Search This Blog

Custom Search

Thursday, April 28, 2011

This Isn't Just How "I" Feel

I have a knack for meeting parents with children conceived via artificial insemination in random moments. Not surprisingly, a few days ago I spent 12 hours on a transatlantic flight with the mother of a child born through artificial insemination.

Her eyes accidentally caught the title of an article on donor offspring I was reading and you could immediately feel the energy shift. We went from two people preoccupied with those first minutes before a flight, putting things away, settling in, to her barely moving and clearly focused on me.
I kept reading, but through the corner of my eye I could see her eyes quickly darting around to my other items, my clothing, my books....trying to investigate quickly..."who is she?" We sat quietly until about 30 minutes after takeoff, when she exploded with a question.

"Are you interested in artificial insemination?" she asked.

It was as if she had been holding it in for as long as she could and all that suppression had given her words the propulsion of a rock from a slingshot.

Literally, seconds earlier, the flight attendant stopped to ask, "would you like some water?" I had to laugh because this follow up question just sounded so random....
"Are you interested in artificial insemination?"
....ah yeah........"yes actually, would you happen to have an sperm on you that I could have? I'd like to go into the bathroom and inseminate myself once the seat belt sign goes off. you know, join the mile high AI club...."  - Just kidding

Anyway I explained that yes I was and asked why she was so interested. Now as an aside here (and I promise I will be back to the story in just a second) what strikes me as an notable contrast between the parents of donor offspring and the offspring themselves is how eager the majority of parents involved in AI are to chat and connect in public. On the flip side, while I "hear" the voices of many donors online I don't normally meet them in public and have the "hey your dad is a donor too? whaddya know?" kind of moments.

As donor offspring, we are typically far more anonymous, cautious and afraid of how our "secret" will effect others.  We have typically been brought up in families where the nature of our conception is the source of great pain and sometimes intense secrecy. It's not something your parents reveal to you and say, "go on now honey.....go play and tell your friends....then we'll have a my daddy is a donor party!...." But I digress.

I think she assumed that I was a mother that wanted to conceive. When I explained I was instead the conceived, I thought her eyes might just pop out of her head and roll back through the isle. We sat for a moment looking at each other.

"Really," she said

"Yes, Really," I said

"Really" she said again...this was getting ridiculous.

"How do you know? " she asked.

"I found a stamp on the bottom of my foot that said "donor-conceived" -- no I didn't say that, but I wanted to because jesus christ what an awkward question.

So I explained how I'd found out all that jazz. What is hilarious is that I could tell that there were like four people sitting in seat around us glancing over. This is such a curious topic for so many. I thought for a moment, "perhaps I should get on the PA and do a public service know, educate people," but I controlled myself.

Then came the inevitable so "how do you feel about it?"

And....I shared what I thought, what those of you who read this blog know, that I'm not to thrilled with the fact that I am disconnected from half my genetic lineage. I shared that the nature of my birth, which is  typically such a wondrous thing, is steeped in secrets and shame and that I have carried this loss, this heavy heavy burden for many years and it makes me at first very angry but then eventually depressed.

Boom!! - you would have thought I slapped her across the face...and I did not I promise :).  In fact, I am being a little more frank and grating with how I spoke here because in person, I'm actually quite diplomatic and agreeable; my delivery much less harsh.

And then she said what most of the parents I have spoken to say:

"I'm sorry you feel that way" - with and emphasis on the "you."

I have to take a moment here, because writing this down, recollecting the moment, actually makes me so darn upset.  I get many, many comments on my blog from the parents of donor offspring. One comment on one of my most read posts: "A Mother Considering Artificial Insemination" from a father echos the same sentiment as my flight partner. He wrote:

"I am truly sorry for how tormented you are by your origin, and I hope my son never feels that pain; if he does, I want to be there with him to confront it. "

It's as if the subtext of both of the above commentaries is that the way I feel is unique.  They are sorry that I'm not satisfied with the status quo but that is me and "if" their child feels that way it will be unfortunate.

Now I'm a very logical and analytical person and I truly try to be objective in my analysis of topics in general. In reading so many donor conceived and adoptees blogs, talking to them via email, reading the scientific literature and engaging the community in general, I have to say if there is one thing of which I can be absolutely certain it's:


There is such a common sense of loss and seeking among every single child conceived through anonymous artificial insemination that it's almost a badge of identity. It's not to say that there aren't varying levels of these negative feelings and that some parents have better equip their children to deal with these feelings, but they are still there. They are, in every way, unavoidable.

It frightens me that so many parents of donor-conceived children seem to be in denial of the potentially negative and hurtful consequences of their decisions. This is not to generalize and say that all parents are unaware but there is definitely an overarching trend of detachment from what's going on here.

