single women are by far the biggest group of donor conception parents who are looking to find half-siblings.  Some have deliberately chosen to import sperm from US cryobanks where it is possible to get a donor number so that they can link up with half-sibs via the Donor Sibling Registry.  Some are doing this whilst their children are very young so it is impossible for the children to give properly informed consent prior to contact being made and relationships developing.  Does this matter?  It’s not something I feel clear about at all, but I know some people feel quite strongly that moves to make half-sib links should only come from the children/young people themselves as they grow old enough to understand the meaning of the genetic connection.  Will Jesse feel pleased in the future that his parents insisted on him meeting his half-sibs in early teenage years?  Just what are the obviously complicated things going on in heterosexual couple families where children feel so ambivalent about their donor, even if half-sibs are a welcome extension of family?  Are children’s rights being supported or denied by parents making links to other families genetically linked to their donor whilst the children are young

I’d love to discuss these issues, but please folks can we stick to the topic?

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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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66 Responses to Just what is the role of parents when it comes to connecting with half-siblings?

  1. Jesse’s family was the one I’ve been speaking of all this time. I won’t get too much into it but the father seemed distant from Jesse and his demeanor turned me off.

    As for the role? I personally feel that parents should be able to make contact with sibling families at any point in the game. Children should not be forced to connect but it is my humble opinion that the decision “isn’t all about the children.” What I mean is, everyone (parents, donors, etc) is disconnected and it isn’t only the children that have desires to connect. This is evident from the fact that a couple of the bio moms were curious about the donors. Right now, I’m in contact with most of the sibling parents and will continue our relationship even if my children aren’t interested. They will never have to come to any get togethers we might have, internet chats, phone convos, etc. But it’s not only about them and their desires. I want to connect. So as harsh as it may sound, it really doesn’t matter if we connect earlier than the children being able to consent.

    • marilynn says:

      Here Lorraine I agree with you entirely and you are doing the right thing keeping in contact with people raising your kid’s siblings. It’s the smart thing to do. It’s the appropriate thing to do. If you think about it your children are part of a large family they have lots of siblings. What would you do if you were raising all those kids yourself? Would you send them all to different doctors? Different schools? Different Dentists? No because there are advantages to having them all taken care of by the same doctors and teachers and dentists – they can see patterns they can catch problems before they impact any additional kids. When people divorce or are not married most people do have at least a remedial knowledge of the health and behavior and learning issues of their kid’s half siblings because it’s just stupid not to keep up on that stuff. There are advantages to being part of a sibling group that last a lifetime. Not just medically but socially and economically as well. You can get discounts on child care and school tuition and clothing and all sorts of stuff – heck they can attend better schools get preference if a sibling attended that sort of thing. There are hand-me-downs from cool older siblings and just no end to the advantages all the siblings will get if their parents make an effort to get in touch and stay in touch with one another and act like they are all one big family because they are. I commend you for this position you’ve taken and hope that you will get your kids together to hang out even if they don’t feel like it because what other kids have the option of knowing their siblings.

      • I think that more than likely they’ll be eager to connect with siblings so I’m not worried about it. I think that donor siblings draw strength from each other so I only see a benefit.

        • marilynn says:

          That’s great. It’s also just a smart move for you raising them to keep in touch with whoever is raising their siblings. Good things come from staying in touch and communicating with people. You should be fully informed on their health and development. You should care very much how they are doing in life. Glad you do.

  2. Liz says:

    Lorraine,

    I didn’t see Jesse’s dad as distant, but more “WASPy” in his social style. His introverted emotional style struck me as a classic contrast with Eric’s expressive style of interacting with family. Eric can cry, but Jesse’s dad doesn’t seem to interact in that sort of expressive style. My dad was more like Eric, so I relate to that emotive style. But I have good friends who are more, well, unexpressive, and it’s not that they don’t feel, it’s that they aren’t able to facially express their emotion with the same emphasis. Eric is easy to read; Jesse’s dad takes more work. These type of introverts are like quiet cats — you have to read them carefully.

    I’ve noticed that some people react badly to Eric’s expressive emotions. I wonder if their male role models were more similar to Jesse. People who are used to an emotionally contained style can be disturbed by expressive people.

    “But the central question is, just what role should parents play in making genetic connections for their children?”

    I think 13 is an age where parents need to listen to their children, and respect the comfort level of their child. But, I don’t see any problem with introducing children at very young ages, particularly if parents are friendly with each other. I know two infants half-siblings, both conceived via donor egg, who are already “acquainted,” because the parents are friends.

    Jesse’s dad is the one who registered Jesse on DSR. It did not sound like he consulted Jesse about it, and it sounded as if Jesse was old enough to be consulted. I think Jesse’s dad wanted to do the right thing, but both he and his mother were a little over-anxious, and, I think, acted out of that anxiety. They meant well, but Jesse didn’t feel heard about his feelings when he was 13. He basically told his mother he wasn’t happy at that meet-up, and he appeared to be hurt that she wasn’t listening to him. It’s unfortunate that his parents weren’t processing Jesse’s feelings. I think they couldn’t see his feelings, because their own anxiety about what “ought to happen” and what is “good for Jesse” got in the way of reading the situation as it unfolded.

    Jesse seemed ready to meet Bree, and his other half-siblings, as a young adult. Jesse and Bree’s relationship was not mediated by his parents, which may have worked well for Jesse. Bree and Jesse spent time alone on the hike, and met another half sibling at the coffee shop. He seemed to enjoy his time with Bree, and really opened up to her.

