I recently spoke at length with Olivia Montuschi, co-founder of the UK-based Donor Conception Network (DCN). They are working on a new booklet for ‘Telling and Talking” about donor conception with family and friends. Olivia reminded me of a funny anecdote from their “Telling and Talking: 0 – 7 years” booklet, which recounts how one mother told and talked about donor conception. She suggested to friends that they listen in to her guest appearance on a radio show, and then discussed her story very publicly, and neatly, in one fell swoop. The modern version of this, I suppose, is writing about it on a blog.
We spoke for little over an hour, but I could have happily stayed on the phone all day. It was that same sense of connection that I felt when I had the opportunity to talk to Wendy Kramer, Donor Sibling Registry co-founder. These amazing women have such a depth of personal experience, in addition to years spent working with donor conception (DC) families. Without meaning to sound like a gushy DC groupie, I will always remember our first conversations. It was a dose of therapy, a shot of realism, and an intellectual workout, all wrapped up in a soft security blanket. Like talking to your big sister or a favorite cousin. There’s something about these women, and certainly something about this topic. The experience of donor conception can be profoundly isolating, but the flip side is getting to connect with women like Olivia and Wendy.
In some ways I felt like a bit of a fraud talking to Olivia about the “telling and talking” experience. The fact is I’ve had it easy compared to most straight parents of DC children. My family doesn’t judge. My husband’s family loves the kids to pieces. Our friends are progressive. My husband is cool. I used to think we were like a lesbian couple because we always knew we couldn’t conceive kids together and would need a donor. Now I feel like a lesbian couple, more because we live in a supportive bubble and I’ve had to move past caring what anyone thinks anyway. Especially after the blunt force of vicious comments posted in response to my Motherlode article. There’s something strangely liberating about having your words misconstrued, misjudged and maligned. You just stop giving a shit.
I also find myself seeing things increasingly in black and white terms. You’d think it would be the opposite given the emotional nuances of donor conception. And maybe that will change over time. But Olivia asked me what I thought about dealing with people who are critical or unsupportive. The nuanced side of me wanted desperately to reach for some complex string of empathetic considerations. Instead, however, I found myself thinking and saying, quite bluntly, “get rid of them.” And I meant it. Easier said than done, especially if it’s a brother, a close friend, or parent. But if a friend or family member proves unable or unwilling to accept donor conception then you wouldn’t want him or her around your kid anyway. It’s actually a perfectly fine justification for estrangement. Not that estrangement is to be lauded as a general principal, but we all know people who don’t talk to family, and it’s probably not because of donor conception. It’s that they had a falling out over something, or they don’t get along, or they think the other is weird. I know people estranged from a brother, a father, a sister, a daughter. It happens all the time, and I don’t think that parents who have created their family through donor conception have to adhere to some higher standard. If someone in your life doesn’t agree with such a significant life choice, then give him or her the boot. And, perhaps along with the boot, give them some of the literature from Donor Conception Network and Donor Sibling Registry. That way, their online comments might be a little more nuanced and a little less preconceived.