Another Wednesday, another episode of Generation Cryo. This week Bree (see previous two blogs for backstory) met up with Bostonian half-sister twins Molly and Paige age 20 and their brother Will age 16, all four conceived with the help of donor 1096 from California Cryobank. Molly, Paige and Will’s mom Laura also played a prominent part but their dad, importantly mentioned from time to time, did not appear. This non-appearance, however, was not referred to and we were left to speculate the reasons why. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that apparently not everyone in the family knows about the use of a donor and that both children and adults seem to have been on the receiving end of some pretty unenlightened responses. Generously, one of the twins supposed that for some people the use of donor conception changes their idea of what a family is, but to my mind nothing excuses using a term like ‘freak’ to describe anyone.
All three offspring in this Boston based family declare themselves uninterested in meeting the donor: “I have my own dad, why would I want to think about this guy”, but when they share the donor profile they have with Bree and find that it is different to the one she has, all four are engrossed in the details revealed in the differences…particularly for Bree the revelation of his birth date. At last, something solid to search on.
Bree’s sweet, outgoing nature and perhaps slightly naive approach seems to free-up and infect the twins, who, according to their mother, have been reluctant to talk about their conception in the past. Both seem torn between wanting to help Bree in her quest to find the donor and the fear of pushing open a door that cannot be easily closed again…thus exposing their family to the unknown.
Whilst the girls are thinking about whether or not to accompany Bree to California in pursuit of the donor, Bree tries to drum up support from Hilit and Jonah whom she talks to on Skype. Jonah feels he would like to come to the west coast to try and help but wants to run this plan past his dad first. As we have learned in a previous episode Eric J, Jonah’s dad, is a man with a big heart but a lot of fear too. He also knows his children well, particularly the fact that Hilit tends to see a bigger picture and consider the consequences of actions, whilst Jonah has a tendency to act first and think later. He worries that finding the donor would not just be ‘helping Bree’ but would bring big changes into the life of his family: ” It would break my heart if the donor turned up at family reunions….” Jonah nevertheless decides to go (presumably financial considerations are not relevant for all this travel as MTV are paying).
When Bree, Molly and Paige feed the information they have gained from both donor profiles into the internet, they come up with the college the donor almost certainly attended and a list of 23 names, the assumption being that the donor must be one of them. At this point Laura’s ambivalence is almost palpable. She wants to support Bree and her daughters (Will seems to have dropped out of the picture) but the nearer they get to his identity the more frightened she becomes: “The closer you get to the donor the weirder I feel”. “I was a married woman and I had this other man’s sperm put inside of me…I just don’t know how I feel about this…but in the end it’s not about me, it’s about you and the other kids.”
I have probably got my recollections of the programme in the wrong order but at some point the reticent Molly and Paige question the bright, smiling and completely unquestioning Bree about her interest in the donor and whether or not she thinks of him as a father. Bree seems very clear that he is not a father, simply a donor, but she does get very upset when recollecting childhood times when her mothers split up and Debra, the one who decided she wasn’t lesbian any more and married a man, tried to stop Sherry from seeing Bree. There seems to be a connection between this trauma (when undoubtedly Bree felt very out of control) and her need to find the donor now, although she is never completely clear about this (possibly doesn’t recognise it herself?). She simply seems to find it very difficult to understand the fears and mixed feelings of her half-siblings who do not share her curiosity…or at least cannot enjoy her unalloyed enthusiasm because of the guilt they feel about potentially hurting their father
There is undoubtedly a freedom that the young people without a resident father in this film have, that is not shared by those whose dad is an important presence in their lives and a relationship that they want to protect. And it seems that having a dad who expresses his comfort with using a donor and encourages the search for him, does not mean that offspring feel any less ambivalent (Jesse in the second episode). For all donor conception families there is the push and pull of managing this new family form on a daily basis. For lesbian and single mom families there is the constant challenge of living in a hetero-normative couple based world and having to ‘come out’ time and again in terms of sexuality or relationship status. For heterosexual couple families, openness about donor conception is a choice that is made positively and in the interests of the children, but brings with it not only the management of ‘difference’ but challenges to a model of family which in Western tradition and culture is seen as an ideal and inviolable. The inclusion of half-siblings appears not to threaten the stability of ‘the family’ but the possibility of the donor making a physical appearance feels frightening on a level which is too painful for most family members to actually talk about. Eric J gets the closest. Ambivalence is writ large all over this series.
Next week we will be in New York visiting Zannah so I will miss Episode Four. Please someone, let me know what happens. They seem to be very close to finding donor 1096 now.