Tuesday, November 21, 2006

How do I tell MY children??????

That I am donor conceived and have two fathers?
That the man I do not know who I am descended from will never be known to them. That they will never know their "grandfather" and other members of his and therefore their family.

It is hard enough explaining to adults that the man I call dad is not my father, but trying to explain it to a 3 year old is another kettle of fish. Now 3 year olds are generally pretty smart and have already worked out a lot of things in the world.
She knows that Mummy's Mummy is Grandma and Mummy's Daddy is Poppa. She also knows that Daddy's Mummy is Nanna, and although we've never said it she knows that the man associated with Nanna who she calls Pa is not Daddy's Daddy. As she has specifically asked me who and where my Daddy is.

First it breaks my heart that the man who raised me passed away when I was 10 and that I cannot take her to meet him. I have not even begun to try and explain life and death yet. All she knows is that the man in the photo is my Daddy. But this will not last long as she is in the period of "why?" in her life - everything is "why?".

She is also very switched on in regards to inheritance. She has the same hair and skin as Daddy but the same eyes as Mummy. It wont take her long before she realises that Daddy does not look anything like the man in the photo and that he also does not have the same hair, skin and eyes as Nanna. She will want answers to questions. Then I will have to try and explain why I have two Daddy's, both of whom she will never be able to know. This will also not fit into her picture of the family unit, after all she sees that all of her friends have one Daddy and one Mummy - so how can her Daddy have two? She wants her grandfather, but I cannot give her one. Sure I can give her the man who raised me through the way he raised me and the values he instilled in me but she has no tangible link to him as they are not biologically related.

My children will not be able to fill out family trees at school or know from which country they are descended from. They will not know what inheritable diseases affect their father's side. Even their name does not match the blood they have.

It is bad enough that this has happened to me but seeing that it already affects my own children breaks my heart even further.

Monday, November 20, 2006

How We Tell The Offspring

The way children are currently told ties in with existential debt and the need for feeling grateful about being alive and conceived in this manner.

The current trend in informing offspring of their conception origins is that the child is made to feel as though this was a special thing, that they as a result are special, that the mum and dad went to extraordinary lengths to have them and that some person gave them an enormous gift.

While some of these factors are true, by presenting it in this fashion it already imposes a mode of thought on behalf of the child. The mode that they should be happy or proud about their origins and that they already are indebted. They are now burdened with an existential debt and are required to feel grateful. Because as the proponents of DC and in particlular those that support anonymity state that to not approve of your own conception and not express gratitude is to deny your own existence. This is one of the worst examples of the ends justifying the means I've ever seen.

By informing children this way, it does not allow them to fully explore their own thoughts and feelings on the matter. They do not have to feel happy about the way they were conceived at all and the fact that they may never know their blood relations and find out who they are themselves.

They have had someone decide on their behalf before they were even conceived which biological connection will be important to them and which one can be simply disposed of. It is a perfectly natural human emotion to be angry or upset over this.

Yet they are not allowed to explore these emotions because it may be upsetting to mum and dad while at the same time contradicting the notion of them having to be grateful.

Certainly it is far better to inform the offspring of their origins and allow them to explore their own emotions on the situation and support them in every way. It does not mean that they do not love their parents any less.

It also does not necessarily mean that all offspring will feel this way, some may still be very happy with their conception. It just means that we should not be conditioning the children to believe that there is only one way in which they should feel.

I used to feel grateful for my existence and even proud of being donor conceived. But now that my own children have opened my eyes, my mind and my heart to what was missing from my own life was I able to truly see what my origins had deprived me. Nothing can fix the sorrow I feel for my own loss and the loss experienced by other donor conceived children.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Role of Fathers?

While reading a newspaper article about single women who sort out fertility treatment (access to donor sperm) I started to think about the role that fathers play in the raising of the child and how that role is viewed in todays society.

It would appear for these women at least that the role of a father doesn't mean much at all. I was and I'm sure many other fathers (and perhaps even mothers) would be dismayed at the notion that a father is now redundant and we have no value to add to raising a child. I would argue that we have an equal role to play in raising a child. This is not from a providing masculinity or testosterone behaviour and imprinting perspective but just from purely a genetic connectedness standpoint. Every child should be raised by both genetic parents. While many other parents, single, divorced, same sex etc can and do make good parents, the fact remains and research data also shows that children raised by both genetic parents in a traditional non-conflicting marriage provides the best outcomes for the children.

