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Book Review: Your Family - A Donor Kid's Story

17 December 2018
By Tracey Sainsbury
Senior fertility counsellor, London Women's Clinic Group, and author of 'Making Friends with your Fertility'
Appeared in BioNews 980

Your Family: A Donor Kid's Story

By Wendy Kramer and Jen Moore

Published by Donor Sibling Registry

ISBN-10: 0692106936, ISBN-13: 979-0692106937

Buy this book from Amazon UK

The new book by Wendy Kramer 'Your Family: A Donor Kid's Story' was eagerly anticipated; I was very much looking forward to having a child-friendly resource to share with clients attending implications counselling ahead of trying to conceive with donated eggs, sperm or embryos. The book was promoted for children aged five to seven, factually introducing donor conception and the presence of genetic half siblings.

Though I really like the concept, I was disappointed that it very much promotes half siblings as an integral part of the extended family. It explored where children might go together on play dates, and shared things they might want to know about their half brothers and sisters.

Its use of these familial terms – brothers and sisters – that can promote a sense of loss if they are missing from our lives. But children conceived with assistance from the same donor are just that; a donor who donates through a regulated sperm bank hasn't picked a harem of women to grow them a super-family.

To use a simple analogy: you know how when you were a child and your mum had a friend with kids, and when the mums got together you had to play with the kids – sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn't, but the interaction was led by the mums. You often had no say in the matter, it was all about the mums, and so it is with genetic half siblings for children who are donor conceived, with sperm sourced from banks where you can freely share the donor code.

In the UK we have a regulatory framework that empowers donor-conceived people as adults to access and share information, if they wish to do so. It very much focuses on them as individuals, with adult autonomy. We also promote that parents who conceived with donor assistance can find out the gender and year of birth of any genetic half siblings conceived in the UK at any point, to provide factual clarity to their children.

I recognise more families, mostly solo mums or lesbian couples, are actively seeking some form of contact or information about other children conceived by the same donor when children are still children. But I wonder how much of this is about them and their desires to follow through with the wishes of their children, and how much is about the children themselves?

You might think this sounds harsh. After all children conceived with assistance from the same donor are genetically half siblings. But there is a growing body of science called interpersonal neurobiology which suggests that who we are as individuals is shaped by our attachments within relationships, right back to our first relationship in utero. Epigenetics is a very small part of interpersonal neurobiology, looking at the way the genes express themselves in response to environmental factors during pregnancy. We can now also see much more before birth, enhanced scanning technology for example shows us how the fetus responds in utero to external stimuli; taking in to account the reaction of the carrying parent, forming pre-birth attachment and developing the personality of the fetus.

Our growing knowledge reinforces the donor donating the genetic potential only, playing no attachment or familial role. It's very different from adopting for example – as there is no separation, the baby is born and remains in the family; for genetic half siblings this is true too. No separation, no shared parent, just a shared donor, donating to different families, it would be much clearer if the register was for children conceived with assistance from the same donor, removing any familial terminology. This book further confuses things, promoting that there is one large family created by the donor, possibly promoting a sense of loss if siblings are unknown.

The importance of comfiness is acknowledged in many different counselling models, where we are comfy, we have less conflict, and therefore cope better with the facts of many different situations, including donor conception. Parents model behaviours to their children and the donors we work with hope that parents are open and comfortable with donor conception, modelling that comfiness so their donor-conceived child can be comfy with the facts around their conception also.

We recognise a donor has donated as a donor. If donors wished to be identified as the absent biological parent, we would suggest becoming a known donor, with children conceived into different families possibly more akin to half brothers and sisters and known to each other. It's also important to acknowledge the donors often have children of their own, we promote the same comfiness, openness and transparency for our donors with their own children, around the presence of genetic half siblings.