    • Lorraine Nowlin says:

      I wonder if Jesse took his father’s encouragement to connect with siblings as some sort of “pushing him away” now that he has a biological child while the parents motive was validating his feelings in the only way they knew how.

      • Liz says:

        Yes, I think he very well may have felt pushed away. And pre-teens (and teenagers) don’t like to feel “different” and non-normative. And his sister wasn’t donor conceived. He may have felt singled out as the “different” kid with xyz baggage.

        And I think he saw these relationships as something that was another task when he was a pre-teen. I think he said something to the effect of “why do I have to worry about these other people, I have a family.”

        This is a bad analogy, but it reminded me of a kid having to send thank-you notes to grandma, or talking on the phone to cousins on the holidays. “Why are you making me do this…”.

    • oliviasview says:

      That’s an interesting thought Lorraine.

      To Liz; I agree with your analysis, both about Jesse’s dad’s style (it feels very familiar to me) and about his parent’s anxiety to ‘do the right thing’ masking their ability to tune in to what Jesse was actually feeling. And yes, time spent with Bree did seem to free Jesse up a bit. Fascinating.

      • Bothways says:

        I watched the second episode last night on sky and am looking forward to tonight’s episode. For me it was riveting although at times quite uncomfortable viewing. I agree with the comment that Jonah’s parents (and above all his mother) in their attempt to do the right thing/give him more info about his origins appear to have pushed him into some forms of contact with his half siblings without regard to his thoughts and desires (and his mother seems to repeatedly push him into talking about the donor topic when he is clearly reluctant and semi-berates him for talking about it less than his non-DC sister). I agree with Olivia that his more relaxed relationship with Bree seems (in part) to come as it is a relationship developed separately from his parents. Some of this could just be the result of normal teenage/parent relations where everything mum says is perceived as nagging and teenagers just resort to grunting. Nonetheless I was uncomfortable with the mother’s tone.
        I didn’t think Jessie’s father came over as emotionally distant, just slightly stilted for the cameras.

        Another point that made me uncomfortable was Hilit’s reaction to the other half- sibs sending an email to someone they thought might be the donor. She was clearly upset and felt that she and Jonah should leave the vicinity, shouldn’t even be nearby when the email is sent. Whilst I understand and fully respect that many if not most dc young people will have no interest in the donor, the fear of even being nearby when the email is sent (nobody is going to force any reply or info on them) showed the extent to which Eric’s unresolved grief re his lack of fertility is impacting upon his kids. Hilit even reminds Jonah that he should remember that they have a father.

        I loved the half sibs reactions to each other (Bree and Jonah and Bree and Jesse particularly stand out). This stage of life seems like a great time for half sibs to meet. Old enough to understand the implications and to feel ownership for the relationships (setting up the meet etc) but young enough to be open and easy to new relationships and people from different environments.

        • oliviasview says:

          Thank you for joining the conversation Bothways. Good to have a new voice as well as to hear from regular commentators.

        • Lorraine Nowlin says:

          Agreed…at least for Hillit, it seemed as though she was worried about her dad’s feelings rather than not having an interest.

        • marilynn says:

          I keep returning to the idea of why anyone would ever want to separate siblings to begin with. I think maybe if people are going to continue mating with anonymous persons who won’t take responsibility for their kids – maybe if its going on through doctors and whatnot a requirement ought to be that everyone raising the anonymous people’s offspring have to be in contact with one another so the kids know how many siblings they have and who they are and the people raising them should have to treat them all as if they are part of a group of siblings cause its the truth. All this talk of what seems like a good time for siblings to meet is so silly they should not have to meet they should just grow up around one another or at least in frequent contact. Why wait. What is the benefit of raising siblings apart anyway? I don’t see what there is to be gained for them by not having them grow up knowing one another. Do you?

          • gsmwc02 says:

            This has nothing to do with this piece. Please don’t ruin another discussion thread like you did with the last one.

            • marilynn says:

              I am speaking directly to the issue of this post. It’s about whether people have a responsibility to orchestrate contact with the siblings of the children they are raising and obviously the answer is yes unless there is evidence that the siblings are dangerous to the kid in some way. This really is not something that people raising donor offspring have as their problem to deal with exclusively. This is something that comes whenever a parents are not a couple raising kids under the same roof.

              Ya’ll clearly think contact is generally a good thing, and it’s clear that the people raising Jesse think it’s a good thing. I’m stepping back from the whole thing and asking why is it that Jesse and his siblings and donor offspring in general are put in this perdicament to begin with. Why are Jesse and his siblings even in a situation where a meeting is being orchestrated when he’s 13 years old? What is the point of having separated these kids or any kids from their siblings to begin with? I think it is absolutely appropriate to ask this question here in this forum.

              It really makes no sense that you or Liz or Olivia would say that I go off topic when you are do just that as often or more often than I do and you say it even when I’m totally on topic. I’m asking why they have to deal with reunification at all, why not just know one another the whole time they are growing up why are they being separated at all.

              Off topic but relevant nonetheless Alana just wrote me and told me that I’m being interviewed by a reporter for a UK paper called the Guardian so maybe what I have to say does make sense to people or at least prompts them to think critically about why it’s OK to have different rules and different rights for the children of gamete donors than they are for everyone else. Maybe it’s totally spot on to be asking why it was OK to subject these siblings to a situation where they would not be in contact with one another all their lives the way other people whose parents are separated are in contact even though they are not raised under the same roof.

