I am aware that I spend a lot of my time preaching to the converted. I don’t think anyone who subscribes to this blog believes that it is in the interests of children that they are not told about being donor conceived. I am occasionally a bit provocative and controversial but mostly I feel myself to be in the company of those for whom there are certain agreed bottom lines and being open with children and others is one of them. But just like I think it is vital to listen to the whole spectrum of views from donor conceived people, I think it is also important to listen to those potential and actual parents who say that they are definitely in the ‘not telling’ camp. Unless we really listen to what they are saying it is highly unlikely that we are going to be able to influence their attitudes or behaviour.
The people who run and post on the forum Fertility Friends won’t like it (I was chucked off several years ago) but from time to time I check on what they are saying there. It is a public forum so I’m not doing something I’m not entitled to do. The culture remains largely one of rather cloying niceness with clampdowns on anyone who expresses a view that is not accompanied by a disclaimer that ‘of course not everyone feels this way’ and ‘we all have to make our own decisions.’ But just recently, people posting on the Not Telling the Child thread (Tellers strictly not allowed) in the Donor Conception section have become a little bolder and are letting us know some of the reasons why they won’t be ‘telling’. It is important to note that the vast majority of people who post here do not yet have children so it is perfectly possible that they may change their minds as they feel more secure in their parenting as their children grow older. But it is also sad to note the number who are requesting ‘management’ to allow them access to what I think of as ‘the Paper Bag on the Head’ section which allows non-tellers to communicate privately, without being exposed to any views that might counter theirs.
So what are they saying –
“My donor is anonymous so why would ‘telling’ help my child?”
“I want my child to have a normal upbringing. I don’t want them to be seen as different in any way”
“(Telling)…is likely to cause trauma. I want to protect my child from hurt and confusion.”
Lots of variations on the ‘Love is enough’ theme. “Why do they need to know?”
“If you borrowed an egg from a neighbour to bake a cake, does that cake belong to them?”
All of these declarations, even the last rather bizarre one, seem to come from a place of fear…fear of a child asking questions that cannot be answered; fear of ‘difference’, fear of doing something that is so upsetting for a child that they cannot be told about it, invoking shame as well; fear of rejection by the child and/or family and society.
It is easy for those of us who know that none of these fears are likely to come about to make light of these anxieties, but they are real enough and counsellors hear them in their consulting rooms every day…if people dare voice them. Some don’t because of another fear – that of being judged. It is clear from what is said on the Not Telling thread that non-tellers feel on the back foot, aware that the climate has moved towards openness. The tone is defensive.
The challenge for those of us working in the donor conception world is to be able to really listen to the anxieties and fears of potential parents and let them know we understand where they are coming from. Empathy is our most valued tool in reaching hearts and minds full of fear and it is vital that we engage with all potential and actual parents by donor conception because shame and fear are a very poor basis for raising children.