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Podcast Review: We are Family (aren't we?)

6 December 2021
Appeared in BioNews 1124

'What makes someone family?' asked host Paris Lees, as I listened to an episode of the Flipside, a collection of podcasts that combine social sciences and storytelling to inform debate by sharing contrasting perspectives on a single issue. In that moment, I reflected upon the notion that while our ideas of family often differ; our desire to connect and to belong are human needs. Thoroughly engaged, I listened on. 

'We are Family' is a 35-minute podcast that considers family identity for a donor-conceived person, an egg donor, and a psychologist. Journalist Paris Lees brings a personal touch by drawing from her own experiences of family. As a trans woman whose family members lived in different households, she felt rejected as a teenager and sought solace with a group of friends, her chosen family. She seemed to be a suitable person to unravel this topic.

First Kelsey is introduced, an extroverted and affable character. Growing up, she felt a strong connection to her father's Cuban heritage. Two family secrets would shake her sense of identity. First, as a teenager, her father came out as gay and her parents divorced. The second secret was uncovered much later. I felt involved in her story, eager to hear more.

While close with her brother, her sister was their polar opposite in appearance, interests, and aptitude for schoolwork. Unknown to Kelsey, her sister took a genetic testing kit showing she was of Irish and European descent, with no Cuban side. This prompted her parents to tell Kelsey that she and her siblings were conceived using donor sperm. Their father was not their genetic father. Kelsey felt torn and her confusion was clear – who is she now? Where does she belong? Kelsey found out that her donor was of Mexican and Spanish descent, although she felt truly Cuban.

Dr Rachael Farr joined the conversion, an associate professor of developmental psychology. Her research focuses on adoptive families and families with LGBTQ+ parents. I discovered a new term – 'mesearch' – where a researcher uses their personal experiences to approach and unravel academic questions. Dr Farr's children were conceived with the help of a donor and her sister was transculturally adopted. 

Even in early adulthood, others did not view her and her sister as siblings. In society, there is an overarching emphasis on the bio-normative ideals of family – do they resemble each other? Are they biological related? I began to consider how our society holds these thoughts. How should parents approach conversations about the use of donors or adoption? Although challenging, Dr Farr encourages parents throughout a child's upbringing to be open about how their families were formed. 

Can we recognise anything of ourselves in people that we are technically related to? My favourite part of the podcast was hearing Elaine's story. At university, she took gender, sex and biology classes and learnt that there is a lack of ethnic diversity in egg and sperm donations in the UK. As a result, there is a long waiting list for eggs from an ethnic minority background. As she is of Chinese descent, she felt encouraged and undertook the lengthy process of egg donation. 

She has kept a sense of emotional and psychological separation from the children conceived from her eggs. To her, being a parent is much more than donating eggs but sustaining a familial relationship. The donation process is anonymous and at times, she wonders about the profile of the family who used her eggs. A touching moment was her wondering if the offspring from her eggs enjoyed spicy food like her.

The conversation ends with Paris revealing her own family secret – her own mother was not her genetic mother. To Paris, her love was more important than genetics. Families can be built by how you treat people and love people. We can all relate to this sentiment. 

Is this podcast worth a listen? Absolutely, the content is highly engaging, at times emotional and thought-provoking, moving through complex topics at pace. Suspense was built as the dialogue switches from guest to guest and I wanted to learn more. Paris connected to each of the guests by findings comparisons between their own experiences. As a listener, I was drawn into their stories and began to consider my own views on family. Although, the perspectives of families using donors was not brought into the conversation, Kelsey, Elaine and Dr Storr's stories and sense of family identity were thoroughly explored. Now to listen to the other podcast in the series.

We are Family (aren't we?)
BBC Radio 4 |  3 November 2021
8 November 2021 - by Patricia Sarles 
Although I initially thought that this book was written by a donor-conceived person from the blurb on the back of the book, it was not. Rather, it was written in the voice of a donor-conceived child, but written by the mother of that donor-conceived child...
11 October 2021 - by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos 
While far from an easy read, due to the mostly dense, academic language, Bühler provides a useful new look at the biological clock and how often it's miscalculated as well as the hazards of a 'one-size-fits-all' presentation of fertility...
19 April 2021 - by David O'Rourke 
As we all spent our second Easter in lockdown in the UK, it was hard to think of all the time we had been unable to spend with extended family over the past year. But in today's world, what makes a family? ...
1 February 2021 - by BioNews 
In this series of short films, speakers from last years Progress Educational Trust event 'Known Unknowns: The Pros, Cons and Consequences of Known Donation' answer follow-up questions about 'known donor' arrangements in sperm and egg donation...
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