Choosing the ‘love or fear’ path in donor conception

Two of the wise women in the donor conception world are Wendy Kramer and Ellen Glazer.  Ellen is a counsellor to those needing egg donation to create their families and board member of the Donor Sibling Registry.  She wrote this guest blog post for the DSR following the airing of the Katie Couric Show in the States that featured an egg donor conceived 16 year old meeting with her donor and half-siblings.  Together, Wendy and Ellen sum up the qualities that are needed to be a successful parent by donor conception in a modern open world.

Katie Couric Show -Ellen Glazer Guest Blog
Posted on June 18, 2014 by wendykr
On June 11, the Katie Couric Show featured one young donor conceived woman’s search for her genetic roots. It is a story that has become increasingly familiar in our culture and surely hits close to home and heart for Donor Sibling Registry members. What made this DSR “search and reunion” story big time TV worthy is that it marked the first time the folks finding each other, and going public, were connected through egg—not sperm—donation.

I watched the show through several lenses—as someone who counsels individuals and couples struggling with infertility, and as one who counsels those who decide to move on to donor conception. I’m also a DSR board member and not surprisingly, share the DSR’s discomfort with anonymity, and commitment to fostering connections. Here’s a brief synopsis of the show—peppered with some of my thoughts and reactions.

Brittan is 16 and has known all her life that she was donor conceived. Her parents, Janet and Jim, spoke openly and honestly with her from the start about her origins. Although they don’t say so on the show, they may have hoped—as so many ED parents do—that this would be enough. After all, Brittan was wanted, conceived in love, told the truth from the start—all ingredients needed for a happy, secure identity. Or so it seemed until Brittan was about seven years old and began asking herself and her parents challenging questions that included: Who am I? Who am I connected to? And the one that every ED mother fears, “Are you my real mother?”

The TV show presents viewers with a fast-forward. A decade has elapsed since Brittan began asking questions and her parents began confronting their own feelings and her need to know. Katie Couric offers up “multi hanky” segments in which Brittan meets her donor and her donor’s two daughters (aka her half siblings). When asked how they feel about Brittan meeting her donor JoLana, and JoLana’s daughters, Janet and Jim say that they are excited for their daughter. They add that they anticipate that JoLana will be a positive role model, and that meeting her will fill in some missing pieces for Brittan. To this, Couric says something to the effect of, “I admire you. I think if it were me, I’d feel threatened. You may be a bigger person than I am.”

These comments jumped out for me. Knowing how vulnerable infertile couples and individuals are, I imagined viewers reacting to Couric’s comments with relief. Some must have been watching with a pit in their stomach feeling, “I’ll love and care for this child for 18 years and then she’ll leave me to find her ‘real’ family.” Others might not feel quite so threatened by the idea that Brittan would want to know where she came from and fill in some missing pieces but still feel validated by Couric’s acknowledging that all donor parents don’t automatically support their child’s search for genetic kin. So I understood what she was saying and why, but as a mom who has accompanied so many others into motherhood, I had a different perspective. Parenthood is about sharing, about stepping out of one’s comfort zone, about accepting things you never thought you could accept, and about bending and adjusting and recalibrating one’s expectations.

“You can approach it from a position of fear or you can approach it from a position of love,” Wendy Kramer says when we talk after the show. She adds, “Janet acted from a position of love, and that strengthened her relationship with Brittan.” As usual, Wendy had a way of gathering together my scattered thoughts and stringing them together in one clear sentence that says it all: You can choose fear or you can choose love, and when you choose love, the path becomes easy.

I meet so many people who have been beaten to a pulp by infertility. For years they’ve been told “you’ve had a failed cycle” or “you are a poor responder” or simply, bluntly, “you have bad eggs.” When they finally arrive at parenthood through egg donation they are understandably worried that they won’t feel like “real” mothers, and they may feel somehow threatened by the donor. What I think Katie Couric was missing and Wendy Kramer was affirming is that years of parenthood authenticate you, give you confidence, and broaden your perspective. Janet and Jim welcome JoLana into their daughter’s life after years—most likely—of accepting teachers and friends and media influences that they would not have chosen for their daughter. With JoLana they have—Kramer points out—more control. As she said wisely on TV and reiterated when we spoke, “they need to take it slowly.”

