Monday, July 25, 2011

The pink elephant in the room

I am a failure of the infertility industry.  Why?  Because I was told I was donor-conceived.  The philosophy of ART invented by the infertility industry is one of secrecy.  Intending parents go to some infertility specialist and he "cures" them of their infertility and instructs them to go home, make love, and forget their visit to his office ever happened.  

The problem with this philosophy is that as human beings, we have the capacity to remember.  Intending parents cannot forget this procedure, and for some it consumes them.  Hiding this shameful secret destroys them from the inside out.  For some the only solution was telling their child (often an adult by this point) the shameful secret.  Many recipient mothers disclosed this secret discreetly, not telling their husband.  Even more offspring are instructed directly or indirectly that it was not something to be shared outside of their immediate family, often keeping it from extended relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Often there is a subliminal message that this is something to be ashamed about and should not be talked about in public.

Therefore, the secrecy and shame has now been transferred from parent to child.

For children conceived in "alternative" families....same-sex couples or single parents, the conception story is often much more public, sometimes to the extent that the child is bombarded with the facts of their conception broadcast to the wider community.  In this instance, the opposite is the case.  The child is unable to conceal this fact to the world and are often put on a pedestal as a symbol of the rights movement and not given his or her proper space to conceptualize and comprehend their story.

Thus, the opinions and expectations have now been transfered from parent to child.

Whichever the case, donor-conceived individuals often find themselves in this twilight zone of sorts, trying to not only deal with their conception but how it is viewed by the rest of society, as well as by their own families.

For many of us, donor conception really is the elephant in the room, the truth that we know and will never forget, but that we find difficult to discuss in public and therefore attempt to ignore, despite it being impossible.

For most recipient parents, their biggest hurdle is disclosure.  There are entire message boards dedicated to it, entire books and seminars discussing it.  To them it's this huge dilemma.  How on earth am I going to explain this to my child?!?  And while it might be hard, it might be uncomfortable, it might be painful, you're talking to your child about their conception.  They have a right to know the truth about their own identity.

What most parents forget is that they have it easy.  We have it hard.  We have to live for the rest of our lives with this knowledge that is directly tied to us.  Our parents don't need to tell everyone that their child is conceived with a donor (some do, but that's a whole other story that follows along with my previous comment about turning their child into some reproductive rights symbol....).  However, for us, each time we meet someone new we find ourselves in the same situation.  Do we tell this person?  And if so, HOW?

Most people get uncomfortable when they hear words like sperm, egg, conception, etc.  So needless to say, disclosing being donor-conceived to someone is usually the most difficult and awkward conversation we will have.  We all take a variety of paths to disclosure.  Often it depends on the person or the circumstance.

Sometimes it's like pulling off a band-aid or jumping in freezing cold water.  Quick and painful, but once it's done it's done.  Other times it's like a well-rehearsed waltz.  Careful planning and practice to make everything perfect so it is smooth and effortless.  There's also the drunken stupor disclosure, that usually follows a night of heavy partying and that pesky sentimental euphoria that accompanies it.  I don't advocate the last course of action, as there is the significant chance that neither you or the other person will remember the disclosure in the morning.

But lets go back to family.  Because for many of us, due to the secrecy and shame that our parents pushed on us when they disclosed our conception, discussing donor-conception with them can be awkward at best, and terrifying at worst.

Sometimes discussing it, especially with social fathers, makes us feel as though we are being disrespectful and/or hurting our parents.  Again, why must we hold our parents emotional wellbeing higher than our own?!?  So many of us are silent to our families about our feelings and our journeys.  Mostly because once disclosure occurred, it was assumed that everything would magically go back to the way it was.  But it can't.  It never can.

For me, donor conception is like this haunting feeling in the back of my mind, in the pit of my stomach.  There are times when I don't think about it definitely.  But I don't forget.  It's always there.  It's the elephant in the room, that everyone knows but no one wants to discuss.  And that is a very isolating feeling.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Official Release: Donor Conceived DNA Project!!

I am excited to announce the creation of the first and only worldwide DNA project for donor-conceived adults and former/current donors through Family Tree DNA.  

The main goals of the project will be as follows:
  1. A central location for donor-conceived individuals to locate half-siblings
  2. A central location for former and current donors to locate their biological children

Other goals of the project are to provide awareness to donor-conceived adults, former/current donors, and parents of donor-conceived children to the benefits and successes of using DNA tests to identify not only half-siblings but to give direction to the identity of the biological parent, and to analyze the DNA of donor-conceived adults in an anthropological light.