              The Guardian in San Francisco is just a free little give away paper but it’s still a real paper that people read because the content is relevant to what’s going on in the world. I’m not off topic. It’s off topic to waste time criticizing the way I write. Everyone knows I’m uneducated and talk way too much. But I’m saying something important – people need to know something really unfair is happening or they won’t know to change things to treat them fairly.

          • oliviasview says:

            Once again Marilynn, this post (23.4.14 at 9.46pm) convinces me that we live in parallel universes.

    • marilynn says:

      OK if you feel that his feelings about meeting his biological relatives ought to be respected by those raising him, how do you feel about them respecting his feelings about meeting the non biological relatives of those raising him or the biological relatives of those raising him? Should he have been left home on Christmas if everyone was headed over to the mother of his step father or mother of his mother’s house? If he just did not feel like going to their family functions could he just opt out at any age? Granted by the teenage years yes, its sometimes impossible not to give in and leave them home but what about in earlier years?

      People should apply the same rules to the kids relatives as they do to their own relatives. How much choice are they giving the kid in other areas of their life? Can they opt out of going to school? Opt out of doing their homework? Opt out of family dinners or family vacations? The important thing to remember is put the kids relatives on the front burner and give those relatives equal importance as any relatives in our own families that we might have a preference towards. Don’t leave it up to the kid. Then when they grow up they can opt to continue contact or not. If you leave it to the kid to opt to initiate contact, they’re kids it probably won’t happen and then they’ll blame themselves for never having initiated contact when they were younger. Their parents will play it off like they were just respecting the kid’s feelings when really it was just easier for them because it was less work. So they should use their own relatives and contact with their kid as a guiding principal of equality.

      • Liz says:

        I think Jesse needed to feel heard. His mother didn’t have to agree with him. But it would have made him feel better if she had recognized, and understood, that he was upset at that get together as a pre-teen. Because she didn’t see it, Jesse felt alienated. He didn’t feel understood.

        Kids need to feel heard, because that makes them feel seen and loved. That doesn’t mean that the kid gets to do whatever they want to do. If the child wants to only eat ice cream…that doesn’t mean that the child gets to just eat ice cream. But let’s, say, broccoli makes a kid want to throw up. But it’s important to listen, and hear why the kid is having a reaction to food. Shutting down conversation and imposing one own’s point of view doesn’t make a child feel respected.

        Personally, I would respect a 13 year-olds wishes in many different arenas, including education. But I came out of an environment where critical thinking was encouraged at a young age, and we were allowed to make important decisions fairly early on. Kids are underestimated, and they often rise to expectations.

        I think it’s fine to tell a child that he/she needs to be respectful towards family members. I think it’s good for a kid to write thank-you notes and learn how to be polite in social situations.

        But I’d never tell someone how to feel about someone else — even if they are a grandfather, or sibling, or another close relative. That’s a boundary for me.

        • marilynn says:

          Sure. I agree with you here Liz. I think you are being logical. There is a happy medium where you can listen to how a kid or teenager is feeling but still let them know certain things have to get done and that’s just how it’s going to have to be until they are out of the house. What to wear? Some serious leeway there unless they are looking like a streetwalker or unless they are going to get frost bite in flip flops in the snow or something. You pretty much take them with you to Grandmas house or your friends and relatives houses unless you want to pay for a baby sitter to stay home with them and that generally is not a luxury people allow the kid’s they are raising to have. Yeah at 16 I did get left home on various family outings because I was being surly and unsociable. My parents indulged my feelings. I think I probably missed out in retrospect but once a person is in their late teens its kind of close to game over. 13 they still kind of have to go with the family when the family goes. But generally I agree with your point.

          So do you think what I said is reasonable or not? People should put their kids relatives on the same level of importance as their own relatives when scheduling visits, phone calls etc because it shows the kid that the people raising them are not trying to pretend their family does not exist or diminish their importance in anyway. Don’t make a bigger deal out of their family than your own either I think just try to do what ever you’d do for your own for theirs too. Which for anyone raising donor offspring or an adopted person means actually going out and finding those people first unfortunately that is the challenge there and with donor offspring you may never find them all you’ll never know if you found them all. But to leave it to the kid is just easier and explaining it away as being sensitive to their feelings on the matter is not really all the way truthful and it makes them take on the responsibility for not having their family in their life. My feeling is that in fairness the people raising them got them into the situation and if they have a conscience they’ll start helping them dig their way out – even if it’s just a little at a time here and there and not their whole total family their identity back and total freedom to be who they are its something and it shows concern to help put things right for them

          • Liz says:

            If I was Jesse’s mom, I would probably have handled the situation (when he was 13) like this:

            “You seem upset/angry/disturbed. Let’s talk about it.”
            “Ok, you are angry/worried/stressed that we are going to this get-together. I can understand this is a new experience and you have concerns. (Let me know I hear him.)”

            Then I’d negotiate a solution that works for everyone. “What do you need to feel comfortable/happy?”

            I’d put a reward in place if he was stressed about meeting his half-siblings. “What’s something you really want to do this summer? A baseball game/amusement park? If you can handle your anxiety for this trip, we’ll go to xyz when we get back.”

            And I’d give him a safety valve release for his anxiety. “If you really hate the experience, we’ll discuss not doing this in the future.”

