8 – 11: the age of enlightenment

I have just finished updating the Telling and Talking booklet for parents of 8 – 11 year olds for DC Network.  I wrote the first one in 2006, updated it in 2013 and, because it has been so popular it needed reprinting, I have just done it again.  It is fascinating what has changed in these last ten years.

In 2006 anonymity for donors had just ended in the UK.  Everyone reading the booklet at that time would have used anonymous donors.  If parents were contemplating another child they had a dilemma.  They were able to choose to use the same donor (there were exceptions to the identifiable rule for children within the same family) so that their children were full genetic siblings without rights to identifiable information or they could choose a different donor, giving the second child different rights to their first.  Those who had not reserved sperm for a second or often third child by then, found themselves without an option and agonised over this.  2023, when the first children conceived post-2005 would be able to exercise their right to identifiable information about their donor felt light years away.  Parents, on the whole, did not want to think about donors as real people and half-siblings were only beginning to be acknowledged as existing.  People had only just started going abroad for egg donation in the previous couple of years.

The situation today could not be more different.  Every child between 8 and 11 conceived by donated gametes or embryos in the UK will have identifiable donor(s).  But there are also a considerable but completely unknown number who have been conceived outside the UK using anonymous donor(s).  These two groups of children have completely different rights.  As the first post-2005 children become teenagers, 2023 feels much closer.  Although many parents still feel very anxious about acknowledging the donor as a person who could potentially enter their lives, DC Network is (gently) leading them towards this recognition and DCN members at least are beginning to get their heads round it.   There are very many more solo mums than ten years ago and some of those who chose to import donor sperm from the States are busy making contacts with half-siblings via the Donor Sibling Registry.  These families are leading the way in demonstrating that contact with half-siblings and potentially the donor can bring a rich dimension into the lives of DC families, rather than the disruption and undermining of relationships that has been feared for so long.  Heterosexual couples still have a lot of catching up to do here.

The years between 8 and 11 are important ones for every child and family.  It is a time for consolidation of relationships between parent and child before the potential upheavals of hormone-fuelled teenage years.  For donor conception families these years offer the last window of opportunity to tell a child about their beginnings without too much shock or upset, but hopefully most parents will have started to tell the story of how their children came into the family long before this time.  As part of the updating of the booklet I have been talking to some parents with children in this age group.  All of them started ‘telling’ from a very early age and their children would have been able to ‘parrot’ their story from 5 or 6.  However, most parents felt that real understanding of the genetic disconnect did not begin to happen until between ages 8 and 9 and became deeper in the following years.   This fits exactly with a change in brain development that allows for a more sophisticated comprehension of concepts that occurs around the age of 8.  It often starts with a rather linear perspective along the lines of…if the egg or sperm that made me came from someone else then maybe they are my ‘real’ mother or father. Tom age 9, one of embryo donation twins said something along these lines to his mum whilst they were at the GP surgery the other week.  His mum is used to her children asking upfront and direct questions and was not upset.  She suggested to Tom that he have a think about what he had said and that they would talk about it on the way home.  Later in the car Tom said, “I have thought about it and I think you ARE my real mum.” Max age 11 was conceived with help from a known egg donor whom he meets from time to time but with whom he does not have an emotional relationship.  He told his mum Ann recently that he thinks about his donor quite and lot and is grateful to her but that, “I’m glad I can grow up with you.  If I grew up in her family I would be a different person.”  Max, at two years older than Tom, is showing how his thinking has become more complex over time.

The above are just two examples of parents who understand that their children have a natural curiosity about their conception and what it might mean for them now and as they grow older.  They are committed to answering their children’s questions as they arise and discussing with them how they feel about being donor conceived.  There are of course no guarantees about how Tom and Max will feel when they are adults but it is likely that their parent’s openness from an early age and willingness to hear and talk about their feelings will stand them in good stead in the future.

So how does the new 8 – 11 booklet differ from the previous versions?  Well to start with there are many more examples and quotes from egg and embryo donation conceived families.  Back in 2006, sperm donation still dominated.  The issue of questions about half-siblings and donors, and the differential access to information and contact for people conceived abroad and in the UK, are covered fully.  Questions about resemblance can come to the fore in the 8 – 11 years as children become more self-conscious and friends comment on how they do or don’t look like parents or siblings.  Lastly, managing information at school gets a large section as children in this age group are likely to mention DC at school but often find that their peers ‘don’t get it’.  The ‘Daddy question’ for solo mums is addressed in it’s own section and in the one about school where support from teachers can help normalise a child’s ‘difference’ without pointing the finger at them.  Full of quotes from parents and children themselves, hopefully the booklet will be a good companion for parents of this mostly delightful age group of children.

