Friday, April 16, 2010

Donor Conception

If you have even a passing acquaintance with our family, you know that we didn't acquire our children through the "traditional" method. Two women simply can't combine their genetic material to make a baby. Both of our children were conceived through the use of frozen donor sperm. It was our first choice for how we wanted to start a family, and we feel very blessed that it worked out so well.

When we were first starting a family, many of the issues I saw in the use of donor sperm had to do with protecting the structure of our family, and, in particular, the status of the non-bio-mom and relationship between the non-bio-mom and her child, both legally and socially. But by now, Lyn and I have gotten used to our roles as mothers and we've each worked through a lot of personal issues around forming a family with two moms. I'm no longer worried about protecting us as mothers, and as I result I have begun to see a whole separate set of issues with donor conception much more clearly -- the issues that our kids will face as people who were donor-conceived. How will they interpret their identity? How will they define their family? How will they understand and navigate their genetic and family relationships?

A couple of months ago, Lyn and I realized we needed to do more work to figure out how to talk about donor conception issues with our kids. But we quickly realized that we were framing the issue in the wrong way. Our kids' conception isn't something to be figured out -- it's an already-established fact. We don't need to "figure out" how to help them deal with it, thinking and agonizing over exactly what words to use at what time, in hopes of "doing it right." Instead, we need to deal with it ourselves, so that we can get over our own stuff, and really learn how to be good parents and good supporters for our kids, who are different from us in a fundamental way.

We have dealt with lots of our own challenges around being a two mom family, but I think we still have plenty left to work out around donor conception -- fear of our kids' reactions as they get older, discomfort with having strangers be a part of our extended family, grief over not being able to combine our genetic materials to have a child, and guilt over any difficulties our choices might cause for our kids. We can't let "helping our kids" handle "their" issues become a substitute for dealing with our own. We have to be able to get to a place of such security that we can honestly convey (with conviction!) to our kids that they do not need to protect us from the reality of their lives.

So we've embarked on a journey. We went to a workshop on talking to children about donor conception. We've taken a peek at the DSR. We're talking more with Leigh about her conception. We're hoping to talk to some young people or adults who were donor conceived to learn more about their lives (if we have any such readers, we'd love to hear from you). We'll keep you posted.

3 comments:

oneofhismoms said...

It dawned on me while watching "Faces of America" that the frustration the celebrities of African descent felt about not being able to trace their geneology back to their African roots may be a frustration felt similarly by donor-conceived kids. Not that using a donor is anything at all akin to the cutting of the ties of an enslaved person from his or her ancestry. But that big unknown gap in our kids' personal histories -- even if they don't feel compelled to meet the actual donors -- might be rather huge.

Just Another Jenny said...

I am always so amazed at the thoughtful way you parent.

I've been reading your blog for quite awhile and I just love how honest it is.

Thanks for thinking of all the questions we should all be asking ourselves.

Thanks for keeping such a great blog for the rest of us to enjoy!

mamakarma said...

Oh, oh, oh. I am jumping out of my skin right now eager to hear about this workshop. Thank you so much for posting about this, now and in the future. We talk often about how we'll discuss / navigate donor conception info with our son, and while we've agreed on the general and fuzzily nice idea of "openness," the nitty-gritty is harder. I've often thought that it's hard in the abstract - that maybe knowing our son and his particularities will make this clearer. And yet, I hesitate to wait for him to make the first move. As we've been working to prepare close friends and family on how to talk about the donor (i.e. schooling my mom not to say "birth father," which stings every time), I'm ever more aware that we can't educate everyone in our son's life about this. And I'm also more aware of my own insecurities and issues, which I don't want to convey to my son. We just attended a friend's birth; afterward everyone commented on who the baby looked like, Mom or Dad, and I found myself feeling sad that we won't have that same experience. I thought: Will my son be sad about that, or is that my issue? Is it some latent or deeply buried internalized homophobia? Clearly I should write a post of my own about this. It's all just to say, thanks again, best of luck with the workshop, and I do believe that this kind of thoughtful parenting, no matter what, is a beautiful gift.