I’m at the midyear conference of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys/American Academy of Assisted Reproductive Technology Attorneys just now. It’s a program devoted to the world of ART and there are lawyers from around the country and the world–a really terrific and interesting group. It’s very busy but I wanted to take a minute out to post this.
This morning there was a great speaker who focused on psychological issues around egg donation. Her name is Dr. Andrea Braverman and she teaches at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. One particular point she made was both simple and provocative: The way parents talk to donor-conceived children can profoundly shape how the children react.
Perhaps this was and is obvious. After all, think about what you call the man who provides sperm? Donor? Father? Daddy-donor? [Your choice here?] But imagine (as she asked us to do) the difference between saying to a child “you may have brothers and sisters out there” as opposed to “other people may have used sperm from the same donor as we did and they might have kids, too” as opposed to “you might have some genetic-half-siblings out there.” (It’s actually easy to imagine many variations.)
I suspect each of us finds ourselves drawn to one or another of these formulations (or we make up our own), because built into them are our assumptions about the world. So I know that some of you out there are thinking that the “brothers and sisters” quote is the only way to go. But I would never say that, because I wouldn’t describe the children of the common donor as “brothers and sisters” –because I don’t think that genetics is what makes people brothers/sisters in the ordinary sense of the word.
But the point that really struck me isn’t just that we’d say it differently. I knew that, I think. But consider it from a child’s point of view. A child hearing “you may have brothers and/or sisters” gets a message about some essential connection to those potential people out there. A child hearing “genetic half-siblings” doesn’t get quite the same message. Neither does the one who hears about other unknown people with the same donor.
And so we shape our children. It’s hardly any wonder that kids who are donor conceived respond in different ways, is it?
Gotta go now. I’ll be back soon to finish off some of the recent open threads–or at least to work on them.