Monday, March 24, 2008

Inquiring wannabe moms really do wanna know

I received several comments last week from Katy, a married woman in her 30s whose husband is infertile and who is thinking of using DI to conceive.  She asked me such pertinent questions regarding DC that I thought it would be a great post to answer her questions with my own opinion.  I also want to thank her for being so open-minded to investigate what I can only imagine to be difficult points of view in her decision to conceive this way.

Q1: It does not seem that you are a fan of the DI process for having children. I wonder if you could give me an impression of what you think would have been more appropriate for your mother. Do you believe that she should have not chosen to have a child at that time?

A1: As you’ve guessed, I am opposed to donor conception (at least as the system is currently set up).  I full well understand that for most people who resort to using DI/DE or any form of ART it is a last resort as their best option (having a biological child with their partner/spouse/boyfriend or being a relationship to be able to have a child without assistance) is not feasible in some way shape or form.  My being opposed to DC does not mean that I don’t comprehend what it must be like to be in this situation.  However, I still disagree that it is an ethical and moral way to bring a child into this world. 

Let me explain something about my mother here, she taught elementary school (retired last year after 30 years) and in the inner city she saw in what obscene conditions these children who she taught lived in and knew that despite her being single that she even by herself could do a better job than these parents of raising a child and wanted to do so desperately.

Her intentions to have a baby seem genuine, however, it is unfair regardless to bring a child into the world that before he or she is conceived will be denied indefinitely the right to know his or her biological father.  If she was so concerned about the welfare of these children in the inner city she would have chose adoption or fostering to truly help these children rather than DI and bring another child into this world.  She chose DI because she was selfish and felt that if all these inner city families with dad in jail and mom having 6 kids to different dads and selling drugs to make money – if this trailer trash could have a baby why couldn’t she?  She wanted a biological child.  That’s the bottom line.  She wanted a baby that was ‘hers’ and she wanted to experience pregnancy.  I don’t think the thought that a child created this way might not be happy about it ever crossed her mind.  I sit here as a 23-year-old who has known all my life and my mother still refuses to acknowledge that there was something denied to me that can never be fixed.  It’s only been in the past two months that she has actually shown any sort of support to my searching.

Q2: Do you resent her for doing that?

A2: Hmm…that’s a tough question.  I suppose it depends on your definition of resent.  I don’t hate my mother by any means.  I don’t even hate her for using DI to conceive me.  I am angry that once she married (“financial union”) when I was four the subject became taboo and I was left alone in a family that I didn’t belong.  I am upset that she can’t open her eyes and realize that there are so many complex issues concerning DC and that my feelings and views deserve to be heard just as much as her wants and needs. 

Q3: Do you think that you would feel the same way if you yourself were longing for a child?

A3: Yes, but no.  First of all, I love kids and I want to have kids badly when I am older.  I’m what people call a ‘kid magnet’ and everywhere I go kids seem to always come up to me.  I’ll be at a party with a bunch of families and I’m the one who sits on the floor and within 30 seconds I have 4 or 5 kids crawling on top of me sitting in my lap, wanting me to play or read to them, etc.  So yes, I truly can understand that desperate want for a child that many people feel.  If I am unable to find a husband or find out he or myself is infertile though, I would never think to use DC to have a child.  I would probably chose an open adoption or simply live without children.  This is probably a question that would be better suited for an older DC-adult though, as I’m still young and starting a family is not currently on my mind! 

Q4: And do you think that other people who you have come into contact with who are also donor conceived feel similarly?

A4: Yes, I am by far not the only one who feels this way.  I have links on my blog to other DC-adults who oppose use of donated gametes; there are organizations of DC-adults (such as PCVAI – people conceived via artificial insemination) who for the most part share at least some of the beliefs, especially in regards to disclosing to kids and anonymity.  I can honestly say I have no met a single DC-adult who agrees with donor anonymity (and I know probably over 100 either personally or via the internet).  There are also advocacy groups such as TangledWebs, which is opposed to all forms of ART.  As far as whether or not DC-adults agree with donor conception is variable.  There are many that are 100% completely opposed to all forms of DC/ART, while there are some that agree that it’s okay as long as the child knows that they are donor conceived, and then there are some who say it would be okay to use DC if anonymous donors were banned (such as in the UK, Victoria Australia, New South Wales Australia, The Netherlands, and many other European countries).

