Being ‘different’: Feel the fear and do it anyway

Someone posted a blog on my Facebook page the other day from a mum to egg donation conceived twins about her ambivalence around ‘telling’ them about their beginnings.  It reminded me how very difficult most parents find starting the story…in fact how normal it is for there to be anxiety and mixed feelings around this task.  I don’t know anyone, including myself, who has not had a dry-mouth, stomach lurching moment when first sharing the information about donor conception either with a child or with someone else.

I think what may lay behind this nervousness is how we feel about ‘difference’ and a concern about just how ‘different’ the person hearing the information may perceive it to be.  Of course if a child is very young and has no knowledge at all about how babies are made, then having some help from a ‘nice man or nice lady’ constitutes no contrast to anything else.  In fact many donor conceived children get to six or seven assuming that everyone was made the same way as them.  But having the rational knowledge that your child won’t know any better rarely stops parents from feeling anxious about speaking the first words to start telling the story.  And this is because, in the words of a donor conceived young adult I know, there is a ‘different story to tell’ and all of us will have had experiences of what ‘difference’ means for us.

I am writing this blog just a day after the death of David Bowie and have been blown away by the outpourings of grief from so very many people around the world.  It has been suggested that at the root of some of this strong reaction has been Bowie’s iconic status as someone who dared to be different…who helped people give themselves permission to be different, and I think there is something in this.  We are all brought up to have a sense of what is ‘normal’.  What constitutes this peculiar state will vary depending on the expectations we have taken in from our parents and education and the cultural, socio-economic and faith backgrounds in which we were raised.  Some sorts of ‘normal’ will be more rigid than other sorts.  Apart from those people, like Bowie, who have challenged the very concept of what ‘normal’ might be, most of us like to be somewhere on the ‘normal’ spectrum.  And until very recently that has meant that mum and dad would inevitably be (except in cases of infidelity) genetically related to their children.

On the forum Fertility Friends you come across people saying that they definitely will not be telling their children about being donor conceived because ‘they just want to be a normal family’.  I have a lot of sympathy for this point of view.  Mostly, we all want to be seen as more or less ‘normal’.   But I also believe that an important part of integrating the fact of donor conception into the lives of a family, is the process of coming to understand that creating a family in this way IS ‘different’.  Acknowledgement of this means taking on board the responsibility of sharing the information with children because it is wrong to let them assume that genetic connections are what they would expect them to be, when they are not.  Not telling puts dishonesty at the heart of the family when trust between parents and children should be the basis of that life-long relationship.

So would-be and actual parents of donor conceived children need to find a way to accept and integrate the fact of this ‘difference’ into their lives and to understand that being ‘different’ is likely to mean different things to their children at different times.

I wrote the following paragraph back in 2011 but it seemed to fit so well here – and the issues have not changed one jot – so I am repeating it.

When children notice ‘difference’ they take their meaning of it from those around them. If parents are not flustered, defensive or over-protective their children can learn through simple, age-appropriate language and concepts about their particular family. They can then be told how all families are different and see how the one they are growing up in fits into this ‘coat of many colours’ modern world. This applies to all donor conception families, not just those in solo mum, lesbian or gay families. It is easier in a large city, but also entirely possible in smaller communities if parents are open and matter-of-fact about their situation but don’t seek to push their difference into others faces. Difference can be many things. Some people find it threatening, but it can be exciting or liberating too…or neutral…something that just is. The challenge for those of us with ‘different’ families is to understand what difference means to us as adults. If we find it scary and something to be shied away from, then maybe some time needs to be taken to address these feelings as conveying this notion to children will not be helpful. Children need their parents to be comfortable with the decisions they have made, their sexuality and their lifestyles. Children may choose to make other choices when they are adults but deserve parents who accept who they are and who can help their children be confident of their place in the world.

The final message comes in the title of this piece.  If you are contemplating using a donor to create your family or are already a parent who has yet to ‘tell’, take time to notice how you are feeling about being open.  If you are fearful, seek support from others through DC Network, which welcomes those who are exploring ‘telling’ as much as those who are convinced but anxious.  Give yourself permission to be ‘different’ – actually it is a great place to be.  Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.


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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6 Responses to Being ‘different’: Feel the fear and do it anyway

  1. Marilynn says:

    You pretty much sum up your approach to telling when you say It does not matter if they understand. You tell people to take it a step further to make sure they won’t understand by using common words with made up definitions they won’t find in any medical thesaurus, dictionary, or medical text book. By the time they figure out how to decode the vague cryptic messagE you advise people to give, the kid will be out of the house on their own and the people will have enjoyed 18 + years of unchallenged parental custody and title. By the time they figure out what happened to them they’ll already be bonded to the people who functionally served as their parents.

