This blog post has been on my mind for a while now, almost a year in fact.
For those who didn’t follow me a year ago, I posted about the decision within our story which involved us using an anonymous donor from Czech Republic. I was clear back then as I am now that I wasn’t advocating for any particular route, but I wanted to open up conversations and to share our personal reasoning behind making that decision. The post definitely achieved the goal of opening conversations, but not particularly in the manner that I’d envisioned they’d be discussed.
There were some opinions voiced who strongly disagreed with anonymous donation with the view that it restricts the donor conceived child in accessing parts of their genetic origin. The majority of these opinions came directly from an online donor conceived community, after my blogpost was shared amongst some Facebook groups. I was pleased that personal stories were shared to provide context and examples for discussion, but the way in which some opinions (not all) were expressed made them more difficult to listen to. It filled me with sadness that many who had been conceived with the use of a donor years ago had to face secrecy and shame, something which I can’t imagine and must be incredibly hard. I believe there is much that can be learned from what has happened in the past, something I am always open to listening to, but equally we must also have empathy and understanding that we all have our own personal decisions to make, with individual complexities and factors to consider.
Whilst I’d anticipated some varying opinions, it led to some personal and incredibly hurtful remarks, with a rapid-fire heated debate on my comments thread, after which I decided to take it down as it was causing more harm than helping. I know that the responses last year upset and scared many of you who are desperately longing for a child, which I can completely understand because they shook me to my core, especially as they directly challenged the decisions that ultimately led to the people I love most in this world – our girls. A decision that, now I have them, is unimaginable or impossible to foresee having ever done anything differently – because otherwise, we simply wouldn’t have them. I often get asked the question as to whether I would do anything differently given what I know now, and it’s for this reason that this question is impossible for me to answer. I will never be able to advise you personally on which path to take, as that decision can only be made by you.
I explain this to give context and to share that I’ve been hesitant for a while about revisiting this topic through another post. Having changed laptops over the past year I’ve actually lost the original blog, which I wonder if it’s a blessing in disguise, as it allows me to reflect and write again completely from scratch. I want to say upfront (as I did before) – I am no expert and don’t claim to be, I’m still learning myself and speak solely from my own personal experience.
My aim is always to share my family’s story authentically and honestly, to show our ‘reality’ because I know just how lonely it can be having to make these huge decisions with limited support. I want to revisit this topic because it forms a significant part of many people’s decision making, with different pathways resulting from whatever route they take. By not talking openly, for fear of personal comments, it won’t help those that are feeling very much alone in making these decisions in the future. Using a donor from a place where donation is anonymous by law is a very real and valid option taken by many for different individual reasons (not solely for anonymity), my hope is that rather than ‘shaming’ people for something so personal, we should instead focus on what can be learned from the past and how best to support our children in the future, something I’ve reflected on for this post.
Today I want to take the opportunity to reflect and share how we plan to support our girls with the potential ‘implications’ of this route, as I know that it inevitably leads to different options for our girls in the future, should they wish to know more. What I have learned from the conversations that stemmed from my original post is much more about the impact that our decision might potentially have on our girls in the future, something that admittedly does scare me, but something we will do everything in our power to minimise and support them with. My biggest reflection now is that using an anonymous donor comes with potentially bigger risks, all depending on the extent to which they wish to know their genetic origins, which includes details about their medical history and potentially any half-siblings. Something which we cannot control, but as parents we can be emotionally aware of and prepared for.
I now understand and feel more comfortable about the curiosity they’re likely to have – something I’ve spoken about recently in comparison to my own perspective. It’s completely natural that they might want to know more about their genetic origins, but to what extent they want to know more will be up to them and them alone. Over the past year I’ve heard perspectives from some donor conceived people who say that this information is a fundamental core part of them, and others who don’t feel as strongly at all, for them it’s simply a curiosity (and in some cases not a very strong one). I know that the girls could fall anywhere on this spectrum of interest in our donor, with my hope being the latter, but it’s something that is totally up to them.
I know now that there are options to support them to find out more should they wish to, with advances in DNA testing and technology. Something which may have unnerved me at the very beginning, but actually now gives me comfort in allowing them a way to potentially find out more if they really wanted to, and something we can support them with. We as recipients (and donors too) should be aware that ‘anonymous’ donation is no longer a guarantee.
I believe managing our girls expectations with complete honesty is incredibly important for the future, to try to reduce the risk of any form of disappointment, should they want to know more. One of the reasons we originally felt more comfortable with anonymity was an element of trying to protect our future children from rejection, something I now know is difficult to have any control over, but when so much is unknown I found it hard not to think of hypothetical situations, with a natural instinct to protect both our future children and ourselves. They will be aware that there’s no guarantee we will find her, that we might discover other genetic links along the way but, as with much of this journey which all starts with infertility, it’s all very much unknown.
I also want to manage their expectations about our donor as a person. We know that she did a kind act in donating her eggs to us (which for us was life-changing in the most wonderful way), but we don’t actually know her as a person, so it wouldn’t be fair to build up a false image beyond the information we have.
I want them to be aware that she donated her eggs with the understanding that it was protected by anonymity, so there’s a chance she may not even be open to being contacted. I want to prepare them as much as I can, so that they’re aware of what they might face if they ever follow up on any genetic matches. I suppose much of this doesn’t just apply solely to children conceived using an anonymous donor, there might also be similarities with fears faced by those following up contact with an open-ID donor, there will never be any guarantee about what the reaction might be.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I feared about in the future, ultimately I never want to think of our girls feeling any negative emotions at all, but it’s our reality and something we’ll support them with as a family. My hope it that all of this will make us an even closer family, much more in-tune with each others emotions on a much deeper level.
I promise my girls never to close down their questions with the phrase “you wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t made these choices”. We can be forever grateful for the choices we made and, whilst we hope they will be too, we can’t dismiss their understandable and natural curiosity with forced gratitude. It’s about openness, honesty, love and support – for me these are most important things we can provide to our girls in helping them towards understanding and acceptance as they find their own identities in life. I truly believe that together Matt and I can help them feel secure, wanted and loved, whilst providing the opportunities to speak their minds without fear of upsetting me or diminishing my role. It’s funny, but in reading this final paragraph back it makes me think of anyone else who has children, regardless of their conception. We all want what is best for them, in our case we are even more consciously aware of these emotions and the importance of our role, allowing us to provide positive examples of openness which will surely play a part in shaping and nurturing their attitudes in the future – all qualities I would absolutely want to share with our girls. I hope that in sharing this it helps to know that you’re not alone when faced with these decisions, to understand a little more about the different perspectives and to start thinking about some of the conversations and challenges that may lie ahead in the future. It’s by opening up and talking about these topics that will help towards losing any shame that is linked to this alternative route parenthood, I encourage us within this community to share and support each other – without judgement and with empathy – these decisions are difficult and never taken lightly.
Love, Becky x
This was lovely to read, I have used an anonymous sperm donor, by choice, and it’s something that has played on my mind at times. There’s no right or wrong, we have these decisions to make as feels right to us. I hope to have a full sibling for my daughter when all this Covid situation is over and I can continue treatment, so hopefully she’ll be in a good position to share her genetics at this level even if she never finds, or wants to find, out more about her history. Well done for writing this so eloquently. X