Benefits of joining the project are:
  1. A place to direct potential half-siblings to without dealing with costly and ineffective and inconclusive half-siblingship DNA tests using CODIS markers
  2. Ability to have expert advice on interpreting results and assistance on using results to identify potential biological parents
  3. Opportunity to be involved in a revolutionary project that can confirm donor relationships without the use of donor numbers, mother's DNA, or costly registries
  4. Opportunity to identify donor-conceived adult relatives beyond half-siblings (such as cousins)

Benefits for the donor conception community as a whole:
  1. Identify DNA trends among donor-conceived adults
  2. Identify relative groups who all acted as donors (such as fathers and sons or brothers)
  3. Identify donors who may have donated at multiple locations with different donor numbers
  4. Identify significant age gaps in donor-conceived half-siblings from the same donor

Tests currently accepted:
  1. FTDNA's Family Finder autosomal test (for males and females to identify genetic relatives on all lines including paternal cousins and male and female half-siblings)
  2. FTDNA and any compatible 3rd party company's Y-STR tests (for males only to identify genetic relatives from the direct paternal line...useful in identifying possible surnames of biological father and confirming only male half-siblings)

FTDNA's Family Finder test: $289 (PREFERRED)
FTDNA's Y-STR tests: starting at $169

Disclaimer for minors:
Parents of donor-conceived children are advised to make sure that your child is of an age to consent to having his or her DNA swabbed and added to the FTDNA database as well as this project.  I strongly suggest minor children be at least 13 years of age.

Upon requesting to join you will be asked to answer the following questions
DNA tests ordered:
Offspring or donor:
Year of conception or years donated:
Sperm bank or clinic where donor donated (if known):
Doctor that performed the insemination (if known):
Place of conception:
Donor number (if known):
Siblings (if any) - please note if any siblings have done DNA tests and what tests:

Please email me with questions or concerns about these tests or the project.

Feel free to repost this announcement to other DC groups.

Lindsay Greenawalt
Group Administrator
Donor Conceived DNA Project

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Rhode Island is #7: Unconditional Access to OBCs....and hope for donor conceived offspring??

From Bastardette: Yesterday was a celebratory day for the Adoptees Rights Movement.  Rhode Island became the 7th state to provide unrestricted access to Original Birth Certificates for ALL adoptees born in the state.  S478 Sub AA was signed into law yesterday at noon.  The law will go into effect on July 1, 2012.

However, in the donor conception world equal rights are still decades behind.

With the recent appeals upset by the state in Olivia Pratten's groundbreaking court case in British Columbia, she has another battle to fight to gain rights for donor conceived adults in Canada.  The good news is, since the appeal will go to the Supreme Court of Canada, IF (and only if) she wins, donor anonymity will be removed in not just BC but every province in Canada!!  While the appeal after such a successful win must be devastating to Olivia and her family and her attorneys, if they can convince the SCC of the unconstitutionality of destroying records and denying donor conceived adults from learning the identities of their biological parents, then the ramifications would set in motion a hard precedent for other states and governments to deny.

Here in the good ol' USA, the first tiny baby step in reform is beginning to brew.  On the weekend of Independence Day, there is a tiny glimmer of hope, that human rights, children's rights, Americans' rights will prevail over greedy corporations and money.

The Governor of the state of Washington recently signed into law the Uniform Parentage Act that, effective July 22, 2011, demands that anyone who provides sperm or eggs to a fertility clinic must also provide identifying information and a medical history, and that children born from these donated gametes can return to the fertility clinic at age 18 to request this identifying information and medical history.

However, as is the case in many adoptee OBC bills that spring up across the country, there's a catch.

A veto.

Unfortunately Washington was too scared of the potential loss of donors, so they added a cop-out.  Donors can file a disclosure veto that prevents the clinic from revealing identifying information (not medical history) to their biological children.

While I am saddened by the apparent cowardice in giving donor conceived offspring actual human rights against the threats and interests of the infertility industry and the ASRM, this is definitely a step in the right direction.

I hope in the future there will be as many vocal  donor conceived adults as adult adoptees, and legislation like this will be discussed and voted upon in many states, and that compromises like disclosure vetos will be fought against.

But in the meantime, baby steps, we're taking baby steps here.