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Book review: My Story, My Gift – books for the children of egg, sperm and embryo donors

21 January 2019
Appeared in BioNews 983

Not one, but a series of books are the latest additions to the fantastic resources available from the Donor Conception Network. For many years, we have enjoyed books for donor-conceived children, but these are the first printed books available for the children of donors.

The four books cover egg donors to known recipients or unknown recipients, and sperm donors to known recipients or unknown recipients. Just as parents are encouraged to share their conception narrative from a young age, the books encourage donors to do the same. The books promote 'comfiness' in talking about gamete donation, sharing their story in the first person. It begins: 'This is a story about something I did. Something I feel very proud of.' 

A positive book, sharing the thoughts and feelings behind the decision to donate and providing opportunities for children to interject, asking questions or sharing their own thoughts. We are recognising more how trying to make things too easy for our children can have a detrimental impact later on. Whether 'helicopter parents' or 'lawnmower parents', this book doesn't suggest adult life is easy. The book details how hard it can be to want a family but for that not to happen. Then the story covers how the child's mother or father was able to donate their gametes at a clinic to assist another family. 

I foresee these books being useful across a wide range of ages, from being read to babes on knees through to children of eight or nine years as a tool to open up a conversation. The images are not targeted at too young a reader to restrict engagement with older children, but warm and friendly enough for pre-verbal ages too. 

The series also includes books with a narrative of surrogacy, with and without gamete donation. I very much welcomed this inclusion as an additional step for some families on their pathway to parenthood. Throughout, the terminology is factual and appropriate, with  donors 'donating' and surrogates 'growing babies for another family'. 

The books end sharing how proud the parent is to have been able to donate, which is certainly the reaction I see from the many donors I and my team work with as fertility counsellors. We will be recommending these books to our known and bank donors, and hope that they promote a future generation aware from an early age of the difference that donor conception can make. 

I also recognise how useful these books may be for parents of children born through donor conception.  The books could be a way of recognising that the donor very much intended to donate to enable the recipients to be the parents for the child. The donors are illustrated as confirming their role as a donor, comfortably sharing information about their donation with their own families. This could possibly reduce the potential for parents to see the donor as an absent parent, or as in some way missing from the lives of the children created with the donated gametes. 

Another great read from the Donor Conception Network is a book for embryo donors, again with options for both known recipients and unknown recipients. Similarly, this book starts in a positive tone, sharing a warm story of a parent's decision to help others to have a family. Again, the book reinforces their decisions and conveys a sense of pride in their actions. It is a story for them to share with their own children about donating embryos left over from fertility treatment to unknown recipients. 

I think this book has an additional use as a tool in the counselling room. Many parents consider donating embryos, and though we explore ways they might share that information in the future, having a well-conveyed narrative could help them validate their decisions. The books could allow them to consider at an early stage how it might feel to read that book to their children. 

Fear of the unknown is commonplace. 'How will it feel if our children ask why we gave away their brothers and sisters? Would it be better or worse if they wish the embryologist in the lab had selected them to be donated and another to be part of our family?' So many questions often take time to explore, and it's resources like this that make embryo donation more accessible. The process may feel more manageable if the tools are available to talk to children.

Children who are well supported by a parent or parents who promote exploration of emotional reactions are often much more able to cope as adults than those with helicopter parents. Embryo donation often results from parents who experienced infertility, donating to others in a similar boat. This book shares that infertility is hard, but that sometimes treatment is successful – so successful that families are complete with embryos remaining. Sometimes parents decide to donate them to help others, and take pride in their decision. 

This series of books is a great tool for getting the donors of eggs, sperm and embryos ready to enjoy years of conversations with their children about their past and what will happen in the future. Will there be a request for more information or contact? Will it just be with the parents, or the whole family? These books are useful for anyone and everyone involved with donor conception. 

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