Sunday, June 19, 2011

Two third-party reproduction articles on the occasion of Father's Day

I saw both of these pieces today in the New York Times and found them really moving and thought-provoking, each in their own way.

The first, A Father's Day Plea to Sperm Donors, is an essay written by an 18-year-old young man conceived by his single mom and an anonymous sperm donor on what it's been like for him identity-wise and how he's handled the big question mark that is one side of his genetics. His essay calls for donor gamete children to be able to contact their donors and know about their origins. And his yearning is palpable: "I am sometimes at such a petrifying loss for words or emotions that make sense that I can only feel astonished by the fact that [my father] could be anyone."

The second, Baby Makes Four, and Complications, is a long piece about an unconventional family made up of a single mom and her very young son, and on a part-time basis by the boy's biological father, who is a gay male friend in a relationship, and who views the child not particularly as his son but sort of as a nephew. It's a somewhat self-indulgent psychological portrait of what it means to be a family - and how the concept of family is evolving and changing beyond traditional definitions. The plan is for this child to know at some point that his "uncle" is actually his father. Who knows what his reaction will be to this head scratcher. ("...Wait you're my biological father but you decided to take a role more like my uncle?!")

I liked both articles because they caused me to reflect on the choices Will and I are considering that might lead us to have a child who is not genetically linked to one or both of us. A child who might or might not know of their origins. It strengthens my already fairly firmly held belief that it would be psychologically easier for our child(ren) - if they come to us through third-party reproduction - to know as much about their donor origins as possible, including, potentially, the chance to meet their donors. It makes me think of the potential ramifications of using the donor embryos we have been offered. In that scenario, our child would be related genetically to neither Will or me, but would on the plus side be able to meet their genetic father and sibling (but on the downside never meet or know much about their genetic mother, since she would be an anonymous egg donor). And it drives home that if we go the donor egg route in the future that we would probably want to use an agency and specify an open donation arrangement so that our child could answer any identity-related questions they had when they get to an age (adolescence?) that those might come up.

I had a long and fascinating conversation last week with a bioethicist on my medical school faculty whose area of specialization is reprogenetics. Among many other things, we spoke about why people feel such a strong pull to have a genetic connection to their children - and where such a drive comes from. And she gave me a reading list (which I will share in a future post) of books discussing the ethics of reproduction and human genetics (PGD, microarray, etc).

Reading these articles today also reminded me of something. I tend to view my difficulty with giving up on a genetic child as a personal shortcoming. A limitation that is some sort of character flaw. (We've recently realized it is also the very real existence of our five chromosomally normal embryos. If they weren't out there, I think we'd be ready to leap off of the genetic track pretty rapidly. But they ARE there.) But it is not just my own comfort level with giving up on a genetic link that needs to be considered. It is also about our future offspring's potential feelings about that loss of genetic connection and what that might mean to him or her as they grow up. I don't want our children to ever suffer any pain or difficulty. And I hope that if we use third-party reproduction down the line that we won't be inadvertently causing our child some future strife or additional difficulties. I hope instead that they would take away the main message: that they were so, so wanted that we were willing to go to great lengths to bring them into our lives. That they are cherished and that we are just over the moon thrilled to be able to parent them.

Tell me what you think. How did these articles strike you? For those who have used third-party reproduction, how do you imagine any donor issues might affect your children down the line? Or am I the only one who thinks about these things?

Finally, Happy Father's Day - to now and future fathers.


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  1. I read and was generally impressed with the op-ed by the donor-conceived boy, but i do wish that he'd slipped in a line about ID-release donor programs. They weren't an option for his mother, but they are a partial solution to some of what he writes about -- an indication that the "theys" of the world are at least trying to work some of this out.

    if you have a chance to see it, the documentary "donor unknown," which was shown at the tribeca film festival (and streaming online, which is how i saw it), was a really interesting take on these issues, mostly from the point of view of the teenage children of one donor. as the mother of a donor-conceived child, i found it both challenging and comforting to see how these kids were grappling with the ideas we can only do our best to imagine how they might think about.

  2. We used third party reproduction in the form of surrogacy, so our case does not involve the complexities of genetics. But, I can tell you that our children will always know how they came to be, and our surrogate will always be a part of their lives.

