This wonderful book should be read by everyone contemplating having a child by donor conception, people who are parenting a child conceived by egg, sperm or embryo donation and the professionals who support them. The author, Jana Rupnow, is a counsellor from Texas who says this book has been a labour of love and written with the people she has been helping over the last ten years in mind. She takes a child focussed perspective but writes with enormous compassion for people struggling with infertility and trying to make the decision to have a child by donor conception. As Rupnow herself is adopted and has a daughter she adopted from China she is no stranger to issues of loss, difference and interest in genetic heritage. Throughout the book she uses examples from her own experience of adoption and parenting her daughter, recognising that adoption and donor conception, whilst sharing some features, are not the same.
What makes me most excited about this book is that it supports and mirrors very closely my own approach to parenting donor conceived children. Firstly she recognises that children will understand and give meaning to their conception story in different ways at different developmental stages. Rupnow then acknowledges that mixed feelings about donor conception are normal in both intended and actual parents and indeed for DC children and adults. The ability to be able to hold these mixed feelings at the same time, to be able to see both sides, (what she refers to as dialectical thinking) is vital for successful family building by DC. If parents are happy to recognise and embrace difference whilst also embracing similarities between themselves and their children there is then room in the family conversation for children/adults to have both positive and negative feelings. Rupnow endorses something I often say in Preparation for Parenthood workshops that becoming a parent by donor conception is a wonderful opportunity to raise a child who is ‘themself’ rather than expecting a chip off the old block.
Rupnow acknowledges that two of the most important states for potential and actual parents to develop are a sense of confidence and comfort with the use of donor conception, ideally before having treatment, and the ability to separate their own feelings from those of their children. The first is likely only to be achieved after a period of grief and mourning for the child it was not possible to have, before moving on to have the child who is possible. The second will take practice over time but is an essential component of healthy parenting.
Rupnow’s style is gentle on parents but very clear that the child’s future needs ‘the one who has not had a choice’ should be paramount in all decision making, and that, most importantly, means ‘telling’ and preferably from an early age. She also acknowledges that modern direct-to-consumer DNA testing is changing the face of donor conception and that all parents need to take this into account when making choices.
Jana Rupnow is an American and so you would expect some references to be different to the UK experience, but the vast majority of this book, being focused on the emotional and social experience of potential and actual parents, is relevant for everyone thinking about becoming a parent by donor conception or parenting children of any age. She uses many family examples and these include gay couples of both sexes. There are no specific references to solo mums but there is much in the book that is just as relevant for a solo parent as it is for a couple.
Apart from the main title being poor grammatical English and one or two other teeth-grating Americanisms, I cannot fault this book in any way. I definitely wish I had written it and recommend it to all without reservation.
Three Makes Baby: How to Parent Your Donor Conceived Child: by Jana M. Rupnow, LPC Available NOW from the Donor Conception Network, dcnetwork.org