The Trouble With Secrets

There was a story in yesterday’s NYT that reminded me of the topic I started just before the holidays–the problem of family secrets.    The title really says it all:  “Keeping Marital Secrets Closeted.”   While the subject of the article is off-topic from the blog (the author’s husband was gay), the costs of secret-keeping are similar, I think.

There are, to be sure, big differences is the subject of the secrets and these do matter.   A secret about use of third-party gametes perhaps more directly concerns the child.   The cost of secrecy may rest more heavily on the unwitting child than on the adults, who can clearly talk to each other.   But still, I thought I’d flag it for you all–it’s worth a read.

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14 responses to “The Trouble With Secrets

  1. What I was saying on your other post about spinelessness refers to people who give lip service to telling the truth, but talk out both sides of their mouths. Telling different people different things means some people know the truth while others do not. To them telling the truth is about letting someone “in on” the secret being kept from the others; it is a kind of ‘my lie is now your burden’ baton passing. These kind of truth tellers claim the truth is a matter of privacy but they would not be keeping the truth private if if it made them look the way they want to look and made them be who they wanted to be. Telling a partial truth is sort of the same as lying if the part kept private is the part they don’t want anyone to know about.

    Couples who say they used donor gametes to conceive their child pay lip service to the truth. The words chosen don’t accurately describe the situation; they did not conceive a child as a couple – raising a child conceived by the female with another man, or are raising a child fathered by the male with another woman. In some cases they are raising a child conceived by another couple. Instead of telling an outright lie they tell the truth using the wrong words so it still comes across like they conceived a child together as a couple when that is a lie. They deliberately downplay the other human or humans involved by talking about the egg or the sperm or the embryo as if there was no sensiant decision making human being who allowed them to raise their offspring without interference.

    • It seems to me that if a couple says “we used donor gametes to conceive you” that’s truthful, no? Would it be better if they said “we went to a doctor and s/he helped us and we used eggs from mom and sperm from someone we don’t know and you were conceived?” I’d say those to statements are pretty indistinguishable to most people, but perhaps you see a difference.

      Now about only telling some people. I really don’t think they have to tell everyone this. (We’ve gone round this before.) Does the soccer coach need to know? I don’t see why. There’s a lot I wouldn’t tell my kid’s soccer coach. I’d say the same of one of the parents had some serious illness. They might choose to share this information (in a way they see fit) with the child, but that doesn’t mean they have to tell everyone in creation. I think they’re entitled to not tell the postal carrier or the piano teacher about it.

      What you and I really disagree about here (I think) is your assertion that the truth is that this couple is raising another man’s child. That’s back to our fundamental disagreement. I do not think this child belongs to some other man. This is a child created with that other man’s sperm but this is not that man’s child. You disagree with that–you’ll insist it is his child, right? Purely because of the genetics. And that’s our core disagreement.

      • It seems to me that if a couple says “we used donor gametes to conceive you” that’s truthful, no?

        That statement is the height of dishonesty because they, as a couple did not conceive a child together. This is what I was talking to you about earlier and you even said you don’t mean to imply that the unrelated parent conceived or fertilized anything. The whole point of ART is that reproduction and child birth are not what makes people parents. That is the point right? DNA does not matter its caring for the child once the child is born. This is even true in adoption DNA does not make a person a parent is the crux of the movement. So then stay on that side of the fence and don’t imply that they had a roll in a child’s conception or that they fertilized any eggs or whatever. An infertile woman cannot conceive a child with donor eggs. Its the donor who conceives a child and she allows someone else to gestate and raise that child. Its her egg that does the conceiving and some man’s sperm does the fertilizing. Its very shady and deceitful to imply a roll in conception or reproduction. So you said one thing, that you don’t mean to make it sound like they were involved in reproduction, but now your saying that its fine?

        Would it be better if they said “we went to a doctor and s/he helped us and we used eggs from mom and sperm from someone we don’t know and you were conceived?” I’d say those to statements are pretty indistinguishable to most people, but perhaps you see a difference.

        • Again, we must agree to disagree. I don’t think that first statment says “we conceived a child together.” It says “used … gametes” and indeed, they did “use” the gametes. I suppose it is more literally accurate to say “others on our behalf used gametes” but this seems a ridiculous hair to split. I don’t see any claim about sex/conception. I don’t see how you get to assigning them the statement that they conceived the child–that’s not what I had them say.

          OF course, they did have a role in the child’s conception. They brought it about. They commissioned it. Without their action, the child in question wouldn’t have been created. I think for some people this is critical, though I’m not sure it is for me. Still, to say they had no role seems mistaken.

          I am not sure there is much to be said for prolonging this discussion, but I don’t agree with your use of the word “conceive” generally. I would not say the egg provider conceives a child when her egg is used. I’m sure we can tie this all back to your insistence on the primacy of the genetics, but we’ve covered that many times before.

