I haven’t blogged for absolutely ages and although there has been plenty going on in the donor conception world I haven’t felt inspired to write. However, it suddenly feels like I am surrounded by people’s thoughts about identity (which has become something of a buzzword) and that subject is absolutely central to debates around donor conception.
Just before we went to Paris last week I realised that the book I had taken from our daughter’s old bookcase and chucked on the floor of my office was Identity: Sociological Perspectives by Steph Lawlor. It was one of many books consulted by Zannah when she was writing her final dissertation for her Anthropology degree. Then whilst we were in France the story broke about the Archbishop of Canterbury not having the genetic father he thought he had. The revelation had been a shock but he declared, “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes.” On our return I was listening to the BBC World Service and realised they were running an Identity project, inviting people to submit video footage in the context of globalisation and who people think they are. Then I opened my copy of Therapy Today to find two articles, ‘Who am I and what makes me who I am’ and ‘Ancestors Matter’, both absolutely pertinent to the topic.
But the thing about identity is that it’s slippery. It has many components and I would suggest only becomes a problem when something is perceived as ‘missing’. In a fractured, globalised and unstable world where there is no such thing as a job for life and families are, as I once heard described, ‘whoever you find behind the front door’ there seems plenty of opportunity for a sense of loss rather than wholeness to be felt by many people.
As Lawlor says, “The notion of identity hinges of an apparently paradoxical combination of sameness and difference. The root of the word ‘identity’ is the Latin idem (same) from which we also get identical. We share common identities with others but at the same time we are also unique. Lawlor goes on to say, “Western notions of identity rely on these two modes of understanding, so that people are understood as being simultaneously the same and different.”
As I suggested above, identity is made up of many things – “the totality of the beliefs we have about ourselves” – as one contributor to the World Service debate said, but as Lawlor suggests these many components are mostly interactive and must also be seen as dynamic. Identities do change over time. There also appears to be an inner/outer split with on the one hand, who we think we are inside ourselves and who others viewing us from the outside think we are, but the reality is that what we believe about ourselves is largely formed through relationships and interactions with others. Human beings are social animals and it is our interdependence that binds us together and forms the basis of our identity. We can of course choose to identify with certain groups and not with others. The Archbishop of Canterbury chooses to identify himself with the Christian community and his belief in God. This feels like a stronger connection and identity to him than the genetics that created him. It would appear that finding out that his father was not his creator is not a loss in his life because the stronger identity is with his Christian beliefs.
Where all this leaves donor conceived people who believe they cannot understand their full identity without knowing their genetic heritage and progenitor I am not sure. Loss seems a central theme with an identity provided by the community of others who feel the same way. Perhaps the conference to be held at the Wellcome Collection on Saturday, “Assisted Reproduction – Emotional and Identity Implications for Parents and Children” will throw some light on all this. I’ll report back.