Last week the lovely Marwil and I went to a talk on donor gametes from the perspective of donor conceived people.
Marwil wrote a blog post about the event already, and it was really interesting to think of the discussion from her perspective, as someone just starting to explore these issues. I've also enjoyed reading the more 'official' descriptions of the event from Olivia, the woman who founded the Donor Conception Network, and from the Progress Educational Trust who ran it. I'd really recommend reading those posts for a more comprehensive portrayal of the full discussion - plus those are both great resources for thinking about donor gametes in general.
I was a little nervous heading to the talk. It's a funny thing being a heavily pregnant lady heading to a talk on donor conception, there's always a part of you that worries that someone is going to say something really negative and you'll suddenly start freaking out - questioning whether you made the right decision etc.
While I would not characterise the talk as all sunshine and roses, at the same time I didn't feel there was anything that made me feel at all uncomfortable about the path that we'd so carefully chosen.
One thing that's clear to me is that any donor conceived person who is now in their 20s or 30s (let alone 40s through 80s as were also being discussed) would have been raised in a very different environment than our kids will be. Not to imply that there aren't similarities or that we don't have much to learn, but sometimes I get a bit frustrated that the conversation seems to gravitate towards whether or not to tell children they are donor conceived.
I know that we, like most of the people who attend these events, are part of a self-selecting group and probably not representative of all of the people who will use donated gametes... but at the same time I haven't yet met anyone in our donor conception circles who has really questioned whether they would tell their children.
Almost everyone I've met is of the mindset that children both deserve to and greatly benefit from knowing. So 'to tell or not to tell' isn't really a big issue for us. Of course how and when and who to tell (obviously the children, but also their teachers? friend's parents? people at NCT?) are still things we mull over, and going to DCN events has been great in terms of helping us think about that stuff.
So while a lot of the talk veered towards info I felt I knew already (though always great to think through it again) at the end I was able to ask a question that had been playing on my mind about the Donor Sibling Registry, a US-based website where people who have used donated gametes or are the children of parents who used donated gametes can register to try to find other offspring from the same donor (or even the donor him- or herself if they have registered on the site).
I asked whether the panellists thought it was a good idea to register children from a young age, making contact with other families who used the same donor and raising your children with full awareness of those other kids/families, maybe even meeting them in person or going on holidays together? Or whether the panellists felt that it was up to the children to decide when they were older whether they wanted to register themselves to pursue those relationships?
The responses were slightly surprising. The two DC panellists both had quick reactions, saying parents shouldn't choose things for their kids and that it should be up to the kids themselves (both panellists had in their mid-to-late-20's tried to find their donor or half-genetic siblings - one successfully and one not).
I'll admit, I was a bit taken aback at this. And it got me thinking... partly about how I do feel it is the role of parents to make some decisions for their kids - especially when they are very young - and that in some ways that's the nature of parenting?
I'd always assumed that we would register on the DSR and try to make contact with other families. In my own extended family my uncles (a gay couple who used a surrogate to have their two gorgeous girls) have had really wonderful contact with the family who adopted their daughters' half bio-sibling. I'm sort of a believer in 'if you make things normal for your kids they will just go on to perceive them as normal.' So these responses made me question that.
But then a woman in the audience raised her hand to say that she, as a single mom to two 5-year-old DC twins had registered on the DSR and has had good experiences being in touch with some of the other families who used the same donor.
Interestingly, the panellists both responded to her comment positively. One speaker even saying 'to be honest, I really hadn't thought about it until right this minute.' Which I guess underscores the point of the whole thing, which is that everyones' experiences and opinion are personal and to be taken with a grain of salt.
Anyhow, no decisions need be made on this issue right this minute, but it's something S and I are thinking about. For any of you out there, have you or do you think you would try to make contact with other families via the DSR or otherwise? I'd be really interested to know.