By admin on March 14, 2014
“More Family” by Ellen Glazer
In my work counseling individuals and couples who are struggling to build their families, I tend to live more in the world of “before” than “after.”  By this I mean that I may know people for weeks or months or even years as they endure the pain of infertility and make decisions regarding donor conception and adoption. Ultimately most move forward and become parents. While I may know them well while they are seeking a donor or in the adoption process, many vanish once the babies come.  And so it has become a pleasure for me to occasionally be treated to a bit of the “after.”  Yesterday was such a day.
I had two experiences yesterday that I hope will be of interest to DSR readers.  The first was with a couple that I met twenty years ago. At the time they were ending infertility treatment and moving on to adoption. Last we spoke, they were adopting a baby girl. That baby is now their 18 year old daughter. They brought her to see me yesterday because she wants to search for her birthparents.  Her parents fully endorse the search but wanted us to meet to try to anticipate, as best we could, what might lie ahead.

We began with a discussion in which it was clear that the parents understood that their daughter should take the lead in the search but she needed to know they were in the background as her safety net, steady support etc. About twenty minutes into our meeting, the parents suggested that they leave so that their daughter could have some time alone with me.  Once they did so, she opened up about what she really wanted in the search saying, “Right now I don’t think I want a relationship—I just want to see her.”  As we explored this, she emphasized the need to simply see someone with whom she shares genetics.  She wisely added that her feelings about a relationship might change but that for now, it was “simply seeing” that she wanted.

I include this story because I imagine that many DSR members can identify with it—the idea of simply wanting to begin small—kinds of a “drive-by, look-see”—with the option to develop a relationship over time.  However, it was the “after” visit I had later in the day that I found more intriguing and wanted to be sure to share with the DSR.
My afternoon visitor yesterday was a woman I’d known when she and her husband were deciding on egg donation. As with most, it was not an easy decision and one that involved a lot of going back and forth with “should we,” “shouldn’t we.”  Ultimately, the couple decided to seek a donor. They are a Greek couple and while they understood and seemed to agree with my stance against anonymity, “this is the donor we want and she wants to be anonymous” and so it was.

Things change.  My Greek former client came back yesterday. She is now the relaxed and content mother of a four-year-old daughter—and she is in steady email communication with her donor. She had come to discuss their correspondence in light of the decision she and her husband had made to remain a one child family.  For many reasons, they were clear that their family was complete.  However, like many other older parents I meet who have one child, they had concerns about their child being “alone in the world.” They were making conscious efforts to be more involved with nieces and nephews so that their daughter could have a strong sense of extended family. “But I have other thoughts about how she can have ‘more family’” my client said. “I’m hoping our donor can become part of her life.” She went on to acknowledge that a good part of her motivation for being in touch with her donor was to lay the foundation for more contact in the future.

Whether or not my client, her daughter and their donor will have anything more than a “pen pal” relationship remains to be seen. Like the earlier in the day adoptee beginning a search for her birth mother, this ED mom knows that forging a relationship with a “relative stranger” is complicated and cannot be predicted. What interested me was not trying to predict the outcome of her efforts but rather, the idea behind them—“more family.”  While some donor-conceived families may feel full to overflowing, some single moms and couples with one child may welcome opportunities to nurture  kinship with donors and their families.

Ellen Glazer, author of the book Having Your Baby Through Egg Donation


By admin on March 11, 2014

Ashleigh’s latest blog up on the DSR’s LGBT Page:

Many of us are familiar with the all-encompassing urges that our hormones put us through during our reproductive years.  That desire, that urgency to “have a baby”.

Come on, you know what I’m talking about.  Grinning stupidly at any baby in your vicinity, glancing fondly at those big beautiful pregnant bellies that just seem to be everywhere during these hormonal times, feeling jealousy when friends or family announce new additions.

I’ve noticed though, that the urge to have a baby is not always connected to the desire to raise a child.  Sometimes it’s just our bodies wanting to do what they’re built to do. Bring new blood to your family, continue the next generation, propagate mankind. Sometimes we desperately want to get pregnant/have a baby, but aren’t really interested in raising any more kids.  That’s okay; it’s completely normal.

