Lessons from the past can help make a better future for donor conceived people

Well it looks like I’m going to be giving the talk on Long Term Outcomes for Donor Conceived People at the British Fertility Society conference after all.  In my blog post on November 8th I said that I had asked a donor conceived adult to take my place but unfortunately, after a month of thinking about it, the BFS declined to accept a new speaker.  We can speculate about their reasons and I suppose I could have taken a principled stand and said that I was not prepared to speak, but I think that would have led to a lost opportunity.  Instead I am going to do my best to present the complex picture that makes up the spectrum of what is known about the experiences and feelings of donor conceived adults from the small amount of available research, from the ‘grey literature’ available on the internet and from my own experience of contact with a large number of people conceived this way.  In addition I have re-watched Anonymous Father’s Day and Sperm Donors Anonymous and have talked in depth with three British women from different eras of donor conception about identity, how they feel about themselves, their families (who they consider to be family) and their donor and am grateful to them for being so open and honest with me.

Of course all the research has been conducted with people who know they are sperm donor conceived and mostly from a period where anonymity for donors prevailed.  Almost all found out or were told about their beginnings as teenagers or adults and often in difficult circumstances.  It was also a time when potential parents were not offered opportunities to think about what they were doing, and men continued to feel the shame of infertility without being able to talk about it.  No wonder these unexpressed feelings impacted on their parenting.   The oldest of the women I talked with described to me how her parents were simply told by their family doctor not to worry about infertility as there was a way to ‘cure’ it…with a referral to one of the first clinics where sperm donation was carried out.  She said it was clear to her that even on his death-bed her father had still not overcome his feelings about being infertile and needing to use a donor to help his wife become pregnant.

The conditions of donor conception are different now, particularly in the UK (and a few other places) where anonymity for donors has ended.  Very many more donor conceived children are learning about their beginnings from a young age and as they grow into adulthood we will begin to learn how many of the feelings of those from a previous era they share and how many were to do with the unprocessed emotions of parents being passed down the generations and secrets being kept in the family.  Things are still far from perfect.   Only a relatively small number of potential parents have really explored what it means to have a child by donor conception, too many children are still not being told and some UK fertility doctors are knowingly sending people abroad for egg donation to countries where anonymity reigns unchallenged.

There is also still much to do in educating parents about freeing their children to be able to feel curious, angry, sad or upset about aspects of their conception by donor.  Our own daughter has recently said that she has more complicated feelings now about her conception and particularly would love to know the motivation of her donor.  Like Michael Griffin in Sperm Donors Anonymous she is grappling with ‘this very peculiar way that I came into being’, although she stands by her dissertation on identity, written when she was an Anthropology student.  It can feel painful to listen to her but listening is what I will continue to do because I love her almost more than life itself.

Some of you reading this will be very sceptical about my ability, as a parent, to be able to convey anything of value about the experience of being donor conceived…and at one level you must be right.  I am not in that situation myself.  But I do have an open mind and I am able to hear the difficult stuff.  I will do my best to convey to the BFS, in ways that they are able to hear, that lessons must be learned from the mistakes of the past and that the donor conceived adults of the future are relying on them to use their power and influence to change practice for the better.

Happy Christmas.  Let’s all hope for many good things in 2016.

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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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14 Responses to Lessons from the past can help make a better future for donor conceived people

  1. It’s a shame they didn’t rethink this or possibly allow you to give a joint presentation with a DC person.

  2. marilynn says:

