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Category Archives: Ethics of Advanced Reproductive Technologies

Back to why this all started…

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I started this blog back when I found out that I was donor conceived. I wanted a place to record and talk through this journey. What I’ve come to realize though, is that it’s not really a big deal to me. I think that’s why there have been frequent long periods of silence here. The only times my donor conception really come up are when I’m discussing the topic of donor conception or family medical history. Those really aren’t things I discuss that often. I’ve realized this is one of the smallest parts of what makes me “me”. The initial revelation was a bit rocky, knowing that my mom and dad had hidden this from me my entire life, but we’ve talked through all that, and I don’t feel that our relationship has been damaged by it. The key factor in my feeling that way is the fact that at the time of my conception, both of my parents were given the standard professional advice of the day. That was to never tell me about my conception. Fortunately, the attitudes of the professionals/experts have evolved in the 30+ years since.

Obviously, not all donor conceived persons feel like this is no big deal. There are also feelings of anger, betrayal , and loss. These reactions don’t seem to fall along lines of those who have “always” known and those with later life discoveries. There’s no pattern of those who didn’t necessarily have a great home life growing up holding the most anger.  I found that interesting. There are adults on the forums who claim that they had wonderful families growing up, but they are furious over the use of donor gametes. There are donor conceived people who fight against any kind of donor conception (this is a minority but a very vocal one) at all to those, like me, who have child(ren) via donors. So I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but here is where I am and have been for a while now.

Personally:

At one point, I was interested in identifying my donor so that I could get his medical history. Then, I found twenty.three.and.me which gave me a genetic health analysis that more than satisfied my needs. The interesting thing about that is that the results actually revealed that I was a carrier for a genetic condition through my mother’s side of the family that we had no idea about. Having satisfied the one real “need” related to finding my donor, I’ve found myself at a place where I have no desire to make contact with my donor or any of his other offspring.

On Donor Conception:

My feelings on donor conception are that it should definitely remain an option for people who could not otherwise create/expand their families. I lean heavily toward using open ID or known (actually KNOWN, not strangers found on a website) donors, but I’m not absolutely against anonymous donation. I encourage prospective parents to choose ID option or open donors, but do not fault them for making a different decision. More and more methods of finding genetic connections are popping up all the time. This makes me feel that before long, “anonymous” donors won’t have the same level of anonymity and that donor offspring will have easy access to the most important pieces of their genetic makeup without the need for open/ID option donors. This is the reason for my less than emphatic stance on this topic.

The one absolute in this whole thing for me boils down to honesty. Here and now, in 2013, when almost every expert would agree that hiding adoption from a child is wrong, why don’t we hold donor conception to the same standard? Why is it still socially acceptable to hide the truth from a donor conceived child? I absolutely cannot be quiet when I hear that someone plans to hide the truth from their child. The child in question may end up feeling like me, that it’s no big deal, or s/he might have a greater interest in some sort of connection. The point is that this is the choice of the child, not the parent. It is absolutely the responsibility of the parent to share all available information about the donor with the child. A parent is supposed to be trustworthy. Finding out that you have been betrayed by the person/people in your life who you are supposed to be able to trust the most is more damaging than any donor information could be.

If there was one piece of advice I could share with every family considering donor conception, it would be honesty above all else. THIS is the one thing that my discovery has made me adamant about. Lying and or hiding the truth about donor conception is the one aspect of this whole issue that I will always speak out against. I cannot think of a single justifiable reason to hide this from a child at this time in society. This information is part of the child’s story. S/he should have access to all of it and ultimately the control over what to do with it. The donor information BELONGS to the child, not his/her parents.

Contact with “Diblings” AKA Donor Siblings:

I don’t really have strong feelings one way or the other on reaching out to other families who used the same donor before the child is old enough to make that decision. For our family, we want Little Man to be in control as much as possible. So we try to do enough to keep as many options as we can open for him without making too many decisions before he can speak for himself. The decision of whether or not to contact donor “siblings” is a decision that should be made by each family according to their comfort level until the child is old enough to request more information. Once the child is old enough to make the decision on contact for him/herself, control should be handed over.

