Father’s Day Denial

Father’s Day Denial- a Guest Blog by Tamsin
Posted on June 14, 2012

Our dad preferred we not acknowledge Father’s Day. As a Church of England minister he upheld the Anglican tradition of Mothering Sunday, which occurs on the 4th Sunday in Lent and in Britain is celebrated synonymously with the secular Mother’s Day. He viewed Father’s Day as a cynical Hallmark creation, born not from observance of the Christian calendar but from the crude growth of American-style capitalism.

It was just another of our dad’s endearingly eccentric quirks. Like the enormous bar of Cadbury’s chocolate he gave us on Easter Sunday in place of the customary hollow chocolate egg. A bar clearly yielded more chocolate for your money, and he would not be fooled by the commercial exploitation of religious holidays.

Thirty-five years later, as the mother of two small children conceived using donor sperm from a large U.S. sperm bank, I ponder the meaning of Father’s Day in a radically different way. I am fortunate to have a husband who is unencumbered by feelings of masculine inadequacy. He is their “real” father, and their mutual adoration lights up our home. He also supports open acknowledgement of the donor’s role in creating our family. We have begun to share the story with our emotionally astute three-year-old, both in honor of her genetic heritage, and in hopes that our children will never think we tried to sweep the significance of biology under the rug.

Our dad chose to demote Father’s Day to a trivial annoyance, but we knew he was our father, biologically, emotionally, and practically. He was simply defending the sanctity of Christian tradition, albeit with a healthy rejection of crass commercialism.

There is nothing endearing about the prevailing belief of many parents of donor-conceived children that they can and should ignore the role of donated sperm in their child’s conception. Genetic heritage is not insignificant, even that contributed by a donor. A refusal to openly acknowledge the truth creates, in the words of open adoption pioneers Reuben Pannor and the late, great Annette Baran, “lethal secrets”, which can manifest into profoundly destructive dynamics within donor-insemination families. Several studies on this topic have been conducted by the Donor Sibling Registry, in association with Cambridge University and other leading academic institutions. They have repeatedly demonstrated how donor-conceived children who are told early and often about their biological origins grow up far better emotionally adjusted than their peers from families where donor insemination is kept hidden for years.

For most of the 20th century, donor insemination was quietly practiced in small doctors offices, anonymously and frequently. Conventional wisdom, dictated by a patriarchal medical profession and societal attitudes that couldn’t yet stomach the idea of it, ensured that tens of thousands of children grew up simply not knowing they were the product of donated sperm. Toward the end of the century, cracks in this toxic tradition began to appear, in no small part thanks to the open adoption movement and the rise of alternative family building led by the single-mothers-by-choice and LGBT communities.

By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the cracks had become fault lines. On one side of this heaving tectonic shift are tens of thousands of donor-insemination families and the Donor Sibling Registry, fighting to end donor anonymity and urging parents not to make the tragic choice of secrecy. On the other side, powerful medical organizations and sperm banks are perpetuating the myth that anonymity is necessary and desirable. They’ve provided a lukewarm endorsement for “telling” donor-conceived children of their donor origins, but anonymity is the enabler of “not-telling”. They are cunningly trying to appear to swim with the tide of societal change, all the while poisoning the waters with a profit-driven insistence on the continuation of donor anonymity.

Times are changing quickly. Despite unrelenting attacks from the Christian Right and bioethicists, who abhor any form of assisted reproductive technology, building a family through the use of donor sperm is becoming an increasingly acceptable choice in broader society. We’re not there yet, but more and more parents of donor-conceived children are rejecting secrecy and silence in favor of openness. In many circles there is also a growing recognition of the changing technological times, and the role of DNA matching in accelerating the end of guaranteed anonymity. With a swab of the cheek, donor-conceived children can mail their cells to any one of several DNA databanks and potentially identify relatives. It’s just different now on so many levels.

This Father’s Day, let’s acknowledge the genetic heritage of donor-conceived children as well as their “real” dad. Many children who’ve discovered they were donor conceived will never know half their biological makeup, and that sad tradition will go on for decades. But as more of us choose openness, the perceived need for anonymity will wane. Telling from the start is better, but it’s never too late to drop the secret.

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One Response to Father’s Day Denial

  1. Eric DI Dad says:

    For years, starting in 2007, I posted my own recognition of my children’s DI donor on my blog.

    http://di-dad.blogspot.com/search?q=father%27s+day

    With Father’s Day on the horizon my thoughts stray to the man whose gift allowed my children to come into being. This man is not the doctor or mid wife that delivered them. This man is their sperm donor. My children were conceived via Donor Insemination.

    Without this man’s gift, these children would never have come into being and into my and their mother’s life. I am occasionally asked if I resent that this man could do what I could not. I can comfortably say I do not. On the contrary I want to thank him.

    When I was diagnosed with non-obstructive azoospermia 12 years ago I was told that I should expect to never have children of my own. The fact that my children are not biologically linked to me has never lessened my love for them nor my belief that they are indeed my children. At the same time I am cognizant that there is another man whose role cannot be nor should be minimized.

    To me he is and is not simply their donor. For now to my children he is in effect non-existent as they don’t fully understand the concept of donor insemination. They have been told of their conception story and that a donor was used but this is still too much for them to truly comprehend as they are both less than six years old. Someday soon this will change and I wonder how that will play out. For now the knowledge of his existence rests with my wife and me and as I see it I have a responsibility to not let the truth of him fade away.

    The lives of my children are as much connected to him as they are to me. I do not pretend to argue nurture is greater than nature but rather together play a role in these children’s lives. I have his bios, medical, social, and educational. I have a toddler picture of him and a recording of his voice. All of this info is being saved for them as it is part of who they are.

    Everyday I see articles addressing infertility and the use of donor conception from the side of the couples going through infertility, women choosing single motherhood, or lesbian or gay couples looking to start families. There are court cases around the country redefining what is family and who has the right to be legally defined as a parent or not. Under New York State law I am considered the legal father to my children. But despite that fact I know that someday my children will wonder about the man that is one half of their genetic make up.

    Most heterosexual families of donor conceived children choose to never tell their children of the conception story fearing the child will turn against the social parent or for fear or shame of the perceived stigmas of using another person’s sperm or eggs to create their children. In my opinion these parents do so for their own reasons and not for the benefit of the children who have a right to the truth. I recently contributed an essay to a book series titled “Voices of Donor Conception” and have been increasingly involved in the discussions of these topics on the Internet.

    The central issues surrounding donor conception, including donor anonymity, regulation and reform, have been or are being addressed in several countries around the world including Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada among others. The United States has not yet entered that discussion and currently there are no federal laws directly regulating the sale of gametes [i] nor are there any regulations imposed on the administration of the various cryobanks and clinics that solicit gamete donations and sell these gametes to the public. I am in favor of reforming the practices of this industry but I am not here today for that purpose.

    I no longer fear the donor’s shadow but rather acknowledge his presence and if my children ask that his contribution be honored this or on a future Father’s Day I must honor their wishes if I am half the father I believe myself to be to them. So on their behalf I wish him a Happy Father’s Day and I say to him thank you for allowing me to do the same.

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