Another observation I’ve made is that most of the time, parents who do want babies and who do want kids forget that children become adults.  Not logically – logically we all understand that as our bodies and minds age, we become adults and we leave our families of origin and we create a family of our own.  But emotionally, we think only of that baby growing in our womb, of what that newborn will look like, of what color his eyes will be, and maybe about what we’ll do for her first birthday party.  At the beginning of childbearing, most people rarely consider further than that, other than to occasionally fantasize about vacations or holidays.  We don’t think about what’ll happen when our babies turn eighteen or twenty five or forty.

Our babies are real people.  With real, separate, individual personalities.  And if we are fortunate, we will get to raise them and watch them grow.  But we have to realize that some of the choices we made for them when they were small are choices that they will have to live with.  We make choices that affect the rest of their lives, and some choices follow them even past their own lifetimes – the choices we make about our conceptions and pregnancies and babies today can live on for generations and affect our children’s children and their kids after that and after that.  It’s so important to educate ourselves, and to choose carefully.

Specifically, the biggest decision I feel we made for our Ever was regarding her biological father; her sperm donor.  The color of his eyes or his hair don’t matter to me in the long run – but his openness to a relationship with her meant everything.

We knew from the very earliest stages of preparing for conception that we wanted a donor who was willing to be known to our children, no matter in what capacity.  This was not a decision we took lightly; indeed, we feel like choosing such a donor was the best gift we could give to our daughter, since we couldn’t give her both sides of her biology from the two of us.

We felt that this was the only possible decision to make for E.  Yes, we created her life, and yes it was done in an atypical fashion, but it’s her life.  I wouldn’t want to cut her off at the knees before she’s even born – I want her to have every possible option when she’s grown.  If she is interested in knowing her donor, then I’ll be at her side.

If she doesn’t feel the need to find him just yet, I will help her to truly understand what that choice will mean for her but ultimately, I respect whatever decision she makes.

I strive, as Ev’s parent, to consider her as a separate entity from myself or Teri.  Her feelings are her own, her opinions are her own.  She is an individual and she deserves every ounce of consideration that I can muster.  My biggest hope in this regard is that one day, she will see the lengths we’ve gone to in order to give her as many choices as we were able to.

By admin on March 04, 2014
Many of us who are considering having a child face the possibility of not being genetically related to that child. Whether you’re a man, woman, or couple dealing with infertility or a genetic abnormality that makes it impossible to have a biological child, or you’re a gay couple, and you choose to use donor eggs or sperm, someone in your family equation will be in the position of being the non-bio parent.

Over the years at the Donor Sibling Registry, we have learned that many non-biological moms and dads have not been adequately counseled or educated before using donor conception to create their families. It is vital that these parents deal with any grief and shame that they may have around their own infertility, work through any emotions they might be experiencing from this lack of biological connection, and educate themselves all about the needs and issues a donor child might have. If this doesn’t happen, there’s a good chance that this parent will pass this discomfort and shame along to the child.

Often the couple or individual will choose anonymous donors as a way to ignore or negate the fact that the donor is a real person. Choosing an anonymous donor will feel less fearful to them because they might think that the chances of their children being curious about, searching for, or finding their biological parent will not be as high.

Many will withhold the truth from their children. And even if they decide to disclose, many will risk passing along their insecurities and fears with regard to their child having any type of curiosity about and wishing to connect with their unknown biological family. Not making peace with your lack of biological connection may create discord within your child, when any natural feelings of curiosity arise within them.

Through my experience running the Donor Sibling Registry, I’ve learned that all these approaches can have very serious ramifications for the donor-conceived child, and in fact for the whole family dynamic. Family secrets are toxic, and these parents, expecting honesty from their children, owe their children the same. In these families, all too often the “secret” hovers just beneath the surface, creating distance between family members who don’t have a clue as to why and where this feeling of distance is coming from.