So what role do fathers play? With many relationships I'm sure that what each person brings is unique and is different to the couple next door and the couple down the street. There can and never will be a specific set of criteria encompassing abilities or jobs to do. As a father and someone who is also donor conceived I'm not entirely sure as to what my role is or the role of the social fathers I had were. It seems to be an intangible factor that just by being with and raised by your flesh and blood (both) produces better outcomes, and I'm sure it is a better outcome for the father too. That is the joy of being a major part of your own child's life. There is the theory that a biological father would put more effort into looking after their own gene pool than would a social or step-father type arrangement. While there is certainly some element of truth to the selfish gene theory I can't help but think that there is something more to it than just that. Particularly from the emotional state of the child, to which there would appear to be a comforting reassurance from seeing themselves in their father not just in looks but behaviour and interests that are just not there in a non-biological father relationship. And while there appears to be no set role for a father except to just be there and love and care for their child, qualities which social fathers can also possess, the fact remains that in the best interests of the child it is of paramount importance that this is done by their biological father.

It would appear for some women at least (those that wish to embark on single parenthood) that men are merely sperm manufacturing plants. They are deliberately denying this child a relationship with their biological father that will adversely affect the child's wellbeing. The biological urge to procreate seems to override any concerns these would be mothers have for the emotional and physical health of their child which is a baffling scenario. Whether they are ignorant of or just ignore this fact is irrelevant.

The rights of the most vulnerable party, in this case the child, should always override those of the parents. In the instance of children, they have an inalienable right to know their biological father and mother. Yet many would be parents would like to believe they have a right to "have" children. I would strongly argue that no one has a right to have children. We are not some pet that you can bring home from a pet-shop and then "own". No one should use children to fulfill their own desires at the expense of the child. To be able to have children in your life is a privilege. Unfortunately it is not one that everyone can enjoy.

I have something intangible that I provide my children that no other man or woman can or will be able to provide. It is something that was also denied to me.
The role of a biological father cannot be replaced.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Father's Day?

For once it would be nice to be able to celebrate this day with my genetic father.

Father's Day is a lovely day if you know who your father is.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

What does it mean to be "Donated"?

What does it mean to be "Donated"?

And more specifically how does this term affect how we view ourselves and the
practice of donating gametes?

I have heard numerous donors (both egg and sperm) equate it to donating blood. I find this quite disturbing in that a human life, a person who carries this person's blood and genes into the next generation can just be "donated" away. Providing eggs and sperm is so dissimilar to donating blood that these donors must have a need to convince themselves of this arguement so that they can reconcile the concept that a child who is no different from any of their other children from a biological origin perspective can be given away without another thought. It is also quite demeaning that we as human beings are subject to the conceptualisation of being equated to consumable body parts such as blood.

I also feel like these donations are being viewed as a charitable cause. We are not a charitable donation that can just be given away to some "needy" person/couple, like the taxable monetary gift that many people make that also makes them feel good about themselves as caring human beings. There are strings attached and when these strings get severed (the biological connections), we don't function psychologically as well anymore.

A donation is a gift, it is a giving away. We have been given away by one or more of our biological parents. To be not wanted by ones' flesh and blood, our kin, and given away is painfull. I'm scarred.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The mirror in their eyes.

Every time I look into the eyes of my children I see the reflection of myself. Not literally, but as a reflection of my genes (looks), behaviour and personality. In each of them there is some of me. Half of who they are comes directly from who I am.

Sometimes a child will look more like one parent over the other, or may act more like one parent, or may be a more even mix of the two. For my own two children they have both definately received a lot of my features (poor souls). They both look remarkably similar to each other at the same age and to myself at that time. From this it would be easy to draw a conclusion that I would look not too dissimilar to my donor, as while I do have certain features from my mother there are a lot of differences acquired from my donor which would appear to have been passed down to my own children. I am able to draw some comfort from this assumption, yet it really does not help in anyway in dealing with the issues I have with identity, heritage and genetic connections. While my son is too young to draw behavioural cues from, my wife often says "she is so your daughter" when referring to something my daughter has done or said. This gives me great joy in the connection that we both have but it also provides me with great sorrow because I am unable to see the same thing between myself and my genetic father quite simply because I do not know him. The reflection of my donor in me is hidden by this severed connection, unlike the reflection of myself in my daughter.