    I think it's important that the infertility community grapples with these issues, especially as the donor gamete generation comes of age and we learn more about the struggles that accompany being conceived by anonymous donors. I don't think it's fair to deny these children an opportunity to know about their genetic roots. However, I wonder what would happen to the pool of potential donors if they were not offered the protection of anonymity. Ultimately, the interests of the child should prevail, but as an infertile person, I would hate to see the options available to infertile men and women be further limited.

    I was sad to read that you view your reluctance to give up on genetic parenthood as a shortcoming. It seems to me that there is a taboo against wanting a genetic child within the infertility community, and it is something that makes me angry. There are so many ways to build a family, and I feel that all of them are equally valid. However, that doesn't mean that all options are equally good for everyone. It was very important for my husband and I to have a genetic link to our children. And, I don't make apologies for that. This certainly doesn't mean that we view adopted children as "inferior", as your commenter suggested. It just means that we were responsible enough to reflect upon which options were good for us and which ones weren't. Many people would never dream of pursuing surrogacy, but I'm not personally offended by that fact and I don't think that makes my children some how "less than".

  3. Haven't yet read these pieces; thanks for sharing links.

    Obviously as a single woman who conceived outside a relationship, third party reproduction was a given from the beginning. Honestly, I never really worried much about what my child would think about being conceived via a sperm donor, though I have gone out of my way to collect information for her (as much as available) so she can "know" her donor, even if he was anonymous. She's know from a very young age (3?) how she was conceived and how much she was wanted. And at age 7 she has only expressed a desire for a dad in very hyperbolic, fairy tale terms (apparently he would be a stay at home dad who gave her nonstop piggy back rides!).

    That said, I've worried A LOT about having a child conceived via anonymous DE and DS. I wonder if she/he will feel strange, not having the same connection to me that LG does. I wonder if she/he will feel less wanted or more wanted or... I wonder what LG will think about all this. But whatever issues that come up....we'll deal with them.

  4. Mo...oh 35 weeks pg via annonymous DE the thought of such arrangement say 18 years down the line never escapes my mind. But the profile we have been given of our donor is so incredibly detailed I just hope that it will answer a multitude of questions for our child. But I still haunts me. And for some donor gamete kids, its something they don't think about just like not all adopted kids want to search for their birth parents. But anyway, I don't know all the answers at this time. All I know is that we made a decision that we felt was right for ALL parties including our child at the time. And this truth brings me peace.

  5. Interesting reading. I'm so glad to see posts from you again here--I tried to comment last week but something was up with my blogger and after about 20 tries I gave up. I can only imagine the mindwhirl of options in front of you and think that every one of us, given the same situation, would each make a different choice for a different reason. There are no cookie cutters here. No personal shortcomings. We each bring different experiences and different lifetimes into the decision so there just is no right answer. Only OUR right answer.

    Thinking of you guys as you make your way through the maze of choices....

  6. The first piece was so heart wrenching. For us, esp since we were doing de and ds, being willing to meet the child when they were 18 was a non negotiable criteria. Sometimes I was so desperate to match with an egg donor, I would consider it, but only for a day or two.
    If and when you need to say goodbye to a genetic connection you will. 5 embryos is a lot to ignore! Of course you want to know what is possible with them! So nice to have you back!

  7. I thought so much about what they will think about how they came into this world. We didn't do donor gametes but worked with a surrogate, as you know, and I thought/think a lot about it. But, after over a year, I really hope that they will just know that we lve them, so much that we did the next to impossible to bring them not the world.

    It's hard to just walk away from your frozen babies, I know i would find it hard, in my heart, they are just as real as the two babies asleep upstairs, and I would find it impossible to move on without giving them another try, I wish I had a uterus as I would gladly offer to carry them for you...


  8. so many issues to ponder.

    in all honesty I have an issue with anonymous donors and think all kids have that right to know their genetic heritage. as others have mentioned, every one has to choose what works for them under the particular circumstances though, and I know some clinics don't offer known donor programs.