      • Oi vey Professor. Again with the “we’s” prior to birth. “We” are raising the child together, or “we are parents” (that one kills me but legally its true), but we went to a doctor? Did we really? Whose body did we treat? Did mom need medical attention? Was mom infertile? No Social Dad is sterile. Was social Dad treated with something that made him potent? No. Mom bought sperm and she conceived a child with a man who donated his sperm to the clinic and we are raising that child together as parents (choke – legally). That is a truthful and candid statement that does not place the social father as part of the reproductive process. If dna is so damned irrellevant then let it be the donor that she conceived the child with. Because its the truth

        “we went to a doctor and s/he helped us and we used eggs from mom and sperm from someone we don’t know and you were conceived?”

        • It’s usually spell “oy” for what that is worth. Funnily enough, I hate the “we’re pregnant” but the “we went to a doctor” doesn’t bother me because I think it is often true. Couples do go to the doctor together (sometimes–not all the time, I agree) and they make medical decisions together and with ART they engage in a long and complicated course of conduct together, so I have no trouble with “we” in this context.

          And to be clear, I don’t think the statement that the woman concieved with the provider is particularly accurate, you know. She conceived using his sperm, if you like. But (back to our root disagreement) the sperm is not the equivlant of the man.

      • Ah your putting words in my mouth again. I did not say anything even remotely close to “raising another mans child” because I know exactly where you like to cut the conversation off, I’m a good little lab rat, I’ve found a way to say what I want to say without saying that the “child belongs to the donor”.

        What I said was that the woman conceived the child with a man who provided his sperm anonymously to a clinic. She and her husband are the legal parents of the child she conceived with that anonymous sperm provider. OK? I left raising and parenthood completely in the married couples court did I not? The husband just needs to stay out of the donors reproductive court.

        Its really important to me that you recognize the difference between what you believe my argument would be and what it actually is because it takes some mental gymnastics to think around all the road blocks you put up. I enjoy the exercise and think it does me good or I would not pester you as I do and I’m sorry about that. I have learned an awful lot from you though.

      • Also, I’ve started to get uncomfortable about people saying they “used donor gametes” or “used a donor” . Maybe I’m old fashioned or too liberal, but using people and their parts is just rude sounding. Its kind of like they forget that what they really did was conceive the child with another human being who hopefully willingly chose to do that with them knowing that they would not get to raise that child themselves. I understand the desire to separate the person from the genetic material and talk like all they did was use some tissue, but you cannot speak accurately about human reproduction without acknowledging that two humans have reproduced – not one human and an itty bitty cell that manifested itself like a light bulb over the heads of a charming childless couple.

        • I’m only going to say that I’ve addressed most of this in other replies I just put up. We’ve got very different usages for “conceived” going on, among other things. And you’ve unified the sperm and the man it comes from. For my usage, she conceives with donor sperm but she doesn’t conceive with the donor. I think your notion of what it means for a person to conceive a child is unusual and even if I am wrong about that, it is certainly differnt from mine.

  2. Excellent story and oh so true as to kids picking up on things no matter how much the adults try to hide something.

    • Every now and then I have been caught out saying something to my kids that wasn’t exactly true. (Let me just be clear here–I cannot exactly recall a time here and I don’t think it’s ever been major.) It’s a nightmare–you just find yourself digging a deeper and deeper hole and you get all anxious and it’s just horrible. I cannot imagine having this feeling about something really serious that is likely to come up with some frequency in the life of a child. It would terribly warp a parent/child relationship. Sigh.

  3. Letting a person in on the undisclosed and confidential facts of their conception means telling them that they are not the offspring of one or both of the people named as parents on their birth certificates. For that person knowing the truth puts them in the uncomfortable position of knowing that people they encounter believe they are the offspring of the people with parental authority when that is not true. Its true that its none of anyone’s business if they are the offspring of their parents or not; in fact most people won’t want to know and would feel uncomfortable if told. The person who now knows the truth has teachers and coworkers and relatives and fictive relatives that are all under the incorrect assumption that they are the offspring of the people known to be their parents and they really would not be interested in hearing the truth because it does not make any difference to them. So there is a thread of dishonesty and a lack of genuine authenticity with everyone they interact with on a regular basis that would not be there if they were the offspring of the people who have parental authority. They are keeping a family secret without even trying. They are keeping it because the truth for its own sake has little merit. Does truth need to serve a purpose?

  4. Conception of a human being is the fertilization of an egg – everyone who speaks english knows that and if you are going to try and hijack that word too and pretend that conceiving a child means dreaming about one and paying the bill for the egg – your not playing fair and I’m taking my toys and going home.

    • I’m content to agree that conception is essentially synonymous with fertilization for our purposes. Didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. I meant to raise the question of who is said to conceive. I wouldn’t say that the person who originally produced the egg/sperm is the person who conceived, but that’s the way you use it, yes? When conception occurs in a laboratory somewhere I don’t quite know what I’d say for who concieved.

      I’m confident in saying that the child is conceived, should that matter.

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