Surrogacy and Parenting

11.12.2010, 12:22 PM

Hello everyone! Elizabeth has kindly offered me a guest blogging spot here on Family Scholars. I think there’s great value in people with widely differing views about family issues engaging each other directly, and I appreciate the opportunity to be part of that here.

Some background on me and my reasons for writing:

Even on the night of my first date with my now-partner back in 2003, we each talked about our desire to have children. As we told each other the obligatory stories of our upbringing and how we had ended up in New York City, we talked about the kind of parenting we had had and the kind of parents we hoped we might become.

My partner was born and raised in northwest Iowa. His mother, pregnant at a young age, married his father briefly in order that she could live in a conservative community as a divorced mother rather than as a single one. His father was present during a couple of short periods later in his childhood, but his current whereabouts are unknown, and my partner has no interest in finding him. I was born in Tennessee, the youngest of three kids, but my mother died shortly after my birth. Soon after, my father married a widow with two children whose husband had died around the same time. I grew up knowing this blended family as my family. These two backgrounds, along with our adult lives as gay men, in which we created support systems for ourselves that were largely filled with people we weren’t biologically related to, strongly affected how we came to think about the word “family.”

After two years of dating, my partner and I solemnized our commitment (we called it getting married) and moved from our small apartment to a house in the suburbs. It wasn’t long before we began thinking about how to start our family. We had heard of surrogacy, and liked the idea behind it, but only began studying it after attending a regional gay families conference and speaking to some other same-sex couples in our small town who had young children born with the help of an egg donor and a surrogate.

In the end, we chose surrogacy because we wanted our children to have a biological connection with one of us, and vice-versa. We wanted our connection with our children to begin with conception, and continue through pregnancy and birth. We had friends who had adopted children, but their experiences didn’t speak to us in the way that those of our friends who went through surrogacy did.

Within a few months of selecting a lawyer, a clinic, and an egg donor agency, we were faced with choices about a donor and a surrogate. As we progressed through the process, we experienced the surreal mix of commercialization and intimacy that runs throughout the fertility business. We eventually spoke to three women who were interested in being a surrogate for us before we found someone we clicked with and wanted to work with. Our egg donor search was shorter. After we read our donor’s profile, and went through the subsequent information gathering and checking process, we felt certain that she was the person we wanted to be the genetic mother of our kid(s).

It took over two years from when we began in earnest until the day our twins were born. In that time, we dealt with not only our surrogate and her family, but our egg donor’s agent, our surrogate’s GP and ob/gyn, both women’s lawyers, the fertility clinic, and the out-of-town hospital where the births took place. It was complicated, stressful, expensive, and, at times, uncertain. In between the many practical considerations, there was sometimes the glint of half-buried moral issues that we could see and would discuss by ourselves late at night. Despite all that, and just as most heterosexual couples describe, the birth and its aftermath, the plunge into total responsibility for these two young lives, was and continues to be, one of the most humbling and spiritual experiences of our lives.

Our kids are now 2 ½ years old. My partner and I are Daddy and Papa. They have friends who have a Momma and a Mommy, and they’re also learning that many kids have a mommy and a daddy. Over time, of course, they will learn that actually most kids have a mommy and a daddy. We talk about different kinds of families and we read to them about families in very simple terms in children’s books that we have. Using someone else’s terminology, we are “normalizing” their experience. We will be raising them with no secrets about any of the circumstances of their birth, though. The stories about their origin that we tell them will let them know that people we call family may or may not be biologically related. These stories are a stepping stone from the stories we were told as we grew up, stories that reflected our parents’ histories, values, and judgments, just as our stories reflect ours. Everyone’s family story is such a compendium that evolves over generations. There is no one family story.

We know a lot about our egg donor, even though we’ve never met her in person. We will tell them about her over time, and they will have the option to contact her when we think they are old enough to make that decision. We still talk with our surrogate and her family every few months, and have seen her a few times since the twins’ birth. We’ve remained friends with her and expect that to continue.

I’ve heard the statement that being without one biological parent leaves an ontological hole. I don’t think anyone, or any kind of parent, can prevent their children from facing the basic ontological crises that are fundamental to human life. Those crises come in different forms and at different points in life for different people. I don’t even aspire to prevent them for our kids. What I hope to do is equip them to shoulder those challenges, through empathy, modeling, Jewish education, and simple honesty. I hope to avoid the lies and deception that I often see described by donor-conceived people in how their families communicated with them. Biology matters, and knowing the truth about it in your life is vital.

I have two goals in posting here. One is that I’d like to try and find common ground between those of us who have children through gamete donation and/or surrogacy, and those who view the industry as unethical and its users as complicit. The other is that I’d like to be the best father that I can, and one way I can do that is to help in the examination of what it means to be donor-conceived – unknowing participants, like my children, in this new frontier. How do we integrate their truths into the fabric of all of our lives? What do the new and increasing possibilities of technical reproduction mean for all of us? I want to think about how best to mold these new technologies to our human requirements, ethics, and needs, and live with the changes associated with what looks to be their ongoing presence.