            I think he was acting out of anxiety, so I’d work to alleviate that. In terms of relatives, I think it’s a case by case basis. If a child is upset or angry, I’d want to know why, and put in a fix for it. And I’d want to discover if something negative happened which I was not aware. A friend was molested by her grandfather in Jr. High school. Her parents didn’t find out until years later. Parents need to investigate if a kid is upset/angry/disturbed about visits.
            ————-
            My family and my in-law’s family moves around quite a bit, internationally. We don’t all live in the same town. Visiting relatives isn’t something a weekend event for us. People live all over — Australia, Europe, Latin America, East Coast N. USA, West Coast USA.

            I know some people live in driving distance of all of their extended relatives. It sounds like you have a lot of relatives and invest a lot of time visiting with them. That’s great. But there is a practical aspect to all of it for a lot of people. Skype helps, though.

  3. marilynn says:

    If we left it up to minors to decide whether or not to visit their relatives it would never freaking happen. If we left it up to minors to decide whether or not to know their siblings it would frequently never freaking happen. How many kids have vocally expressed a desire for their sibling not to exist? How many kids have screamed at the top of their lungs that they wish they were an only child or that they hate going to visit their Aunt Edna because she smells funny and always pinches their cheeks? Visiting relatives and knowing them and having them know us is simply a part of life. Like eating vegetables, going to school and wearing a warm coat when it’s cold outside – it’s not up to the child to decide whether or not to know their siblings or their relatives, its just part of being a person whose related to other people. Parents teach their kids that they are not islands in the world and that they have family and sometimes you visit family when you don’t feel like it just because its good to keep up contact – even if it is only on holidays, that’s your family and while you don’t have to be best friends, you still keep in touch and show interest i the lives of your family members. That of course includes not just your biological relatives but your step family, in laws, adoptive relatives, friends that feel like family and so on and so forth. You make the effort unless there is some seriously bad blood going on. Few people on earth can say they are related to ALL their child’s relatives (cause there’d have to be incest involved). Most bio parents are only related to half their kids family. It’s real easy to want to forget that other half of their family in favor of the relatives on our own side that we care about, but that is not fair to the kid. It’s especially important for parents that are separated to make an effort to reach out to their child’s other relatives and encourage contact for the child’s sake even when we are not fond of the other parent of our children. We have to remember that they may not be our family but they are our children’s family and so we need to make those people as important as our own family so that the kid does not feel like half of who they are and half their relatives are just irrelevant to the person raising them.

    Now really this is going to be true for everyone not just people raising donor offspring. If I’m raising a kid whose father was a donor or whose father is just a jerk who I’m happy not to live with the answer is still going to be the same – if I don’t let my kid opt out of knowing and visiting my relatives then I should apply the same rule of thumb, for the very same reasons, if they try to opt out of knowing or visiting THEIR relatives that I’m not related to. Those people are my child’s family whether I like them or not and I can’t go around acting like my relatives are more important than their other relatives. It’s not about me it’s about my child and making their family at least as important as my own when scheduling visits and holidays and what not.

    This young man’s mother and her husband are doing the right thing because nobody else on earth gets to choose not to know their siblings, that’s absurd. If they have to be raised separately then the least they can do is make an effort to keep up with his siblings and visit them as often as possible. Good for them for putting the kid’s family on par with their own. You can’t go back and fix this stuff if you blow it while they are kids. So it is very much the job of anyone raising a kid to be the organizer, communicator and contact facilitator so that the kid has all the possible advantages of being part of an extended family network.

    Let them as adults decide whether or not to maintain contact rather than letting them decide whether or not to initiate contact. Deep bonds can form in childhood through shared experience. Depriving them of an opportunity to forge those bonds and then blaming them when they come later and life and say why did you not let me know my brother is very hurtful. It becomes their fault that they don’t have a social relationship with their siblings or other relatives and the parent says, well I left it up to you and you were not interested. Not fair, they are children and other children don’t have a choice in knowing their relatives. Would you say I’m sorry you are anemic I left it up to you and you did not want any vegetables, just candy and mashed potatoes?

    • Liz says:

      Clothing. As long as you’re not at risk of getting frostbite, it’s fine. You want to wear that crazy purple hat and red and white checked pants? You want to put a tutu on over your pants? Whatever. Pick your battles.

      Food. If you don’t eat your veggies, you don’t get dessert. You don’t have to eat what’s served — just try a little bite. If you don’t like dinner — make your own. Parents ruin relationships with their kids over food.

      This stuff goes for very young kids. 13-year-olds are a different kettle of fish altogether. You ignore their thoughts and feelings at your peril. Pre-teens don’t get to do whatever they want, but they need to feel heard and respected. Actually, this goes for any kids. You respect them — they will respect you.

      • marilynn says:

        As I said above I generally agree with you here. Yes by 13 you are dealing with someone who is basically their adult self biting their time till they are 18. Yes of course anyone raising a kid of any age should care how they feel and listen to what they have to say. It just won’t always and should not always be the deciding factor in what the kid is going to have to do and – visiting with relatives is just one of those things they should not be opting out of unless they tell you that their uncle is molesting them and then you get a restraining order and have him thrown in jail. That is to say its not enough that they might find their relatives irritating or boring they’d have to be downright dangerous to agree they’d never have to see their uncle or grandmother again, it would have to be bad enough that society should not be around them. Christmas dinner or thanksgiving once a year deal with the irritation or boredom it’s not that much time out of their life and its important in the long run.

        I don’t think they should worry about having gotten this kid together with siblings at all, frankly its their duty. It’s very odd for siblings to not know one another at all. Plenty of siblings don’t grow up in the same house but to just not know how many siblings they have or to not have any contact with them its just not placing those siblings in their normal state of advantage.

