19 August 2013
ByAppeared in BioNews 718
Telling and Talking with Family and Friends about Donor Conception: A Guide for Parents
Our Family: A Guide for the Relatives and Friends of Those Contemplating Donor Conception, Undergoing Treatment or Parenting Young Donor-Conceived Children
Olivia Montuschi has written two booklets: a guide for people who are considering or have had children through donor conception about telling family and friends about it; and a guide for their relatives and friends to help them understand the issues these people and their children face. The guides can be used separately but are designed to be accompany one another.
First off, I have to say that I really wish that there was no need for these booklets, but alas there clearly is. When the idea for them was first mooted at the Donor Conception Network, Olivia reports that there was an overwhelming 'yes please' from the members. Times may have changed so that being open about donor conception is now considered by many to be the norm, but people are still catching up with this change and finding it hard to talk to their nearest and dearest about it.
Those who understand the pain, distress and anxiety in using donor conception will be pleased to know that the language and tone of these booklets is gentle and sensitive and the author painstakingly tries to make sure that all different family types are included. I completely understand why the author did this but sometimes it does make the text a little clunky.
The guides, when read together, give a 360 degree view of donor conception within the family and close friend framework. For short booklets of 30 pages they are very comprehensive, carefully and gently steering the reader along the path of sharing information.
The quotes from people and case studies which are peppered liberally through 'Telling and talking' and a little more sparingly in 'Our Family' provide different voices and allow for a range of real life experiences to be shared.
I particularly liked the honesty of this contributor to Telling and Talking: 'I was shocked when my mother said that the child I was carrying would not be her real grandchild, but then I realised that at first I had thought that an egg donation baby would not be my real baby. Her thinking was an extension of mine. Like me she needed time to think about what family and parenting means. Hopefully she will realise that family does not only have to mean genetic connectedness'.
Lists are a must-have feature in self-help guides and the Dos and Don'ts sections contained in both booklets are very useful digests of the main points. I can imagine that section in 'Our Family' being photocopied for people who may not manage to read a whole booklet (yes, I am thinking about the men!).
Preparing yourself to tell people about any sensitive topic is usually a good idea and 'Telling and Talking' can certainly help with that preparation. Being able to help someone else make sense of the information is perhaps more difficult and often something many of us are less experienced in doing. In this context, their understanding and acceptance has long-term implications on not only your future relationship but also their relationship with your children. So I imagine that 'Our Family' will be very useful, and also that this booklet will be useful if you find it a difficult topic to talk about without getting emotional as you can simply hand it over.
One word of caution: these booklets cannot perform miracles. If you have always had a tricky relationship with someone, say a sibling, and you can wind one another up over anything (for example, who is going to buy slippers for Uncle Fred this Christmas) then don't expect the booklets to prevent them pushing your buttons by their attitude to donor conception.
I must say that when reading the booklets, I felt a little sad that there is a need for people to be told how to be considerate to others and that there still seems to be a stigma attached to infertility, especially when you need donated gametes. I long for a time when that stigma is gone and donor-conceived children are no longer regarded by society as 'different' and their parent(s) no longer need help to explain.
Until such a time comes, if these booklets help just one donor-conceived child to have better relationships with family and friends then the considerable effort put into creating them will have been worthwhile. I suspect, however, that they will help many more.