Friday, February 27, 2009

Donor thoughts

I've written a bit before about how we've chosen not to share information about our donor (such as it is) with folks outside our immediate family while our kids are still too small to understand. We feel that information belongs to Leigh (and to this next baby), not really to us, or to the community at large.

That sounds fine and all, but I know other perfectly wonderful parents come at this completely differently. They reach out to donor sibling families, feeling it is their obligation as parents to make those connections, so their kids don't have to. And to be clear, I'm talking about unknown frozen bank donors here, either ID release or not. Navigating a KD relationship is a whole separate ballgame, and I can't really claim to know anything about that.

I notice I'm often careful to phrase this approach so it sounds like we're solely protecting our kid(s) interests, and in many ways we are. We modeled our approach after adoptive parents we know and respect very much, and at it's core, I do think it's the right thing for our family. But it is a bit disingenuous to claim we're only thinking of our kid(s).

Lately, I've realized that some portion of my unwillingness to freely share what we know has to do with my own discomfort (and I think Gail has some similar, but not identical, issues here). With Leigh, the existence of a donor at all implied that there was someone, and probably many people, with an arguably stronger link to my daughter than I had, at least at first, before we a few years of real life together under our belts. I found that deeply threatening, and for a while, it made me rather frantic to conceive our second ASAP by the same donor. Once we had this little baby, that connection outside our family felt like a threat, and even though there was absolutely no one who would have tried to take her away and I had full legal parental rights, my relationship to Leigh felt insecure and fragile. At that time I got some advice to focus on building my relationship with her instead of worrying about the donor or moving forward immediately on a second pregnancy (it was proving hard to convince Gail that was a good idea anyway). The fact was, my relationship with Leigh was what mattered and it wasn't under threat. Adding more complications to our life (via an immediate jump back into TTC) wasn't going to fix anything. If I could just wait, and get my footing, I might realize nothing was broken.

That was excellent advice. Two years later, it's hard to even remember what I felt like back then. I don't feel resentful of our donor. I feel several complicated things, but foremost among them is gratitude. I'm more comfortable with the idea of donor siblings. I'm certainly not chomping at the bit to make real life connections there, but I am much more OK that they exist at all.

And this has brought me back to re-evaluate our approach to the donor information, but not in how we interact with the outside world. Rather, I'm thinking about how we hold the presence of the donor within our own family. While not blabbing at the park with whoever wanders by about details of Leigh's genetic origins seems quite reasonable for our family, I'm afraid that some of that silence has carried over to our own internal family dynamics. We shy away from almost all resemblance talk. Gail and I never discuss the donor in Leigh's company. At all. We talk lots about different kinds of families and other age appropriate kids-of-queers stuff, but nothing about the donor. The same source of the good advice to focus on Leigh before frantically running off to the sperm bank also gave advice that we can wait to have any conversations with Leigh about the donor until she brings it up. I've heard that as conventional advice from other sources, but I think I may be using that as an excuse. I worry that pieces of our own remaining discomfort at having needed her donor's help at all will transmit to Leigh via our relative silence. Sure, we say we'll answer whatever she asks, but if the topic isn't truly an open one, she'll pick up on it, and then she won't ask.

So with that, Gail and I are working on opening up talk of the donor between us, and in Leigh's presence. I'm not talking a nitty-gritty sit down with our toddler to explain how lesbian babies are made, but rather working to cultivate comfort and openness in us parents. Job number one on this front is that when this new baby comes, Gail and I are going to resist shutting down resemblance talk. We didn't explicitly shut it down before, but our discomfort with the topic, at least on my part, was surely palpable. I will work very hard to suppress my automatic bristle should anyone talk about how Leigh and the new baby look alike. Once I get that under control, I'll work on seeing that connection between our two kids, which was one we were willing to fork over a lot of cash for, as a really great thing, and one that it is OK to actually talk about.


Anonymous said...

It seems like a wise decision to bring up the donor more. I can see how it would be a scary leap too.

giggleblue said...

the whole donor thing is interesting but more interesting is that everyone's approach to it differs.

i can't totally understand your initial hesitation, and i think that is completely normal. no one should be put into the donor relationships until they are ready. that time differs for everyone. i'm interested to know how the discussion with KD will go.

has your daughter taken any interest in this topic? and would you believe that my word verification for this comment was "spermi"? i couldn't make up stuff this great if i tried!

