Saturday, March 6, 2010

The reality of reunion...and what the media doesn't tell you

Last week an article ran in Slate Magazine entitled "Are Sperm Donors Really Anonymous Anymore?" (never mind the gross number of factual errors throughout the entire article).

While I liked that they ran a story about this, it is yet another slap in the face to many adult offspring who are trying to find their roots. The story focuses on a DI mommy that wanted to find the donor/biological father of her child for whatever medical/emotional reason she (the mom) may have. Let me reiterate that. It is not the offspring searching!! So the DI mommy uses the DNA from one of her daughters' many half siblings to do genetic genealogy, and based on the large amount of "non-identifying" information provided by the donor, tracks him down and contacts him out of the blue on the phone!!!

While I believe that adult offspring should have every right guaranteed to them to find their missing kin, and I believe that anonymous donors are is foolish behaviors as mentioned above that could potentially ruin it for a great many offspring in the future. Cryos, the largest sperm bank in the world, based in Denmark, is now trying to stop offspring from finding one another by abolishing the donor number and replacing it with a "fingerprint" that identifies the donor to Cryos but cannot be traced and compared among his many offspring. This is in direct result of instances such as with donor 3066, who was found by a mother and put in the difficult and inevitably disastrous situation of being confronted with 13 small donor conceived offspring and their mommies all vying for his attention.

For example, the mom who traced him down using another child's DNA stated this:

"I e-mailed the group when I found him and said I thought you would want to know," she said. "Once they found out, everyone wanted to know who he was, and now he knows about all the kids. I talk to him a few times a year, but I'm the only mom who he's agreed to talk to, and we're the only family he's met."

Now we have 12 other mommies who are mad, and 12+ other children who will likely never get the opportunity to meet their biological father because of a selfish impulse made by one mother. Who suffers in the end, but the other 12+ children. And the worst part is, the young boy who's DNA was used to trace this man in the first place will likely never get the chance to meet his biological father, that hehelped this other mommy and one of his half-siblings steal the show.

So that brings to light the next aspect of reunion I wanted to touch upon. The media and its effect on the concept of reunion.

With the current trend of reality television, Americans (and now the rest of the world -- b/c of course everything America does must be the best, eh??!.......) can get a sneak peak of the lives of average Americans who are just like them, except that they are on tv. Then again, if I weighed 400 pounds I couldn't imagine going on national television in a sports bra.....but then again, that's just me.

The thing is, its not the lives of average Americans. It's the lives of the freaks, the outcasts, and those that live on the fringes of society in some way shape or form. Who would want to watch a show that exhibited people just like you?! No, the people on reality tv have to have something "unique" to provide. And since the majority of Americans are raised (or at least to begin with) by their biological parents, the freak-shows like adoptees and donor-conceived adults who are raised by people not even biologically related to them has some sort of curb appeal to the mass media.

The last few years have seen the rise of a plethora of reality shows that focus either solely or have featured the concept of reunion. Troy Dunn's The Locator and the new Find My Family, to name a few (but also shows like MTV's True Life), all focus on adoptees - usually - who are searching for their missing biological family members and the show's producers take the plunge and iconically find that missing relative and reunite the lost family. It's always a tear-jerker, duh, and everything's so happy!!!

Of course it's happy, it's a reunion!!!!

Yeah......delusional, that's what the media is. And they prey on the emotions of their viewers to boost their ratings, at the expense of the adoptees and donor conceived. Not only does it make those of us who continue to search or have been rejected feel even worse about ourselves and our lack of successful reunion, but it provides a very unrealistic impression to the general public of what search and reunion is about.

Reunion is far from the quick and easy 30-minute segment that the media makes it out to be. Many adoptees search for decades only to have a door slammed in their face upon finding their birthparent(s). Others have a happy reunion that goes sour later on. And adoptee reunions have been happening for decades, if not centuries.

Donor conception is no different. Well, it's a little different. See, we can't be on any of those fancy TV shows b/c there are no public records to search for!!!! Yeah, how bout them apples?!?

Yet, the media still portrays donor conception in a positive light, and highlights the reunions as justification of the practice. Basically saying that donor conception is okay because if the children want to find their biological parent or siblings they can just get on the Donor Sibling Registry and one magically appears out of nowhere!!!

They portray searching and reunion as something that occurs easily, fast, and without a problem. This of course does not sit well with me, and with the majority of adult donor conceived offspring (and adoptees), who are facing the true facts up front.

The fascination with the reunion of DC adults is simply that....fascination. The media typically does not want to hear all the struggles it may have taken in a 10 year search, but only the conclusion (and only if it is "happy"!).

It's true that the Donor Sibling Registry has connected thousands of donor conceived children (and mommies) to one another, and has brought together some donors with their biological offspring, but the sad statistics lie in the ratios. The ratio of young children (basically mommies on the DSR) who have found at least one match are significantly high, yet looking at the number of adult or older adolescent offspring who are searching, the majority of these offspring have not found any matches. I know how fortunate I actually am for finding a sibling, but the reality is the majority of adult offspring will likely never find a sibling, especially those conceived prior to the frozen sperm bank era.

It's also true that science and DNA has allowed offspring to trace their donors, and is also making it increasingly difficult for donors to remain anonymous in the future. Many sperm banks provide an impressive amount of "non-identifying" information on their donors --- from birthdays, to ancestry, occupation, college, parents occupations, hobbies, you name it!! All of these things can provide very helpful building blocks to tracking the donor down.....from the girl who found her donor on MySpace, to the use of DNA alongside these known characteristics, we are on the verge of a new age where many of these donors are going to find themselves being drug out of the veil of anonymity.

However, for those with little or no information to go on even these tools are worthless.

The thing is, the media does not want OUR stories!! Only the happy-endings. I was contacted by Fox's The Morning Show with Mike & Juliet last year wanting to feature me on an upcoming episode about donor conceived offspring searching for their biological parent. After communicating with them, I realized that they thought that I had FOUND my biological father (not sure HOW they could have gotten that from this blog, unless they're idiots....but that's another story). When I explained that I had been searching since 2003 but had not found him they immediately said they no longer wanted me, but, so cliche, that they would "keep me in mind if they ever did a story about an offspring still searching". Yeah right.....who'd want to do that?!?! It's not a FREAKIN' HAPPY ENDING!!!

While there have been a handful of newspaper articles, newscasts, and day-time talk shows that have featured adult offspring who are still searching (Kathleen LaBounty was on Oprah last year, but was shut out by all the others present, likely because her story wasn't happy enough....), the number of outlets that the majority of adult offspring have to bring to light the injustices of the practice are few and far between. Some countries, such as Australia, tend to be more liberal in their allowing such renegade thoughts to be made public, but in states like Victoria anonymity has already been outlawed.

It's time for us, as donor conceived adults to start taking matters into our own hands. Using the internet, we can produce and publish our stories to the world. The stories that the media doesn't want to cover because they don't give you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, the large network of adoptees worldwide, forums and message boards. All of these are tools to bring our stories to light.

But is it enough??