43 Responses to “Surrogacy and Parenting”

  1. Tom says:

    Everyone faces ontological crises, so you might as well create another one.

  2. Amy Ziettlow says:

    Welcome! I look forward to reading your voice.

  3. Welcome to the blog, and I already look forward to your future contributions.
    I alsowant to applaud you on your decision to opn up, and not resort to lies or deceiption. It might make it easier in the beginning, but can create a lot of problems in the long run, whereas with openness, you might make the more difficult choice in the beginning, but no doubt the better one.

  4. I sat here this morning and cried. What a wonderful addition to the on-going discussion about what makes successful parenting. Your journey as a loving couple raising much loved children is a role model for all, biological parents as well.
    Every thoughtful human being faces identity challenges at many points in their lives. For your children, having the first of them surrounded by parents who love them and are prepared to be open gives will be an invaluable preparation for future ones.
    Greek mythology is actually full of stories of men who loved men raising children. I am sure your experience may be among the cutting edge as far as science goes, or our cultural support of it, but some pieces of your journey is not new, and has been successful. The image of Zeus as surrogate for the birth of Dionsius with Semele as the “embryo donor” kept hitting me. May be a stretch but no one thought it was dreadful back then, just awe inspiring. If you do collect more information from those who have gone your path I hope they eventually get published in a book which can help all of us be more understanding and compassionate toward families of all forms. I wish you all the best.

  5. Ralph says:

    Karen and Amy, and Egg Donation Agency — thanks for the warm welcome!

    Eleanor, thanks for your comments, too, and I think I have some reading on Greek mythology to do….

  6. Hernan says:

    The whole story has interesting (to me) symbolic flavor. Semele was destroyed when she was tricked by Hera into asking for and then getting a look at Zeus’ true form. Zeus then sews the fetal Dionysus into his thigh to save him and give birth to him. Later, Semele was rescued from Hades by Dionysus and brought back into the Olympian family as a goddess.

    Dionysus’ gestation isn’t the only one that happened in Zeus. Read up on Athena’s birth story, too.

  7. kisarita says:

    Perhaps as your children grow, they may look at the story the same way you do. But perhaps they will develop a different opinions. This may or may not be negative but you have to be prepared to accept that.

  8. Ralph says:

    Kisarita: I do know that they might view their story differently than I do. I try to have the awareness that I’m having children because it’s a giving act, and only potentially, and hopefully, a reciprocal one.

    In any event, is this really different from other major features of a child’s lifelong experience with their parents, and the swings in feelings that can occur about them? I think most people have had periods of their life where they felt alternately grateful/happy/blessed or angry/disappointed/unforgiving of their parents’ choices. I certainly have. Because I may have had both strongly positive and negative feelings about my parents’ actions, does that mean it would have been better if I had not been born? My answer is no, and I make that answer as a proxy for my children as well.

  9. Alana S. says:

    If I were you Ralph, I would try to open communication between your children and their egg donor when they get older. For two reasons
    1) A pleasant relationship with one or both of their mothers would help curb any feelings of hatred/animosity they may feel toward women in GENERAL. I would be really conscious of them interpreting how TWO women could possibly abandon them (especially for money). They may begin to lose respect and trust for all women as they form opinions about their surrogate and biological mothers.

    2) I’m worried that if you don’t open up communication between the mothers and your children, your children in late adolescence early adulthood may begin to target you and your husband with all of the negative feelings they have towards their mothers for abandoning them. I know you mean well and it will seem incredibly unfair to you if this ever happens. Communication with their mothers is the best method of preventing a bath of anger to fall upon YOU.

  10. Ralph says:

    Alana: Thank you for your suggestions. With our surrogate, that communication is already in place – we’ve seen her a few times since their birth, and it’s a comfortable relationship. The kids don’t know why she’s in our life (just as with most people they meet), but eventually they will. She is a very strong and articulate woman who seems clear about why she’s been a surrogate and is unafraid to talk about it with anyone who asks her.

    With our egg donor, it’s much less clear when the appropriate time is for them to meet her. First, I want to respect her and her wishes. We’ve had a few email conversations, but even those were through an intermediary, so I don’t know her well, and certainly don’t know how she’ll feel about it in say, ten years. For our kids, I want to wait until I feel they can understand what this is all about. There’s no book written on that! (now there’s an idea….) Still, I don’t want to treat it like getting your driver’s license (“now, when you’re 16 and we think you’re old enough, we’ll let you,” etc.)

    As they mature, the story that they will know as theirs will expand to include why these two women did what they did so that they could be born. We will talk about egg donation and surrogacy just as we view them, as mitzvot, acts of human kindness, ones that are exactly in sync with our own family values. Of course, I can’t make them believe what I believe about what we’ve done, but I hope these conversations will help them if they ever have a sense that they were abandoned.