  4. jean says:

    I have two perspectives on this: one as an adoptee in the old closed system and one as a mother of a daughter via egg donation, in an open donation. In both donor conception and adoption, the “child” has been deprived of a fundamental autonomy in determining their identity and their genetic connections. I think it is necessary for parents to acquire all the information they can (including meeting),on the donors and siblings and to let their children know the information is there and to give it to them. But to “force”meetings” before the young person really indicates he wants them seems to me just another violation of autonomy. I have known many many adoptees over the years and each person approaches their search at a different time in a different way or sometimes never. I think the parents job is to help in the way their children want them to.

    • oliviasview says:

      Wise, wise words Jean.

    • marilynn says:

      “In both donor conception and adoption, the “child” has been deprived of a fundamental autonomy in determining their identity and their genetic connections.” Nobody has a fundamental autonomy to determine their identity or their genetic connections. Do you mean that they are denied an accurate identifying record of them being the offspring of their bio parents? Nobody gets to determine or choose their identity or their parents, it’s just a concrete biological fact. People that choose or determine their own are lying living under assumed or assigned identities either because they are forced or for their own convenience. Identity is not something people determine like pick, did you mean determine like ascertain?

      • Lorraine Nowlin says:

        I agree with Marilyn and that was my first thought when I read her response. Then I figured she meant determined=know.

      • gsmwc02 says:

        I think what she is saying is that you need to let the kid make the decision as to who they have relationships with rather than determining that for them.

        • marilynn says:

          So you think she means donor offspring are denied the right to choose who they have relationships with? That’s true to an extent. Although for the rest of the population, with our relatives it’s not really a choice to be known by our relatives or encounter them. When we are adults we can opt to cut off contact or reduce it. They don’t have the option in that regard. It’s just like nobody else gets to go I’m hiding my identity from my sister don’t anyone let her know I exist I don’t want a relationship with her – cause she’s like in the same room or at the very least living at their non custodial parents home and its just not optional to be anonymous. Especially not for kids.

        • Liz says:

          I think you’re misunderstanding. People are suggesting that when it is possible and reasonable, parents should empower anxious children and teens with the agency to voice opinions and exert a measure of control over decisions.

          • gsmwc02 says:

            That’s what I meant by saying they need to make their own decisions not have them made for them. Encourage and Empower not force.

  5. Silver says:

    I would love to be able to connect with my son’s half-sibs. I know he has at least one, as the donor had a son at the time that she connected with our clinic. Our cycle was an egg-share, so she may have had another child around the same time I had my son. She may have gone on to have more egg-share cycles, in which case there may be other recipients and half-sibs out there. Our son will be the only child in our family – not for the want of trying on our part – so the thought of him having siblings in other families would be wonderful. However, in the UK – as far as I know – he could only make contact with his donor (and from there, half-sibs) once he is 18.

    I also agree with Liz: contact without the child’s agreement should only happen if they are very young, after the age of about 8 it should only be with their consent. If sibs meet when very young (just like if they are told they are donor conceived when very young) it just becomes part of normal life. The later meeting or telling happens, the trickier it may be, the more complex the thought processes and emotions surrounding any meeting. To force it could be quite traumatic. Yes, we make children do a lot of things but I’m really not sure this should be one of them. All children are different and we should respect their varying attitudes to their biological and familial origins.

    • marilynn says:

      I think that’s fine as long as the people raising the kid can say honestly to themselves that they will never be exposing that kid to any new people after they are 8 years old. No parties with coworkers they never met before no family members you have not seen since you yourself were a kid just don’t let anyone new come to the house after they turn 8 years old. Don’t go as a family to visit anyone you have not seen since before the kid was born. It’s their family it won’t be traumatic to meet their family it will be traumatic never to have met them more likely actually. I still say err on the side of treating their family no different than we’d treat our own family and friends. If they can look at themselves and honestly say that once the kid turns 8 there will be no circumstances where they’d have to go to a family event and meet new family they had not met before and might see again at the next family gathering. I mean what if their sister get’s married when the kid is 9? Bam new uncle-in-law, never seen him before and gonna see him again from time to time unless they split up. Traumatic? Really? What if they have kids when the kid’s 10? Bam new cousins, never met them before – opt out of seeing them a couple times a year? Really? Again I think the ultra elevated evolved line about being sensitive to the kid’s feelings about whether they want to spend time with their bio relatives is just scape goating. It’s easier and they’d rather not do the leg work to foster relationships with people they don’t know and don’t really care about. Problem is that its the kid’s family and dismissing them is like saying that anything that is not part of the rearing family is irrelevant and better to just forget about. That sucks just on a respect level.

      • Liz says:

        “Again I think the ultra elevated evolved line about being sensitive to the kid’s feelings about whether they want to spend time with their bio relatives is just scape goating.”

        A child should be happy at family gatherings, and feel supported. If a child is experiencing negative feelings for a reason — say, a cousin bullying him — then it’s important to stop the behaviour or keep the kids apart.

        Our children need to learn that no one gets a special pass to act out at Thanksgiving dinner.

