I have just finished the first draft of a mostly re-written updating of the booklet Telling and Talking 17+. This is intended for parents of donor conceived adults to support and help them tell their ‘children’ in the best way possible. As I wrote the original eleven years ago it is not surprising that a lot needed changing – in particular the section on Searching for Genetic Connections.
Getting the tone of the text right has been tricky. It needs to be upbeat and positive enough to encourage parents to actually ‘tell’ but it also needs to let them know that their adult children may respond in a variety of ways, few of them easy to deal with. There will definitely be shock but also sometimes disbelief or even an element of relief as things that have puzzled them over the years are suddenly explained. As Simon said, “I felt a tidal wave of relief” on hearing that his dad was not his biological father. He had always felt disconnected from his dad and his side of the family and this had been a source of discomfort to him as he couldn’t understand why. Interestingly enough Simon was alone in the eight donor conceived adults I spoke to from five families where my husband and I had spent time helping them prepare to tell, who had any inkling that their dad was not genetically linked to them. All the others were completely taken aback but when they had recovered from the initial shock they all had compassion for their parents; for what they had been through earlier in life and for the agony of keeping the secret for so long. Fascinatingly, all, except for Simon, thought that they had been told at the right age (between 19 and 37). Simon was 40 when he had the news.
I wrote in a post on 2nd December last year https://oliviasview.wordpress.com/2016/12/02/telling-late-about-donor-conception-not-so-bad-after-all/ about the conversations I had been having with these late-told adults so I will not repeat myself here, except to say that Ken Daniels from New Zealand has also been coming across a number of late-told adults who felt that their identity had not been threatened as a result of being ‘told’. They too came from warm, loving and intact families similar to those whose preparation for telling Walter and I supported in the UK. Ken’s research on this topic will be published later this year.
However, I was reminded on a Facebook group the other day, that there are DC adults from such loving homes who don’t feel as benignly about donor conception as those I spoke with. They are often those who were ‘told’ early, seemed to feel comfortable and then, as adults, have changed their minds for a number of reasons. Building into the booklet the variety of first responses and then those that may appear as the years pass, has been one of the challenges. Another has been encouraging parents to continue the conversation. They cannot get away with ‘telling’ and then think they have done their bit and don’t need to say any more. Two adults, Gemma and Linda, are very clear that keeping the lines of communication open is very important. Also the sharing of the information with ALL the family so that DC adults are able to be as open or private as they choose about their conception, without being constrained by one side of the family not knowing. I have certainly let parents know that the vast majority of DC adults, early or late-told, have curiosity about their genetic roots and links and that they may well search. If they feel that parents are likely to be hurt by this behaviour they will keep the activity secret. As secrets in the family are the last thing that needs perpetuating, the message to parents is to let their children know that they understand their curiosity and will not take searching as a rejection of them. Of course a DC person may feel that they want to search privately and that is their privilege as an adult, but there is a fine line between personal privacy and keeping searching secret out of fear or as a sort of punishment to parents.
The largest new section in the booklet is of course about the advent of DNA testing. It is in fact this revolution that sparked the urgent re-writing of the booklet as copies of T & T 17+ have been selling in far larger numbers this last year than in the previous ten years. We can only assume this is in response to anxieties from parents about DNA testing.
There is no point in frightening parents of the possible consequences of ‘telling’. What we all want is for them to do it. But they need to deal with their fears and demons first and this means possibly re-visiting painful feelings and working through them to a point where they can put the needs of their adult children first, listening and responding in ways that that are not defensive or overly emotional. That means preparation.
Philippa’s angst about holding the secret of her daughter Lucy’s conception for 37 years was palpable when I spoke to her on the phone. She found the enormity of what she had to say to Lucy unbearably painful. This is part of what she wrote to me afterwards –
‘Thanks entirely to your wonderful support and preparation – the preparation was crucial – I was able to be very steady and positive, having rehearsed what I was going to say out loud in the car, and memorised the seven points I wanted to make.”
The new Telling and Talking 17+ booklet should be available from DC Network by April.