Telling children IS only the start but without it nothing else happens

Walter appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire show today as part of a discussion about whether donor conceived children in the UK should have the right to make connections with others who were conceived with the same donor before they are 18.  There was some cute footage of little ones who share an American donor meeting up and graphics showing where the many children from this particular donor live all over the English speaking world (and maybe beyond).  Mothers were heard to say that they felt their children were making special bonds with their half-siblings, showing caring behaviour that had not been demonstrated with other children.  Whether this is true or just wishful thinking (projection in therapy language) on behalf of the women is not important.  The children, all as far as one could see from solo mum or lesbian couple families, were getting on well and that’s great…although important to remember that in families where children are fully genetically connected, siblings often fight like cat and dog.  It’s part of real sibling behaviour. Wendy Kramer of the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) made the point that as most people using donated sperm these days are single women or lesbians (well, at least those who register on the DSR are) that ‘telling’ was less important than it used to be as these children are inevitably going to have to know that a male donor helped in their creation.  Many of these women have only one child so forming a community of families whose children share a donor is one of the ways in which both parents and children make connections with others and break the isolation of parenting alone.  Young children enjoy the company of others (whether or not they are genetically related) and as they grow up they can make their own decisions about what these relationships mean to them.    Wendy went on to say that ‘telling’ was anyway only the beginning.  The big story today is of searching for genetically connected relatives likened to ‘first cousins’ and how enormously joyful and rewarding these links can be for children and parents.  She refuted Ms Derbyshire’s suggestion that counselling might be required for anyone looking for a half-sib. Laura Witjens of NGDT and the Donor Conceived Register was, however, clear that in the UK gamete donation was still used by very many heterosexual couples and they have very different practices when it comes to ‘telling’ and their attitude to half-siblings.   It may well be that young children would benefit from being in touch with others conceived from the same donor, and the soon to be revived SibLink register on DC Network’s site is a place where this could happen, but DCN knows from past experience that it will be used mainly by single women.  Both heterosexual and lesbian couples tend to be much more guarded about their family units, acknowledging the important role that the donor played in the foundation of their family but disinclined to think of anyone beyond the boundaries of their household as ‘family’.  They rarely feel the need for extended connections in the same way that solo mums and some lesbian couples do.  Children conceived after 2005 do have the right to identifying information about their donor from age 18 but those who have been ‘told’ early are unlikely to follow this up until later in their twenties or thirties, if at all.  Young children certainly do not require outside services when meeting each other but older offspring may well feel wary about being in touch with their donor or half-sibs.  DCN knows that many parents are relieved that the HFEA will be offering an intermediary – not counselling – service to help smooth the path. So the picture in the UK is more complicated than was obvious on the show where questions of family type and the age at which DC children might require some third party help in making genetic links, were not addressed.  I suspect that it will take some time for most parents in couples to adjust to the idea of renegotiating their family boundaries to take in half-sibs and potentially the donor.  Those who want to do this when children are small can use informal means.  The DSR is open world-wide and increasingly used by UK families and there is SibLink as well.  But for the majority getting their heads around ‘telling’ is the foremost concern and that has to happen before anything else can.  To aid this process, DC Network of course publishes wonderful story books for children and a series of Telling and Talking booklets for parents but I came across today ten really good tips for telling children about donor conception.  Follow these and you won’t go far wrong.


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 Telling children IS only the start but without it nothing else happens

  1. marilynn says:

    If your a person who turned to this process after trying to have a bio child for a long time, or trying with a much loved partner for a long time, this analogy might be helpful in wanting to embrace the family of the people being told the truth: Imagine that someone told you that you had a biological child out there in the world and that you would not be raising that child and would not be allowed to know that child ever or for at least 18 years. Imagine being totally legally powerless to change that situation. Your eggs or sperm were mishandled by the clinic and the one good egg or one good sperm you had mistakenly was given to some other patient of the same doctor and they wound up with your child. This has happened a lot actually. Google UC Irvine for one huge example.

    Everyone has two biological parents and maternal and paternal relatives and everyone knows that they are suppose to take care of their kids by law and on top of that are suppose to want to do it generally speaking. The person being told very likely has at least one biological parent that is doing exactly that so the contrast between the care giving bio parent and the absent bio parent will be stark. Of course they’d want both bio parents to act like the one bio parent who does care. Of course they would want the balance of being accepted by maternal and paternal relatives. It would be no different than being told you had children you’d never see being told you had a bio parent you would not see. Imagine being told you had this child who did not want to be your child and wanted you to be happy without them with whatever family or life you had. Now imagine having a bio parent your told did not want to be your parent and wanted you to be happy with whatever life or family you happened to be growing up with. It’s very similar only of course not being wanted by your bio parent is a different type of rejection than not being wanted by your child I’m sure the void is equally difficult to fill. Could you fill the loss of one child though you had others to care for? Could they fill the loss of one bio parent though they have others to care for them?

    I’m not suggesting that people will necessarily be anguished over the loss or absence of the bio parent or bio family. I’m just saying to be practical about the message being told and empathetic to them possibly wanting to grow up around their siblings and other relatives. You’d want to be around your child and grandkids
    if you found out you had them.

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