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Friday, July 22, 2011

Feeling Lonely With Yourself

Washing my hands in front of a three-way mirror in one of those swanky NY hotel bathrooms, I caught that weird angle of my face looking elsewhere.  I typically use three-way mirrors to make sure clothes aren't too tight on the derrière, but this was an accidental glance. I saw what I look like to other people. and for a milli-second I didn't realize it was me. My profile has always perplexed me, in pictures especially, I often see a ghost lurking in my features. I look a lot like my mom but friends always remark that from the side I look different, like someone else.

My hands still wet and full of soap, I stared at the awkward reflection and thought to myself, "I must see 'him'." Thoughts like this often drift into my mind and then quickly exit, but on this occasion I got stuck and felt a mist of sadness fall over me. I saw this tall woman in her black dress, pearls and a somewhat serious gaze. I thought how sad it was that she would never get to know who her father was.....that she would not know his identity....or ever see his picture. I snapped back to reality and asked myself, "Is that really true?" My mind was like a bicycle with a chain that wasn't gripping the gears. I went a little blank but then realized, "yes it is true, it's extremely likely you will go to your grave having never known who your father was." A surreal moment.

As usual, I was having an emotional crisis at an incredibly inopportune time. There I was, gut wrenched as toilet bowls flushed behind me and a conference full of coworkers waited for my return. I packed the feeling in a small little box and pushed it to the back of mind...all the way behind the old boyfriends and failures I hate to think about. As a practice, I try not to have pity parties for myself -- especially in bathrooms. Being analytical tends to numb bad feelings but despite my best efforts, longing still catches me in vulnerable moments.

Since the bathroom episode I've had trouble talking and writing about donor conception. It feels like I have something caught in my throat. In the past, expressing my views on anonymous donation or engaging in debate with the donor-conceived community was invigorating. Writing especially was extremely cathartic; a way to capture conflicting feelings and process them. I might have been naive, but I felt I shared something valuable. Yet, lately I even find reading news on donor conception makes me feel a bit sad. I get a paragraph or two into an article and I can't concentrate. I avoid my laptop for fear of experiencing the guilt for not writing.


Only weeks ago my emotions hit a crescendo when my Family Finder  DNA results revealed a number of third cousins as well as an Eastern European heritage. I was filled with hope. For the first time in very, very long time, I felt less lost....less unknown. I've connected with many of my "third cousins," but sharing just great-great-grandparents isn't as definitive a link as one might think. The likelihood that anyone I've connected with has met glances with the ghost in my profile is slim to none.

This truth is neither surprising nor unrealistic so I'm not sure why it's suddenly occurring to me. Nonetheless, it feels like a sudden, and somewhat heart-breaking loss.

I don't really talk much about it on this blog, but I don't have the best relationship with the father that raised me. I'm not sure why I'm mentioning this now, but somehow in my mind its all connected to the feeling of deep loss. Thirty years ago my father and mother decided to create a family bound by a painful secret. They agreed to conceal the nature of my conception as their doctor had instructed (though my mom told me at 23, but that is another story.) My dad has some great qualities and he was nice sometimes but for the most part my memories of him were of fear. I remember feeling like I couldn't breath when I heard him come home from work. He was emotionally, verbally and sometimes physically abusive to my brother and I throughout our lives. At risk of over-simplifing what is an incredibly complex story of pain and denial, I believe my brother and I were the personification of what he perceived to be his greatest failure: the inability, as a man, to produce a child. What's more, he was completely emotionally unavailable. Sometimes fearing him was an odd and dysfunctional way to feel connected to him.

To this day, I conceal the nature of my conception from all of my extended family members so that he doesn't suffer the pain and embarrassment of them knowing he is sterile. Sometimes I forget the truth.  Other times, in random and inopportune moments, the truth feels like a hammock full of bricks weighing down my heart. My mother says letting others know the truth would "destroy him." Throughout my twenties, despite his behavior towards myself and my brother, I felt overwhelmingly sorry for him. How could I be so ungrateful as to want to share the nature of my identity with close family members? He may have been detached and often downright mean, but he stayed, he went to work, he told people he was my "Dad." How could I be such a selfish child? Of course, my mother and father's emotional well-being should take priority over my own.

I think a lot of people with opinions on anonymous sperm donation operate under the assumption that the children are going to homes where they are wanted so very much. The typical pro-donor conception argument involves sperm being given away by one man who doesn't want to father a child, to a man that does ...a man, that will love those children like his own. Though few are willing to admit it, this isn't always the case. Some men decide on donor conception without knowing what their reaction will be and some men have reservations but feel pressured by the pleading look on the face of a wife that deeply wants to be a mother. 

Nonetheless, people will still contend that those DC children unhappy with their situation should get over their feelings of loss and be grateful for life. 

At least right now, I find it hard to be grateful for my parents decisions.

14 comments:

  1. I used to be terrified every time I looked in the mirror. Thank got I now know who my father is, so I know whose eyes are looking back at me.

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  2. I'd be interested to hear what part of it was terrifying (I know what you mean but have had trouble articulating the fear associated with it.)

    All that aside, it's good to hear you know. I would love that type of closure.

    Best
    Girl Concevied

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  3. "I think a lot of people with opinions on anonymous sperm donation operate under the assumption that the children are going to homes where they are wanted so very much. The typical pro-donor conception argument involves sperm being given away by one man who doesn't want to father a child, to a man that does ...a man, that will love those children like his own. Though few are willing to admit it, this isn't always the case. Some men decide on donor conception without knowing what their reaction will be and some men have reservations but feel pressured by the pleading look on the face of a wife that deeply wants to be a mother."