  11. Hernan says:

    “knowledge about half siblings (desire for contact) is generally more sought after (politically more neutral) than contact w/’donor’ fathers.”

    Karen: I always suspected that might be the case. I understand the political neutrality, but I guess I always thought it would be because people of one’s own generation would have more common points of reference (culturally). For example, it’s generally easier to have friends about one’s own age than significantly younger or older. Pollyanna of me, I suppose.

  12. polly says:

    I imagine DC persons (like adopted persons) might, understandably, be fearful of a negative response from genetic/genealogical parent/s.

    In a sense, contact with siblings is a less threatening way of trying to know more about oneself; to see in others that which also belongs to ourselves.

    It is with our genetic/genealogical parents that we have deeper more troubling issues; they made life-making/changing decisions that we may or may not believe were in our best interests.

  13. Hernan says:

    Polly: Parents can be the hidden tiger traps of sibling contact, too. You might allow yourself some latitude in your own behavior to our own parents, but not other people. This was true of my own reunion experience in regards to our parents (the shared and unshared ones alike). …and there were only 2 of us! I am certain uneven distribution of feeling about and perception of shared and unshared parents is a problem within some DC sibling groups as well.

    In order to create a relationship climate that can survive dealing with the more thorny issues, I think it helps to have a pool of shared experience to draw upon. That’s one reason I think the shared cultural touchstones that come with close ages might be so useful. Make sense?

    It goes without saying that early and regular contact would help build the pool of shared experience would help, too. Just saying.

  14. Ralph says:

    Karen:

    > Do you know if your children’s genetic mother has any other genetic children conceived from her egg ‘donations’ or any genetic social children of her own?

    To the best of my knowledge, our egg donor has only been an egg donor for us. As of a year ago or so, the last time we had contact, she had never been pregnant herself.

    (As an aside, I understand why you put the word ‘donor’ in quotes, even though I don’t have a beef with the term myself. I wish we could come up with a word that everyone could agree on using that didn’t require quotes. But maybe this is like the fight over the terms pro-life/pro-choice and it has no solution.)

    > Also, will the agency you went through let you know this or keep you updated on this as well as any future health/medical issues that she or any of her genetic family experience in the future?

    We have stayed in contact with the agency on an intermittent basis since our kids’ births. Would they contact us if something happened to our donor? Would they necessarily even know about it? I don’t know either answer for sure, but unless it’s something extraordinary, I doubt we’d hear anything.

    Polly:

    >….they (genetic parents) made life-making….decisions that we may or may not believe were in our best interests.

    This sounds like a camouflaged way of saying, “I wish I had not been born” or “it would have been better if I had not been born.” If that’s what you mean, perhaps you could say it more directly. What I’m suggesting is that the traction of statements like this lies in their obliqueness. I would prefer to bring the real supposition into view.

  15. polly says:

    Ralph:
    I have known many many adoptees who believe that the adoption decision made by others (eg.mother/father/grandparents/society) was definitely not in their best interests. Of course, there are adoptees who feel differently and regard adoption as having been a life-changing, positive life experience. These attitudes do not always reflect the “success” or otherwise of their adoption experience, although to have been safely nurtured and accepted is indeed a blessing.

    Many first parents deeply regret, (for many reasons), the decision they made to place their child for adoption. Others regret the adoption decision that was made, but nonetheless believe that it was the best (only) decision they could make for themselves and their child at that time.

    I have met adult donor conceived people who believe that the manner of their conception was wrong. They fully recognise that they would not exist had the practice not been available to their mother. It is their belief that DC has brought complications to their lives that are a source of lifelong loss and grief. No doubt there are other DC persons who feel differently.

    I’m so pleased you are here Ralph; your insights and maturity help me to appreciate the level of respect and responsibility you feel towards your children. I would like to believe that all parents of DC children are as sensitive to these issues as you are, but somehow I think you might be a DC parent “SUPERSTAR”.

  16. Hi again, I think we all have trouble moving from the anecdotal to generalizations, which with families of is dangerous. I started working with stepfamilies, foster family members, and adopted families in 1968 as a clinical social worker, and recently wrote a book, StepWisdom, on the positive value these families bring to children and adults based on 42 years and thousands of client interviews, and research.
    What I found in my practice and research is that the quality of the parental bond….whether step, adopted, foster, or all biological had more to do with the success of the children. Toxic partnerships harm children. They various groups — adopted, surrogate, foster, and biological have different complications and complexities, and also different basic gifts. There are also different wounds which can result in growth. No one comes into the world with a family without issues of some sort.
    Love and respect makes the difference in outcome more than structure does. One good book on the research on adopted versus biological children and their pyschological issues is Primal Wound, by Nancy Verrier. Understanding the issues is more important than avoiding them. The worst cases of psychological damage to children I have ever seen over the 42 years I have been a therapist and professor were caused by biologica parents who were not divorced! Some of the hardest trauma that adopted children felt was caused by the old school of adoption. There secrecy and resulting feelings of betrayal by parents who did not share the adopted status until the person was an adult caused a lot of pain and alienation. That is almost never done these days, and the child/parent sense of honesty and respect is not damaged as a result.
    I would rather see a disucssion about how to respond to the difficulties, complexities and complications of raising children who are strong enough, relational enough, adaptible enough and loving enough to cope with life and the odd cards life gives all of us at times.
    There have been more children raised in a home with a step-parent in history than raised with just biological parents, and many of them have been amazing people….from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln, from King Arthur and Moses of history, etc. There are qualities of character they all have that are common to adults raised by at least one stepparent figure who treated them with love.
    Flexibility, acceptance of diversity, willingness to see other points of view, leaders into unknown territory — all are often hallmarks of stepchildren.
    Emphasizing strenghts while coping with problems is my two cents for what it is worth!
    What an amazing discussion this continues to be. I have enjoyed all the entries. Eleanor

