I am someone’s daddy

Last week “My Daddy’s Name is Donor” was released. This report, which was put together by the Institute for American Values, shines a very harsh light on the whole system of egg and sperm donation – specifically, from the point of view of the children conceived by the process.

Alana, whom I have known and worked with for the last year, was a part of the study and she has recently begun blogging about her own issues with both her donor conception and her egg donation at familyscholars.org (which was set up by the Institute for American Values). The study and her recent focus on the issue has put her in a very emotional space. I talked with her yesterday and I know that the strain of dealing with her own complex feelings has been difficult.

Over the past couple of years of tracking this issue and thinking about my own relationship to it, I have come to believe that anonymous donation is a bad idea, and further, the system by which donation takes place is extremely flawed. It is clear that the system is driven more by capitalism than whole-hearted compassion. It’s a good thing that we are hearing the voices of those who are most affected by the process, the donor conceived, so that we might rectify that imbalance.

The report really focuses on the very important fact that the system is set up to serve parents (clients/consumers), and does not do nearly enough to consider the needs of the children (the products). Unfortunately, it’s clear from the ways in which the report is being discussed online that many people involved with the issue feel threatened by the report and the manner in which it was produced and disseminated. The forceful nature of the report may serve the purpose of putting the realities of egg and sperm donation in front of people, but frankly does so in a way that fans the flames of culture war. Again, it’s incredibly important to hear from donor conceived people as they have more at stake than anyone else involved. At the same time, if the discussion vilifies those who chose/choose to go this route in order to have children, it’s less likely that those people, and their communities, will be willing or able to engage in productive dialogue about the core issues.

One donor conceived person told me that she thought it was important to create stigmas- that people shouldn’t think that just anyone should think it’s fine to use donor assisted reproduction. Her point was that her experience, as well as the data in the report, make it clear that the emotional problems that people who don’t know their genetic identity face prove to her that it should be avoided as much as possible. While I support vigorous debate, and completely understand where she’s coming from, I’m sure that I don’t support creating stigmas.

It’s been over two years since I listed myself on the donor sibling registry, as a former donor, and I have not been contacted yet by any children born from my efforts. As such, my emotions about donation have not had a real opportunity for challenge. Intellectually it’s been made more than clear to me that the process of anonymous donation can no longer be seen at ethical or accountable. While it sometimes might make the capitalist based process simpler for many of those involved, it completely negates the needs of the child to be. However, not having had the experience of hearing from my own offspring, it’s difficult for me to connect on a completely emotional level to the pain that donor kids feel.

Alana points out that her emotions feel validated by the study because so many other donor kids have comments and thoughts that echo her own. I certainly have no intention of invalidating any of these feelings, and I think it’s critical that these feelings be made known to people considering involvement in the process. At the same time, I worry about using these ideas to create a sense of stigma, or a broad set of restrictions and limits on they type of people who can become parents. Further, the more that we create a sense of stigma, the more we limit discussion. Many of those who might otherwise get involved in the discussion are likely to be more private if they feel that they will be stigmatized for being open and honest. Frankly, the present level of stigma attached to donation makes it a bit difficult for former donors like me to be a part of the debate. I also worry that if the debate starts to pit one group against another we’ll head towards a long term stalemate that limits discussion.

I grew up in a “stable” family with a mother and a father who both strived to be the best parents they could be. They really did try, but in a lot of ways they failed. I think about the ways that failed as I parent my own children, and damn it, i make the same mistakes they did – over and over again. I work hard to keep it from happening and to some degree I do. The point is, my parents, despite their best efforts, were far from perfect. They, like me, are flawed. Even with their flaws, I certainly wouldn’t want to deny them the right to be parents.

The weekend that the study came out I was the photographer at the wedding of two friends of mine, Mark and Lin. It was a really beautiful ceremony and event. Near the end of it I was struck by the fact that I really hadn’t even thought about the fact that both grooms were men. It just wasn’t an issue at all. I like and respect them, and all of their friends and family. I think that if they decide that they want to raise a child that they should be privy to as much information about donor issues, as well as adoption issues as possible. They should read the stories of how DC people, and should talk to them, hear them, meet them. After gathering the best information they can find they should be able to make a decision about how to move forward. I don’t however, think that there should be any undue roadblocks put in the way of their raising children. I also don’t think that they should feel any stigma if they do decide to become parents in some way. If we structure a discussion about DC issues in such a way that intelligent, thoughtful, loving people like them feel attacked or excluded, then I fear that the issues faced by DC people will be lost in the shuffle.

It’s clear that as a culture we need to evolve in our relationship to donor issues. I believe that the discussion inspired by “My Daddy’s name is Donor” will help inspire a shift in societal attitudes and understandings. I do hope however that that shift doesn’t include increased stigma. An open and civil exchange of ideas that treats everyone with respect will clearly create the greatest benefit for everyone involved.

  • michelle
    Posted at 09:39h, 04 June Reply

    While not presuming to discuss the issues facing the DC triad or this report’s release, it was interesting you touched on some issues that have plagued the adoption community, especially online.

    I know of many people who simply stopped blogging about adoption because of the anger it drew to them, myself included. It almost seems with many of these deeply felt, core issues that there is a pendulum of thought that swings so wide that the people in the middle are left out of the discussions. The pain in some is so raw that the discourse can’t even happen.

    I don’t want to silence those who are honest and brave enough to speak up first but we all need to find a way to be quiet and open enough to let all the voices be heard. I hope your donor community can avoid a lot of the hostilities we have encountered.

  • Karen Clark
    Posted at 16:39h, 06 June Reply

    “Challenging Donor Conception and Creating Stigmas – One Step Forwards, Two Steps Backwards”


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