I have a reflection into the future but no reflection into the past.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Would I ever donate?

Would I ever donate?

Quite simply - NO!
Although I must admit that during a time before my views changed dramatically (eg the birth of my first child), I did seriously consider it. I don't know why, but maybe I thought I could help other couples who were infertile in an altruistic fashion. I am so glad I never followed through with this.
The reasons are numerous.
Even if I had stated that I wished to be a known contactable donor, there is no guarantee that the child would even be told about their origins by his/her raising parents. While this is in itself fundamentally wrong, it also takes away the right of the child to know their genetic relations. I believe that every child has a right to know who their father is and this is a concept that is also supported by the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. Even if this child was told of their conception, was aware who I was and did have contact with me, I would not be able to help feeling as though it was a child that I had adopted out and that it was a child that I had lost. I think now being a father that this would break my heart.
By taking away their genetic father, it removes their sense of "place". Donated children frequently remark on how they seem to not quite fit in the family picture.
I could not deprive this child and my own children the right to know who their siblings are. Not only that but they all should have the right to grow up together, not separated. They are brothers and sisters, not cousins or some other more distant relation.
Not only should all children know who their genetic parents are, but I also believe (being a father myself) that all parents should know, love and nurture all of the children that are unmistakeningly connected to them. Adopting out your gametes deprives not only the child but yourself.
I do not want to perpetuate and support an industry and a practice that intentionally removes the childs genetic relations, family health history and heritage.
Finally, I do not want others to have to experience what I have, and am currently going through.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Gratitude and Anger?????

Gratitude and Anger?????

I've read numerous communications between those of the Donated Generation and those that would appear to be proponents of donated gametes (whether that be recipients, donors, wanna be eithers or just people with an opinion). Many of the arguements against donor conceived people and their quest for the truth about their origins and family history seem to be focussed on the offspring having to be grateful for their existence and that their anger over the removal of their biological ties is ill conceived and that it only causes harm to their parents and other couples seeking to have a family of their own.
For myself being a scientist I have tried to take a scientific look at all the arguements for and against donor conception from a non-biased perspective even though this would appear impossible given that I am one. Given the fact that I used to support donor anonymity until I had my own children may perhaps show that I have been able to look at both sides fully.
The notion that we are ungratefull for our existence is a bizarre notion in that even though donor conception is the reason we are how we are, it should have no bearing on our ability to have thoughts and feelings on the circumstances and results of the practice. It is an easy arguement to make for those who do not wish to think too deeply about all the issues involved. These people are asking us to accept a life debt for our existence when no-one else is burdened with such a debt. So don't say we are ungratefull as this should never enter into it.
The anger that we often express is rarely directed at certain individuals but rather the practice and the outcomes which were clearly overlooked in the pursuit of altruism and the desire or need to have offspring. While I can clearly understand the desire to have ones own children being a father myself, many seem to believe that it is a right of which it should never be. If donors or recipients do not like what many of us are expressing then perhaps they should look at what they are doing more closely. If there are increasing numbers of people saying that there is something wrong with the practice then perhaps maybe there IS something wrong with the practice. I apolgise if this steps on peoples dreams of altruism and family bliss, but don't let your own perspective blind you to the perspective of those that should really know - the offspring. We are not doing this for some sort of perverted fun but because we have had our basic human rights violated.
I grew up in a loving family. I have no grudge against my parents. I can understand why they did it, even though I'm extremely dissatisfied with what has been deprived of my personna and that of my own children. My mother (my father is deceased) understands why I am searching for my donor and my quest for the truth, and is fully supportive of it. I loved the father that raised me just as much as I could have loved my genetic father, but this love and relaitionship has absolutely no impact on the desire to find out who my donor is.
It would appear that those that state we are ungratefull for our existence are unable to come up with any logical arguement for why donor conception practices should continually deny a person (not just a child) their true identity, family connections and heritage.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What's in a name?

What's in a name?

Family names have been used in society for well over a thousand years and has been used to designate who we are, who we are related to, where you were from and in some instances it designated your vocation or place in that society. For the vast majority of societies this has been paternally driven.

For myself, my surname is Adams. But this is not who I really am. Especially when you consider that the father that raised me changed his name from Helbig to Adams as a child when his mother remarried. So from this instance there is already a change from a geographical naming perspective from a lineage descended from Germany to that of one descended from Britain. This is irrespective of the fact that my father was definately of German blood and not British. So in effect this name change does not designate who he truly was.