And so this is my message to my infertile clients who might have been a bit unnerved by The Katie Couric Show… When you have a child, you will know that you are a real mom. You will gain confidence through the day-to-day, week-to-week care of your child. Your “realness” will be affirmed and reaffirmed when you are the tooth fairy or baking a Spider Man birthday cake or standing on the sidelines of a soccer game in the rain or volunteering as the kindergarten room mother. As the years go by, you will make countless decisions because you believe they are right for your child. You will agree to do things simply because your child asks you to and in bringing him or her happiness, you will share in the joy. I believe that this is how it will be with your donor and with other genetic kin. If your daughter wants to meet her donor or your son seeks donor siblings, you will find yourself accompanying her or him on the journey. Early on, you will find what you probably already know—that your support and preparedness to go along brings you closer and further fortifies your relationship.

Watch the first three segments of this Katie Show here:

These segments may not be viewable outside of the US.

Following on from this blog, Wendy Kramer posted these thoughts, based on a quote from John Lennon, on the DSR Yahoo group and FaceBook page.  She is so right.  Choosing to face life head on rather than with fear and trepidation of what might happen is choosing the path of love and love of oneself and confidence and comfort with choices made, is at the heart of so many aspects of life, but donor conception parenting in particular.

“Making choices from a place of love or fear?

Getting to spend time with Janet, Jim, and Brittan before, and after the Katie show was inspiring. Because Jim has a genetic connection to his daughter, I was more focused on Janet, Brittan’s mom, as many of the non-genetic parents in donor families seem to struggle much more with the idea of their children connecting with donor relatives. Decisions about donor conception, including the ones about connecting to unknown relatives, can be complicated, but I suggest we can simplify these decisions down to just two choices, love or fear.

When looking at the choice that mom Janet made, to open up her life to her egg donor, I see it as choosing between love and fear. Fears might include complicating your life, or opening your family up to a situation that might be out of your control. The truth is that as your child grows up and heads into the world, these concerns, as well as a plethora of others, are realized regularly, in our everyday lives of raising children. So we can keep our kids safe, at all cost, or give them opportunities to expand themselves in the world, and learn about their own power, strength, and their ability to open themselves up to love.

Certainly, when faced with opening our lives to unknown genetic relatives, we might feel fear, confusion or worry. We can make choices solely based on these feelings. We can let our feelings of insecurity as parents hold us back. What if my child likes them better? How will the dynamics of our family be changed? What if my child realizes that I haven’t been a “perfect” parent? None of us have been “perfect” parents- and meeting the donor isn’t going to out this fact (those with teenagers can count on them to do this!).

We have the opportunity in these situations, to make our choices coming from a place of love, instead of from fear. We can choose to see the opportunities in reaching out and connecting- in expanding our child’s, and our own sense of family. We can be open to this new idea of family and see how it actually might strengthen our relationship with our child, not threaten it in any way.

When we watched Janet, we saw a confident and strong parent. Did she have fears and hesitations? Yes, most certainly. Did she realize that the benefits for her child would largely outweigh any concerns she might have had? It sure appears so. We watched Janet be empowered as a parent, and witnessed her confidence, love, and support. She had the grace to not only meet, but to completely embrace her egg donor JoLana, on national television no less. We felt her sense of gratitude, and wonder, as she looked into the eyes and held the hand of the woman who made it possible for her to have her beautiful daughter.

Janet rose to the occasion, and was therefore empowered in her role as parent to Brittan. She put the needs and desires of her child (to seek out and connect with her egg donor) above those of herself and this is the ultimate sacrifice that parents make for their children. It is also the greatest gift we can give to our children, and to ourselves.”

There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” ~ John Lennon





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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