Q5: Is there a feeling that DI shouldn't be happening? Is this universal among children conceived through DI? Are there people who have considered it in more positive lights or would I be a fool to hope for that?

A5: As I stated above, my views are by far not the only views of DC-adults, however I feel that the next generation of children to reach adulthood knowing their origins, this perspective may very well change.  Yes, there are some children and adults who have not been “damaged” by being donor conceived, but as I have pointed out in other posts, many of these children are simply parroting the views of their parents and in many cases have been brainwashed into believing that their parents infertility trumps their own biological losses (see my post - All the world's a long as the offspring follow the script). 

As far as more positive lights, I suppose anyone can view their predicament in more positive light if they try hard, but what’s positive about having your kinship severed deliberately and indefinitely, not being able to be raised by both your biological parents, not being biologically related to you social parent, being systematically discriminated upon by the government, being hushed by a self-regulated industry, and being overlooked by many in the general public??

Q6: Is it any better if it is an open donor, if you are raised by two parents (straight/gay) or single parent?

A6: I guess I can only speak from experience here, and being from an anonymous donor and a single mom – those two things are definitely not better.  So I think moving to banning anonymity is the first step in America for fixing this antiquated system, so choosing an open donor I see as a must for anyone considering to use donated gametes to have a child.  Preferably one who makes him or herself known as the child is growing up, because what we’ve learned from offspring and donors who have met later in life there is a significant amount of loss even upon eventual contact.  If your only option is an open-ID donor who can be contacted at the child’s 18th birthday, then my advice is that is the only remotely ethical and humane option. 

I think a two-parent heterosexual home is better than a single parent or same-sex parents.  I am not opposed to women’s rights and gay rights by any means, but it’s a proven fact that children faire better in a home with a mother and father.  It’s not to say that children born of single parents or same-sex parents aren’t also succeeding, it’s just not having a father or mother (social or biological) in their life is still a loss worth mentioning.

Q7: And I guess my original post to you was asking very many questions but they really boiled down to this very one. Is this it? From your experience do most donor-conceived adults wish that they had never been a part of this process? Or are there people that aren't as critical of it?

A7: Again, I only speak for myself in what I say on this blog.  I would love to tell you that all DC-adults felt the same way I do, but that’d be a lie.  However, you have to understand that many DC-adults also conform to the norm for fear of hurting their families, and thus without their true feelings expressed we may never know how all donor conceived offspring really feel.

Q8: Is being donor conceived so much a part of each dc persons identity that it could possibly ruin their lives?

A8: Ruin their life...that’s a bit harsh I think to assume.  My being donor conceived I think of as quite an important part of who I am.  I don’t think I would have taken the career path I chose if I was not DC, I don’t think I would have had such dysfunctional family dynamics growing up if I was not DC, I don’t think I would have been as emotionally disturbed growing up if I was not DC, I don’t think I would have as low of a self-esteem and rejection/relationship issues if I was not DC. 

Now, that sounds quite bad I know, but many of these issues are also felt in same way or another in both DC-adults and adoptees.  I must admit, it is something that is always there…it’s not something you can just shove to the back of your mind and forget about.  Sometimes I wish I could – but I can’t.  It’s who I am, but to say it’s ruined my life is extreme and highly unlikely, but I do think that it has given my grief and hurt that cannot be appeased. 

Q9: This is probably a crazy sounding question in the context of all of these blogs but is there anything positive about it?

