A Sunday in the Shark Tank

06.08.2010, 6:41 PM

This Sunday, I was unlucky enough to be invited to speak on a panel at a workshop for parents interested in or already using reproductive technologies to grow their families. I suspect the panel coordinator misunderstood my stance on the subject- the stark contrast of my welcoming vs. my fare-well was rather extreme. I don’t think I told the moms and dads what they wanted to hear…

Here is what one of the panelists had to say about ME.

I walked into the conference room immediately greeted by smiling middle-aged women who already knew my name. “I saw your picture on one of the fliers! Welcome!” The women were overjoyed to have me there. They read my four-sentence bio. “So you were donor-conceived! How was that?!” I grimaced in response, “Umm, not so great actually.” “Oh,” their faces dropped, “but you donated your eggs as well?” “Yes.” I responded. “Well thank you so much!” They said. “Um, yea, no problem.” I responded. As I sat down I felt a quick pain somewhere around my uterus- a pain I feel often ever since selling my eggs.

More than half of the five hour workshop consisted of deceptively cute quotes from little kids and tweens about their feelings on being a child of “donor” conception. Quotes like such from a girl less than 10, “Mommy, did the man that helped you make me have to give his penis away too when he gave us his sperm?” It was embarrassing and demeaning. There was almost zero attempt at any real philosophical/intellectual discussion. The mantra essentially was, this is your baby, you paid for it.

I soon learned that I was the only donor conceived person in the room over the age of 13. In a room of nearly 50 people, it was me against the moms. They sat me on a panel consisting of a middle-aged mom and her 13-year-old twins, for which she spent five minutes posing leading questions in a baby-talk tone such as “is there anything different about being donor-conceived?” at which point the two children (weighing cumulatively about 80 lbs wet) responded, “No, I’m just like everyone else.” This bothered me. Just because your donor-conceived baby is now walking and speaking English semi-fluently doesn’t mean they’re yet capable of analysis or admonishment.

Other panel members included a fertility lawyer and former serial egg donor, accompanied by her daughter (slightly younger than me, maybe 20 years old) who has already frozen her eggs in anticipation of infertility. Also I sat next to a gay couple who used both egg donors and surrogates for their two children (a third is on the way), a 52-year-old woman with 6-year-old twins who painfully experienced “secondary infertility” past age 40 (Is it allowed to be called secondary fertility? Isn’t that just called old age?).

The only person in the room who wound up supporting anything I had to say was a woman with four children, three of which were conceived through donor sperm. Surprise-surprise, her story was that she felt the secrecy and torment of having three children this way accelerated or caused her divorce. Her children are entering their early twenties now and their well-being and emotional health is severely  impacted. “I am an example of everything you should not do in life,” she said.

The happy-happy joy-joy atmosphere came to a halt soon after I delivered my position. I began my story with an acknowledgment to my audience that I understand and empathize with them about the pains of infertility. I congratulated them for coming to the workshop and their healthy pursuit of information regarding their children. I wanted to start off on a good foot. But of course, in describing my story, I stated clearly my conviction against donor conception. The hands flew up with questions. “Well then what are we supposed to do then now that we already have our kids?” one man asked. I was then pushed to offer a solution. The discussion leader then prompted me, “So what you’re saying is that we just need to be able to listen to them about their problems with this, right?”Another point of theirs: “Well everyone’s got problems. How is this like any other problem kids have to deal with.”

If I could go back in time I would say, the difference is, as parents you are the primary guides and counselors into the world and all its problems. Your children will turn to you first. If they’re born with a disability you can comfort them and say, “Well my love, God works in mysterious ways. We don’t know why he made you disabled, but he has a purpose for you.” When kids at school bully your child or taunt them, your child can come to you. You can protect them. You can call the other kids parents and work out an apology or act of repentance.

But with this issue… your child can not come to you. Your child will be forced to work out this huge, oppressive, philosophical debate alone in her mind, without the guidance of a loving parent. Because essentially, the person responsible for her problem, is you. The person who placed this burden upon her is the very person who purports to act wholly in her best interest.