Anonymous said...

I think that is a very wise plan. You are right that Leigh will pick up on these things and avoid them because you do. If there is a general comfort about the topic in your home, the kids will be able to talk to you about it as it becomes more and more important in their lives, without feeling like it is a taboo subject.

I always enjoy reading what you have to say as the first NGP because you bring up things that could be issues for my wife that I was not aware of. It helps me gain perspective on her point of view and highlights things that could be sticking points for her. Thanks.

Lex said...

We've definitely taken the opposite approach (almost to the point of blabbing to strangers at the park even! Mainly when they bring up the red hair gene), and I sometimes question if we've shared too much too soon (at 6, our oldest kids still have very little interest, though perhaps they would have asked more questions by now if we had not been so forthcoming). But I think we all just go with our gut about this. It's definitely uncharted territory in that there really haven't been that many families to go before us and share what's worked and what hasn't.

Because our first babies were twins, we've found that most resemblance talk has centered around the ways in which the children look like each other. Our third child happened to be an absolute mix of his two big brothers (who look remarkably unalike themselves), which was totally crazy. But I love having the resemblance talk shy away from the way the kids look like me (and thus NOT like my wife). This is one of the main reasons why we were so glad to be able to use the same donor for baby #4, and we're REALLY hoping that he will physically resemble his big brothers and that people will comment about it so that he doesn't feel left out.

In an ideal world, we'd be able to make babies with our wives, without any help from unknown kind donor men. But since that is not reality, I feel like we need to celebrate what had to happen instead. We did need to use donor sperm and I am so grateful that this option exists and that it was so easy (relatively speaking) for us to gain access to the genetic material we needed in order to reproduce. While I certainly have had moments of wanting to pretend there was no donor or to reduce his significance in whatever way possible, I think we all feel more at peace with the situation if we choose to look at it in the best possible light. So we talk excitedly about the donor, in all sorts of situations. We include him in whatever ways we can. And whatever ambivalence we felt about him when we first began this journey has pretty much disappeared.

I think the arrival of your second baby will make a HUGE difference in how you think about your donor too.

word to your mother(s) said...

Thanks for speaking so candidly about this topic. I agree with giggleblue about how interesting it is to view the differences in approach. It’s equally fascinating to observe how this varies between the bio and non-bio parents of children. My girlfriend and I even had different views on how much we wanted to know about our respective donor at the time we were choosing a cryobank/donor. I haven’t thought too much about the next step in this process.

In any event, it sounds as though you are taking small steps toward making this a comfortable issue to discuss within your family dynamic. I imagine preparing for that now is going to be mightily important for when Leigh starts to ask serious questions about her conception. The issue of ‘resemblance’ is such a common topic of conversation, particularly when engaging in small talk with strangers, so it seems difficult to avoid. I hope that gets easier for you, especially once your second child is born. Best wishes on figuring out your comfort level and what’s best for your clan.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. I never felt threatened by the donor. What I do feel, if worried that he will become an unnecessary focus of my son's life. We don't know who the guy is, and we probably won't find out. I want to approach it in such a way that it doesn't feel like a big deal.

My partner and I have totally different approaches, as well. She literally doesn't want to know more about the donor. Whereas, I have read and re-read his profile and listened to his audio interview for clues about him.

Now that we have a second child by a different donor, my worry is that because the boys do not really resemble each other at all, they will somehow feel that they are not really brothers when they find out there is not a biological connection. I realize with my mind, that this is a silly worry. They are brothers. But in my heart the worry remains.

Angela V-C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gail said...

Just as an update, since we had a discussion about this topic between us, Lyn and I have had a conversation about the donor in front of Leigh. It felt fine. Actually, it felt more than fine because I felt relaxed about it in a way I hadn't before. I'm really happy to be feeling a bit less guarded and afraid of the man who helped our family become a family. In the past I have really resented his presence in our lives, but I think I have just a little more room for him now.

giggleblue said...

oh, crap, i just realized i said "i can't totally understand your initial hesitation, and i think that is completely normal." but i meant i can.... i have/had the same hesitation.