    I also think it's tough to spring on a kid at some point, oh btw, that's really your bio-father. as with adoptees, I think there has to be more openness from the start, meaning it's just part of their story. no, it's not necessarily easy, but it does seem the best way to help a child develop a more integrated sense of self at an early age, as opposed to rocking their core at some undetermined time.

    they say adoptees should never remember being told they were adopted -- i.e., that it just needs to be part of their story early on, there should be no secret or big reveal. I think it should be similar with 3rd party reproduction, but I don't know how widely accepted that view is.

    also I just wanted to comment on your note that you don't want to cause your future child any added pain or difficulty due to the way s/he comes into your life. you know you can never safeguard against that. whether you're talking about a loss of genetic connection to one or both of you, you can't control for that. I think it's more about what you can do to make things easier later on -- e.g., using a known donor if that's the route you choose, or maintaining a level of openness about his/her story and origins.

    just rambling here now. wishing you both well as you navigate this path. there are no "right" answers, only what feels right for you.

  9. Love Luna's response! I totally agree about making it part of their story. Already, I sometimes talk to Sunshine about all the people who helped me become her mama. For now, that's so I become comfortable telling her our story.

    I also agree with Luna about not really being able to safeguard against any pain a child may feel about his or her origins. When I was looking into embryo donation I knew I was not comfortable with anonymous donation for that reason. But like the situation with the embryos you've been offered, the embryos I received were created with an egg donor. I have the egg donor's full profile for Sunshine to read at some point, and I have her agency name and donor number. Every now and then I check the Donor Sibling Registry to see if she's registered or if any half siblings have registered, as I was told by my embryo donor that the egg donor did two other donations that she knew about. So far, nothing listed. I have not put our info on the Donor Sibling Registry. IMO, that is a decision for Sunshine to make.

    From what I have read and seen of donor conceived children in documentaries, it seems that connecting with siblings fulfills much of the yearning they have for genetic connection. So hopefully, between my openness with her and access to her genetic siblings, Sunshine will be okay with her origins.

    We also have several donor conceived children in our circle of friends. They'll be able to talk to each other about it over the years. I find this comforting. Of course, I hope she'll be comfortable talking to me about whatever she's feeling about this, but I like knowing she'll also have a donor conceived peer group for when she goes through the supposedly inevitable "my mom doesn't understand me" phase.

  10. Did you see Keiko's post on explaining egg donation to a young child? I thought that it was brilliant:

    No clear answers, just hope that you and Will find the right path (paths?) for you.

  11. We couldn't have an "open" DE cycle in this country unless the donor had been a friend or relative (and that would have raised a whole other set of issues) and those that were willing were too old and those that were the right age weren't offering. But we did want our wee one to have the possibility of meeting his genetic mum in the future, so we waited a bit longer (and payed a bit more) and went for a donor in this country rather than abroad. It is anonymous at the moment (though we do know some important details) but he can contact her when he turns 18. It was important to me to give him that choice. I also know that he has at least one half-sibling and, since we are very unlikely to be able to give him a brother or sister, it is good that he MIGHT have contact with them. I know that nothing is certain - he may choose not to look for his genetic mum and siblings, he may find them and not want contact (they may not want contact with him - that idea breaks my heart!). Anyway, that was what we decided.

  12. I worry about this all the time. We have a genetic son through traditional IVF and then chose embryo adoptoin for our 2nd child and had a daughter last Nov. Our "donor couple" is anonymous to us...but they used an egg donor from a service and her profile is completely open. I have photos, her name and a lot of info on her...but only general family history, medical, ethnicity and description of sperm donor. I hope she grows up secure and happy but I know there will be questions. She will know her origins from a very early age as I agree with previous commenters that it is most healthy for them to never really remember the "moment" they were told of their origins. I am making her a book (thank you which goes through her story with pictures of how we had to make her brother and how we wanted her and needed help. we have pics of the embryos and of her doctors and nurses who helped us. We will read that from a very early age and I will then fill in more details as she gets older and can understand and process more of the "scientific" stuff.

    I have two close friends who were adopted at wanted to know her birth parents...found them and was totally disapointed (because the fantacy is usually better than reality)...and I have another friend who never wanted to know and never I'm thinking it could go either way. As for the boy with the donor sperm...I think he is just missing a father figure in general and that may have some bearing on his feelings of being "left out" in society. My kids will have a father and a mother physically available to them who love them and do all the things that genetic parents will although there may be questions and curiosities...I'm hoping there won't be a feeling of missing out in the case of a single parent situation. (and please don't take this to mean I am against single parent options...I totally support it, but we must be realistic about the feelings those children may have...having "no father" or "no mother" versus a divorced set of parents is totally different. There are bound to be additional questions in those cases).