I'd also say their is a direct correlation between the level of anonymity in the donation and sense of loss of the child. So the less anonymity (as in, say, a situation where a donor is a known to the family and has actually engaged the child once or twice) the less the loss. But the loss is still there in this case - and more importantly this is not the case in most AI scenarios. They are mostly anonymous.

It's as if the very same detachment that occurs when a man masturbates in a cup and sends genetic material along to a destination unknown or a young woman undergoes an egg extraction with little knowledge of their recipient, seeps into the entire process. A "contagious detachment" pervades the entire process as parents and doctors alike detach from the very real consequences of this decision to focus solely on the delivery of a child.

If there are any children conceived through AI reading this that disagree with me, that feel total peace and happiness and at absolutely no loss for their circumstance I wholeheartedly and openly request your commentary.

But alas, I have serious doubts that will occur as I know in my heart, this isn't just the way I feel.

Technorati Tags: Anonymous, ChildrenFamilyParentingInternetPregnancySocietyWomenSocialInfertility

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Dirty Little Secret

I visited the donor sibling registry yesterday and as usual, discovered nothing new or revelatory. It's starting to be one of those meaningless rituals we all have, like looking in the same jewelry store window on a street you walk down everyday. Nothing you can have, just nice to look and dream.

I ended up looking at all the video clips of Wendy Kramer and her son, Ryan, on everything from Oprah to GMA. Man this pair get some serious airplay. I do appreciate the work that they have done with the DSR and the exposure they have given the cause but I still find myself getting annoyed. I questioned myself, ----why were these 10-20 minutes of the two talking so infuriating? I mean they are doing a great thing, right?

 In one segment Ryan is described as a "rocket scientist"  and Wendy as a "trailblazer." God, you have to love TV, soon we'll have AI "super heros." Ok, Ok,  I know we need speakers out there and we need a core Web site, but there is something inside me that cringes at some of these clips.  I'm not saying this to bash the pair in any way but something here is a little artificial. The donor-conceived "story" needs more voices.  It shouldn't be dominated or owned by one (or two) core voices.

Just as I was contemplating this anger, a note popped up that I had to pay my DSR dues. The subscription fees on the DSR have gone up to $50 a year  but you can also pay a one time fee of $150. Images of a really bad infomercial popped into my head..."are you looking for half your genetic heritage? you wonder who you are?...fret no more....get a year of endless searching for your father for just $50 or.... order now and get our limited time offer to search for a lifetime for just $150!"

With more than 30,000 connected on the site...that adds up to a lot of money. Curious, I started looking through the tax returns publicly available on the site. I didn't realize that they took a salary, albeit reasonable $80,000 for Wendy and around $6,000 for Randy plus all the office and online fees and coverage for travel around $11,000. Somehow I thought this was all being done out of their pockets but I guess that would not have been feasible. It's become a career, at least for Wendy. Still, however much this made me less grateful and put a chink in the "saintly" image I had of the DSR, I guess there is no other way to keep it going.

All this reviewed and weighed, I was STILL irritated.  It's not as if I want them to go away, so what is irking me?

I think part of it is that these stories, Wendy and Ryan traveling around the world giving speeches, the movies with pretty actresses like Annette Benning and J. Lo are the appealing, easily-exploited side of artificial insemination. In these made for TV stories, everyone is aware,. There is strife but family and friends are mostly supportive. The families, though a little taxed, operate mostly functionally. There is a far more complex and painful underbelly to the donor offspring experience that is not explored or given a voice.

What gets barely mentioned is that much of artificial insemination is kept a secret. A secret, that like a tangling ivy grows through a family and holds people back. A secret that can't be evaluated or studied in the myriad reports and recommendations out there. The numbers can't be documented but I would argue those hidden in shame and silence are the majority.

When there is divorce (as I believe is the case with the Kramers) then things get revealed. Yes, there are some lone "DI Dad's" out there supporting the cause, but they are few and far between.  For that reason, I don't think their open and accepting viewpoints are truly reflective of reality. Most men, including my father, are not so keen to announce they are incapable of having children.

And, yes, I will admit I am talking here about heterosexual families, because, clearly secrets of this nature aren't possible when you have parents of the same sex. Somewhere along the line, the child would figure it out. I think this is an ideal dynamic because it forces these parents to truly consider the loss to the child and at the very least come to some common agreement on what will be said and explained. I'm not saying it isn't less difficult for children of gay and lesbian parents to deal with, I'm saying the scenario is one less ripe for the growth of dysfunction and secrecy.

But, many, many of us inhabit this darker side of AI, where it was used as a band aid for a very deep wound a couple endured when they discovered they were infertile. We find out, often in tense situations where one parent is angered at the other and we are not supposed to tell people. Often, not all of our family knows. It's shameful, its a failure, its something of which our parents are not proud. It's also part of the fabric of who we are.

