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.


Anonymous said...

I am guessing that you do not have kiddos of your own yet. I am donor conceived (and found out at age 34!), but I am wondering if it all shifts when you have kids of your own. I think this was incredibly hard on my parents. And I think you are right about the shame aspect. But, I so appreciate how incredibly wanted I was in this situation. Never a doubt. I am so appreciative, even if I am a bit curious.

damianhadams said...

Dear Anonymous
things can change for people when they have children of their own. It did for me. While I used to be happy about my conception it changed when I had my own children. That is not to say the same will happen to everyone, just what happened to me. I have also had to have the discussion of my conception with my eldest as talk turned to families and she asked questions. That was extremely difficult.

Von said...

'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.' And that is very worrying!
Does it not bother those with children that they will never know their history?

Lindsay said...


No I don't have kids yet, and like Damian said having children of your own can change your mind about things. I guess I'm still not sure why that should make a difference though, or do you think I don't appreciate my mother's decision because I am not a mother?

I dont think we need to constantly reaffirm that we love our parents and that we are grateful to be alive. It's exactly my point about being our parents keeper. We should not have to put our parents emotional wellbeing before our own.

And I feel that donor-conceived people (and adoptees) are the only people who are expected to be grateful to have been born and therefore condone the practice that brought us life. I understand your feelings but I find it terribly disturbing that you must state that you are appreciated to have been conceived.

And stating that your are "curious" belittles the burning desire that many of us have (you may or may not feel it). All of these things that you mentioned are what the majority of us have been dictated to believe, and I find it sad that we cannot think for ourselves and speak for ourselves without having to fall back on lines like you just provided.

Please understand I am not criticizing you, I am just pointing these things out that I find upsetting that we must constantly validate so that we are not attacked the the whole of society.

And Damian's point that it's not just our lives, but that of our children and our grandchildren that are forever changed. And having the discussion with our own children about OUR conception can be difficult for them to understand. The hole just gets deeper and deeper......

Jillian said...

I was so glad to come across this post because I just completed my Masters thesis work on Genetic Orphans (those children conceived of dual donors) and I had a large section on the reasons for and against disclosure. I had a great time reading it and you make some interesting points, some of which were covered in my research. Thanks for a provoking read.

syeds said...

Pointing out something and explaining someone comes under criticizing only;.

Sample Analysis

Lindsay said...


I was not pointing them out specifically to criticize her -- I find myself doing the exact same thing when I post on DI mommies boards. It's a reaction that we find ourselves forced to deliver in those circumstances, and many offspring don't even realize they are doing it or why they are doing it. They truly believe that they should feel grateful to be alive, nevermind that no one else conceived and raised in normal circumstances would ever think of something so ridiculous.

Most people don't go and thank dad for getting mom knocked up that night so they were conceived. But that's exactly what we are expected and instructed to do. We are to thank the donor who jacked off in a cup, thank our moms for going through such an ordeal to have us, feel sorry for mom and dad's infertility (or whatever the story), and be grateful to be alive.

Anonymous said...

rachelispolish said...

really great post Lindsay.

marilynn said...

Hi Lindsay
I liked your post a lot too. When you said that donor conceived and adoptees are the only ones who understand what its like to feel how you do I thought there is an underrepresented group that needs attention:
Quasi marital children. Actually most people who call themselves donor conceived are just quasi marital children, hijacked into the family of their mother's spouses at birth so that their birth certificates lists their step father rather than their biological father. The step parent should go through a formal court approved adoption where the real father relinquishes his obligtions officially with a wet signature so its clear that the kid was not sold on the black market. I think proof of consent is something that should be available to adopted people on demand. So should the identities of fathers that donated their sperm

The Declassified Adoptee said...

Great post!

Kids do sometimes change things. If anything, having kids made me more of an ingrate hehe :-)

Anonymous said...

More and more I think IVF has not worked out. I see alot of manipulation of the child to feel grateful which is not loving and let alone respectful. Wanted and loved is the adult's mantra, but these children are not even respected.