A9: Not to sound cliché or completely sarcastic, but without it I wouldn’t be here to speak of for those not yet conceived.  I could stand on the soapbox and recite my script and say it helps people have kids who normally can’t.  But of course you realize I am only mocking.  I wish I could say one thing really positive about donor conception, but the truth really is I can’t think of anything. 

Q10: Does it make a difference if an open donor is used?

A10: I don’t think there’s enough evidence of children born of open/ID-release donors to make a general assessment.  I would think that at least it would answer these burning questions that those of us older offspring have, but at the same time, there’s also the paradox that the child grows up to know their donor or biological father or mother (or however they are instructed to refer to him or her as), how will they feel when he or she has a child of their own.  There are cases in open adoptions where the child knows their birth mother, and years down the line she has another baby and she keeps it, and the adopted child is devastated and wonders why she didn’t keep him or her.  This has been noted in several open adoption cases, and could potentially be an obstacle in regards to open-ID donors. 

As for the parents worrying that the child might “love” the donor more, or see the donor as the father and not the social dad, this tends to be a self-conscious fear of recipient parents and used as ammunition as to why they’re not telling their child. The truth is, children will love their social parents unconditionally, as all children love their parents.  There is no reason to fear a child and his or her donor’s relationship, because even though it is important, that child can love three parents just as easily as he or she can love two. 

Q11: Is it a lot better if the child knows her whole time growing up or would it still really suck?

A11: I think it’s much less of a shock and less chance that the child is going to be angry with their parents, just so long as that openness continues.  Explain to the child even before they are able to comprehend what it means, as they grow tell them in age-appropriate terminology about their conception and allow communication and questions to be asked as often as needed.  The child may go through a stage where he or she asks every day about their donor, and then go months without mentioning it.  Allow the child to pick what he or she wants to call his or her biological father – don’t insist they call him donor because he wasn’t our donor; he was our parents’ donor.  He is with all due respect our biological father. Allow the child to search if he or she wishes, or even begin searching for siblings or the donor before they ask.  Keep any means of concern, as it is first and foremost, a decision you made that impacted the child the most.  If they disagree with DC, it’s not a personal attack against you, and should not be taken that way.

Even knowing all my life I was DC, I sometimes feel I have had a longer time to see what impact that has made on my life, but that’s not necessarily a negative.  I like to think of it as I have become more enlightened. 

Q12: I guess lastly what kind of advice would you give to infertile couples about options, etc? Or do you think it is better at that point just not to have children.

A12: I think that is a personal decision to be made by the infertile couples.  There are alternative options outside of ART – adoption and fostering children who need families is by far the best option in my eyes.  These kids are already here and for some reason or another they cannot be properly cared for by their biological parents.  These kids deserve every chance to have families to love them and care for them. 

So they’re not going to be biologically related to either of you, I understand that. But if you realize what sort of pressure using ART (and even more importantly using a donor) puts on a marriage I think that most couples would not proceed into donor conception.  There are oftentimes many issues that evolve or erupt in a marriage after the use of a donor to create children, such as arguments on disclosing to the children (even couples that were decisive before conceiving often change their minds later), the social non-biological parent feels ousted from the parent-child relationship and sees the child as a constant reminder of his or her infertility, complete lack of affection or care of the child from the non-biological parent, and while there’s no statistical evidence other than common discussion amongst offspring – we’ve found that divorce rates are astronomically high and many DC issues are underlying problems in the disbanding of the marriage.

Q13: Even if someone does DI do you have advice that would make it better for the child?

A13: I think I have answered this in other questions, but first of all do as much research as possible on the issues and familiarize yourself with some of the “less-appealing” views, talk to donor offspring, etc, and make an informed decision knowing what the consequences are and accepting that your child might not be happy about being donor conceived even if you do all the best things for him or her – it’s very much based on the offspring’s personality how they react to their conception. 

Use an open-identity donor.  Anonymity is the biggest obstacle for nearly all donor conceived adults, and while ID-release is not ideal it is far better than 100% confidentiality indefinitely. 