And in response to Theresa Erickson in her blog about me and my apparent rudeness, I was thrown to the sharks. I have the right to be angry. The system and “technologies” that pay her bills and buy her lifestyle are the very systems and technology that robbed me of a real father and I don’t have to be nice to anyone involved in that industry. I feel cheated and betrayed and do not feel sorry in the slightest that I came off as rude. In the future, I’ll do my best to stay calm and inviting, rather than angry and repellent, but this was not a fair panel. And the truth hurts.

Apparently I am the enemy of the fertility industry, yet they make billions of dollars a year purposefully creating thousands of kids just like me. The irony is that, the more people like me they create, the more they build up the bodies and minds of the army that will soon defeat them. Oh, the poetry.


30 Responses to “A Sunday in the Shark Tank”

  1. All I can say, friends, is you read her here first. Meet Alana S., extraordinarly gifted writer.

  2. David Blankenhorn says:

    The first one now, will later be last.

  3. Damian Adams says:

    Alana,
    thankyou for standing up for what you believe in and for the welfare of other offspring. I know how hard it is to be thrown to the wolves, whereby these other parties do not wish to enter into intellectual discourse but rather just have people there who support their own choices.

  4. John Howard says:

    Apparently I am the enemy of the fertility industry, yet they make billions of dollars a year purposefully creating thousands of kids just like me.

    Correction: they take billions of dollars a year, from mouths of actual existing babies, and basically burn it up on something completely unnecessary.

    I think Alana would have had a gifted mind even if she had been born to a married mother and father.

  5. Kim says:

    Alana,

    I second Damian, thank you for standing up for what you believe in. You told them the realities of being a donor concieved adult, you are right in doing so. We have to keep making our voices heard.

    Kim.

  6. Tom says:

    Good work Alana. Thank you for defending our rights.

  7. scott says:

    Thanks Alana! How refreshing to see someone against donor conception. I wish my wife felt the same way :(

  8. dawn says:

    Would you have preferred not to have been born? If you experience infertility, will you only adopt via open adoption? Why are you so angry and bitter? I’m not asking out of wanting to hurt you, but out of a real interest. I was infertile at 28 and used ovum donor to have my 3 kids, who are all the light of my life. They all know how they were convcieved. I had always dreamt of being pregnant, and didn’t want to give up that dream. My pregnancies and my children are the joy of our lives. I would hate for them to be bitter and angry, and so i’m just trying to understand why you are so hurt and angry, and i’m so sorry you feel this way.

  9. dawn says:

    One more thing to add (sorry). You say “you are alone” because your parent brought this upon you so you cannot discuss with him/her. My husband’s sperm was used, so therefore my kids could discuss with him,no? Their grandparents/uncles/friends/teachers that know? We live in a very multi-cultural neighborhood where my eldest has friends who are adopted, friends with two mommies or two daddies, a friend who is biological but younger brother international adoption, etc. so i think she is comfortable in not feeling “other”. Her classroom of 20 something kids has a multi-tude of different types of families. However, I grew up in a lily-white suburb where we all strived to be the “same”. Did you have an upbringing like this? And do you feel that children should not be adopted as well?? Thanks so much, i wish i had been there to meet you, I would love to hear more about your feelings and why you feel so negative -sounds more to me like you were willing to discuss pros and cons, but were surrounded by all “pros”. This article sounds a little negative so i’m trying to figure out if you really were there for an intellectual discussion OR you only have negatives about who you are. Thanks! Dawn

  10. Hi Dawn-
    a) anger is an appropriate response to the infliction of pain. Anger is one of many, many emotions that come out in Alana’s brilliant writing.
    b)have you ever had an issue with one of your parents? You know, without them you wouldn’t have been born. Your choices, Dawn, are your existence or having thoughts and feelings about a social experience in which you share. Which do you choose?

  11. [...] responses to Alana’s piece from yesterday. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter More Sharing Options var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; [...]

