It is a reflection of how full life is at the moment that I have not blogged since the beginning of the month and that it has taken me until Thursday to draw to your attention to the thought provoking article by Alice Jolly on the front page of last Saturday’s family section of the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jan/21/donor-siblings-do-ties-of-blood-matter
Alice, a DC Network member, has a daughter Hope, by egg donation and surrogacy. She is a writer and in some ways the article could be seen as publicity for her book Dead Babies and Seaside Towns, but in fact it is much, much more than that. Alice was prompted into thinking about what genetic connections in families meant to her and might mean to her daughter, by a comment from a friend who also has a child by egg donation. The friend had met with the mother of a *dibling of her daughter and this meeting had been a success, so she asked Alice if she intended to seek out diblings for Hope as well. Alice and her husband feel more cautious about making these connections but the question set off a train of thought in Alice’s head. When their surrogate was pregnant with Hope, Alice thought about and researched genetic connections. It wasn’t the science that interested her but, as she puts it, “genetics as we live it.” She went on to say, “What soon became clear is that genetics matter less than what we think about genetics.” As a writer Alice immediately saw this as a narrative. She is useless at maths because her mother is useless at maths, but, as Jolly goes on to say, in physical appearance and just about everything else she is completely different to her mother. We use these comparisons as markers of familial connection but they might equally be the result of environmental influences or coincidence. We give them the meaning that fits with the story we want to tell ourselves.
Alice is swift to say that just because lived genetics are nothing more than narrative does not mean that they are of no importance and goes on to quote an adopted friend who spent years in therapy as a result of feeling she was missing the first pages of her life. Alice and her husband have made sure that Hope will be able to know both her egg donor and surrogate mother in the future if this proves important to her, but it may also be that she is like a like a second adopted person quoted who, when offered his adoption papers by his mother, chucked them on the fire saying he really didn’t want to know.
Jolly herself has always felt like a cuckoo in the nest in her family but had her sense of displacement put to rest by discovering, in a big house move from urban Brussels to rural Gloucestershire, that she could be whoever she wanted to be and this was very freeing. She poses the question that the current obsession, as a nation and as individuals, with “who we really are” is something of a toxic dead-end. As she says, we are never just one thing or another. “The unpleasant fact is that obsession with identity is finally self-indulgent…..it is never a good idea to drive using only the rear-view mirror.”
“Focusing on identity can limit and constrain. Who cares what we are? Is is not more interesting to consider what we might become?”
I think she’s on to something. Do read the full article.
*Diblings are genetic half-siblings raised in a different family or children in the family of the donor.