      • Silver says:

        Marilynn – I respect your point of view but it is just that – YOUR point of view. Families are incredibly varied things and we all do things our own way. Meeting a sibling that is not part of your existing family unit might carry a much heavier emotional charge than meeting a distant cousin or a new family member by marriage. I agree that the ideal is that genetically related siblings would know each other but my son may feel differently. Personally speaking, I have come across a lot of genetic parents and siblings who are pretty toxic to each other and an equal number of non-genetically related families who are loving and nurturing. I believe that genetics are only part of what is important in a family (clearly, or I would never have opted for donor eggs). With almost 20 years of working with children, I also believe that they should be given some choices in their lives – especially if forcing an issue is going to cause them emotional distress. Yes, I would make them come and visit an elderly aunt they’ve never met before because that is not something that is going to impact on their self-image or their life-journey (always assuming the elderly aunt is compus mentus!) but I wouldn’t force them to meet the father who they hadn’t seen since a baby or the sibling that lives in a different family because that impacts directly on their ideas about themselves and where they stand in life – and, accordingly, they should have some input on that decision.

        • marilynn says:

          So visiting your close friends and relatives that you keep up with and that the kids your raising are likely to encounter are not people who will impact their self image or their life’s journey either positively or negatively, so they needn’t have a choice in visiting them. But their relatives do impact their self image and will impact their life’s journey and so they have a choice in whether or not to see their relatives.

          That is oddly opposite of what I was thinking people were doing. You are saying your relatives and friends are of no emotional significance and their relatives are significant on a level that they would be given the choice to opt out. I thought the choice to opt out would be based upon the rearing party making their relatives more important than the kid’s relatives but your saying the opposite but the result is the same where they are not treated equal to your own. I’m not sure what to say about that other than its an interesting surprise and I feel enlightened.

          I’d say their sibling iis part of their family being raised by a different family. Where they are raised does not change who they are in relation to one another, still siblings, still family just raised separate. I agree completely about there being toxic relationships in bio families by the truck load. You’d have to make the call if you felt someone’s behavior was particularly toxic. I was talking about contact with people who fall on the spectrum of great to boring, engaging to irritating or annoying but not psychotic and incarcerated or anything. So giving people who are free from institutional custody the benefit of the doubt I suppose your saying that still they are so much more significant that the kid should be able to opt out?

        • marilynn says:

          Why would a biological father or sibling have more impact on a child’s self image than an elderly unrelated aunt or even a related aunt?

          Would you then force them to go see their elderly biological aunt, but not their young biological uncle? Is it age that makes the relative unimportant to their psychological image of themselves or gender or kinship placement or biological relatedness? Where is the dividing line between OK to force and OK to opt out – other than the obvious convicted pedophile or common ax murderer line that is super understandable for the kid to opt out, I’d stay home with him actually if that were the case.

          • Silver says:

            I think you and I might have to agree to differ.

            • marilynn says:

              Differ on what? I was asking you to explain your statement so that I understand what you mean. Are my questions stupid? I sincerely want to understand whether you believe biological relationships have deeper meaning to the kid giving him a natural right to lead decision making when it comes to contact or if its not that so much but kinship positioning, where you’d say the kid had no choice but to visit their elderly bio aunt, but let them opt out of contact with their bio mother or father or siblings because they were super important and the aunt was not. I am quite sincere here. It’s not an issue of me disagreeing with you – I might agree actually if I was clear on the logic your forming your opinion around.

        • Liz says:

          “Why would a biological father or sibling have more impact on a child’s self image than an elderly unrelated aunt or even a related aunt?”

          In many cases they would not, especially if contact begins at an early age, or if the child has the choice to exert control over contact. It’s also not a issue of the child does not feel anxiety about the social situations.

          If you watch Generation Cryo, you’ll see that Jesse appears to be the only individual who voiced anger over that meeting as pre-teens. Jonah and Hilit appeared to be relaxed and unstressed about meeting half- siblings. Concerns about trauma do not apply if a child is relaxed about the situation. The relaxed child does not feel out of control.

          Identity shock could cause trauma if an individual is forced to reframe how they see themselves under someone else’s control and timeline. Children are particularly vulnerable because their brains are changing rapidly.

          Trauma occurs when people do not have control of their body or their circumstances. A child at risk for trauma is one who is angry, stressed, and repeatedly forced into high anxiety situations not within his control. The potential risk grows with sustained high anxiety. Sustained high stress can cause brain injury.

          It is critical to give choices and a measure of control to the child if he feels his circumstances are out of control. Children who feel they have the power to make choices and exert control are at much lower risk for shock and stress.
          ———-
          “Where is the dividing line between OK to force and OK to opt out – other than the obvious convicted pedophile or common ax murderer line that is super understandable”

          I don’t think it’s wise to excuse hurtful or toxic behaviour. This applies to any relationship in life.

          • Silver says:

            Thank you, Liz – I think you put it beautifully. It’s not the relationship, per se, that is the defining factor, it is the timing, the significance of the person to the individual child themselves and the element of choice. I haven’t seen Generation Cryo yet, as I’m in the UK, but hope it comes on here too.

            • oliviasview says:

              Silver: Generation Cryo is on in the UK NOW! Two episodes have been shown already and the next will be on Wednesday 23rd April at 9pm on MTV. It is the two past episodes that I have been blogging about.

              • Silver says:

                Ah – it’s not a station I see at all – hadn’t seen any publicity about it – will see if I can get hold of it somehow. Thanks!

  6. oliviasview says:

    Sadly, of course, the donor’s children are not able to put their names on the HFEA register for contact by mutual consent from 18. Let’s hope your donor will be happy for her children to meet yours (if your children want to make that contact later) from 18. Of course, by that age it will be up to each set of young people to make their own decisions.

  7. gsmwc02 says:

    Jesse is my favorite sibling in the group. To me he is the one who by the end of the show showed the most growth.

