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Book Review: Precious Babies - a donor-conceived person's view

16 January 2012
Appeared in BioNews 640

Precious Babies: Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting after Infertility

By Kate Brian

Published by Piatkus Books

ISBN-10: 0749954019, ISBN-13: 978-0749954017

Buy this book from Amazon UK

'Precious Babies: Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting after Infertility' by Kate Brian


As an informal guide to having children after fertility problems, Precious Babies has much to recommend it. There is, however, an omission which, as a donor conceived (DC) person, I found particularly troublesome – the book is entirely devoid of DC voices.

Quotes from parents and 'experts' are scattered throughout but the words of DC people are nowhere to be found. This lack of representation is even reflected in the title, with its emphasis squarely on babies.

Babies cannot speak. They rely on their parents to make decisions for them. However, early infancy is only a fraction of our lives. Babies will grow to become adults with their own independent thoughts and feelings about the method of their conception.

Many DC people are fed up of forever being seen as children; it is patronising and disempowering. The author shows a belated willingness to include the viewpoints of people conceived by assisted conception – towards the end of the book there are interviews with seven young people conceived via IVF – but this only makes the lack of dialogue with DC people all the more apparent.

The section of Precious Babies that concerns DC people – the chapter on donor families – is irrepressibly upbeat. Donor families are, we are told, closer than most other families. There are DC adults who are angry and find the method of their conception difficult to accept, but that is because they found out about their origins, often by accident, later in life. The author is clearly keen to present a positive picture of life after donor conception but her argument is disingenuous – the academic literature actually suggests a far more complex reality.

In 2009 Vasanti Jadva and her colleagues found that DC people who find out about their origins as adults are significantly more likely to report feelings of anger, confusion, shock and numbness than those told as children (1). Yet the following year this was countered by a study led by Patricia Mahlstedt investigating the attitudes of 85 DC adults. Roughly half of these people had been told about their conception before the age of 18, but their attitudes towards their conception were evenly distributed from 'very good' to 'very bad' (2).

The idea that donor families generally function better than other types of families comes from the research of Susan Golombok at Cambridge University. Several studies she conducted using a standardised questionnaire suggest that donor mothers tend to express greater warmth towards their children (3, 4, 5).

Yet these studies were not without flaws. Firstly, it is questionable how accurately a questionnaire can measure a concept as human and slippery as maternal warmth. Secondly, the level of warmth in donor families seems to be the wrong thing to look at if we want to establish whether or not DC people are happy with the means of their conception. The participants in Marlstedt's study must have benefited from this increased warmth but it didn't stop many of them viewing their conception negatively. Much more research needs to be done before we can say with confidence that donor conception is never damaging for the people it creates.

I can't help but feel that the author was afraid to ask DC people about their lived experience of donor conception in case the answers didn't fit in with what the readership would like to believe: that infertile couples can cure their infertility by any means possible and everything will shake down just fine.

All that said, donor conception is just one route to having a baby - one most prospective parents will not go down. In all other respects this book has a lot to offer. It covers many issues that anybody having a child after infertility may face, such as feeling pressure to be a perfect parent. Its tone is relaxed and engaging and there are lots of real-life case studies. I'm sure many parents will be reassured by reading it. DC people, however, may not be.


Read Kate Brian's response to this review of her book Precious Babies: Pregnancy, and Jenny Dunlop's review of the book from a counsellor's point of view.

Buy Precious Babies: Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting after Infertility from Amazon UK.

RELATED ARTICLES FROM THE BIONEWS ARCHIVE
23 March 2015 - by Professor Susan Golombok 
The spat between Dolce & Gabbana and Elton John – apart from raising the somewhat baffling question of what exactly are 'chemical' babies? – highlights the more pertinent question of what are the consequences of IVF, surrogacy and other forms of assisted reproduction for parents and children...
27 February 2012 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
As a generation of donor-conceived children reach adulthood, Anonymous Father's Day looks at donor conception from the perspective of the children. It follows three donor conceived people who are actively raising awareness of donor conception, and the rights of donor-conceived children...
23 January 2012 - by Kate Brian 
I was delighted that Rachel Pepa's review of my book 'Precious Babies' concluded that it had much to recommend it as a guide to having children after fertility problems as that's exactly what the book is intended to be. I wasn't surprised that she didn't feel it addressed her issues as a donor-conceived adult because the book is not about donor conception or adults...
16 January 2012 - by Jenny Dunlop 
Kate Brian's book, a combination of personal stories and expert advice, fills a gap for many people who have conceived through fertility treatment, but realise that the physical and emotional impact continues well after the treatment has ended...
16 January 2012 - by Jenny Dunlop 
Kate Brian's book, a combination of personal stories and expert advice, fills a gap for many people who have conceived through fertility treatment, but realise that the physical and emotional impact continues well after the treatment has ended...
14 November 2011 - by Susan Kane 
I have no doubt that Elizabeth Marquardt's report reflects the feelings of the donor-conceived people that she studied. However, since true scientific study of donor-conceived people is not currently possible, her claims must be qualified....
7 November 2011 - by Elizabeth Marquardt 
In today's debates about the family a new phrase can often be heard: 'intentional parenthood'. The term appears to have originated in the 1990s to resolve disputed surrogacy or lesbian parenting family law cases...
8 August 2011 - by Professor Naomi Cahn and Wendy Kramer 
The largest study to date of donor-conceived people has just been published in Human Reproduction. Its findings show the need to address two different effects of anonymous donating: first, when should children find out that their parents used donor sperm or eggs; and second, should children ever find out the identity of their donors?...
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