  12. Tom says:

    Dawn, I can’t answer for Alana, but I am donor conceived, so I will answer for myself:

    I’m angry and bitter because I have deliberately denied a relationship with my father.

    Like you had always desired to be pregnant, I have always desired a relationship with my father.

    Do you remember how you felt when you discovered you were infertile? That’s how I felt when I discovered my true father’s identity had been kept from me and I would probably never know him.

  13. Dear Alana, I understand that you are unhappy and angry, but not exactly why. You say that “systems and technology robbed me of a real father.” If you had not been conceived with donor sperm, you would not have been conceived at all. There was no “real father” who would have created you had no sperm donation taken place. Sperm donation was your one chance to exist. Put that way, it doesn’t sound so bad. Or are you saying you find life so painful you wish you had never been born?
    I also don’t understand why you donated your eggs, given your feelings both about the artificial-reproduction industry, the people who use it, and the results in your case. Perhaps you did not always feel so negative about the process by which you came to exist?

  14. Tom says:

    Katha, do you expect any other kind of person to be happy with their lot, just because they’re alive?

    Would you try to convince someone born into crippling poverty that they should be OK with it, because the alternative is not existing?

  15. dawn says:

    elizabeth, i wasn’t judging Alana i am trying to learn more. I’m not quite sure i understand your response to me. You are surely enthusiastic about Alana’s writings, are you her book publisher, or PR person lol? The worlds most brilliant artists, musicians and writers all have passionate feelings, whether it is anger and hurt or love and happiness, so clearly Alana is gifted in expressing her feelings in a writing forum. I would love to hear from Alana herself! As for anger being a response to the infliction of pain, what you are saying is that this person feels that her parents and/or donor inflicted pain by bringing her into this world, and thats what i’m trying to understand? My best friend was raised by two biological parents who beat the living daylights out of her on a daily basis (upper middle class people with hidden drug problems). Why is “biological” so much better? Does being a biological child free you from thinking about the “whys” of why why we are here/exist? I was blessed with an amazing extended family, i am in my 40s and we are still all close, brothers, sisters, parents, aunts, uncles (including adopted and biological cousins). Has there been conflict? Of course! But lifelong hurt and anger? No, i guess i am blessed to have never felt that in a long lasting bottled up way. The worst hurt we have experienced is losing those we love, my uncle to a sudden illness, my grandma to old age, an aunt to early alzheimers. Their loss is and always be fresh in my heart. As an early 20s person I had offered my eggs to a dear friend who had many miscarriages, including twins at 28 weeks. As an infertile woman years later, I am so grateful that someone was willing to do the same for me. So I guess i’m just trying to understand from Alana where her hurt and pain and anger is coming from, to better help me aid my kids should they ever feel that way, or lead them to someone who can help them. My children are people and they do exist, and surely i would hope that the pain would never be so strong as to commit suicide, (in high school we had a friend do so and talk about a lifetime of hurt for a family) so I am just trying to be educated, open minded, and well versed in all thoughts on the matter. I think its wonderful Alana can express her hurt and anger, but i want to know -How hurt and angry? Hates herself? Hates her parents? And if no one in the world can make that feel better, what makes her go on each day if she hates her mere existence in this world,and if she feels she was created in such an awful not-meant-to-be way? Does she find joy in anything? Maybe being the poster child for “Don’t create children via donor” makes her happy. If so, so be it. I’m just interested in hearing (from her) more about her.

  16. Hi Katha!

    Click on Alana’s name (under the title of her post) and her other posts will come up. See especially “Debt and Donation.”

    Also, let’s stop telling donor conceived people they should be grateful to exist. It’s tacky.

    Best,
    Elizabeth

  17. dawn says:

    Tom – thank you for your thoughtful and well-put response. I understand, to an extent, what you are saying/feel. Were you not told from the beginning (ie my 2 year old knows that we used an egg donor)? Was this something you found out later in life?

    Does anyone here have anger at the anonymous donors who don’t WANT to be a parent, only want to donate? Does anyone feel that they are being kind (in a christian way, which i feel) aiding another in building a much-desired family?