Talk.  Don’t tell your child once and then expect them to grow and mature and continue to understand what it means.  Tell them before they have any concept and it will be easier for you when he or she is at the age that they can comprehend what it means.  Age-appropriateness is key, and there are many books to help parents explain it for toddlers to school age kids, without getting too…graphic.

Keep the door open.  Don’t hound you child (especially once they hit that pre-teen age where for most kids they refuse to talk to their parents anyways), but subtly let them know that if they want/need to talk that you’re there.  Offer going to talk to a therapist or counselor if they are uncomfortable talking to you about it.  Family therapy is also a very positive option as it keeps the entire family on the same page and talking.

Search.  The DonorSiblingRegistry has parents who are still pregnant looking for siblings and their child’s donor.  While this may be slightly extreme, a child who has a half-sibling out there shows them from a young age that they’re not the only one out there and they have an instant friend to confide in about being donor conceived as they grow up.  Plus, there are advantages such as genealogical DNA tests if a female child finds a male half-sibling.  I’ve never heard of a child who has been angry that his parents found him a sibling, and it gives the parents a family who maybe lives on the other side of the country or the world that you have such a special connection to. 

Love.  No matter how cliché it sounds, raising your child in a loving and accepting environment is going to help him or her grow to be happy and healthy.  But remember, love is not all you need…always realize that even though you have this beautiful child, he or she does have a biological parent out there and he is half of that child’s identity as well.


Anonymous said...


By chance I was checking your website to see if you had responded and saw that you had just responded!!

Thank you so much for so thoroughly responding to my questions. I appreciate your frankness. There is so much there and I have only had the chance to read it over once. I am sure I will read it many more times but already I can see you approached my questions with a real thoughtfulness.

When we started thinking about this process I had no idea that there were so many things to think about regarding DI. It seems like such a simple answer to infertility if a person hasn't really thought about how it might affect their child. But once a person does it is like opening a hornets nest of questions. It becomes not just can I be a good mother/father, but it becomes: Is it fair, is it right for me even do this. And if my answer is yes: how will I justify this to my child and will they understand?

The further we got into it the more I saw that there really was so much more there and not that much information from the perspective of the real people involved. I can't tell you how important it is for me to get your advice on questions that I specifically have had. These questions have just begun to build up in me over a few years time and there has been no outlet or persons to ask. So I am very grateful just to be able to communicate them and to get opinions.

I am definitely going to have my husband read this so that we can talk about the issues it brings up together. And so that we can make a better and more informed decision about whether to choose to use DI.

You are really doing a great service by beginning this website and by being both very frank about your views and your life and at the same time by being so thoughtful and open to someone like myself who is in the position of possibly using DI to have a child. This is very educational.

My greatest thanks,

Lindsay said...


I'm glad that my responses were of help to you and your husband. You hit the nail on the head when you said that "it seems like such a simple answer to infertility if a person hasn't really thought about how it might affect their child." I think for you to just acknowledge the fact that this is going to greatly impact your child if you choose this route, you are light-years ahead of many other recipient parents who only see the here and now and just want that baby without all the extra baggage that comes along with it.

Good luck in your decision, and feel free to ask more questions as they arise. You can also email me privately if you wish -


Anonymous said...

Hi Lindsay,
I am an infertile woman that is currently waiting for a donor.
I realise that these are only you opinions, but I had to comment on them.

New research has shown that it is the mother that carry's the pregnancy in DC that activates or deactivates certain genes.
Therefore creating a human that only she could create.
She has therefore contributed to the DNA of her child in a way that only she can.

I am not sure how DC has contributed to abandonment issues on your part. Noone gave you up. They simply donated tissue.

Lastly, I feel that you have not considered one thing in all of this. That is the true meaning of being a parent and being a family. This has absolutely nothing to do with DNA or genertics. It has to do with love and care.

Is it not possible that you would have had a low self esteem and unstable family life either way?

I would appreciate you reply to this.

Lindsay said...

