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Book Review: Telling and Talking with Friends and Family/Our Family

19 August 2013
Appeared 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

By Olivia Montuschi

Published by the Donor Conception Network and available on its website here

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.

22 May 2017 - by Susan Tranfield-Thomas 
Olivia Montuschi's revised 'Telling and Talking' booklet aims to guide parents of donor conceived children aged 17 or over through the delicate process of disclosure...
12 May 2014 - by Sarah Norcross 
I don't often put my hand up to review books when they pop through the letterbox. Normally, after the pleasure of opening the parcel and inhaling the scent of fresh book, I quickly put it on someone else's desk...
20 May 2013 - by Olivia Montuschi 
In addressing egg-donation dad-to-be Ben Saer's points in his BioNews article, it is hard to know where to start. Good parenting is of course supportive and protective, but it does not resolve the desire of some people to know more about who helped create them...
9 March 2009 - by Professor Eric Blyth 
One of the first publicly-recorded actions of the HFEA's apparently ironically-named 'Opening the Register' (OTR) Working Group has in fact been to recommend reversal of the HFEA's current policy of disclosing gamete donor codes to patients and to 'strongly advise' centres to follow its lead (1). Neither of the Human...
19 May 2008 - by Professor Eric Blyth 
A springboard for revisiting the role that birth certificates might play in facilitating the ability of a donor-conceived person to access information about their genetic and biographical history (a proposal initially mooted by the Warnock Committee, but never acted on, in 1984) (1), was provided by the joint committee of...
24 April 2006 - by Dr Fiona MacCallum 
Last week Reuters news service reported on the findings of a study by Clare Murray, Susan Golombok, and myself. The research was the most recent in a series of studies of parents and children in families created through infertility treatment conducted by the research team previously based at City University...
But the books overlook critical issues for the offspring of donors ( - 26/08/2013)
Someone has to fail to take care of their offspring in order for someone else to have an opportunity to be an adoptive parent or social parent or foster parent.  So any person who has an adoptive or social parent has suffered a tragic loss and generally adoptive parents had nothing to do with that loss so their relationship with the child they are raising is not negatively impacted by resentment for having caused or influenced the bio parent to be absent.

People raising donor offspring have the dubious distinction of having wanted the bio parent to be absent from the life of the child they are raising and obviously wanting a person to loose a bio parent is not something that will be received well by the person who lost the bio parent.  Olivia's books don't deal with this glaring fact.  If we are moving toward the adoption model in terms of telling the truth look at the rest of adoption and accept that you are telling the person that they suffered  the loss of one or both bio parents and the people raising them are the best alternative given the circumstances.

The books are totally focused on trying to get rid of the stigma of infertility and the stigma of not being blood related to the child raised but totally overlooks HOW the non bio child is obtained.
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