Thinking about donor conception siblings

I am aware of not having written for a while but I think there is no point in blogging just for the sake of it and somehow nothing has inspired me to put fingers to keyboard – even though there is plenty going on in the donor conception world.   What did strike me, however, was Tim Lott’s column in yesterday’s Guardian Family section.  The topic is siblings.  Lott has four daughters, two from his first marriage and two from the second.  He is unsurprised by the differences between the two sets of girls but he is a little perplexed by how very different each daughter is from her full sister…”as far as I can make out there is little to connect them.  In fact they are more different than I would expect two strangers to be.” Interviewing developmental psychologists for a new novel Lott came across the idea that brothers and sisters make a deliberate and conscious effort not to be like their siblings in order to establish themselves as individuals…each sibling fighting for their survival as a person.  He concludes that his children are different because they are free to be different, and they desire to be different. How then should we view the current interest in making half-sibling relationships between people conceived from the same donor?  The Donor Sibling Registry is full of hugely positive stories about half-sibs who seem to recognise something in each other  and connect immediately.  I am intrigued by what is going on here.  Could it be that they are conforming to what is expected of them, or in the case of little ones what their parents want?  Or is it that because they haven’t had to grow up competing for the same parent’s time and affection and fighting for their place in the family, they are able to form a relationship without the need to be different.  They can in fact celebrate the similarities, which is presumably what each is looking for. Which brings me back to Lott and his theory that one has to go beyond environment and heredity.  What makes people different from one another is interpretation – the stories we tell ourselves about our experience and the way we defend our identities against threat.  The stories that donor conceived people who are looking for genetic connections tell themselves are largely that these people are probably like them and that they will recognise something about them that makes them family.  This makes it much more likely that the meeting will be positive – as long as both sides have been telling themselves the same story.  If someone is found who has not been looking for a genetic relative then we must assume that a happy ending does not always happen.  It will sometimes, but there are likely to be at least an equal number of times that it doesn’t.  This can apply to donor/offspring connections as well.  If each side do not share a story – say the donor has been curious but does not want a parent-type relationship and the DC person does – then it is likely to end sadly. The HFEA is currently training a team of counsellors and post-adoption support workers to be intermediaries where enquiries to the Register reveal that there is a genetic link, be it half-sibs or donor/offspring.  In these cases both sides will at a minimum be curious about each other, but having a neutral third party help them examine and manage their expectations is likely to lead to a better outcome than the mythical ‘knock-on-the-door’ so beloved of journalists.  Wendy Kramer and Naomi Cahn’s book Finding Our Families is helpful too, although it is relentlessly upbeat in it’s  assumption that finding genetic relatives is likely to be a positive experience. It is hard to find positive stories on the internet from donor conceived adults who do not feel troubled about their beginnings. but the ONLY stories you find about half-sib connections are positive.  I cannot believe that either of these is fully true.  I know from my own experience, personally and via DC Network, that there are many donor conceived people who feel perfectly comfortable about their start in life.  I have only ever heard one donor conceived adult say that he once met a half-sister but didn’t keep up the connection because they had nothing in common.  Fascinatingly he had not been looking for her.  She found him.  A more balanced story must be out there somewhere.


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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One Response to Thinking about donor conception siblings

  1. marilynn says:

    Olivia the reuniting of separated family is of great interest to me and I have helped close to 300 people locate and contact their missing family members over the last nearly 20 years and it has been an absolute joy to be part of. I think my opinions are evolving and changing over the years from a sort of vague and poorly articulated belief that people had a ‘right to know who they were and where they came from” to something far more simplistic and practical. I did indeed originally believe that people would be automatically bonded and similar to their relatives they’d been separated from but that turns out to be no more true that people are automatically bonded and similar to their relatives when they are raised around them. Every person born has the same chances of loving and getting along and feeling bonded to their relatives as everyone else. There is no one size that fits all and it really does not have anything to do with being raised by and around them or not – you might dislike your family if you were raised by them and have little in common with them but shared experience (which is nothing to sneeze at but not necessarily the kind of glue that will keep you coming back for more as an adult if you felt luke warm about your childhood. All this is to say that the relatives you were separated from may be utterly fantastic or they may bore you to tears or even frighten your sensibilities and you’d likely have felt the same had you been raised by them. It’s a matter of personalities mingling really. The goal is really to be open to the possibility that you and your family will get along and if not that you will at least know about one another and have the knowledge and ability to communicate if you need or want to as adults. As children there should be no choice you should simply be exposed to your relatives as a matter of course unless they are dangerous for they are your safety net and your unique and special network of common ground in the world that nobody can break up or take away from you for real. The best anyone can do to surpress the reality of who our family members are is to conceal or sequester us but that won’t change who we are or who we belong to or who belongs to us.

    Of course people are seeking their family because they are cut from the same stone and have an unbreakable bond of belonging to a network of people who are suppose to look out for one another take care of one another and care what happens to one another. It is a terrible injustice for a person to be told they are undeserving of recognizable membership legally in their own family and is deeply wounding often to people psychologically to be informed that their own relatives don’t view them as family simply because they have been raised up separately because that changes nothing in fact at all – that is only geography. So the search is generally about overcoming barriers and obstacles and forced separation and it’s about hoping that their family feels they deserve what all other people deserve at birth – the care and support of their biological parents and recognition as important and valuable and worthy of acknowledgement in their own families as well as in the families of unrelated people who may have lovingly taken on the job of raising them in their parent’s absence.

    These current articles in the BBC about siblings separated by the actions of parents who donated gametes and made good on contracts not to raise their kids use a term that people think is cute “Diblings”. I find the term degrading and a continued effort to downgrade and diminish the validity and importance of their brothers sisters and other relatives simply because the parent they have in common was absent from their lives in a care giving roll. The fact their parent did not do what they are suppose to do for them – what they and all minors deserve from their biological parents is not their fault and it does not change the fact that they are that person’s children to the same extent as anyone’s offspring are their children. They are maternal or paternal siblings and calling them diblings is to say that they are not siblings in the normal sense of the word but they are. Others just are terrified and insecure to let them be family because they think it somehow diminishes their importance.

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