I am not an Adams, nor am I a Helbig. I am not related to either of these families in any way other than what is written on my birth certificate. I do not have Adams or Helbig blood running through my veins, I have another man's, another family's blood inheritance. I have a genetic link to some faceless and nameless individual.
I do not look like my father or any member of his family in any shape or form, I do not even act like any of them. Even though I carry their name, it is only in name, as from all other perspectives it is as if I was adopted by this family. In some ways it almost seems fraudulent to even call myself an Adams. Perhaps the importance I place on family names is more important being a male, as traditionally (but not always), when a woman married a man she accepted his family name.

We all have a genetic family tree that remains unbroken throughout the ages. Half of my genetic family tree is missing. My paternal link to my history has been forcibly removed by a medical procedure.

Perhaps I should remove my family name and just be known as Damian. This naming dilemma is compounded in my children. The effects of donor conception practices do not stop with one generation, but continue on into the next and subsequent generations.

My very brief story:

My very brief story:

I was conceived 33yrs ago at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in 1973 as a product of donated sperm making me a member of what I like to call the Donated Generation. My father who raised me passed away when I was 10, and this remains as the single most devastating event in my life. My mother remarried from which I have a “half” brother. I am currently married with two children of my own, a daughter who is 2 years and a son who is only 4 months old.

I am a medical researcher with a strong background in the biological sciences including genetics. I have also worked for and with clinicians who are involved in reproductive technologies and or the obstetrics and gynaecological fields. I feel that this career path has shaped my perspectives on the issues of donor conception.

I have always known about my conception and I consider myself very lucky to have been told from an early age. It did not change the love I had for my father and it made it easier to deal with and accept as it was always a part of my life and is not something that I all of a sudden had to come to terms with. As a child my father was my father, it did not matter that we were not biologically related. I was always too busy being a child than to stress over my origins. While I was always interested, it was never an overriding concern.

The family unit is recognized as the greatest factor in our lives. It is important to recognize that sociological and biological fathers can be two separate things. And while a family is what you make of it, there is however a basis to the phrase “blood is thicker than water”. Genetic connectedness, are ties that bind and is a factor that needs to be addressed more closely when analyzing ART.

It is this genetic connection that I have been trying to locate during a 15 year search for information. It started off as a search for non-identifying information and to obtain a family health history. At one point it would have been of great benefit to have had a family health background to help assess a condition that I had. During this time I have encountered numerous brickwalls and hurdles. The fertility units that I contacted over several years provided differing accounts on my records, with them being lost, being destroyed or of unknown location. This was very frustrating as was their answering or not answering of certain questions I posed to them. Only through contact with individuals that were conducting the practice at the time was I able to track down my mother’s treatment records. These documents contained a donor code, but no records to link this code to a donor. Apparently, donor records were not kept.

While I started off searching for non-identifying information as I at one time agreed with anonymity – I have now changed my perspective and I wish to know who this person is. This view changed after the birth of my daughter. It was a moment not too dissimilar to the moments that parents often report experiencing when they hold their child for the first time and stare into their baby’s eyes. It was an acceptance and knowledge of a biological connection. That no matter what might happen in the world, we would always be father and daughter. No one or no thing would ever be able to change this. This biological connection made me think about how I would feel if my daughter grew up not knowing who I was. This was a concept I could not bear to think about, but instead I applied it to how this notion did in fact mirror my own life. While events transpired that I do not know who my donor is, and I may never know, there will always be a biological connection that can never be broken.

I believe genetics are an important part of our identity with research showing a link between many personal traits and the parents. It also gives a link to a family history, who we are, where we are from. The nature versus nurture balance that has previously been argued is moving towards nature all the time as we realise what an important part genetic inheritance has in our lives.

For myself personally it will complete the picture of who I am. Half of myself is missing and it is difficult to put into words how this information would affect me, but it is something that I am also trying to do for my children so that they too can know who they are. It is something that has become increasingly pressing since their birth.

As a health issue it would also allow me to take precautions against any hereditary diseases such as heart disease or diabetes.

I do not wish to invade the donor's private life. I don’t need another father, another family, money or emotional support from him. These are things I already have. I would just like an opportunity to find out who I am. With the key word being opportunity, as currently I have none.