  17. Tom says:

    Eleanor, if a child has, by their very creation, been placed in a compromised position then it certainly makes sense to be open about it and address it.

    The question of whether we should be *deliberately* creating children into these compromised situations in the first place is a completely different matter.

  18. Lindsay says:

    Eleanor,
    You say that you would rather see discussion about the complexities of raising children strong enough to cope with what life throws at them. The problem is, why does it have to be the children conceived in these manners who must adapt and cope with their situation? What about the commissioning parent(s) who chose to use a donor/surrogate because they are infertile (medically or socially)? Why should they not be strong enough and adaptable enough to cope with this loss?? Why must we perpetuate that loss onto the child? It floors me that it is the offspring who are forced to adapt to a situation that was created intentionally, to make them cope with that situation! Adopted persons, those born to unfit parents who do raise them (abusive, alcoholics, etc), those who live with parents who fight, are divorced, etc. Any of life’s curve balls that are thrown in a person’s direction that we cannot control, however donor conception IS something that can be controlled and not resorted to. Yet it is, and the offspring are the ones who are left to pick up the pieces and suffer the losses.

    Also, your analysis of The Primal Wound is completely off-base. If anything, its findings completely negate what you are saying! I think you need to re-read Nancy Verrier’s book, and maybe take a lesson or two. What Verrier found is that the separation of first parents from adopted children IS significant and traumatic and causes tremendous loss and pain for the adoptee. It’s called The “Primal Wound” because it causes fundamental damage to the children and adults separated from their natural parents.

    Lindsay

  19. Eleanor says:

    HI, The children I know who were conceived using donars are all doing well. The assumption somehow that they are damaged by the process simply doesn’t match my experience. Male donars have been used for decades, and many MDs have put themselves through school using the money they earned, and felt good about it. the children of these kinds of arrangements often seem to be better cared for than the average child — especially those who were unplanned. The clients who I have worked with who have children who had both sperm and egg donars now have wonderful children. One set of twins in particular are two of the happiest kids I know. I would love to see any research indicating that there is some huge discrepancy in how they turn out as adults as opposed to those who are born “the normal” way.
    Those who have had a painful experience with donars and surrogates changing their minds certainly experience pain, as do the donars and surrogates who changed their minds. But loved and wanted children seem to do well.
    Ralph and his partner sounds from this distance to be thougtful loving parents who will undoubtedly raise wonderful human beings. if the debate here is around the ethics of surrogacy and donars not the particulars of their issues….then I land firmly on the side of supporting loving parents and families no matter what labels, and manner of conception. I mayu have totally missed the point but I thought this started out as a discussion of what kinds of issues might be particular to their children, not whether it should have happened or not. Sorry for my confusion. Eleanor

  20. Lindsay says:

    Eleanor,
    While I can assure you that donor conceived people have a wide variety of POVs in regards to their conception, I would like to point out something that is a huge red flag for me. The fact that the only donor conceived people you know through your work are CHILDREN. I wrote a blog post last week on this exact idea: “A rose by any other name…“.

    Myself, and the other offspring who stand up and voice our opinions, amid criticism from every angle, we are not children. We are adults conceived through sperm vendors, and we take offense when we are infantized. Most donor conceived children ARE perfectly content with their conception and their lives. They do not have the mental capacity to think otherwise. Higher levels of reasoning are not reached until an individual is usually in his or her late teens, early twenties, if ever. If you ever spent some time listening to ADULT donor conceived offspring, I believe you would see a very different light.

    I would also doubt your idea that children conceived from donors are better cared for than those in unplanned pregnancies. First off, there’s a huge difference between an unplanned and even an unwanted pregnancy and an unwanted/unloved/uncared for child. Many people have unplanned pregnancies, but that does not mean they do not love their child. Heck, married couples often have an unplanned pregnancy years after all their other children…does that mean their care-level changes for this last child? NO. Even women who find themselves with “unwanted” pregnancies. Many of these women, over the course of 9 months fall in love with their unborn child and can be the best of parents. If you listened to the stories of adult offspring you might learn that we were not all showered with love and affection. Many of us were alienated from our social fathers, treated as the “next best thing” to having a whole-biologically related child. Many – possibly even most – adult offspring have suffered through their parents divorce (a statistic only informally researched among members of PCVAI). Some of us were abused.