    Tom, thank you for your sane, intelligent remarks. I hope someday you have children of your own, or a wife or partner or whatever you choose, and find peace and happiness. It is such an incredibly beautiful experience to not feel alone in this world, to find that true love or family that makes you feel complete.

  18. Hi Dawn!

    Alana herself has a day job — I think she’s at work right now. I can’t speak for her, but I suspect she’ll be catching up on all these comments when she can : )

    Best,
    Elizabeth

  19. dawn says:

    i’m signing off but this was very interesting, thanks all.

  20. Tom says:

    Dear Dawn,

    I’m sure many donors are trying to be altruistic and help out infertile people. However, they are very misguided and end up giving away their children, who will be emotionally distressed to be separated from them.

  21. Hi Alana,

    I haven’t bothered to read all the replies, because quite frankly I’ve heard it all before. I long, long, long ago gave up on trying to ‘educate’ people who were going through infertility or parents who weren’t yet able to hear honest criticism about donor conception. It often falls on deaf ears and we are dismissed as having ‘issues’ and being ‘angry.’ Yes, some of us do have issues with this and no I resent the negative connotation of having ‘issues.’ That somehow that makes what we say less relevant.

    In any case, you were brave going there, but do take care of yourself. I know how incredibly upsetting and emotionally draining it can be. I prefer to save my energy for places where there will be change and a large audience. Whether that’s talking to media, or to researchers like Elizabeth or to taking legal action.

    The people who refuse to listen to us will have to answer to their own children eventually.

  22. John Howard says:

    I think we should answer the “but you wouldn’t exist” argument with the “queue of souls”/Lockean/”created equal”/”tabula rasa” argument. It’s more than merely “tacky” to make that argument, it is fundamentally at odds with the conception of equal rights, which are based on us all being equal blank slate souls who are created in different circumstances. We are not our circumstances.

    This is what I was alluding to when I said “I think Alana would have had a gifted mind even if she had been born to a married mother and father.” Her soul would be in some other body, she would not have been named Alana, she might have been a boy, spoken a different language, and not been a good writer, but she definitely would still have existed.

    Also, taken to its logical conclusion, it would mean we should

  23. Oh and Dawn, as I guess you sensed, as editor of FamilyScholars.org I am really, really proud of the young writers at our site. We’ve got terrific, fresh voices. It’s the high point of my work life thus far to meet and work with these people.

  24. John Howard says:

    oops, sorry, let me finish that:

    Also, taken to its logical conclusion, their argument would mean we should only care about maximizing the number of people that are born, not about the circumstances that other people are born into. That’s not to say that people in poverty or hunger shouldn’t marry or should use contraception or abortion, obviously, it means we should try to improve their circumstances so the children don’t suffer, and returning to abstinence until marriage.

  25. Marty says:

    Great job Alana. x0x0x!

    I have to wonder aloud though, because nobody that I’ve heard has ever asked it aloud… if maybe medical infertility is Mother Nature’s way of saying “No! Not you!… Next!”

    I mean, we’re all evolutionist’s here right? Infertility is not like catching a cold — it’s a medical defect right? Maybe, just maybe, it’s there for a reason… donor gametes are certainly not a “cure”, anymore than a prosthesis is a cure for amputation.

  26. Alana S. says:

    Thank you to everyone who has commented.
    Dawn and Katha, I wrote my newest blog post specifically to answer some of your questions.
    http://familyscholars.org/2010/06/09/akusala-in-the-culture-a-letter-to-parents/

    I understand most people enjoy specificity and I don’t expect anyone to just take my word for it that this practice is unjust and unhealthy for participating parties (and even non-participating parties).

    I do plan on illustrating with precision in detail the world in which a DC kid may find herself in, but you’ll have to wait patiently for that body of work to arrive. It takes time to transfer ideas from the wrinkles in my brain to pages in a book.

    Enjoy.

  27. Alana S. says:

    To Katha,

    you asked why I donated my eggs.
    I answer that here:
    http://familyscholars.org/2010/05/13/debt-and-donation/