Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My Father was an Anonymous Sperm Donor

This poignant Washington Post article should force some second thoughts about the rush to Artificial Reproductive Technology.

I'm 18, and for most of my life, I haven't known half my origins. I didn't know where my nose or jaw came from, or my interest in foreign cultures. I obviously got my teeth and my penchant for corny jokes from my mother, along with my feminist perspective. But a whole other part of me was a mystery.

That part came from my father. The only thing was, I had never met him, never heard any stories about him, never seen a picture of him. I didn't know his name. My mother never talked about him -- because she didn't have a clue who he was.

The author, Katrina Clark, loves and respects her mother. Nonetheless, she is angry that she never had the chance to have a relationship with her father.

When she was 32, my mother -- single, and worried that she might never marry and have a family -- allowed a doctor wearing rubber gloves to inject a syringe of sperm from an unknown man into her uterus so that she could have a baby. I am the result: a donor-conceived child.

And for a while, I was pretty angry about it.

I was angry at the idea that where donor conception is concerned, everyone focuses on the "parents" -- the adults who can make choices about their own lives. The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his "donation." As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?...

But the children have their own feelings about their origins, and they are now old enough to begin to speak out about it.

I'm here to tell you that emotionally, many of us are not keeping up. We didn't ask to be born into this situation, with its limitations and confusion. It's hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won't matter to the "products" of the cryobanks' service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place...
The same adults who are desparate for biological connectedness, can't seem to see that their children will need that same connectedness. This insight carries a whole lot more punch, coming from a Donor Conceived Person rather than from me. For whatever reason, the women are unable or unwilling to form a relationship with a man that will be durable enough to bear the difficulties of raising a child. Perhaps these women didn't see any prospect for a relationship that would work. Maybe they thought their children would be better off without any man at all, than in a stormy or fragile relationship that might end in the disruption of divorce. But Katrina's experience casts doubt on that calculation.

Growing up, it didn't matter that I don't have a dad -- or at least that is what I told myself. Just sometimes, when I was small, I would daydream about a tall, lean man picking me up and swinging me around in the front yard, a manly man melting at a touch from his little girl. I wouldn't have minded if he weren't around all the time, as long as I could have the sweet moments of reuniting with his strong arms and hearty laugh. My daydreams always ended abruptly; I knew I would never have a dad. As a coping mechanism, I used to think that he was dead. That made it easier....

In the middle of the fifth grade, I met a new friend, and we had a lot in common: We both had single mothers. Her mother had suffered through two divorces. My friend didn't have much to say about her dad, mainly because she knew so little about him. But at least she got to visit him and his new family. And I was jealous. Later, in the eighth grade, another friend's father had an affair and her parents divorced. She was in so much pain, and I tried to empathize for the loss of her dad. But I was jealous of her, too, for all the attention she was getting. No one had ever offered me support or sympathy like that....

When my mother eventually got married, I didn't get along with her husband. For so long, it had been just the two of us, my mom and I, and now I felt like the odd girl out. When she and I quarreled, this new man in our lives took to interjecting his opinion, and I didn't like that. One day, I lost my composure and screamed that he had no authority over me, that he wasn't my father -- because I didn't have one.

That was when the emptiness came over me. I realized that I am, in a sense, a freak. I really, truly would never have a dad. I finally understood what it meant to be donor-conceived, and I hated it....
I participated in a couple of online groups (for Donor Conceived Persons.) When I read some of the mothers' thoughts about their choice for conception, it made me feel degraded to nothing more than a vial of frozen sperm. It seemed to me that most of the mothers and donors give little thought to the feelings of the children who would result from their actions. It's not so much that they're coldhearted as that they don't consider what the children might think once they grow up.
Those of us created with donated sperm won't stay bubbly babies forever. We're all going to grow into adults and form opinions about the decision to bring us into the world in a way that deprives us of the basic right to know where we came from, what our history is and who both our parents are....

Eventually, Katrina found her father. She began to develop a relationship with him.

After a bit, though, I noticed that his enthusiasm for our developing relationship seemed to be waning. When I told him of my suspicion, he confirmed that he was tired of "this whole sperm-donor thing." The irony stings me more each time I think of him saying that.

For him, the "sperm donor thing" was a minor part of his life. The child conceived from his deposit in a sperm bank was an afterthought. But for her, he was far more than a "donor:" he was and is, her father, the only one she has ever had or will ever know.

To know who you are, to be connected with one's past, to be connected to one's parents, these are very real, universal human needs. In our desire to satisfy the infertile woman's longing for motherhood, we overlooked the very real, visceral needs of the children who would be conceived.
The process of Artificial Reproductive Technology has zipped along far faster than our genuine ability to keep up with it. The law is barely keeping up. Society can't keep up either, and is attempting to keep up, by imposing a blanket of politically correct non-judgement over anyone who dares to object. But now the testimony of the human victims can not be ignored any longer.
It is time to slow this whole process down, as Elizabeth Marquardt has argued.

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