The new edition should be available by the end of February/beginning March and can be bought in printed or pdf form from http://www.dcnetwork.org/catalog/books-and-pdfs





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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5 Responses to 8 – 11: the age of enlightenment

  1. marilynn says:

    It sounds like you have done a good job bringing the booklet current as far as simply communicating what the new laws are clearly and factually. This sentence stands out in your post:
    “These two groups of children have completely different rights.”

    How do you personally feel about the fact that some donor offspring have different rights than others? Do you think that it is legally justified that they should be legally differently situated? Would you like to see that law changed so that all donor offspring have identical rights?

    How do yo feel about the fact that all donor offspring have different rights than the rest of the population? Do you feel that it is legally justifiable that there should be different legal rights for donor offspring than for the rest of the population? Can you describe how the donor offspring portion of the population benefit from having completely different rights? Can you describe how donor offspring would be harmed by equalizing their right with those of the rest of the population rather than simply equalizing their rights within their own differently righted subgroup of the population? Wouldn’t it be most fair and just if all people with offspring had the same obligations and all offspring would have the same rights.

    It is just really jarring to know that printed and stated so clearly in your pamphlet is a state of affairs for donor offspring that is really troublesome. They don’t have the same rights as the rest of the population and within that legally disadvantaged subclass there are different tiers of legal rights based on birth year. We will not have truly equal rights for all human offspring until we have truly equal obligations for all humans who have offspring – that means the exemption from parental responsibility is the problem because its different than other people with offspring and creates offspring who don’t have equal rights. There is no way to exempt some people from parental responsibility without creating a legally disadvantaged subclass out of their offspring. The problem is exacerbated by assigning different rights within the subclass.

    I know you are just communicating the facts, but its a real mess for you to have to describe.

  2. oliviasview says:

    As usual your central point Marilynn is that you see ‘parents’ where I see donors. I’m not going to go there as you know we differ on this point. With regard to the differential status of various groups of donor conceived people, we can wish it was more equal till the end of time but the fact is that different rules applied at different times, resulting in different rights. Is it fair? No it’s not particularly fair but it probably isn’t fair to donors who were promised anonymity in the past to renege on this promise now. I like what they have done in Victoria in Australia where rights to identifiable information for DC people have been equalised over various times periods but donors have a right to veto the information being given to the offspring. However, in that State the regulatory authority, VARTA, contacts the donor and acts as a mediator/intermediary so that donors have safe access to the perspective of the DC person trying to find them before making up their mind.
    In the UK all donors have had to be identifiable to offspring conceived since 2005 once those young people turn 18. Donors between 1991 and 2005 can re-register as identifiable but there is little publicity to say that they can do this and the HFEA (our regulatory authority) will not contact them directly, although there is a mediation service if they do come forward. I would like to see them being much more proactive. Sadly, the only way for pre-1991 offspring to find donors or half-siblings is via the Donor Conceived Register and DNA testing. The children I was referring to in my post are a different group altogether. They are the children conceived abroad using anonymous donors. The HFEA has no jurisdiction over the clinics where these conceptions happen. We can only try to educate potential parents to stay in the UK but treatment abroad is often very much cheaper and lots of people really just either don’t understand the difference between being treated in the UK and abroad or they choose to go overseas because they want an anonymous donor. The US of course remains the Wild West, with no regulation whatsoever.

    24th February 2016 update: Link to latest news regarding access to identifying information for donor conceived adults in Victoria Australia http://us3.campaign-archive2.com/?u=83bf2e5956b0dde803e649d4c&id=f946eb4998&e=e36ee3393e

  3. marilynn says:

    I appreciate your response. You are reporting the facts as they are and not necessarily how you wish them to be. Where you say I see them as parents and you see them as donors: I am trying to see everyone as being human and needing equal human rights and obligations, so I am seeking commonality upon which to base human rights, not difference. Since all people are the offspring of human beings if some humans have obligations to be recorded as parents so should all and that way there would be no differences in the rights experienced by any of their offspring. My feelings on the subject are passionate but not terribly complex. To me these laws would be no different than saying the offspring of convicted criminals would never be allowed to attend school or get a drivers license – granting humans different rights based on the legal status of the individuals who they are the offspring of.

  4. gsmwc02 says:

    Good stuff. It should be interesting to see how this all evolves as this generation ages compared to the previous generation where secrecy and rejection was common.

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