I got a little tearful today watching a video of Chantele, a donor-conceived woman, talking about the effect on her life of the shame she felt after finding out at the age of eight that she was donor-conceived.
The video was highlighted on Olivia’s view, a blog about donor conception written by one of the co-founders of the UK’s Donor Conception Network, and is from The Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) in Melbourne, Australia. (The concept of a Victorian assisted reproductive treatment authority reads a little oddly – what would that have involved, smelling salts and bed rest, leeches?)
Chantele began to be bullied at school around the same time as she found out and, not allowed to tell relatives outside the immediate family, grew up with a sense of shame she carried into her adult life. Having met her donor and established a good rapport with him and his kids, she felt his wife was unhappy at their relationship, which furthered her sense of shame. Things came to a head around the time of Chantele’s wedding, when she finally told her family it was their shame, not hers, and that she was proud of who she was and her origins.
Chantele’s main message to the (prospective) parents of donor-conceived children was to deal with their own issues before they have their children and to be open with their families. Children need love, support, openness and honesty, and that is all.
I’m nowhere near pregnant but I’ve thought a few times about the evolving types of conversation I would have with my small child about the kind man who helped him or her to be born, the ways babies are usually made and the different types of family out there. In reality, I’m sure it’s a tough thing to broach at first and I imagine you are always going to be blindsided later on by questions when you least expect them. But I can see how it must help to have dealt with your own worries and to have prepared the manner in which you plan to approach the topic, even practised what you are going to say. And to have a well-thought-out and calm response to those who don’t agree with you or understand so that your child can see this is not a big issue or cause for embarrassment or tension.
Another video on the VARTA site was heartening and upbeat – Riley’s parents were open about his origins from day one, so much so that he couldn’t remember when they told him. He had absolutely no issues about being donor-conceived, though he admitted that his two, also donor-conceived, siblings had slightly different experiences/reactions.
The other two videos on the VARTA page are also very watchable and thought-provoking. As are the materials I think I’ve mentioned before from the Donor Conception Network on talking and telling about donor conception.
We’ve come a long way in 30 years.