Genetic half siblings are children conceived with assistance from the same donor, not half brothers and sisters. Parents, we hope will welcome questions from children as opportunities to provide clarity of their own familial facts; whether this concerns brothers and sisters, half brothers, half sisters, step sisters, step brothers, or adopted sometimes non-genetic brother or sisters…often not caring about the terminology, all part of one family. And with donor-conceived half siblings, part of a wider extended special relationship where friendships can grow as adults if both or more are willing.

In the UK it is a clinic requirement for counselling to be offered around donor conception, my hope is that anyone – parents and donor-conceived children – not comfortable talking factually about the presence of genetic half siblings will use this service to get comfy.

I love the concept of this book, being more open about wider genetic connections, but could we get the terminology right before promoting it as a resource to families?

Buy Your Family: A Donor Kid's Story from Amazon UK.

Comment ( - 18/12/2018)
I encourage the author of this article to read the more than 2 dozen published research papers that we have
published with many scientific and academic co-researchers around the world, including partners from several UK
universities (eg. Cambridge).

I also invite the author to read up on donor families, and particularly on donor-conceived people.
With more than 18 years experience counseling and consulting with donors, parents and donor offspring,
and more than 62,000 of them on the DSR- we are in the unique position to have our fingers on the pulse
of the issues that donor-conceived people and their families face on a day to day basis.

It is from this experience and from my day to day dealings with donor families (including my own)
that led to the book "Your Family: A Donor Kid's Story"

The author wants us to "get the terminology right"?  Well...that's exactly why we have surveyed thousands of
donor offspring over the years - so that we could get the terminology right.  Here is the link to our
Research page, which includes a new infographic with terminology results from a recent survey of 2,013
donor offspring. The author will likely be surprised to read about the terminology that donor offspring actually
use to describe their first and second-degree genetic relatives.

I also invite the author to read the thousands of testimonials, articles, stories and the advice from all of the
stakeholders that we have on the Donor Sibling Registry.  I know many donor offspring who would be greatly
offended by the sentiments put forth in this article as many do indeed consider the people with whom they share
half their DNA their "brothers" and "sisters".  I have to wonder...has this woman ever met an actual
donor-conceived person? And is this how she actually counsels infertile couples at her clinic?
It's uninformed "experts" like this that continue to make progress so difficult as we the families try and
move this industry forward in a more ethical and responsible manner, clearly understanding the needs and rights of
the donor-conceived people.

The director of an infertility organization sent this review to me with the subject, "Review of your book leaves
me speechless, sad & appalled."  That about sums it up for me too.

Wendy Kramer
Diector and Co-founder of the Donor Sibling Registry for 18 years
Author: Finding our Families: A First-Of-Its-Kind Book for Donor Conceived People and Their Families
Author: of Your Family: A Donor Kid's Story
Comment ( - 10/01/2019)
Many thanks for sharing your views; I recognise your experience and the research papers mentioned and having worked with many families, in many situations, recognise how children learn from their parents in many different ways.

Where parents see or agree with genetic connectedness as familial, why wouldn’t their young children agree and possibly want more connectedness also?  

I recognise that the regulatory framework around donation is very different in the US and UK; currently within the UK we have a system that promotes donors donating to enable parents to parent and empowers children as adults with the ability to access information and facilitate contact if they wish – as an adult. I am also aware of the UK based non-regulated sibling link and UK parents using US connection services.

I recognise there is not a ‘one size fits all to families’, far from it, but strongly believe that where parents drive relationships, it is they who have the autonomy, possibly disempowering the child in the future.

Donors, unless non-regulated known donors, do not hand pick a harem of women to grow them a super family, nor do they wish any offspring to experience the associated negative impact of having an absent parent; indeed research confirms where single women choose to embrace solo motherhood and there is no ‘absent father’, that the children are well adjusted.

So I guess we will agree to disagree, for me we absolutely encourage children to explore what family and genetic connectedness means to them at different ages and developmental stages; brothers, sisters, fathers mothers, donors, diblings, siblings, all and any terminology is fine; whilst confirming no one’s missing who intended to be part of the family, but if they feel as an adult that they want to know more, then there is a mechanism to do that autonomously.

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