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Book Review: Letters to My Donor

17 June 2014
Appeared in BioNews 758

Produced by the National Gamete Donation Trust, 'Letters to my donor' is a collection of letters from parents who have undergone or who are undergoing IVF using donor sperm or eggs to their gamete donor. It's a slim, stylish book but the glossy images become almost irrelevant once you start reading.

The majority of parents in the book have never met their donors and welcome the opportunity to write the letter of thanks that they may have been composing in their heads for years. Many begin by saying how inadequate words seem to express such a huge debt of gratitude, and talk of letters 'many times written and erased' as they struggle to express the enormous and wonderful changes the donors have made not just to their own lives, but the lives of their wider circle of family and friends too.

As Brian Lieberman explains in the foreword to the book, the ethical, legal, medical and policy aspects of donor conception are endlessly debated by professionals in the field, but the real impact of donation is rarely exposed to the public at large - and that's where this book has much to offer. It's the small details of how lives have been transformed which can be most poignant and heart-warming; the 'toys strewn on the floor, grubby fingermarks on the walls', the family holidays, the school plays and bedtime stories, the arrival of a 'bath bomb of happiness into the still waters of existence'.

'Letters to my donor' aims to increase understanding of donor conception, and to encourage and inspire those who are considering donation. It explores the issues that can arise through the real experiences of parents who might wonder about which characteristics or aptitudes may have been inherited from their donor, whether the donor ever thinks about their children, and want to discuss what they have told their children about their conception. The book includes a small section of letters from donors themselves to their recipients, all echoing the sentiment that donation was a very positive experience for them too - 'the single most amazing thing I've done in my life'.

Some of the letters are written by people who are still undergoing treatment, and acknowledge that it is the gift of hope which matters so much to them. The word 'gift' recurs throughout the letters, along with 'kindness' and 'generosity'. One interesting letter talks of the writer's initial need to reassure herself that the donor's motivation was altruistic, but explains how she has come to conclude that payment does not preclude altruism.

The views of donor-conceived people themselves are told through the filter of their parents' stories, and perhaps there's room for another book entirely exploring that missing piece of the jigsaw. Overall, 'Letters to my donor' is a valuable resource which can help to explain the realities of donor conception to prospective parents and donors - and to a wider audience, too.

Letters to My Donor can be purchased on the National Gamete Donation Trust website here.

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