    We as individuals were not wanted. Our parents simply wanted A baby, ANY baby, but not necessarily us. And for most offspring, it could be argued that our parent(s) especially did not want us, for we are a reminder of what they could not do naturally. We are the second choice, because their first choice child would be one that was genetically related to both parents (heterosexual or homosexual), or for children – like myself – conceived from single mothers, we are the reminder that our mother’s could not find a suitable mate.

    Yes, male donors have been used for decades, over a century. That does not justify it as acceptable OR ethical. Yes, many medical students pay their way through school donating. What you may not realize is that many of those medical students are pressured or even coerced by their professors, by their chairs, as residents, to donate. Especially the men in obstetrics and endocrinology. And who’s it for you to say that it makes them feel good?? It’s money in the bank to pay off outrageous debts, they’re told they’re “helping people”, and honestly, many guys are not mature enough in their early 20s to fully comprehend what selling your own children means. Talk to Kirk Maxey, a former donor and MD. His POV has changed. So have many other MDs who donated as students and/or residents.

    My suggestion to you Eleanor, is do some research on adult offspring rather than misguidedly claiming that adults should have the same emotional capacity as a young child. My blog, without trying to sound conceited, is a great place to start.

    Lindsay

    Lindsay

  21. Ralph says:

    Eleanor,

    You are not confused, but you probably haven’t been here long enough to know some of the features of our threads on this topic!

    There are some people who believe, like Lindsay, that to even discuss how to help children born through donation and/or surrogacy to become healthy adults is in effect a promotion of those practices in general. Since the majority of people who post and comment here are largely opposed to egg and sperm donation, that kind of discussion can fuel strong reactions.

  22. damianhadams says:

    >The children I know who were conceived using donars are all doing well.
    Now from this and other statements, you have made an assumption yourself that views of offspring, recipients and donors are static over time. But if you look at research by Daniels among others we can see that views change over time.
    To use myself as an example I used to be happy and proud about DC. This was because:
    1) I was just a kid concerned about being a kid
    2) Society had conditioned me to feel this way. I had to be grateful for my existence.
    But as I became an adult things started unravelling and then when I had children of my own everything came crashing down. I would say that I am very much damaged by being donor conceived (and I have always known about my conception). So I would have been one of those children that was well adjusted and performing well in some of the studies we currently see by people such as Golombok. How things have changed for me. Will it happen to everyone, no, but it can and does happen.
    While all families have to deal with life’s challenges as we go on life’s journey, the essential difference and problem with donor conception is that we having intentionally forced upon the child before they are even born, situations which “may” become caustic to their health and wellbeing. When these things occur during the natural progression of life that is one thing but to specifically create them is another.

  23. Sue Hurst says:

    I am a mother, with a son, conceived via anonymous egg donation.
    Yes he is a very well adjusted, adored and beautiful little human being who I am sure will grow into a strong well adjusted man.
    I have done alot of soul searching on this issue – naturally. When I was desperate to have a baby and was given the choice of egg donation I jumped at it and I fully supported and admired this wonderful technology. However, my son is now 8yrs old and I now have “hindsight” in order to view my original feelings…this can be mistaken for hypocritical.
    I cannot support egg/sperm donation on the merits of “most” children turn out very well on the basis they have parents who love them and enjoy happy lives. The bottom line is that they are human beings and “my son”, should and is entitled to have feelings as to his biological family and a connection with them. He also has a right to feeling that this whole situation has robbed him of the family he is genetically a part of and that he should have some say in being a part of this family. I am not insinuating that he goes off now for holidays or extended stays with people I dont know. There is still a need for our nuclear family unit to stay intact and just that. However, we have gone out of our way to meet and form a relationship with parts of this family of his….because they are his and he has a right to them. We intentionally have taken this away from him and therefore I feel that I am responsible to make sure that he has every opportunity available to him to know the people who are in the best position to know him (apart from his father of course, who we live with). I say they are in the best position to know him because when he was a baby I instinctively knew that I just didnt understand lots of things about him that came automatically to me when I had 2 biological children of my own 17 yrs previously. (I guess unlike others who use this form of conception, I had previous motherhood to compare) When I met my egg donor it came to me automatically. My son moved like her and did many things like her and even some of his behaviour is very obviously from her. I feel it is very important to any human being that their biological history is available to them. This is being human. To not allow people to be human or rather choose for them to be human commodities, is only going to cause emotional harm in some context no matter how loved they are, because the bottom line is we never “own” our children and they are human and it is not right to deliberately place them is situations where they are “the family secret”…..no matter how loved.