I have a younger brother and he doesn't know. My aunts don't know. My uncles don't know. Family to whom I have no biological relationship tell me I look them in, have their gifts and qualities and I just laugh inside.

My mother told me in a chaotic moment  and I am not even sure my father knows that I know. She says it would "destroy " my father. To be honest, I don't really care so much about how my father feels, its the situation with my brother that feels like someone is ripping my friggin heart out. He has a very adversarial  relationship with my Dad at the moment (as many young boys becoming men do) and my mother is concerned  that this would add fuel to a fire.

I post for him on the DSR, hoping I can find his donor and spare him some of my own loss. I would give up finding my own if I could find his for him. I can't imagine telling him without having something to share, otherwise it's just delivering a gut wrenching loss.

Is it my place to tell him? I feel like I am betraying him. If I do havoc will breakout in my family and my mother will be in pieces. When I found out in my early twenties I remember being almost numb to the idea. I had never really gotten along with my Dad or connected to him so it wasn't a huge "loss" as I don't think we ever had a real  bond. The part of it that felt terrifying was to hear my brother and I had different donors. I felt ripped from him, my little brother, my pal. 

As I contemplated the thought for the first time it was like an appendage was being ripped from me in some way. I felt sudden intense anger at my mother, who in all her clamor to have a child couldn't think enough to find means to use the same sperm. I felt protective of this little boy, who in my arms I held at seven years old when he was born, pretending he was my baby doll and fighting with my mom to give him his bottles. God, I love him so much and..... I'm suddenly incapable of protecting him from what I know to be an intense feeling of loss ...outside of keeping a painful secret. I felt my mother's actions had separated us and it was unbearable.  At that time I could not think about it without having trouble breathing. Only a few years later can I even talk about it and here, without my identity, its still a secret.

These stories aren't told on Oprah or in the movies.

Technorati Tags: Anonymous, ChildrenFamilyParentingSperm DonorPregnancySocietyWomenSocialInfertility,  Hollywood

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Have I given up?

Well,  I haven't written in a really long time and I can't say there is a particular reason for my absence other than a general sense of disappointment. After really going at it and not getting anywhere in terms of identifying a donor, I lost some of my steam. I know it could be considered selfish that I only came online to fill in the blanks of my own genetic lineage with nothing more altruistic in mind. This isn't quite the truth as I do care about helping other's in my position, but it would be dishonest to say that the donor sibling community is not based and driven on this very personal goal for us all.

So often the donor offspring "voice" is the sound of someone lost... shouting into the darkness of cyberspace.  The only thing heard in response are other voices of the lost shouting back, "I hear you, I'm lost too, can you help?" Sometimes it's soothing to hear the other voices and know you aren't alone, but sometimes it  can be depressing when you step back, stop your own shouting and listen to the cacophony of  loss.

You realize that some of the strongest voices out there, those of us blogging our hearts out, posting on list-serves likes its our job, and starting DNA warehouses, have not found our donor. It may be a presumptuous assertion, but it's likely we are all filling the void with our efforts. In that darkness, when you know the lights will never be turned on to reveal a biological parent standing before you, you make the best of it. You put that energy, that powerful instinctual hunger for a biological connection into something else.

There is something to be said about that "powerful instinctual urge"...

I'm reading the book,  How the Mind Works by Steve Pinker which despite the psychologic slant the title predicts, is actually very much about genetic heritage. Pinker talks a lot about the source of the basic programming of the mind and brain. Though highly complex, all our functioning eventually comes down to this powerful instinctual urge for our genes to make a create another of itself. He goes on to explain how all of what we think and feel has links to the codes written in our DNA. Even things like personality and laugh, which so many of us imagine to be the result of divine inspiration can be traced back to DNA.

I can't help but think about implications of his arguments in considering artificial insemination and the experience of the donor offspring.  For us, literally half of who we are is a mystery. I can't begin to describe to you the deep-seeded desire I have to learn about the parts of me that are other. Why, for example, am I such a loner, when the rest of my family is so universally social? Why am I so analytical, nearly to a fault when others seem more comfortable with decisions?

It only makes the loss feel greater. We can't say as my mother does "it's just genes." It's not just genes, its the essence of who we are.

I could go on and on but I keep thinking of the those famous lines from John Donne
"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
As donor offspring, we seek simply to know which chapter is ours in "the book" of mankind and read and comprehend it before it is torn out. Yet being unable to know completely who we are, half the pages are blank and so, our chapter cannot be "translated." We can't be connected.

So I guess what it all comes down to is that while Donne thinks, "No man is an island," I feel like I am an island sometimes.  The only heartening thought is that I'm on that island with many, many others, and we are going to work together to assure the world is aware of the isolation this causes and how they must work to prevent it in the future.

Technorati Tags: Anonymous, ChildrenFamilySperm DonorPregnancySocietyWomenSocialInfertility

You Might Also Like:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...