As a social worker counseling individuals and couples building their families through donor conception, I love reading the DSR’s “Success Stories.” They are so often testimonies to the shifting landscape of kinship and of people’s ability to pursue and nurture new forms of family. I’m not comfortable with anonymous donation and feel strongly that some measure of openness is best. However, what that “measure” might be varies — I believe — from one situation to the next and can surely change over time. My discomfort in any sort of “one size fits all” approach to openness prompts me to write this blog entry.
First, I want to say that it OK to feel uncomfortable reading “success stories.” If you come to donor conception after a long stint with infertility, you likely feel vulnerable. Everything that has happened so far has served to eat away at any confidence you had about becoming or being a parent. You long for something to work, to be blessed with a child you love and cherish and to feel that you are a real, true, full and forever parent. DSR “success stories,” heartwarming as they are to someone like me, could surely feed into insecurities. I feel it is important for you to know this is a natural reaction. It is also likely to be one that will diminish once you are a parent and have a little person or persons saying “mommy, mommy, mommy” all day long. I am reminded of a client who was feeling insecure when her twins were just beginning to walk and talk. She was catapulted out of this insecurity when her husband observed, “You know that if the donor walked in right now the girls would have no idea who she is, and most likely they’d run and cling to you.”
If you are considering egg, sperm or embryo donation or are already DC parents, I encourage you to see openness as a process. In my experience, it is usually not something that you can fully plan or predict or legislate in advance. Rather, it unfolds based on the particular “cast of characters” and on what is going on in their lives. I have seen situations in which people initially want no contact whatsoever and then something changes. That change might be sparked by a comment or observation from a nurse in their fertility clinic or something that the donor writes in their profile. Or they attend a support group and hear positive reports from others of their experiences meeting or corresponding with their donors. I remember one client whose fully open relationship with her egg donor prompted several other women to seek open donors. These were women who encountered the delightful donor/recipient duo in the clinic waiting room and said “I want what they have.”
“I want what they have” is a nice sentiment but can’t always be “operationalized.” Most egg donation agencies and cryobanks do not encourage donors to be open. Many do not even let donors know that openness is an option. Your donor might be open to openness if they knew it to be an option. Not knowing this, they are not only unlikely to initiate contact but may be guarded or reluctant if you seek it. So if you seek openness in an arrangement that was anticipated to be anonymous, you may have to take it slowly. Here’s another client example — a mom through egg donation who has never met her donor but whose goal has become “for her to be like another aunt.” She is starting to nurture this possibility through emails.
It’s also quite possible that you don’t want what they have. You may read the DSR website and blog and be convinced that you want to avoid/move away from anonymity. Still, you may startle or squirm when you read postings that say “I was found by my daughter” or “Finding my sister.” Again, it is OK to be uncomfortable with this language and maybe also the kinds of meetings they chronicle.
So ... as I began, I enjoy the DSR Success Stories and endorse some openness in donor conception. However, I also recognize and respect the benefits of taking it slow, seeing how things go and exploring relationships. I hope you can feel good and confident in being open to possibilities.