I recognize that his donation may be a secret from his own family and one that may adversely impact on his family. I do not wish to burst this bubble. Just as I have a half brother from my mother’s second marriage, I too may have half siblings from his own family or even from other donations.
It would be nice to think that all siblings should have the right to know of each others existence even if they do not wish to meet.

When ART was started they did not fully understand the psychosocial implications particularly from the perspective of the child. The donated generation can go through the exact same psychological issues of identity as do adopted children yet adopted children are catered for via legislation and are entitled to know their parents identity but donated children do not. This can be corrected by moving to an identifiable system (at least it would be there even if not required because the child may not want to know who their donor is). Measures should also be put in place to aid those already affected through the use of a voluntary register. As it is voluntary it does not infringe on anyone’s rights to privacy.

The rights of the donor is often overlooked and is something that I am also concerned about being a father myself. People’s attitudes may change with time and they may no longer wish to remain anonymous. They may be open to disclosure of more information or even contact but the current system does not facilitate this. The donor should be able to know that the child is healthy and well cared for.

And while I may find it difficult to call my donor by the word father as this is the name I give to the man who raised me. I still like to consider myself as someone’s son.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Dark Side of Donor Conception in South Australia.

The Dark Side of Donor Conception in South Australia.

While there is often great joy for a couple suffering the pain of infertility when they are finally able to conceive a child through the use of donated gametes, it can also damage the emotional wellbeing of this child with a pain and sense of loss that will continue to linger on.
Recent media reports have focused on proposed legislative changes to assisted reproductive practices in respect to the prohibition of the use of anonymous sperm or egg donors. These reports often convey the views of the clinics providing these services, recipient parents and the donors who provide their gametes. Why do they not show the views of the child that has been created insuch a manner? Do their views not count? Are they not the ones that are the most affected? These children do not stay children for long and there arehundreds in South Australia that are well in their 20's and 30's that have had a lifetime to form their own views on how their conception has affected them. But no one has been asking them about current practices and the archaic legislation that surrounds it. Anonymous donation is still practiced in this state, yet all current literature, international law, and national and state governing bodies all recommend that anonymous donation be prohibited and that all donors should be identifiable and contactable. This is viewed as being in the best interests ofthe child from both a physical and mental health aspect. South Australia's own reproductive technology act states that the welfare of the child is paramount, but it also provides protection for a donor's anonymity. These two statements in the legislation are mutually exclusive.
Australia is a signatory on the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child which states that every child has the right to their identity,including nationality, name and family relations. These rights are currently being ignored under anonymous donation practices.
The National Health and Medical Research Council in their guidelines on reproductive technology has recommended that all donors be identifiable and that recipient parents understand the significance of the biological connection between the child and their donor.
Our own South Australian Council for Reproductive Technologies has also recommended that all donor offspring have access to identifying information on their donor.
One of the main factors that infertile couples state for using donor gametesis that they want the child to at least be genetically related to one of them. This need for a biological connection is immense and is well supported by the clinics and literature. Yet the practice of anonymous donation is hypocritical in that it totally erases the biological connection between the offspring and donor. The need for this connection is still there, the ability to access it has been destroyed. The great loss of identity, heritage, family health history, and connection to biological relations both to the donor and siblings is something that does not go away. These emotional, health and social issues that affect these offspring have often been compared to those experienced by adopted children. Certainly from one aspect, the donor offspring has been adopted by the infertile partner. The rights of adopted children to have their true identity and knowledge of their family has been recognised by law. Is this not a discrimminatory practice that is occuring against donor offspring? By treating infertility in this current manner we are transferring the pain associated with it to the next and subsequent generations.
So why do our clinics still follow practices that contradict all current recommendations and that also tramples on our international human rights obligations? Because they are protected under current outdated legislation. Their arguement that they will lose donors is based on unsupported fear, especially when this has not been the case in other countries such as New Zealand that have been following identifiable donor practices for several years. Surely then if we are to truely uphold the rights of the children, then we must only recruit those donors that are willing to be identified. If the clinics have to change their recruiting demographic and there is a drop in donor numbers, then this is a far better outcome for the child who will otherwise have to live with the burden of an unjust system and a sense of loss. When the concept of family and everything that it entails is the most dear thing that we hold to our heart, why do we deny the Donated Generation their family in its entirety? We say that blood is thicker than water, but thanks to the practice of anonymity I don't know whose blood flows through my veins.