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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


  1. Dear Girl Conceived,No This isn't just the way you feel. And you don't have to be an anonymous donor offspring (I hate that term, too.) to feel the way you do. My mother lied to me for 32 years about who my father was. There are the adopted who are prevented from information about their birth parents and others. I invite you to visit my website: Thank you so much for your excellent writing, your eloquence, your restraint, the sadness, the humor. Having gone through decades of the same, am very touched by your tones. I don't think you should feel any shame. I wish you would explain it in more detail in a blog. I did have shame because my father was not married to my mother when I was conceived and born, but no more. I wrote a book about my search for my father, which is being read by publishers. After 8 years of work on it, believe me, I could care less about shame, but I did not feel that way for many years, as I said...I wish I could help you find your father. If you gave me what details you have, in confidence, I could try, having done plenty of investigative work as a reporter...I am hoping you will allow me to publish one or two of your posts as a Guest Writer on my website. I am at the moment interested in the one about the DSR, as I share the sentiments. Please write to me at and let me know if this would be all right with you. Thank you for time and for your work. Danielle Flood

  2. Dear Girl Conceived, Of course "this isn't just the way [you] feel." There are people who are not donor conceived but who had to look for their fathers, who were put into the position of looking for their fathers, for so many reasons. I am one of them. I invite you and your readers to my website, wish I could help you find your father. Also I would very much like to post, with your permission, one or two of your blog posts. I am partiicularly interested in the one on the DSR. Please let me know if this would be all right at Thank you for all your excellent writing, the time you have given to your blog, and for sharing it with others. I hope you do a blog explaining the shame you mentioned that you feel. I felt shame at one time that I was conceived out of wedlock, but no more. Best wishes, Danielle Flood

  3. Hi Danielle - You can use the "Create a Link" feature on any of my posts to share posts on your blog. I'm glad you can relate to what I'm writing...I guess that is the ultimate goal.

  4. Hi. I am not a tech wizard. I created a do-it-yourself website after much difficulty. (I'm 59.) It has a blog on it. It's not a blogger blog. And the page I wish to post your DSR piece on is not on a blog post. I will give you credit and post a link to your blog, if I can simply copy it and post it on the page where it would be appropriate. Please. Thank you. Yes, relating to your writing is the ultimate goal, but also it is our goal, I believe, for others to relate to it, so they do not feel so alone, if they feel alone. Best wishes. Danielle

  5. Good for you for believing in yourself. I agree it's not just you but just about anyone put in your situation who would feel this way! Alarming how people are quick to rationalize just about anything in order not to have to confront some pretty obvious truths about the future emotional well-being of their child. The desire to have a child can be so overwhelming as to put blinkers on women.

  6. Your are right it's a classic defense mechanism of denial and disassociation to avoid the pain and loss when you are having trouble having children or find out you are sterile. I understand that "overwhelming: feeling...that almost instinctual urge to reproduce which you mention. You could argue that we are almost "wired" for it genetically. All that is natural to me.

    I think where it takes a more negative turn is using more artificial and anonymous means to resolve the situation. It makes it so easy to detach the above emotional issues never get resolved and they fester.

    Thanks for a great comment. I really appreciate your thoughts.

  7. I am in the process of dealing with infertility, and AI is one option that has been presented to me. I have reservations, which have been echoed in your writing here. I truly appreciate the fact that you have written about this. I wonder if you have any sense of how the feelings of loss that you experience might compare to feelings of children who have been adopted. In both cases, there are potentially different levels of anonymity, and I assume that this might make somewhat of a difference. Thank you so much for posting this.

  8. HI There, Thanks so much for your honesty. To be very clear - its not artificial insemination that I am so much against as the anonymity involved. I have two female friends, a lesbian couple actually, who had a child through artificial insemination. They know the donor and he visits their daughter twice a year. They have also spoken in depth about how they will their daughter about how she has 2 mommies and a "helper" daddy. They plan to talk in more specific terms when she gets older. They have thought about their decision and take the potential pain of their child as THEIR responsibility to prep for and deal with. While I know that she is likely to feel a slight bit of loss, I don't think she will feel deeply ashamed or that her parents have kept a secret from her.

    This is the best case scenario and if you could find a donor willing to at least keep in touch with your child and be a tangible person and you deal with all the feelings of loss prior, you would be doing justice to your future child.

    The fact that you are reading this, already tells me you will be a thoughtful parent.

    Best of Luck,
    Girl Conceived

  9. Thanks for your feedback. It is very insightful. I am very committed to the wellbeing of my future child. Honestly, I would rather grieve the loss of the opportunity to be a parent before I would bring a child into the world solely to fulfill a need of mine. I am fortunate to have a husband who supports any avenue that I feel comfortable taking. He will be a fantastic dad to any child. I want to make this decision out of love and hope rather than fear, but I also want to be educated and prepared. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to think through this huge decision.


Please let me know what you think. I appreciate feedback of every kind.

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