  24. Ralph says:

    Lindsay,

    The problem, for me, with your argument is this: you speak as if, given the option, the world would be absolutely a better place if all donor conception for infertile couples (of whatever stripe) were to cease, when you added it all up. I don’t know how anyone could make such a vast judgment so precisely. That somehow, *you know* that every offspring created this way, regardless of the situation, is either doomed to a life of loss and grief, or likely to be so. I challenge you on that statement.

    What I hear is that, just because there are many donor-conceived adults who were lied to, literally and/or emotionally, in tandem with family structures layered in levels of loss and unawareness, my partner and I, and couples like us, in having our children, must be living out a similar story of handicap and loss. How can anyone know this? And how can someone else say they already know the arc of our kids’ lives, not just what they might experience during their lives, but even the nature of the story that our kids will grow up believing as their own? We are teaching, and will continue to teach, our children that they are special and unique, in the same way that all parents try to instill that in their children. In our case, that specialness will include having two dads and having come into the world through the help of a surrogate and an egg donor. That is part of their uniqueness. Somehow, other people can be so convinced of the universality of their own particular experiences with donor conception that it becomes generalized, as if they already know what all donor-conceived children will come to think, feel, and experience as adults about their origins, regardless of the circumstances of their childhood and upbringing. Thus, discussions that don’t acknowledge this perceived truth are irrelevant, secondary, or even offensive, especially ones that try to think about what will help donor-conceived children grow into healthy adulthood with the knowledge of their particular place in the world. Once that point of certainty is reached, it’s no wonder that some people are floored by those of us who not only have used donor gametes but are genuinely optimistic about the outcome.

  25. Ralph says:

    Karen,

    I’m very proud to be part of this blog for the reasons you describe. I was trying to give someone who seemed to be new here some of the local geography as I saw it.

  26. Sue Hurst says:

    PS. Our son is very very precious to us as is the majority of children, biological, adopted or donor conceived – to their parents.
    Though I firmly believe that neither myself, my husband or our donor had the right to determine that it would be ok to decide that any prospective child that would be created by us “should” be happy with the situation we had deliberately placed upon him/her. OR that it “should” be “fine” with other members of the childs biological family ie, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, cousins without first consenting with all.

  27. Cait says:

    I am a donor conceived adult, I am almost twenty five years old. My parents are heterosexual and are the happiest married couple I have ever known. They used a sperm donor to have me and I am an only child. They are also the most amazing parents and I feel very blessed to have them.

    However, my parents lied to me when I asked questions about our family (I always knew that something that didn’t quite add up) and finally my mother disclosed to me at age sixteen that I was donor conceived. This was very, very painful and it has taken almost nine years to really start to find peace with the circumstances of my conception. Although being DC has been a very challenging aspect of my life and I expect it will continue to be, I do not feel that it caused my relationship with my parents to suffer. But that is only because my parents are extraordinary in many ways and were really able to put their feelings and biases aside to see the reasons why I feel sad, disappointed or upset that I am DC.

    So I guess what I am trying to say that even in close to the best of circumstances I have still experienced a lot of sadness and difficulty with coming to terms with being DC. I would say that the one thing that would really improve my whole experience of DC is if my parents hadn’t lied to me and told me the truth earlier in life, although I realize there are complexities that go with that and I understand why they did not tell me earlier- which they regret by the way. It would also be nice if I had an open ID donor (although I don’t want a relationship in any way with my donor, I would like to meet them, or see a picture, once), to have a medical history and to potentially discover half siblings (I’m still holding a lot of hope for that).

    Obviously Ralph’s children will have all of the same benefits I have had and will not have the issue surrounding secrecy, lies and anonymity, which I think is really important. Ralph, I want to commend you for this blog entry, it really touched me in a lot of ways.

    I also want to add that since I have become connected with other DC adults, I have discovered that being DC adds a strange and often upsetting or unsettling aspect to one’s life that really cannot in many ways ever be reconciled. I also realized that I am quite fortunate to have experienced less heartache (to varying degrees depending on a lot of factors) than other DC adults. But regardless of any of that, it is really important for parents of younger DC children, like Ralph, to reach out to adult DC people and for people to be able to realize many of the misconceptions they often have about people who are donor conceived. It is also really important to connect with other DC adults. For me, connecting with and meeting Lindsay has been a godsend in my life and in my experience navigating the world of being a DC adult.

    At the end of the day, whether you disagree or agree with Lindsay, with me, with Karen, with any DC adult, it is important to understand that sweeping generalizations are going to fall flat and potentially offend adult DC people as well as their allies.

  28. Cait says:

    I also wanted to add (and echo some of the other commenters) that I am looking forward to more posts from you Ralph and from more discussion about these topics that you so eloquently address. Thank you.

  29. Tom says:

    Ralph: the onus is on the proponents of donor conception to prove that it never causes harm. Only one person needs to suffer in order for the practice to be cast in a very suspicious light.

    Eleanor: by all objective standards I have “done” very well in my life. I don’t want to boast, but to illustrate the point let me tell you that I am a young adult who has a few degrees from one of the best universities in the world, competed at national and international level in a few sports, and has performed in several acclaimed theatre shows. I have “done” very well in my life. I have achieved a lot and I am very well respected by those who know me.