  13. Okay, I know I kinda rambled in my last comment, but I've been thinking a lot about this post and wanted to add a few more thoughts.

    re "how do you imagine any donor issues might affect your children down the line? Or am I the only one who thinks about these things?"

    I think it's pretty obvious from all these comments that you're not the only one who thinks about these things. That you're putting so much thought into it now, indicates to me that you would do whatever is necessary to help your child/children through these issues. You'll read the latest things, you'll talk to other parents of donor conceived children, you'll do whatever you have to in order for your child to feel safe talking about his or her feelings about these (and other) issues. You'll make sure that if your child is questioning things or having a hard time, that your focus is their feelings, not whatever emotional reaction you're having about it. You'll deal with your own stuff separately. And you WILL deal with your stuff, because you'll want to do your best for your child. You'll be great, Mo. You have the resources to find the help and information you'll need.

    I have a friend who has a son via donor egg and her husband's sperm. She has not worked through it very much. She plans to tell her son, but ONE therapist told her that 8 was the right age, and she's not researching or investigating further. She's glad the egg donor is anonymous. I think she's threatened by the idea of openness. Frankly, I worry about how her son (now 2 1/2) will deal with finding out suddenly at age 8, and how he will deal with everything given her loaded feelings. I'm glad she plans to tell him, because I really feel it's absolutely unethical not to, but I don't think it's enough.

    Even though adoption and third party reproduction are very different, I think there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from the legacy of closed adoption and from those who work hard to make open adoption work. Have you read this post from Lori at Write Mind Open Heart? Makes me teary every time I read it. She's my mama role model.

    Mo, I know you'll be "over the moon thrilled" with your child, however he or she joins your family. And your child will be blessed to have such a loving and conscientious mom.

  14. For me, it took me a long time to grieve the loss of my genetics. It's weird, because I didn't think I was that attached to my genes until I was forced to let them go. Initially, I wanted to adopt, but my husband refused. Then, I got into having a genetic child. I think it's really a fantasy, because I know what it's like to love a child that isn't genetically mine, being a stepmom too. However, I also have the longing to have a genetic child that I think is just part of being a woman. I can't seem to turn that instinctual drive off. Honestly, if I could, I would. I feel at this point in my life that I would not want to pass my genes on. I don't want to pass on the health issues I have had to my child. Why would I want to put someone else through what I have had to go through? At this point, if it ever happens, it will be DE with a relative. I like that idea, as long as the relative is ok with it and everyone can be open about it from the get go. In the end, the economy may be the deciding factor for us. DE is expensive, known donor or not.

  15. This is a topic that's been very much on my mind lately. When we were doing round after round of IVF, I found that I would discuss it, in detail, with most folks who were willing to listen to our real experience of it. But once we started considering donor eggs, it stopped being my story to tell and started being the story of the child we might have one day, and there are only a select few people we have let in on the thought process. (i know, by the way, that this violates the "tell everybody or tell nobody" rule of donor gametes.) I think that that's partly why my reaction to the two stories is so different- I guess I felt like Griffin's story wasn't really his mother's to tell.

    I think all the time about the story we would tell our child- it's quite clear in my head when I think about a 3 year old, but gets much murkier when I think about a 13 year old. And when I think of the questions that there simply are no easy answers to- the ones about identity and family and motherhood and the relationship of any donor-conceived child we might have to, say, my grandfather who died last year or the children we lost- it's enough to keep my GAD-addled brain up nights. I am only hoping that if we are lucky enough to get that far, I will have some good support and guidance in differentiating my story from our child's story.

  16. Oh, yes, I have thought about this, though it has turned out to be a non-issue for us unless I decide to move to DE to grow our family ... and as my DH is against growing our family, that is probably not likely. But DE and adoption and DS were all things we considered and/or pursued and I did feel very strongly that I wanted our child to be able to know his or her genetic parents and would have worked hard to achieve that via whatever of those paths we went down, I think (of course not having pursued any terribly far, except that we did work pretty hard toward US domestic adoption, it's impossible to say with certainty what I would have done).

