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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.

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