To the person who called the popular press and told its health, science, and lifestyle journalists to write about assisted reproduction technology: in the words of my beloved mentor, “I don’t know whether to smack you or thank you.” In recent weeks major U.S. news outlets have published articles with titles like “You Got Your Sperm from Where?”, “One donor, 150 offspring”, and “The Two Minus One Pregnancy”. These articles have given me food for perseveration (as opposed to the more cogent “thought”). Combine the upswing in popular press stories about ART with our seven failed AI cycles, a depleted bank account, an orientation session about foster parenting and adoption, and myriad opinions about where to go from here and we’re in the middle of a real cluster, people.
It’s been one year since we began actively trying to have a child, and I thought by now I’d be blogging about the treasured first moments of motherhood–sleep deprivation, countless loads of laundry, vomit, mastitis. I certainly never thought we’d be back at our starting point and just as bewildered as we were when we set out on this journey. Throughout this process we’ve spent a lot of time talking with close friends and family, doctors, and other lesbian couples who’ve become parents to biological and adopted children. We’ve met with a lawyer twice, corresponded with adoption agencies, and read as much as we can about the risks and benefits of each possible path to parenthood. I honestly don’t know which way is up anymore. With recent changes to our state’s law regarding assisted reproduction and a competent, experienced lawyer on our side, my fears about being unable to secure full parental rights to our child have lessened. However, my fears about being a selfish person whose decisions will adversely affect our child have increased exponentially, particularly after visiting a site called Anonymous Us today. The site’s About page says:
The Anonymous Us Project is a safety zone for real and honest opinions about reproductive technologies and family fragmentation. We aim to share the experiences of voluntary and involuntary participants in these technologies, while preserving the dignity and privacy for story-tellers and their loved ones.
I spent some time reading the essays posted by donor-conceived adults and teens, and most of them resounded with hurt, anger, confusion, and disappointment. Many of the writers were deceived for some or all of their childhood and early adult years, and were only told that they were conceived using donor sperm when grappling with a major problem. After reading essays like this one, I felt terribly selfish for using donor sperm to achieve the family we want so much and even the memory of my stats professor’s admonishment about the inherent (and often negative) bias of self-selecting volunteer responders couldn’t shake the sadness.
I am not yet convinced that the site is an unbiased source of information, mostly because of the way that it refers to the “study” I discussed here previously. That said, assuming these are real stories written by average folks, they do exacerbate some of my worst fears about how our child will feel about being donor-conceived. Will she call me her “social mother,” like many of the site’s contributors refer to the non-biological parent who raised them? Will she think our desire to have a biological connection to her should not have come before her desire to know both of her biological parents? Will she resent me for not being the father she imagines exists beyond her grasp? I am not sure if the writers’ anger and sadness would be lessened if they knew the sperm donor and didn’t have a giant question mark hovering over half their DNA. I also don’t know if they would prefer not to exist at all, since that is the implicit alternative to their parents’ maligned decision to conceive them with ART, or whether they’ve considered the possibility that their life might be just as imperfect or painful if they did know or live with both of their biological parents. In the end, we’re all misunderstood, we’re all searching for truth, we’re all curious about why we’re here and what our genes may predict for our future. I’m not sure that a biological connection to all the people who live with us and love us is necessary to get close to the thing we’re after.
Secret decoder ring:
AI – Artificial Insemination
ART – Assisted Reproduction Technology
DNA – you should know this one!