Sometimes offspring learn or figure out the truth, but they still shoulder the secret. In our research of 751 offspring, we learned that often, adult donor offspring found out that they were donor-conceived but we’re afraid to tell their dads that they knew for fear of hurting them. In this case, families create a double secret, as the children themselves are also struggling to keep the “secret” that the parents have shouldered for so long. These donor-conceived people feel acutely aware that the methodology of their conception causes pain to their parent, and therefore willingly accept the weight of this pain to also carry themselves. This only enforces the idea that the way they were created is somehow shameful. I suspect that in time, this will also be the case for the thousands of children conceived with egg donors, although currently, most are either unaware of their origins or are just too young to be dealing with these types of issues.

These issues come up for both straight couples and LGBT families. I hear all too often that the non-bio mom in an LGBT family, for example, is afraid of a child reaching out to half-siblings and/or their donor, saying, “Biology doesn’t make a family.” Their sadness is about not being able to give their child that genetic connection that they so greatly desire from people outside their nuclear family. All too often this is expressed as disappointment or anger, so that a child feels a great sense of betrayal, even just thinking about the unknown people they are genetically related to. This can be paralyzing to the donor offspring who have a longing or desire to connect with these unknown relatives and actually make efforts to do so.

Surprisingly, there are even some single mothers by choice who also experience fear as they contemplate that their child has genetic relatives out there that are not known. They sometimes want to think that their child is unique, and the thought that there might be 5, 10, 50, or more than 100 others out there born from “their” donor is unsettling. Sometimes these moms even try to buy up all the available vials of sperm, so that no more children can be born from their donor. Even these moms sometimes want to keep their children from connecting with their half-siblings and/or donors.

In the beginning, we as parents make all the choices about how our child will come into the world. These are choices that will affect our children for their entire lives. At some point, it isn’t about us or what makes us most comfortable. We need to be asking, “What is in the best interests of this child to be born?” Reading research and testimonials from donor-conceived people should be required before making any decisions.

And at some point, it will be up to the child to define their own sense of family. What may be just a “donated cell” to the parent often means a lot more to a donor-conceived person. If a child grows up in a family where half of their genetic, ancestral, and medical background is minimized or negated, they can feel a lot of guilt if and when they become curious about this invisible side of themselves. We as parents need to be very careful not to put our own fears and biases onto our children and allow them to process for themselves the meaning of “family” as they mature. This is not about our fears as parents. We brought these children into the world using a methodology that cut them off from one-half of their genetic background. We owe it to them to honor and respect any desires they have to seek out this unknown or “invisible” family.

If connections are made between donor-conceived people and their half-siblings and/or donors, some parents have responded with fear, saying, “Those people are NOT your family!” Although they are not your genetic family as a parent, they are indeed your child’s family. Fearing that, and insisting that it isn’t so, just won’t make the genetic connection invalid. Negating the importance of a genetic connection is absurd. Let’s think about the day that our children were born. As parents, we didn’t just go into the hospital nursery and choose any baby to take home. No, we wanted the baby that was biologically ours. Biology does indeed matter. And although it is not the only way to form a family, it has been throughout the ages the most common way that humans have defined family.

Even if you don’t feel any connection to your child’s newfound relatives, it is your job to be open, warm, and accepting. Having your complete acceptance will allow your child to fully explore and define these new relationships.

Adequate counseling and education and working through one’s own grief and fear as well as understanding our children’s desire to know about their ancestry, medical background, and roots before pregnancy would save a lot of donor families from heartache. Making peace with the concept of not being genetically related to your children is essential to creating an honest, respectful, and healthy family with strong bonds. Exploring what it means to be a parent and asking questions such as “Is it genetics or taking care of, raising, and nurturing a child that makes a parent?” is an important part of the process. Having a deep understanding and respect for the fact that knowing where you come from is an essential ingredient in the formation of your donor-conceived child’s current and future identity is, therefore, a vital step toward having a healthy family.

At the Donor Sibling Registry, we celebrate all of these family connections!