    However, this does not negate the daily suffering I experience as a result of being stranger-conceived. The trauma of living my life for twenty-seven years without knowing who my father is is something that can never be repaired.

    Don’t be so quick to judge people by what you see on the outside. As I’m sure you know, denial is a very common coping mechanism.

  30. Ralph says:

    Tom:

    > …the onus is on the proponents of donor conception to prove that it never causes harm.

    I don’t agree. First, trying to prove that kind of negative for pretty much anything is impossible, even if it were desirable. Secondly, replace the word “donor conception” in your sentence with just about any major change in western civilization, medical, social or otherwise (antibiotics, airplanes, democracy, computers, to name a couple of random examples) and re-read what you wrote. I understand your personal life story leads you to oppose donor conception, and your testimonial should be part of the ongoing argument. But the burden you suggest we place on it is not how we as a society have come to deal with new technologies and ideas (for which I’m glad).

  31. Lindsay says:

    Ralph,
    I do not agree that I argue that the world would be a better place if donor conception were to cease. I just find it unethical to be creating children who from the moment of conception are experiencing a loss (whether or not they perceive that loss, it is still a loss – the loss of kinship). This is why I am a proponent of known donors or at least ID-release. It is at least a better option and anonymous donors, and one that is at least partially taking into account the best interests of the child.

    Please do not put words in my mouth. I have *NEVER* stated that donor conception results is all children being “doomed to loss and grief” (note there is a difference between losing something – ie kinship – and experiencing loss). I know and am in contact with easily over 100, maybe closer to 200, adult offspring, and we all have very very different views of donor conception. My half-sister and I could not have more different views, for example. I have several close DC friends who are okay with it and are only interested in finding siblings – many an only child growing up. I also don’t think that those of us who disagreed with donor conception are doomed. Yes, we experience loss and grief, but to my knowledge none of us who speak out would ever say our lives our doomed. Many of us are extremely successful, intelligent, compassionate individuals. Donor conception is only one part of our lives, but it is something that we cannot simply forget about.

    I do not say that all children will grow up to feel this loss. I just want parents to be aware of the possible outcomes, and for those who are still in the process to put their minds on their child grown up and make decisions to better their child’s life. No parent ever wants to put their child at a disadvantage. Therefore, if there IS mounting evidence that SOME donor conceived offspring are hurt from the practice, maybe the practice needs to be re-evaluated. I’m not saying discontinued. I realize that it will always happen regardless. But to make the practice and the system more about the individuals created herein, rather than a system that only focuses on the wants and needs of the adults.

    From what I’ve read from you Ralph, I can see that you and your partner are going to be excellent dads, and I hope that your twins grow up happy and healthy. However, I do hope that *IF* you kids do reach a point where they want answers to questions like: “why did my mother give me away?” and “will I ever get to know my mother?”, that you will be able to look into their eyes and realize that despite their upbringing, despite the love and affection, that they still have a burning desire, a need, to connect with their biological mother. I think you will be the type of person, enlightened enough from hearing what myself and many others say, that will understand and support them in what they need and want.

    I look forward to reading more from you here.

    Lindsay

  32. Johnny Moral says:

    Why not just ban donor conception completely? The world will be a much better place when we no longer allow donor conception. How can anyone be so selfish?

  33. Tom says:

    Ralph:
    > … antibiotics, airplanes, democracy, computers …

    Come on Ralph. Antibiotics and aeroplanes have to go through *extremely* stringent tests to prove they don’t cause harm, and regardless, their use, along with computers is always a personal choice. Democracy isn’t an individual choice for anyone; stranger-conception always is for the parents.

    No one chooses the means of their conception. It’s a choice made by someone else. As a result it behooves us as individuals to ensure, as far as is reasonable, that our childrens’ conceptions place them in a fortunate position. If this cannot be done — for example due to the mother having AIDS, the father having Huntingdon’s disease, the parents living in poverty, or the (natural) parents being unable to raise the child together within the context of a loving partnership — then that conception should not take place. The child simply should not be brought into the world under those conditions.

    Not every stranger-conceived person expresses feelings of pain like I have, but many do. Yours might. I wonder Ralph, have you thought what you will say to your child if he/she turns round to you at age 21 and says “Thanks to both of my daddies for raising me, but why did you bring me into the world knowing you would deny me my mother? Why did you willfully cause me so much pain?”. Do you think that might happen Ralph? Or is it impossible?

  34. Tom says:

    Johnny Moral: quite right. The politics of banning stranger-conception will be tricky, particularly in the states, but I agree that the world will be a better place when it no longer happens.

  35. Tom says:

    > … what will help donor-conceived children grow into healthy adulthood with the knowledge of their particular place in the world

    Ralph, I’m sure you’d acknowledge that growing “into healthy adulthood with the knowledge of their particular place in the world” is more onerous without a meaningful relationship with one’s mother.