    You hit the nail on the head with this. This is the priori assumption of donor conception that has been propagated by the infertility industry for generations...that we are so "wanted" by our intended parents that will will therefore be loved. Completely missing the fact that as you pointed out many times it's a one-sided decision by the woman and her husband reluctantly agrees. And/or one (or both) of the parents realize that this child is not biologically his and there is a sense of sometimes infidelity or wrongdoing on their part creating an internal dilemma that while usually destroying the marriage also causes serious harm to the children who are oftentimes left to their own defenses in struggling with their conception.

    There is also the assumption that individuals that spend money to create a child will therefore be good parents!! If money versus lack-thereof is the only defining difference between good and bad parents then why do so many wealthy people (who oftentimes use IVF to conceive anyways) leave their children in the care of nannies and cannot be bothered to spend mere minutes in their offsprings' presence?? The opposite is one of the primary fuels of adoption -- that poor unwed teenage mothers will NOT be good parents because they're poor and young.

    It's completely preposterous to assume either is the case, as it is to assume that a child created through ART will be any more loved than any other child conceived naturally.

    One thing I always point out is that intending parents want ANY child, not specifically us (so there goes the mentality that we were so wanted), and sometimes they do not want the child they get. Either the child looks too much "like him" or the child has mental, physical, or behavioral problems, or health issues, or some other reason. And then they get mad......

    I probably should have just blogged about this myself. LOL

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  4. I think the solution is for all anonymous donors to do a Family Tree Family Finder DNA test. That way, donor conceived can find their bio dads at will. That's what I'm doing (Lindsay helped convince me) - it provides a better chance for female match than the CaBRI test I did earlier.
    How to do that? Family Finder makes the $ - maybe they can figure out a way to advertise it or provide an incentive.

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  5. Lindsay - I agree. Some of the backlash towards donor conceived adults dissatisfied with the status quo is rooted in assumptions and pre-conceived (pardon the pun) notions promoted by the sperm and insemination industry.

    To Bill's point about a solution - I think you are on the right track. Just vocalizing my sadness doesn't do much to change things. Finding a solution that is profitable to an interested party is likely the only way to combat the wrongs of an incredibly profitable industry. Since I work in Web solutions and marketing I have been thinking of contacting Family Finder and making the business case for a DNA-linked database marketed solely to the donor conniption community. With estimates in the millions of donor conceived adults their is an untapped market. Message board, blogs and home-grown solutions just aren't scalable enough.

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  6. GC - Sounds like you have the right skill set to market DNA testing to the DC community. Success would be related to participation from both the DC and donor populations. There would be two large problems to overcome: 1) So many of the DC have not been told (lack of disclosure by parents) and 2) the very high percentage of donors that are anonymous. Retroactive legislation would fix that, but it is very unlikely and would be impossible to enforce due to lost records. Ideas?

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  7. I think it is a great post and that kind of things happen to everyone.

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  8. Hi Bill, Coming up with a business plan which makes profitable the collection and open sharing of DNA details and information in the DC community is the best resolution I see at hand. There is no way to compete with the billion dollar infertility industry with respect to the misinformation it promotes in regards to anonymity.

    Regarding the large population of those who do not know: The solution would clearly have to be marketed to those donor conceived that are aware, those parents for truth and openness and donors against anonymity. The gay parenting community too would likely be highly supportive and as a market, they have incredible buying power.

    With a solution like Family Finder the press the company would get for such a "DC-only" offering could drive business to their core product offering and primary market. By this I mean, even if the estimated 1 million DC population currently in teens and adulthood where not a strong enough source of revenue, the press coverage might interest the regular population in their genetic services.

    Perhaps a social media campaign asking Family Finder or 23 and me to create and market (marketing is the key here) would push them to action.

    I believe from there legislation could even happen. Having consulted for the federal government I can tell you not much anti-commercial legislation is passed without significant lobbying by another group or industry that seeks to profit in another way. This lobbying costs money and won't get very far unless there is a company or financial interest pushing behind it.

    I have been think of reaching out to the management directly. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to come across their contact details though I'm very involved in the Web development industry.

    Funny this all seems tangental to my original post......but most of thinking is in sweeping tangents.

    Can't be that surprised.

    Cheers,
    Girl Conceived

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  9. I just want to assure you that your blog is immensely helpful to those of us readers who are considering conceiving using donor sperm. Your writing will undoubtedly ease the heartaches of many parents and children.

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  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  11. I just want to assure you that your blog is immensely helpful to those of us readers who are considering conceiving using donor sperm. Your writing will undoubtedly ease the heartaches of many parents and children.
    Reply

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  12. "To this day, I conceal the nature of my conception from all of my extended family members so that he doesn't suffer the pain and embarrassment of them knowing he is sterile."

    This. So sorry about this. It's not fair. Geez

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  13. May I ask would you feel differently had your parents selected an open donor? Had they not put the burden of keeping your conception a secret on you?

    My son is donor conceived, we used an open donor. My husband made the final decision on whether we would adopt or use a donor, it was very important to me that he be 100% in agreement with whatever path we choose. We tell our son now about his conception, although being only 10 mos old he doesn't understand yet. It's not a secret, we are very active in the infertility community and feel honesty and openness are the best options. Our son will never bare the burden of keeping his conception a secret and will always know the biology alone does not make a father. We are in contact with his half siblings families and will support him when he turns 18 if he wants to find his donor.

    But I guess I still wonder are we making the right decisions, will he be angry with us one day because we wanted a family so much and this was the way we choose to build our family? Was there anything your parents could have done that would have changed how you feel today?

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  14. Very good post and I agree with Cindy.

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

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