Lockdown because of the Covid 19 pandemic has proved the perfect time to write, with my long-term colleague Jane, a booklet for parents of early-told donor conceived children who are now approaching or already in the teenage years. It is called Continuing the Conversation. This publication has had a long gestation time, partly because I wanted to interview a good cross-section of DC young people from all family types (and their views and feelings are at the heart of the booklet) but also because I moved house during the research process! The content covers the developmental changes that take place at this life stage and the ways these might impact on a young person’s thinking and feeling with regard to their beginnings. There are chapters on secondary school and how teenagers manage their difference in the face of biology lessons revealing the importance of genes and discussions on ethics around assisted conception in religious education lessons; on how parents can help prepare their child for a future where the donors’ known, anonymous or identifiable status will mean differential access to information and in particular helping parents to think about 2023 and beyond when the first cohort of 18 year olds in the UK will have the right to identifying information about their biological father or mother; re-thinking the meaning of genes and how important they might be to different people in the development of an adult identity and of course the revolutionary impact of DNA testing on the donor conception world. There is also a special chapter for parents who have raised children in same sex or solo parent families as the second partner and/or ‘Dad’ question can make life tricky for children, particularly in the young teenage years. The thoughts of both young people and parents about making contact with half-siblings and/or a genetic parent are explored. The always difficult topic of language and terminology is discussed and a new way of thinking about a ‘donor’ is proposed, but this will be the subject of a subsequent blog.
Throughout the booklet Jane and I raise questions that can feel uncomfortable for some parents. The choice of where they conceived their child and the impact this may have on their adult child’s choices for information or contact, is an example, and the importance of acknowledging the donor as a living human being who may well become known to their child in the future is another. We emphasise the value that DC people place on parents listening to their feelings and being supportive of their needs, whatever they may be, and are clear with parents that unwillingness to talk about these things is likely to result in their child searching behind their back.
The final chapter is mostly given over to the advice that teenagers and young adults wanted to give to parents. This question really animated my interviewees and they didn’t hold back!
Final tweaks are now being made to the text, a Resources page added and hopefully the booklet will be published and ready for sale both in pdf and hard formats in early Autumn. We hope very much that parents will find this a useful tool in supporting their growing children as they mature and find their way in the world as people conceived with the help of a progenitor(s) who is not a raising parent but who may become part of an extended family unit.
Finally, I am hugely indebted to all the young people and parents who gave up time to talk to me in person, on the phone and via email. Your stories and quotes have made the text rich and alive. If you contributed you will be receiving a pdf copy of the final booklet.