    How do you asses the additional burden this places on a person throughout the rest of their life?

  36. Sue Hurst says:

    Oh Ralph…….basically I feel you have dehumanised Toms comments, and disregarded Lindsay. We cannot compare our children and their situations with the technology of computers and the like, nor disregard the feelings of the true experts on this subject…..the children themselves who are now old enough to tell us how they feel.
    I am not disregarding your comments either as in the beginning when I first had my son I too, defended this practice as I was so very grateful to have been able to have the son I have now.
    Parents such as ourselves, I feel, need to embrace, listen and think about what these people are saying and how they feel. If we do this we will then be in a much better position to parent the children we have created in the best way to benefit them…..and not justify our actions by being ignorant to their inner most needs. Just by you being here and debating the issues means that you want to learn and be the best father you can be…..I know.

  37. Heather says:

    Ralph said:
    “In the end, we chose surrogacy because we wanted our children to have a biological connection with one of us, and vice-versa. We wanted our connection with our children to begin with conception, and continue through pregnancy and birth. We had friends who had adopted children, but their experiences didn’t speak to us in the way that those of our friends who went through surrogacy did.”

    Can you explain the essence of the experiences of your adopting friends that “didn’t speak to you” or appeal to you, as much as those of friends who had undergone surrogacy? Do you think your decision to use a scientific approach to becoming a parent has been made easier by your own upbringing and life experience, particularly in view of the fact that you never experienced having a biological mother yourself? Were the couples who opted for adoption from families who had not experienced the same level of family disruption as yourself?

    I would love to hear more about how you and you partner decided which one of you would become the biological father. Why did it matter to you that the children should have a biological connection to one of you, when you have both become so used to accepting many different people as your “family”? Would it not have been a more equal solution for none of you to have had a biological bond, rather than for the children to be biologically yours alone? Has your partner legally adopted the children in order to formalise his custody role in their lives? Do you worry that as the children get older he will feel like, an outsider, in the same way that some social fathers do in heterosexual donor conception families?

  38. Ralph says:

    Polly: Thanks for your thoughts from many comments back. I’ll try to live up to what you said….!

    Lindsay: Thanks for your clarifications. I wasn’t trying to put words in your mouth. In the zeal of some of your writing, you occasionally use incendiary language (such as describing the behavior of all parents who use DC — “we as individuals were not wanted”), and I react to it.

    The fact is that I agree with virtually all of what you say here – I’m a proponent of known donation, that donation as it is constructed today and run as a business has some serious flaws and must have its processes re-evaluated to reflect the needs of *all* of the participants involved, and that as a parent it’s my responsibility to stay attuned to my children’s voice about their origins as they grow older, however it is expressed, even as those concerns may have lessened over time for me.

    I plan on writing about some of these other issues in future posts…….and look forward to the discussions.

  39. Jeffrey says:

    Why did it matter to you that the children should have a biological connection to one of you, when you have both become so used to accepting many different people as your “family”?

    It’s interesting that we never ask fertile, heterosexual couples why they insist on having a biological connection to their children when there are so many needy kids to be adopted. Is it possible that infertile couples and same-sex couples have the same desires and wishes that fertile, heterosexual couples do to have kids biologically instead of adopting.

  40. damianhadams says:

    Is it possible that infertile couples and same-sex couples have the same desires and wishes that fertile, heterosexual couples do to have kids biologically instead of adopting.

    Very true. Additionally though, if we look at the other side of the coin, if we are to acknowledge the importance for one of them to be biologically related to the child then we must equally acknolwedge that the other disposed of link could be just as important for the child as the one that is maintained.
    Just depends on whose glasses you look through. Those of the adult or those of the child.

  41. Sue Hurst says:

    So so true. I know that when we were trying to conceive that we were thinking that it would be wonderful for my husband and I to have a child who was biologically “his” if this were possible. At the time these were our wildest dreams come true.
    And……….so so true…”if we are to acknowledge the importance for one of them to be biologically related to the child then we must equally acknowledge that the other disposed of link could be just as important for the child as the one maintained” Very very wise and and possibly the most significant words spoken here.

  42. Kim says:

    Elanor,

    How many donor conceived people do you know exactly? Are they still children influenced by their parents desire to have them feel as any other ‘normal’ child?
    I am a donor conceived 26 year old, I know 8 other DC adults, none of which have not been adversely affected by being deprived their genetic kin.
    Also, I had my first child unplanned at age 19, and he is far better cared for, loved and supported than I was growing up as a DC child. In fact my social Father had served time in prison, was an alcoholic and very unstable. So please do not make these un founded generalisations that DC people are better off.
    I genuinely wish the best for your children, but do not ‘expect’ them to be ok just because you want them to be. In time they will want to know where they come from, who they are, and you need to support them in this.
    -Kim.

  43. [...] Lewis, a gay father raising kids conceived through egg donation and surrogacy, notes a troubling feature of arguments against nontraditional methods of family formation such as [...]