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Thursday, June 16, 2011

What Would I Have Wanted to Tell My Mother Before She Conceived?

A recent comment and inquiry on my blog inspired a response too long to respond in comment so I opted to make it a post. 
The Comment:

On June 16, Hang on Little Gertie wrote...
Visit "Hang On Little Gertie" the Blog
Hello, I've found your blog to be a very good and informative but difficult read for me. After 8 years of talking and research (including meeting with one of the UK's leading psychologists and a woman who has done the longest ever research project into the health and wellbeing of the children of donors and same-sex couples - click here - ie this has been a very well researched decision!) a year ago my partner and I went to a clinic in London in order to attempt to have a baby with a sperm donor. My partner then left me just before our first attempt and a year on I am ready to have another go. My partner and I were very welcoming of the change in UK law to rule out anonymous sperm donors (although obviously it has meant a vast reduction in the number of available donors). I just wondered what your thoughts were on this issue. I also wondered what your thoughts were on the amount of information that should/shouldn't be given to prospective parents. As an individual I find the range of choice overwhelming but as the hopeful parent of a future child I'm persuaded to think that the more information the better until that child is old enough to decide whether or not they want to seek contact with the donor (and then the clinic would pass on the contact information)? 
I admire and respect the way you have articulated your thoughts and feelings in this blog and would be really interested to know your thoughts.

My Response:
Hi there “Hang on Little Gertie”  - Thanks so much for your candor and sharing. Already that tells me you are approaching the situation in an open and healthy manner. I'm very touched that you have asked my opinion. It is a caring and truly maternal gesture that speaks volumes about how much you already care about your future child.
As I have said before, my gut wants to say “don’t do it,” but I’ve come to the realization those worlds are rarely heeded. I more effective in helping future DC children by advising on what I would deem best-case scenarios. While I don’t think any AI scenario is ideal, if chosen parents should know as much as possible about donors. When possible they should seek donors willing to have some limited contact with the child. I know it is harder to find non-anonymous donors and even more difficult to find donors willing to keep in touch, but this isn't your child's challenge or problem. Since you want a child, you should take on the responsibility of seeking the very best conception scenario. 
I know this is a long shot, but perhaps there is a gay male couple that needs an egg donor and would be willing to provide their sperm to a lesbian couple as well as be accessible to the child down the road. I actually know of two couples that did this and it has worked out rather well, creating a somewhat unique extended family. Some people gasp when I say this....'how can I give my eggs/sperm away?" but that's completely hypocritical to me. How is it not okay to donate your eggs to another family but it is ok to use another anonymous man's sperm?
More generally, I've often thought about what I would ask of or share with my mother If I could rewind and travel back in time 30 years before she conceived.  Here are two things that come to mind immediately.
1- Acceptance and Validation of Loss - My mother's father died when she was 14 and it was a pivotal moment in her life. Regardless of how much a child knows about their parent or the means by which they loose a parent, the child feels a loss. I would have asked to her to think of her own experience of loss and come to terms with some of her feelings in preparation for my arrival.
If she were more accepting and aware of the loss that I would suffer when I realized I did not have access to my genetic father she could have better related to my pain. She would also have been more prepared to support me when I felt as if someone had died in the early years after I first learned the truth. Even in "right to know" situations where the donor's identity in not concealed, the child can feel they have missed out on having that individual in their life, or still be unable to locate the parent.  AI parents react negatively when I explain that all of the DC peers I have encountered universally experience some sense of loss at some point after learning the truth. It's as if the parents don't want to believe any decision they made could create pain for their children, which I can understand. Some of my DC peers have mother's who still disagree with their children to this day about how they "should feel."  However, I believe if you do not deny your child’s loss, opting instead to accept and support, you validate your child's feelings making them feel less alone. 
Imagine I were to go up to a very small child who just lost a parent they only had 2 or 3 years of their life to know and told them shouldn't feel upset because I had remarried. Imagine if I told them they were being ungrateful in their tears because they had a father and the father that died wasn't their real father. I bring forth this troubling imagery not to manipulate but to depict a realistic scenario of loss. AI can enable an unhealthy level of detachment from kinship and emotion. Just because you will not know the face of your child's biological father and just because a child is fathered by an individual who chose not to be in their lives does NOT invalidate their need to grieve or your responsibility to support them. 
If we can work together as a community of DC kids and parents to acknowledge this loss and avoid the denial that runs rampant in the media and online, we’ll all move forward in a more positive direction.
2 - Avoid Secrecy and Shame - A number of studies, including this one, have pointed out it is best to tell children early about the nature of their conception. This is where being a single mother or gay or lesbian couple is more positive because the lack of a biological parent is evident and must be explained. My mother and father like many other heterosexual couples were told to conceal the truth. This set the stage for secrecy, shame and eventual betrayal. Secrets are insidious forces that fester in the creases and corners of family relationships and burden your child. Be as honest as possible to your child, sharing age appropriate information as soon as you can. They should bare as little burden of shame and secrecy as possible.
I could definitely write more but as I have a day job to keep, I will need to wrap it up here :)  Please feel free to comment in response or email me at with any other questions you may have. In addition, I recently added a few of my responses to commonly asked questions on my Parent’s Dealing with Infertility page.
Again I can’t express enough how much I value the opinions and insights of parents considering AI. In many ways it allows me to engage in discourse I feel I was in some ways denied and offers great satisfaction and peace. 
So, thank you. I wish you the best in your endeavors.
Girl Conceived

UPDATE - A response from LittleGertie can be found on her blog at

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