How my feelings have changed:

There was a time before learning about my own status that I was threatened by the thought that someday my non-biological child would want contact with his donor or the donor’s other offspring. When my mom told me that I was donor conceived, I realized that the feelings I have/had for my dad were not at all affected by the revelation. The only thing that changed regarding my relationship to my (only) father was that I felt even more loved knowing the extent my parents had gone to while TTC. This made me realize that my feelings about our son one day possibly wanting to reach out were completely based in fear. The idea that we should try to share as little as possible with him because *I* was scared was selfish. We will be honest with him when he asks questions, and we will provide him with age appropriate pieces of his story along the way without waiting for his questions. I hope that he always knows that he was the priority in ALL decisions we made throughout this process, and that if we fumble along the way that we were doing our best. He deserves nothing less. This is his story to tell, not ours.

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Types of Donors

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There is a lot of confusion even within the community of people who have conceived via donor insemination about what the different labels regarding anonymity of donors actually mean. This is especially frustrating for me as a donor conceived person. If people do not even have a full grasp of the terminology, how can they make a fully informed decision? So just in case you’re stumbling across this post and could use a better understanding of all the labels and options, here you go…

Two types of donors are typically available from cryobanks.

  • Anonymous donors have no ID or contact options. Unless, at some point the donor contacts the bank and wants to allow for contact (this is rare), the only information ever available to offspring will be the profile information from the bank.
  • Willing-to-be-Known (WTBK) Donors, also known as ID Release Donors, have agreed to contact from offspring. Typically this option becomes available when the child turns 18.
  • Some people choose not to go through a cryobank. Most of the time, donors found through a registry or known previously by the family are referred to as Known Donors regardless of the actual level of contact or how well they’re actually “known”. These arrangements go from biological relatives of the non-biological intended parent to the equivalent of a one night stand and everything in between.

    The last possibility that comes to mind is a co-parenting arrangement. This is when there is an agreement in place for the donor to be a parent to the child whether legally or otherwise. This is the only time you should even remotely assume that it would be okay to refer to a child’s donor as the child’s dad.

    I know it can get confusing, but using the right terminology, especially when discussing the effect of anonymity on the donor selection, is critical.

    Donor Dilemma – My answers to some pertinent questions

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    In the world of sperm banks, there are 2 types of donors. There are “anonymous” donors who are just what they sound like. Then, there are “open” or “ID release” donors. These donors agree to have their identity released to any offspring resulting from their donations once that child reaches age 18. The third type of donor someone might use is a person they already know – a known donor. In that case, a sperm bank wouldn’t be involved in the process.

    Why did we choose an anonymous donor for Little Man? The answer is, quite frankly, because I was scared. I was scared that someday, Little Man may see his donor as more of a parent than me. I was threatened by the fact that he would have the option to contact this donor at age 18 – a man who had a genetic connection to him, when I did not. I was scared of the idea of this donor someday being a part of our lives no matter how small that part would be. I look back on that decision and consider it selfish and misinformed. Mommy had left the decision mostly up to me, because she didn’t feel strongly one way or the other.

    Now, I regret that choice. I did not know about my own conception until just a month before Little Man was born. My own experience has opened my eyes to the fact that we should have kept all of Little Man’s options open. The decision to make contact or not should have been his. Maybe he will be like me and have no desire to reach out. Even so, the decision was not ours to make. If someday he comes to us with the desire to track down his donor, I will do everything in my power to help him short of violating the donor’s privacy. We did, after all, agree that he would remain anonymous. Some anonymous donors have a change of heart and register on sites such as the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR). This will probably be the only opportunity Little Man has to track down his donor’s identity if that is what he wants to do someday when he’s not so little anymore.

