“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.