Since I returned from holidays in Vienna and Northern Spain (yes, I know, lucky me) I have been editing the presentations that were given at the DC Network conference in April, so that they can be printed in the Summer Journal. The two talks in the morning were on genetics and the role of DNA in donor conception and the huge recent growth of genetic genealogy, where DNA testing is used together with written records to discover information about genetic relatives. I’m going to write about this another time but today I want to concentrate on something that came up in the afternoon.
Lucia, a solo mum with twins conceived by embryo donation in Spain was interviewed by the Director of DC Network. Her girl/boy twins are now 9 and a half and since he was about 8 the boy has been keen to tell anyone who will listen that his mum used donors to have him and his sister. Recently, to Lucia’s distress, he has been asking her if she is his ‘real mum’. This was Lucia’s worst fear (and seems to feature on many DC parents nightmare list) but after reassuring him several times that she was his ‘real mum’, she stood back and realised that what she was not acknowledging was that the penny had dropped for her son. Having thought anew about the much repeated mantra, “mummy needed an egg from another lady and a seed from a man to make you”, he had realised that if the ingredients that made him did not come from his mum, perhaps that meant that she was not his ‘real mother’. What he was looking for was validation of this realisation and when Lucia gave it to him he was obviously relieved and very happy to agree that in every other way she was his real mother. Lucia could have become upset and denied the reality or pushed her son’s questioning away, giving him the strong message that he was asking about something that was too difficult or painful for his mother to contemplate. We know from the accounts of some DC adults that they have felt their parents were too vulnerable or fragile on the subject of donor conception for them to express curiosity or talk about their genetic relatives. But Lucia did not fall apart, despite her own feelings she listened to what her son was asking and eventually was able to give him the validation he needed. This family often have conversations about what the children might have inherited from their donors. Both are proud of having olive skin and sometimes tell people about their Spanish connection. Although she doesn’t always find it easy, Lucia prides herself on her open relationship with her children and wants them to be able to tell her how they are feeling without worrying about her.
Lucia is a solo mum but this situation could easily have occurred in a lesbian or heterosexual couple family. All DC children will have at least one non-genetically linked parent and we know from about the age of eight a leap in brain development makes it very likely that the realisation of the lack of genetic connection will dawn on them around this time. Some are sad that they do not have this link by blood to a much loved parent. Some are just matter of fact about it. All need to have parents who feel comfortable and confident enough in their role to be able to listen and acknowledge feelings.
Another topic that comes up in Lucia’s household is that of daddies. Both her children say they would like one – and Lucia sometimes feels guilty that she went ahead and had them on her own (although she dearly would have loved a partner) – but she does wonder sometimes if the twins are simply wanting something that other children seem to have rather than actually missing out on a father in their life.
Lorraine, an American solo mum by DC who contributes to a couple of Facebook groups I am part of posted something very interesting about dads and the importance of validating children’s feelings the other day. With her permission I am reprinting it here –
I had an interesting conversation with my daughter this morning. A Father’s Day commercial was on encouraging people to do things for their dads. She said:
“But I don’t have a dad”
So I went through the list of people she does have in her life including sister, grandma, aunts, cousins, etc. I also reminded her that she has a donor. She responded in a “yeah and” assertive tone with “Yeah but I want a dad.”
Although I didn’t feel the least bit slighted by it, I learned important things. Having a huge family doesn’t take the place of having a dad. On a positive note, she’s not connecting her donor with the concept of a dad. She’s perhaps learning the important difference. My point in mentioning all of this is because I’ve always wanted to be a mother, not a father. Therefore, I’m not concerned about “not being enough” for her because I embrace what my role is, a mother. That means I am not and can never be a father to my kids and I’m ok with that.
I never want my girls to feel that they have to pretend not to care about not having a dad. I don’t want them to worry about hurting my feelings. What’s important to me is that they feel free to express how they feel no matter what and I, their mom, will validate their feelings. So with her assertive tone of voice and all, I’m glad she felt comfortable to say what’s on her mind. If she’s like this going on 7, I shudder to think how she would respond at 17.
I’m posting this not to offend anyone but with the hope that it might help an SMC worried about Father’s Day.
What Lorraine and Lucia seem to have in common is a willingness to own the consequences of the decisions they took right at the beginning and to really listen to what their children have to say. It is important to them that their children are able to express themselves but they have enough self-confidence to manage the negative emotions that sometimes emerge. I suspect Lorraine is a bit tougher and more cool with it all than Lucia, but anyone who can parent twins on their own certainly gets my respect! I can’t help feeling that the children of both women will do enormously well.
DC Network members can read the whole of Lucia’s insightful and often humorous interview in the summer edition of the DCN Journal, out in July.