    If we try to have more children, which type of donor will we use? This is where it gets even more difficult. As much as I regret pushing so hard for an anonymous donor the first time, if we attempt to conceive again, we will go anonymous again. Why? Because the only mistake I can think of that would be bigger than making the wrong choice again would be Little Man having to deal with the fact that his sibling(s) was given an opportunity that we took away from him. My commitment to all of my children will be the same. I will stay engaged in the DSR and other registries and share as much information as I can gather when they come to me with questions. As much as I regret making what I feel was the wrong decision the first time, I cannot imagine giving the option of contact to future children knowing that we’ve already taken it away from Little Man.

    Just a note: Back when my parents used a donor, there was no decision to be made. All donations were made anonymously in the program they were a part of.

    Happy, Grateful, and Lucky!

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    Yesterday, I was reading one of my favorite blogs Regular Midwesterners, when I came across a comment that caught my attention and linked to a page that basically said if you were not “IVF-made” or adopted, then you should consider yourself lucky. Let me stress for a second that this page was linked to by a reader of Regular Midwesterners and is not affiliated with the site itself.

    The blogs linked to from that original link, which I refuse to post here, were full of entries arguing against the use of donor sperm, eggs, or embryos and against adoption. I find it especially interesting that the first page even used the term “IVF-made” when the real point was to say that not being raised by both of your genetic “parents” is the problem. This, to me, already pokes holes in the validity of the argument, when you consider that IVF technology is often employed using the sperm and egg of the couple intending to raise the child. I am not saying that people are not entitled to their own opinions or feelings, but these blogs were what I would consider inflammatory and over-generalized, and the statement  “ivf-mades and adoptees are adults like you, but not happy for the gift of life or feeling grateful or lucky to be adopted – candidly, you are lucky to not have either of these starts to your life,” in particular actually made me quite angry. The best I can do, since I am not an expert in the field of reproductive technology or the long term effects, is to tell you the story of two people who stand in direct contrast to the statement I quoted above – myself and my wife.

    I do, in fact, consider myself lucky! Imagine for a moment that my parents had not so desperately wanted a child… It is not as though they made the decision to use donor sperm over having a child without assistance. It was obvious after nearly a decade of trying without assistance that they were not going to have a child that way. During that time, they also had a failed adoption attempt. They had so much love to give and wanted to share that with a child. So they sought out help. I had an amazing childhood. My parents were/are incredible parents, and now my mom is an amazing Granny. I have no doubt that had my father been given the chance, he would be over the moon at holding the title of Grandpa. I cannot imagine them not having had the opportunity to raise a child of their own, and I count myself lucky to have had them as my parents. I do not feel “abandoned” as some of these bloggers claim they do, because some stranger deposited his sperm in a specimen cup and donated it to be used for my conception. I actually feel quite the opposite. I feel loved and wanted, because my parents, the ones who raised me, wanted me badly enough to go to such lengths. Why would I feel abandoned by a sperm donor who quite frankly, I’m sure had sacrificed sperm for much, ahem, less noble causes?

    As I have mentioned before, my wife, “Mommy” was adopted. I cannot speak for her directly, but I will share some of the things she has told me that make it very clear she is grateful to have been adopted and would disagree with the above statement as well. She has told me that she does not feel abandoned. This is someone who was left at an orphanage by her birth parents. She doesn’t feel abandoned, because she was chosen. Her adoptive family had all these children to choose from, and they picked her. She was wanted. She also feels fortunate, because at the time of her adoption, she was not doing well in the orphanage and required medical treatment including a blood transfusion. Her adoptive family took her in despite her illness and made sure she had what she needed. Even after adoption, she did not have an easy childhood with the loss of her adoptive mother to a terminal illness. She still feels grateful to have been adopted. She would love to find her biological family, but that desire is not mutually exclusive with feeling fortunate and is definitely not an indication that she feels abandoned.

    So color us happy, grateful, AND lucky – all those things we’re not supposed to be as the product of artificial insemination with donor sperm and as an adoptee. I hope this entry gives comfort to those of you who are raising children whom you have adopted or have conceived with the help of reproductive technologies and/or donor sperm. We don’t all grow up resenting those who gave us life or gave us a home. Some of us will be forever grateful and love you all the more!!

    Note: This post was read and approved by Mommy before publication.