Dear Anon,

First of all, I would like to explain to you that I’m not the only one who feels this way – read some of the blogs and articles I have links to and you’ll see that there is a growing number of DC adults like me who feel that this is unjust.

As for the research you are referring to, could you please give me the name and journal article from which you found this? Let me remind you that I am a PhD student in genetics and developmental biology, and what you are asserting seems grossly exaggerated if not wrong from the training I’ve had and the articles I’ve read. There is evidence that gestational mothers and their behavior are imperative in brain development in fetuses, and of course the fetus is surrounded by the gestational mother’s hormones and chemicals in-utero, and if anything it may manipulative the demethylation of nucleotides and therefore minimally change the epigenetics of the child, but nothing more.

A child you conceive via donor eggs is still biologically and genetically related to another woman, no matter how hard you try to deny it.

Do not conclude that because someone “donated” their sperm means they didn’t give up their child. It doesn’t take much intelligence to understand that sperm and eggs make babies – your babies…unless every sperm and egg donor missed that day of sex education!

How dare you assume I have abandonment issues, my personal life beyond what I willing share here is none of your business.

And lastly, I hate to break it to you, but I have not met a single donor offspring (and I know probably close to 200) who thinks that love makes up for their lack of genetic connectedness to their social parent as well as the loss of being raised by their biological parent. Do a search for Myfanwy Walker and Michael Linden and see just how important genetics are. This doesn’t mean I don’t love my family, but that’s not everything.

I wish you would be less accusing and more accepting to the views of offspring, but I have learned from the past that you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink. I just surely hope when you have your DC baby and he or she grows up that you respect how he or she feels towards DC and accept that as much as you wish and hope and try for this child is not biologically yours. You can love it all you want but until you accept that he or she has a biological mother out there and may want to know who she is you have not truly grasped the concept of unconditional love for your child.

I would hope that you would read the several comments posted around the blog from Sue, a recipient mom of a son conceived from an egg donor and how she has realized this and loves her son so much that she can put aside those feelings and allow him to get to know his biological mother as well.


Anonymous said...

Thank-you for your reply.

I am not saying that I would deny my future child an opportunity to find his or her donor.
What makes me sad is how angry you seem to be about being concieved this way in the first place.

I still feel that even though I will not be my child's biological mother, I will still have a stronger bond than he or she will ever have with a donor.

Yes genetics are part of who you are. I just don't agree that they are everything.

I will have a look at the refernces you have provided. Thank-you.

Lindsay said...

Hi Anon,

I'm sorry for inferring that you wouldn't allow your child to search, it's just many offspring from my generation have grown up in secrecy and lies and stigma, and it's only recently that things are slowly beginning to change. It's noted that approximately 80-90% of sperm donor children have no been told of their origins, and estimates are even higher for egg and embryo donor children - so with percentages like that you can begin to see where some of the anger comes from.

As far as why I'm angry about being donor's not that I'm donor conceived that angers me - it's how we're treated as second class citizens. We have a fake birth certificate, we are guised under a confidentiality agreement which we were not even yet conceived yet to have signed, we are the 3rd party created from a heartless multi-billion dollar industry, and we are deliberately denied the right to know and be raised by our genetic parents.

You're right that even if you're not his or her biological mother you're still going to be your child's mom, and they will love you unconditionally. But I don't think you should say that you will have a stronger bond with your child, just simply a different bond than with the donor (if they are to be in contact). It shouldn't be taken as a competition about which one the child loves more or less or anything. By choosing to use a donor you are acknowledging that your child is going to have this genetic connectedness to another woman, and it's only fair to them to let them view their donor in whatever way they wish. There is enough love to go around to have two very special women in a child's life who hold polar yet integral roles, with neither one being more or less important. Without that donor you would not have your child, and without you that child wouldn't be here. With that being said your child has every right in this world to love both you and the donor equally, but maybe not in the same way.

Donor conception forces us to re-evaluate what family is and that it's not necessarily just a mother and a father anymore.

