A few days ago I linked to a recent (and really interesting) study on openness in adoption. Apart from its interest to those who care about adoption, I think the study should also be interesting to those who think about ART using third-party gametes. At the time I said that when I thought about adoption and use of third party gametes in ART I saw both sameness and difference. It’s important to articulate both the sameness and the difference in order to figure out which aspects of the study are transferable or how they might be transferable.
So in my last post I started to think about the sameness. If you look through the comments you’ll see that differences arose as well. I want to take some of those differences and put them up here in a post. This is by no means and exhaustive list–or at least, I don’t think it is.
For starters it seems to me that you can look at these issues from a variety of perspectives: You can take the view of an adopted or donor conceived child, you can take the view of the parent of an adoptive or donor conceived child, or you can take the view of the birth parents or gamete providers. I think it is even possible to take the view of society generally–the concerned citizen perspective. No one of these viewpoints is more valid than any other. Each adds insight and ought, it seems to me, to be considered. (I have some regret that I didn’t do this before I did the sameness post, but I can always go back and run that through this framework.)
One more caveat–as I note differences that strike me, I don’t mean to suggest that every one of these differences will be important to every person in whatever group I’m thinking about. I just mean to identify differences that I think will matter to some people and hence, bear thinking about. YMMV.
The child’s perspective. I’m going to assume awareness of status here. There’s an important sameness in that both children can be deceived about their origins. I cannot recall if I listed that, but it is noteworthy. I’m just not going to develop it right here.
That said, the adopted child and the donor conceived child both know that there is a person out there (or two people) who are genetically connected to them. In both cases the person or people chose (yes, that’s an assumption, but I’m going with it for now) to enter the arrangement. Those are key samenesses which I need to pass over if I’m going on to differences here.
I think it quite possible that the child thinking about the choice made in each instance would confront different issues. The adoptive child knows that there is a woman out there who not only is genetically connected to the child, but also was pregnant and gave birth. The absence of that person–the inability of the child to hear stories about “when I was in mommy’s tummy”–seems to me to be important. And that’s not an issue for a donor-conceived child.
The adopted child also has to accept that for some reason the woman who gave birth decided to give the child up. I’ve seen plenty of movies and read lots of fiction that dramatize this fraught scene. An adopted child might well think about what that was like–what both infant and mother (the woman who gave birth) go through at that point.
I’d say this is qualitatively different from thinking about a woman providing an egg. Whatever I envision, I do not see that dramatic scene with the anguished young mother that is the staple of TV drama. The child born from a third-party egg must work a different story into her or his life. (I would assume that it is often a story of someone who didn’t think the egg mattered that much at the time she offered it up, but I’m happy to be enlightened.)
I think this difference could be important to how children who are adopted and donor conceived understand themselves and understand the choices that lead to the absence of the person with the genetic connection. I will repeat–I am not saying it will always matter to everyone. And I make no pretense of saying what the difference in outcome will be. All I want to say is that it seems likely to me that it does matter in some significant number of instances.
Clearly I’m not going to anyone else’s viewpoint in this post–reaching the limit now. But let me at least flag the lurking (or obvious?) gender issue: The contrast between egg donor and birth mother is different than the contrast between sperm donor and birth father. I’m not sure what to make of that–so I leave it for another time.