    To answer your question Olivia, I think parents have an obligation to encourage a relationship with their siblings as children but I don’t believe it should ever be forced. As adults they can then make a decision of who they wish to continue relationships with. But the parents need to let them figure it out for themselves.

    • marilynn says:

      Greg you say the people raising a child should encourage but not force children to have relationships with their siblings. This becomes challenging for people when the siblings in question are not being raised by other people. How should a person encourage but not force contact with siblings if they have custody of the child’s siblings as well? If they have the luxury of a very large home the siblings could have separate bedrooms and I suppose it’s possible to set schedules up where the siblings ate at different times and spent time with the people raising them at different times and went to different schools and whatnot. It just seems like a lot of effort and possibly expense for someone to limit their involvement to encouraging the independent exploration of sibling relationships rather than forcing the issue on them and putting them in situations where they have no choice but to be raised up together in one another’s faces. How would you envision the process of encouraging vs forcing working when the siblings were in the custody of the same person? It seems super hard to me that someone could be able to achieve that goal of encouraging but not forcing sibling contact. Maybe you have really thought this through so I’m all ears.

  8. oliviasview says:

    I’m with Jean here when she says,”I think the parents job is to help in the way their children want them to.”
    If I had been in Jesse’s parent’s shoes I think I would have informed him that he had half-siblings out there and that connections were likely to be possible via the DSR, but I would not have engineered a meeting. At 13 that felt like a violation of his autonomy to me. If he had been much younger that may have been different, but by 13 he would have his own views and feelings and these should have been respected.
    My own experience of this sort of thing comes from our eldest son (conceived intentionally and without help in my first marriage). His father left the family when our son was one year old. Unsurprisingly, when he came to realise what had happened (and I never bad-mouthed my ex), our son felt abandoned by his father (this is a real case of abandonment) and this affected his self esteem. As he grew into teenage years I let him know that I had some information that might help him find his father if he wanted to do so. It was not until his early twenties that he took me up on this and then I supported the search emotionally and financially. He found him but it was not a good experience. They met twice before my ex-husband died a couple of years later. I knew that it was going to be important for my son to find his father at some point but he needed to do it in his own time. It felt like a very important closure for him. Not easy, sad and disappointing but closure.
    You could say that finding half-siblings in donor conception is very different to this. But for me the principle remains the same. Respect the child/young person/adult. Acknowledge their feelings, whatever they are. Support whatever they want to do in whichever way you can.

  9. alloallo says:

    Thanks for this Olivia. I agree that if you haven’t already dealt with this by the time your child is thirteen (or a few years younger even as I know several 8/9 year olds that I think would have the emotional maturity to consider these questions) you absolutely MUST consider their feelings about meeting before proceeding with anything.

    What I feel much more confused about as the parent of (very young!) DI conceived twins is whether we should go ahead with registering with the DSR now or soon anyhow. My instinct is yes, that even if we don’t physically meet up with the other families (they are all over the US and Europe) we can keep in touch with them and the contacts are there and ‘normalized’ for our kids when they get older. In addition to the obvious health-related queries etc. On the other hand, I worry that I am denying some kinds of agency and control to my kids who may want to govern how this works for themselves later. My instinct is to go for the first route rather than the latter, but to try to proceed sensitively at each different stage. I also feel that my husband has to take a leadership role in this or else we risk triggering difficult feelings and dynamics there, but the truth is in our family I’m often the one that sorts out practicalities!

    • marilynn says:

      See now you are thinking about this wisely. Just do it normalize it as you would any other member of the family and let them choose whether or not to keep up contact as adults. They should not be raised any different than any other kid when it comes to contact with their relatives or your relatives or whoever your friends. It should not be a big decision for them to know or not know their family. Whether to keep in touch is up to them when they are on their own. Also if they have siblings born in other countries they can help one antoher attain citizenship as adults anyway. That is their right. There is the problem of the birth certificates but donor offspring are starting to make headway in that area as adults so they will be viewed as siblings by law and not just privately amongst themselves. I mean if they are going to be told the truth then they need to be able to live the truth like be legal kin to their siblings.

  10. oliviasview says:

    Hi alloallo: I can imagine your dilemma as it is one I would feel myself in your position. I think I would choose to register with the DSR, make the contacts, check out the families as much as you can and then chat with your twins as they move into the understanding/asking questions phase around 7 or so about the existence of other children conceived by the same donor…and see what happens. If you do this in a relaxed and matter of fact way they are likely to take the cue from you. They may show great curiosity and want to get in touch, meet etc. or they may show little interest at all. The difficulty may be if one feels one way and the other is completely different. By that time you are also likely to have the measure of the other families and know which ones are likely to fit with yours and you might like to connect with first.
    Your comment about your husband taking a leadership role is lovely and sensitive but may just not be practical. What may be more important is for you to keep checking in with him about what you want to do/are doing and give him opportunities to take a more prominent role, but so many men prefer their wife to do the connecting in any situation…let alone in one like this. Good luck.

    • marilynn says:

      That’s true most men have their wives even handle birthday cards to their relatives. I was wondering why you’d pick and choose which one’s fit in with your family – they are your family whether they are like you or not though.

      • Liz says:

        Spending time with family is always a choice. As it should be. Blood is thicker then water but so is bull****.

        • gsmwc02 says:

          Agreed, even with my wife and I. We only visit and get together with certain family and only send holiday cards to the others. You need to let these people make their own choices and give them the power to do so.