Lastly, I think you're obviously trying to educate yourself on the topic which is a very good first step. I am happy to see more and more TTC's listening to what we as offspring have to say, and use our voices to help them make the most informed and ethical decisions in the process.


Nancy said...

Your voice in the growing dialogue about ethics and ART is super important. I'm glad you've found your voice and are sharing your perspective.

I take issue with one thing you said: What research are you referring to that proves two heterosexual parents are better for children than two same sex parents? I have done a lot of reading on this issue and everything I have ever seen from all of the major professional groups is that there is no basis in fact for what you argue.

The issue may be about social or political leanings, but it is not about scientific proof of anything.

Lindsay said...

Hi Nancy,

Thanks for your comment. As for the "two heterosexual parents versus same-sex parents", my reasoning (and that of many others, and that is not homophobic) is simply that children deserve to be raised by both their biological mother and father. As a child of a SMBC, it was not fair that I had no father figure in my first few years of life (and a step-dad that could care less about me after that). Same goes for children of same-sex couples. I think for lesbian couples who use a friend as a donor, and he acts as the child's "uncle" or whatever they wish to call him, at least that child has a male role model.

The bottom line is that I don't think ANY child deserves to not be raised by both of his or her biological parents....that's to both same-sex and heterosexual couples who wish to use ART.

It is not necessarily scientific evidence - since the research to either prove or disprove it either way has never been done, but rather philosophical.

Nancy Sutton said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Nancy said...

Oh, and Lindsay, can you take my last name off of my last post? Didn't mean to throw that up there.

Lindsay said...

Nancy, I had to delete the entire post, but I pasted what you wrote below.....

"Hmmm... I see the consistency in your logic. And any disagreement I have is minor. As a child of a rather dysfunctional family, I can say that the love, guidance and parental care given to my by my stepfather was far and away more beneficial to me than that of my biological father. So, I'm not so wedded to the idea that biology is the basis for good parenting. But I do agree that anonymous parenting is not okay.

My lesbian partner and I have chosen a known donor for our coming up very soon AI efforts. He is a very close friend and will have a close relationship with any children we have. What that relationship will be will be greatly determined by the wishes of said children."

bionc baby mama said...

Hi -- not sure if you're still reading comments on old posts, but I wanted to thank you for your thoughtful, informative, and very interesting blog.

I do wish you would consider restating the section of this post that deals with your views on gay families. It may be your view that gay families aren't as good for children, but it is NOT a "proven fact" -- there are quite a number of studies of how children do in gay families, and it's not worse. (Most studies show that there's no difference in the health, happiness, etc., of children in gay vs. straight families. A few studies suggest that children in gay families may actually be slightly better off, perhaps because gay families tend to be carefully planned and gay parents may spend more time considering exactly the kinds of issues for children that you talk about on this blog.)

At any rate, great blog. Thanks for writing.

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree with the above comment, I really like your writing Lindsay but the comment on same sex families ticked me off.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lindsay,
Thank you so much for putting up this informative website! I can't tell you how much I appreciate hearing your perspective.

Question to you: what do you think of embryo donation/adoption? That is the process by which couples adopt embryos created, but not used, by other couples for IVF. If this can be arranged in an open adoption format, do you feel that this process would be similar to taditional adoption?

Thank you again and my very best to you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for answering those questions so thoroughly. Being someone who was conceived in love to a married couple, then shipped to every possible family member until I spent years as a homeless and guardian-less child, and even so far as to be put in foster homes and state institutions for orphaned children, I am now fully able to see that anybody can have those same issues that you felt were the result of being DC in any type of family. And there are many types of families, all of them valid. Because of your focus on this particular issue, you may not recognize that these feelings and issues are actually universal. How you look at the world is a matter of disposition, I suppose, and there are only so many possible dispositions to take. Your feelings are real, but you aren't the only one who feels like this. You don't have to be DC to have an outlook like this.