    You say you believe that relationships not genetics are what makes a family and that you believe siblings are people who grow up together in the same house but that is not really what you believe despite what you tell Everyone because your own kids were raised itogether and yet still you refer to them as being half siblings. If all it takes to be siblings is being raised together why would you satiety were half siblings? Similarly you don’t really believe your husband is their father you just think he is owed the title for having done so much for them. If ou really believed he was theirfather you would not call them half siblings. You know that siblings are defined as people who have at least one parent in common….so if you call them half siblings who is the parent you think they have in common? If you say your husband then are you prepared to say you are not their mother.? You do think relatedness makes a family. Your entire platform that their fathers are not their fathers has nothing to do with an anthropological ideology that rejects bIology as a basis for kinship, you feel indebted to your husbAnd for sticking with you and raising your kids with you despite the fact you had them with three other men. You one time dropped the lie about having conceived your kids with your husband using donor sperm and said flat out you have three kids by three different men. It was the first time you were flat out truthful about what u and those men did which is have kids together. You raised them with your husband and he functions in place of their absent fathers. You have also said your kids know who their father is and they owe their ‘donor’ nothing more than gratituDe for thE gift he gave tHeir parents. ThAts heavy. You don’t actually believe your husband is their father you acknowledge they have their own paternal relatives but you think they owe it to your husband to not only refer to them as their real dad but additionally be grateful the man who made them isn’t around and never intended to be their parent. You taught that using the term father that fits his description as a man with offspring would be disrespectful to thee man who you think deserves it. Your love for him is clear but in time kids will generally realize that the people who made all this stuff up did not believe it themselves. That could leave you in as bad a situation as not telling and getting caught.

    They are not different it’s just being explained to sound differentI. I hope you don’t kick me off for saying that. My own mom did that with my dad and brother from her first marriage. My dad adored my brother and even tried to adopt him from her first husband but he said no. At 18 my brother changed his name to my dads name for the same reasons you are thinking are important. But it was not really fair to my brother to make him feel guilty for referring to his father as family. My dad never pushed it my mom did. It was not until our dad died that my brother became close with siblings on his own dads side and started referring to his dad as just dad, not bio dad. I’m so happy for my brother to finally feel like part of his own family. It does not take away from when he calls our dad, his dad. My mom just did not have a gift big enough to tell my dad thanks for being ther for her and my brother and I guess she thought shed give him the title if he was doing the job but it really hurt my brother to reject his dad and he didn’t need to do it dad would have loved him just as much if he were called some other term of endearment. He was there for my brother because he loved him and my mom.

    • oliviasview says:

      I am ‘approving’ your posts simply because I don’t believe in censoring anything unless it is downright offensive. This post gets near that. It is completely bizarre for you to be telling me what you think I am actually doing, but as I am comfortable with my position I feel no need to be defensive about it. Others can judge whose perspective they think makes most sense.

      • marilynn says:

        I do appreciate your commitment to not censoring. But seriously Olivia I talk to *almost* as many early told well-adjusted donor offspring as you do and their oft favorite pass time is pointing out the inconsistencies in the messages they received from the people raising them. One of the big ones that you, like their families do is to say that siblings are people who you are raised with not who you happen to be genetically related to and you have written that many times. If you believed that biological relatedness was not the determining factor in sibling relationships then why have you always described your two donor offspring kids as being ‘half siblings”? You are adamant that your husband is their father and so then how is it you can think of them as half siblings if you say your husband is the father of both of them? If you are willing to concede that your kids may have donor siblings then you have conceded to the fact that a donor becomes a parent if he has offspring.

        • oliviasview says:

          I speak of my children as half-siblings only in a technical sense. They are of course just ‘siblings’ having been raised together. My husband is dad to all three of them, but they all have a biological father as well, one being my former husband (now long dead) and the other two were donors. We all know these facts and they make no difference to my family whatsoever. I really don’t get your point.

          • marilynn says:

            OK great! You said you mean it in the technical sense – technically their half siblings because technically they have different fathers. You were saying it does not really matter if kids understand what is being told to them. You have said in the past that they will come to understand as they get older. Like with half sibs and other relatives, you have advised people not to tell about that because the existence of relatives they can’t know would undermine their security. You’ve said as they grow up and begin to understand then let them come to you with questions. I just wanted to be clear on that you do think technically they have separate fathers and other relatives. I understand that they are not that way, as the kid would expect them to be – like you said that the genetic links are not as they would expect them to be

            There are lots of parents and relatives that fail to function as they should. It is a very good thing there are people that function properly as a family should

  2. Marilynn says:

    You said that the genetic connections will be different than they would expect them to be and so you encourage people to tell so as not to mislead them. If the people raising the kid don’t believe that people are the parents of their own offspring and never taught the kid to believe that then why would you think they would expect to be the offspring of whoever is raising them? I agree that theyd assume they were being raised by their parents meaning that they were those people’s offspring. It they are someone else’s offspring then those people are their parents but they are just not raising them. Their genetic relationships to parents and relatives are the same not different than what they’d expect. What’s different than typical is that their parents are not raising them.

    They say their parents are raising them and that they don’t think biological parenthood makes a person a parent or creates other believe ur they do clearly think family is based on biological relationships or they would not say conceived a child with their spouse with the help of this miracle fertility treatment involving donated gametes. If they truly feel biology does not make a family then they’d say point blank they did not conceive with their spouse and say point blank that the child was someone else’s offspring at the very least even if it was not advertised they’d say it plainly if confronted. How can you expect people to be confident and comfortable with their decision if they are still pussyfooting around the truth of who is and is not related or who did and did not conceive.

    The difference the kids face is social and legal not biological or genetic. They are normal people conceived by their parents wo they are genetically related to.

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