          • Lorraine Nowlin says:

            I’ve got a ton of genetic relatives through my DNA results on ancestry.com. I don’t plan to contact any of them. In fact, I have more of a desire to connect with my friends than genetic relatives I don’t know.

          • marilynn says:

            I agree with you actually. Let them have the choice as adults just as you do

        • marilynn says:

          I agree about bull****. Did you know that people who are told early and often about the fact that they are donor offspring come to think of their situation as being normal and no big deal much the same way that people raised on a cattle ranch can’t smell the bull**** they’re standing knee deep in? It’s called desensitization. A survival mechanism, a coping mechanism for extremely painful or unpleasant situations is to normalize the unpleasant feelings if they are going to make it through each day without cracking.

          • oliviasview says:

            Marilynn: Your comment about survival mechanisms is just about the most patronising remark I have ever read. You really should be ashamed of yourself.

      • Liz says:

        A theme of some of these comments is that there is a “duty” to expose oneself to family, no matter how discouraging, alienating, or emotionally abusive. In terms of adults, I grow worried when people internalize the Hallmark version of family and repeatedly push themselves to engage in family relationships that are unsupportive, un-empathetic, unhealthy or toxic.

        The original proverb is “The blood of the covenant is thicker then the water of the womb.”

        “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matt 12: 46-50.

        • I thought about that passage the other day when pondering why people place so much emphasis on biology but that’s another story.

          If we want to leave it up to kids to define their own sense of family in favor of genetic connections, shouldn’t we also allow them to define it in a way that does not include biology and meet siblings or donors only on their terms?

          • marilynn says:

            Only if they get to call the shots on all the adults they interact with. To be fair. Shouldn’t they be then able to define family in ways that don’t include non biology and meeting the friends and relatives of unrelated people raising them? Or for that matter even the relatives of related people raising them. If they can define and exclude their siblings for themselves then frankly your saying they could define and exclude you or anyone living in the household with them. I don’t think you are being balanced in the application of this logic. I don’t necessarily disagree with you in theory but then you need to give them that same leeway and how can you really if you are raising them and controlling their environment. If you don’t apply that same rule to you and your family then you are being hypocritical and just holding the opinion with regard to their bio relatives out of convenience not out of deep conviction about leaving it up to the kid to define their own family relationships.

            • Lorraine Nowlin says:

              Marilyn, I actually think that you are being unbalanced and hypocritical in your response. My comment included children defining family based on adults and siblings. So that I can make things abundantly clear, I don’t worship at the altar of biology. So we are all free to define and choose who we will classify as family based on who has acted as family to us and reject those genetic relatives that do not act as family. As I said before, I plan to keep in contact with siblings and maybe in the future meet the donor whether or not my children like it. Although I’m sure they will want to know their siblings and maybe the donors identity, they will not be forced to meet or maintain a relationship (admittedly, I will tell encourage them to meet siblings and donor if opportunity presented itself).

              • marilynn says:

                I believe you misunderstand me as well. Knowing and being known to one’s relatives is essential to making fully informed reproductive decisions (whether or not to date immediate relatives) and so the fact that you have sought them out is a responsible thing. If they are bad abusive individuals that you know pose a risk to the health of the child you are raising it is of course wise not to allow contact. If as adults they wish not to stay in contact with their siblings or their father then so be it at least they know who their relatives are. You did and are doing the right thing. Now as children if their siblings pose no threat there is no reason not to get them together or keep them apart.

        • oliviasview says:

          Fascinating Liz. Thanks for this quote. As a humanist I am not familiar with the Christian Bible but this is certainly an interesting take on an individual’s right to choose who they regard as family or not.

        • marilynn says:

          Liz now it’s you who is veering way off topic here. Are Jesse’s siblings “discouraging, alienating, or emotionally abusive”? Such that the people raising him would have had a reason not to facilitate contact between him and them? Do you see the people raising him as trying to “repeatedly push” him “to engage in family relationships that are unsupportive, un-empathetic, unhealthy or toxic.”? How would someone raising a child even know if that child’s relatives were bad abusive people unless they first sought them out and got to know who they were as people? You are not making any sense Liz. Knowing and being known to one’s relatives is essential to that family making informed decisions about their health and choices about who to date and not date if they want to avoid incest. So knowing who they are and having them know who we are is critical. Contact is smart but not critical if the relatives are the types of unsavory individuals you speak of but there is no evidence of that here and so I see no reason to question the judgement of the individuals raising Jesse.

        • marilynn says:

          And I think your way way off topic with the bible reference to what mothers and brothers are. The show that prompted this post was a reality show. I don’t know for sure what prompted the writing of that book but we pretty much take everything in it with a grain of salt. It’s the same book with the virgin pregnancy, the parting of the red sea, women being made out of men’s ribs, the dead rising up and walking out of their tombs, wicked witches and poison apples, remember? I mean snakes and poison apples. Again, the post was prompted by a reality tv show and you’re quoting a book of what are essentially fables about people that might not actually have ever existed, let alone said the things they are quoted as saying.

        • Liz says:

          Marilynn,

          The symbolism and meaning of the Bible is different for many people, of course. You may interpret the passage in Mat 12:47 in a different way.
          ——————–
          You weren’t asking about Jesse’s sibs. You were making a specific reference to a comment about a specific family and questioning a specific suggestion.

          I think all of the families on Generation Cryo are lovely, and would have no hesitation in socializing with them.
          ————
          I do not think anyone should accept unsupportive or unhealthy behaviour from family members. I’m not interested in a lecture from the Hallmark Card–Kumbaya forgiveness police.

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