As our children grow up, we need to listen…

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.

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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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12 Responses to As our children grow up, we need to listen…

  1. polly says:

    ‘Reality bites’ for these children….and their mother!!

    Biological aloneness is very familiar to adoptees… dislocating and distressing.

    Of course children wish their genealogical mother/father/parents were present in their lives. That is understandable; it is a source of deep sorrow and loss when they are absent. And yet….they must accept/condone this loss to protect the feelings/needs of those who created the genealogical void.

    • oliviasview says:

      The ‘genealogical void’ as you put is undoubtedly there for some donor conceived people, but it is definitely not true for all. I know enough DC adults (and I don’t really think you can take a proper temperature of feelings until at least 25) unrelated to me who do not feel this way to know that some genuinely do not feel loss.

  2. LorMarie says:

    Thanks for including my comments. I believe that much of my daughter’s angst at the moment is due to Father’s Day coming up and feeling that she must have someone to celebrate. Whatever the case, I’m not surprised that she desires a dad at times. In fact, I expected she’d feel this way. Another thing I’m pleased about, as stated in my comments, is that she’s not connecting the donor with a “long lost dad.” I expect that while she may desire a dad, she won’t wallow in sadness if she never gets one. One thing I like to pass instill in my children is a positive attitude regardless of circumstances…whether those circumstances were created by me or them.

    -Lorraine

    • marilynn says:

      “she’s not connecting the donor with a “long lost dad.”

      But regardless how you or your daughter perceive the situation or how you feel about and process the situation – she is human like everyone else she does have a mother and father both. She was not made any different than anyone else; a male and female became her parents when they reproduced and had offspring together and their other respective children are her siblings and their relatives are her maternal and paternal relatives. It can be easy to loose sight of the actual facts in favor of how we prefer to think of things or portray things. As long as you understand that the man you chose to have her with donated his sperm but once his offspring was born he fell under that blanket category of a person with offspring, and, according to any medical text book or primary definition for parent in the dictionary that makes him a parent. As a male parent,, he’s her father. He’s just not around and that happens to people all the time, not just donor offspring. He opted not to be around, he has an agreement with you – your cool with him being gone. If she is expressing a desire for her father, she probably means hers and not just a father. A father would not be just as good as hers just like any old random woman acting like a mother would not be as good as you because you belong to her you made her. You and he are unique special and irreplaceable – you made the perfect kid together. Why would she miss him any less than she’d miss you!

      • LorMarie says:

        “But regardless how you or your daughter perceive the situation or how you feel about and process the situation – she is human like everyone else she does have a mother and father both. She was not made any different than anyone else; a male and female became her parents when they reproduced and had offspring…”

        As surprising as it seems, she’s aware of this as we went over the technicalities. She has a bio father (in the scientific sense) but not a dad. There’s a difference. I think it’s important for children to understand the difference even if they have traditional fathers. For us, it’s not just within the realm of donor conception.

        “A father would not be just as good as hers just like any old random woman acting like a mother would not be as good as you because you belong to her you made her.”

        But a random woman can’t act like a mother. I think that’s where we differ. Correct me if I’m wrong but your perspective is based on the title (mother/father). My focus is on mother/father being active and present. So I feel that If I’m not acting in the role of mother and woman B is, she is not just as good as me but better. I feel the same way about fathers vs. dads and it’s important that my children understand this. Daily I’m earning their respect by being a good and present mom. The donor isn’t here daily and earning that respect. This is not in any way putting him down because he is a donor after all and isn’t obligated to be present. Just pointing out what “is.”

        My daughter is about to be 7 soon and her thoughts change like the weather. The latest conversation we had she said she didn’t want a dad and only wanted me. She’s a kid after all. I don’t expect her to have solid feelings until she’s an adult. Whatever those feelings are, she’s entitled to them and to express them…even if she expresses what you do.

  3. polly says:

    Hello again Olivia
    why do you think that these DC persons express no sense of loss relating to a fundamental aspect of their identity/themselves?? I have a few theories (which are similar to adoptees who dismiss the need to access birth origin information)…but wonder how you see it?

    • oliviasview says:

      There will be a range of reasons Polly, not just one. And degrees of loss too. We all have degrees of loss about different things in our lives. Some people adapt and compensate easily, others do not. That’s not a judgement just an observation. For some this loss (whatever it is) will be central to their lives, for others it will be peripheral. Where donor conception is concerned I genuinely believe that for some there is no loss at all. People are different and also feel differently over time. There are no absolutes here.

  4. marilynn says:

    I do think that it is important to be clear on the difference between the term ‘having a dad” which is sort of the passive voice and does not really speak to what they are experiencing which is that they don’t have their dads around. A dad is pretty non specific and they are not musing about why their mother or their adoptive mother does not have a male partner for them to toss a football too – they are expressing curiosity about their own father who made them.

    What do you think Olivia? Is it a good idea to be so generic with the references or is doing that the same as still pretending out of discomfort? Making the situation less personal with non specific terms seems to be in the same realm of discomfort to me.

  5. Sue says:

    What this made me see is how important it is that parents are educated about how to respond to their DC or adopted children who do also have other familial links. Parents response is so important in relation to their attachment and feeling of safety.

    • oliviasview says:

      I agree Sue. Response is everything. If parents are able to be accepting, open and supportive in the face of their children’s feelings (whatever they are) then this gives the child a solid and safe space in which to work out what their feelings mean for them and integrate them into their sense of self.

  6. oliviasview says:

    Marilynn, I see little evidence of children wanting or missing ‘their’ genetic father/mother. Those in het couple or even lesbian couple families have two parents and that is usually enough. They often have curiosity about the person who helped make them but this is more to do with attempts to understand who they are, not because of loss of that particular person. Children in solo mum families do often wish they had a dad, but again there is little evidence that it is ‘their’ dad they are missing, but simply a person to fulfil that role in their life. I am very open to changing my views about this but I just don’t see the evidence from children and young people in DC Network.

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