    i do actually think your trying and it’s wonderful that you revisited those movies. In your old posts on Fertiltiy Friends you met with tons of hostility for trying to urge women to do the ethical thing in telling. Listen it’s great that your daughter is talking about her feelings and I want to make two suggestions and run them by her to see if this makes sdense. Some of the open and telling lingo iss kind of evasive and does not actually describe the content of what is being told and that kind of turns honesty into dishonesty and it really prevents the person doing the telling from empathizing with the person they are talking to. So you are not telling them about their beginings or their conception, you are telling them that they have an absent biological parent and biological relatives. See how different that is? When you realize that your not telling them about their beginings but rather telling them one of their biological parents is absent and so is that bio parent’s family you can then begin to empathize with their loss. It’s a loss to the same extent as if the rearing bioedparent had chosen not to raise them. I’ve asked you before if DCN had contemplated a follow up series to respond to the obvious questions that someone will have when they have one bio parent who wanted to raise them and another one who did not want to raise them. Why are they important to one bio parent but not the other and what makes a person’s child valuable to them or frankly what makes a person’s child so easy to give up? Other questions that come up might be why they would choose to help someone they’d never met or were friends with by giving them one of their children? To be clear yes it was sperm they gave away but they had to sign an agreement to give up any children born – these kids are not dummies and know he had to agree to give up their kids or nobody would have wanted their sperm. I know those statments have seemed absurd to you in the past, but really those are some basic questions that logically arise after being told at any age. Those questions have nothing to do with who is raising them or how great their home life is, so maybe you might consider it as a range of topics to cover in your teaching because those are logical questions for people to face whether told young or old. You are in a great position to teach people how to empathize on the topic of what would motivate their bio parent not to want to raise them. Ask your daughter for help and if you set aside the lingo and say it all straight you can understand her better. Your great this is just the natural evolution of your teaching I think. I’d be interested to know if she thought those things I said were reasonable follow ups to telling or if I’m totally out to lunch.

    • Dr Joanna Rose says:

      Of course those are reasonable questions…very much to the point.

    • gsmwc02 says:

      The goal should be to be honest with the child and let them decide how they feel about it. It shouldn’t be to make sure they’re miserable and join the minority army of donor conceived people who oppose the practice.

    • oliviasview says:

      It is amusing to be patronised by you Marilynn. I agree with Greg’s response. It would be an extraordinary thing to do to explain to children about the person (people) who are missing from their lives and likely to completely undermine their security. I don’t believe in fairy tales either. They need to know they are genetically connected to real people who gave their sperm or eggs freely in order that they should be born. But talking with them about this person as someone who did not want to raise them feels perverse in the extreme. Donors give their gametes away to help others, they do not intend to become parents. I could go on but it’s Christmas Eve and I have better things to do.

  3. marilynn says:

    My friend M who just reunited is bizarrely still in favor of “donor conception”. She was told from birth and was raised iby bio mother and partner and with partner’s kid from birth. She was only looking for medical information but has developed a very intense father daughter relationship they talk for hours every day and they hang out and she is the ambassador for her DSR troup of siblings. She calls him Dad and is thrilled and realizing that she did deserve this all along. He’s reacting to her the way men react to their newborns – they love them before ever raising them. It’s perfectly normal for a person to love their kids without having raised them. Anyway thought you’d find it interesting that She is not against the process with the exception of anonymity (your position) – yet it is absolutely a father daughter relationship. He also did the right thing by telling her he’s proud of her . His wife does not like her calling him Dad I think it would be good to see education address how to make donor offspring comfortable in reunion – there is nothing wrong with using the term dad or father and spouses can make the kids feel unwelcome in their own family. Wives call husbands by first name not kids and my friend is not applying for the position of wife, she’s one of several adult daughters.

    • gsmwc02 says:

      What was the situation of your friend’s upbringing? Was she raised by a single mom, same sex couple or a heterosexual couple where the Dad was infertile?

  4. Dr Joanna Rose says:

    I would like to know the explanation for not allowing Adult Donor Offspring to speak on their own behalf. Please tell me the contact and explanation given and i will follow it up. Dr Joanna Rose

    • gsmwc02 says:

      I’m sure Olivia has already done this. I’m not sure it’s a good idea with someone with an agenda to contract these people. It could lower the chance that they allow donor conceived people to speak at these events in the future.

    • oliviasview says:

      The only explanation was that I came highly recommended and the committee did not feel minded to change. To be honest I suspect having a speaker who has any personal experience is a bit radical for them.

  5. gsmwc02 says:

    You should definitely proud of the work you do Olivia. You do have an open mind that is respectful and encourages dialogue. Even though my wife and I are not going to pursue donor conception or any other parenthood for that matter I’ve learned so much from reading your work and feel it would have better prepared me to parent.

    I’m a little disappointed as well that this wasn’t a joint presentation. It would have been interesting to hear both sides.

    Happy (Merry) Christmas to you and your family. Hoping 2016 is a Happy and Healthy year for you and your family.

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