    I agree these issues are very important, perhaps uniquely important, within the IF community but they aren't unique to us, or to ART. I had a friend-of-a-friend who learned when she took her birth certificate to get some official paperwork (driver's license? passport? I forget.) that the woman she thought was her mother was her (genetic) aunt and the woman she thought was her aunt was her (genetic) mother (um, how could her parents have neglected to mention this before providing her with the birth certificate? I have no idea.), and when my MIL commented that she felt uncomfortable about donor sperm b/c it led to children not knowing who their genetic (she may have said in the common vernacular "real") fathers are, I said to her, "You don't imagine that's a new problem, do you?" She laughed and admitted, not so much.

  17. I think that each family has to decide what is best for them, and I am thankful that many options are available.

    I may have a slightly different view on this though. I'm an adult adoptee of a closed adoption, my twins were conceived through an anonymous double donor IVF cycle, and our daughter came to us through a semi-open adoption.

    There has been much discussion in the DE community about anonymous vs. known donors. Probably because I don't feel any particular genetic loss as an adoptee, it wasn't such a big issue in my mind when we decided to pursue DE.

    At first I thought that my control freak nature would have to know every detail about the donor. But, a few things changed my mind. First, doing an anonymous donor DE cycle in Europe meant very little chance that resulting children would ever run into a genetic half-sibling(if you want to call it that). Also, I would never look at my child and see the donor's eyes, ears, expression - because I would have never seenthe donor. So far, all pretty selfish things I guess.

    As an adoptee, I know that it is common when you don't know about your genetics to create fantasies about your genetic parents - who they are, why they relinquished, where they are now, etc. Sometimes those fantasies are much easier than reality - and I feared the same may be true for a donor conceived child. What if that amazing donor ended up being a not so amazing person over the next 18 years - someone I would never want my child to meet. Then what? How would that genetic tie impact their feelings about themselves? In other words, as an adoptee, I think I'd rather have a fantasy of thinking my air force pilot birth father was a hero, than knowing in reality that he is a bad guy, drug addict, child molester, or worse. (Note: I know nothing about my birth father so this is just a hypothetical thing).

    Those very issues are ones that we deal with in open adoptions.

    So, is open identity better? Maybe, sometimes - but there are no guarantees that a donor will be someone you'd want your child to meet 18 years from now.

    Is anonymous donor better? Maybe, sometimes. At least the child knows that it is impossible to get the details (the country where I did IVF mandated anonymous donors) and so there is never the question of hoping to meet them and being rejected, etc.

    Well, I've written a very long post - but I guess the bottom line is that I feel there is no one "best" option, just what is best for each individual family. And again, I am so happy that these options are all available so that we have choices.

    I wrote a blog post about the choices many months ago, it can be found at:

    And on the issue of donor eggs - you may find some good resources and articles online at - Parents Via Egg Donation.

    I wish you well in whatever you decide!

  18. BTW, re the anonymous egg donor that my donated embryos were created with, I don't know how much info your friends have about their egg donor, but I have enough profile info that if Sunshine ever decides she wants to search for her, we can probably track down the red-headed, former zoology student from Kalamazoo. Personally, I'd like to thank her.

  19. Such a challenging subject. It's really such a subjective thing. The article about the sperm donor struck a chord with me, and here's why.

    I don't know my biological father or any part of that side of my family. He left when I was a small baby, and I know nothing of him now.

    It isn't quite the same as a sperm donor situation because I have a few pictures of him and his other children. I know their names, and the general area where they have predominantly resided. If I wanted to make contact, with who knows how much effort, I probably could.

    However, I can relate to the author's feelings about telling people where my dad was when I was little. Every time I fill out a medical history, I'm frustrated that half of it is a complete mystery to me. And I wonder if there are any ticking time bombs inside of me that I don't know about.

    Along with that used to come a lot of hurt. Because my father knows he's my father and he has chosen not to be.That, fortunately, is a pain no child of third-party reproduction is likely to have to deal with.

    I used to wonder a lot. To have a desire to know him, to maybe have a relationship with him, and most importantly to have a relationship with my half-siblings. The latter is still true, but I realized a long-time ago that if I head in that direction, I could be opening up a huge can of worms that could change my life (and my family's life) in a very permanent way. And that change may not be positive. So I've made my choice and I'm fine with is, even if the curiosity still nags at me.

    I guess my point is that there are many people who are missing pieces to their biological puzzle, and most of them aren't a result of third-party reproduction. Missing pieces to the puzzle can make navigating life a little more challenging, but it certainly isn't the end of the world, and given time (with maturity), you can learn to accept what you do have and be grateful for it.


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