Friday, June 13, 2008

Thoughts, repeated, this Father's Day

I wrote the below words last year as an op-ed piece for the NY Times which they never ran. They were my thoughts then and still apply today. I thought I would indulge myself and post them again today with this Sunday being Father's Day:

With Father's Day on the horizon my thoughts stray to the man whose gift allowed my children to come into being. This man is not the doctor or mid wife that delivered them. This man is their sperm donor. My children were conceived via Donor Insemination.

Without this man's gift, these children would never have come into being and into my and my wife's life. I am occasionally asked if I resent that this man could do what I could not. I can comfortably say I do not. On the contrary I want to thank him.

When I was diagnosed with non-obstructive azoospermia 12 years ago I was told that I should expect to never have children of my own. The fact that my children are not biologically linked to me has never lessened my love for them nor my belief that they are indeed my children. At the same time I am cognizant that there is another man whose role cannot be nor should be minimized.

To me he is and is not simply their donor. For now to my children he is in effect non-existent as they don't fully understand the concept of donor insemination. They have been told of their conception story and that a donor was used but this is still too much for them to truly comprehend as they are both less than six years old. Someday soon this will change and I wonder how that will play out. For now the knowledge of his existence rests with my wife and me and as I see it I have a responsibility to not let the truth of him fade away.

The lives of my children are as much connected to him as they are to me. I do not pretend to argue nurture is greater than nature but rather together play a role in these children's lives. I have his bios, medical, social, and educational. I have a toddler picture of him and a recording of his voice. All of this info is being saved for them as it is part of who they are.

Everyday I see articles addressing infertility and the use of donor conception from the side of the couples going through infertility, women choosing single motherhood, or lesbian or gay couples looking to start families. There are court cases around the country redefining what is family and who has the right to be legally defined as a parent or not. Under New York State law I am considered the legal father to my children. But despite that fact I know that someday my children will wonder about the man that is one half of their genetic make up.

Most heterosexual families of donor conceived children choose to never tell their children of the conception story fearing the child will turn against the social parent or for fear or shame of the perceived stigmas of using another person’s sperm or eggs to create their children. In my opinion these parents do so for their own reasons and not for the benefit of the children who have a right to the truth. I recently contributed an essay to a book series titled “Voices of Donor Conception” and have been increasingly involved in the discussions of these topics on the Internet.

The central issues surrounding donor conception, including donor anonymity, regulation and reform, have been or are being addressed in several countries around the world including Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada among others. The United States has not yet entered that discussion and currently there are no federal laws directly regulating the sale of gametes
[i] nor are there any regulations imposed on the administration of the various cryobanks and clinics that solicit gamete donations and sell these gametes to the public. I am in favor of reforming the practices of this industry but I am not here today for that purpose.

I no longer fear the donor’s shadow but rather acknowledge his presence and if my children ask that his contribution be honored this or on a future Father’s Day I must honor their wishes if I am half the father I believe myself to be to them. So on their behalf I wish him a Happy Father’s Day and I say to him thank you for allowing me to do the same.

[i]Reproduction and Responsibility: The Regulation of New Biotechnologies” The President's Council on Bioethics, Washington, D.C., March 2004, Chapter 6

Sunday, June 08, 2008

School Charts and Family Trees

The following post is the text of a message I left on the Yahoo DI Dads Discussion group this evening:

It's been a while since I have posted and I admit I have not been checking in as much as I used to due mostly to the fact that being aDI Dad has not realy been in the forefront of my mind lately. My mind has been busy with just being a dad, husband, breadwinner etc.

Anyhow tonight I was reading to my 6 year old before bedtime and we ran out of books to read so I grabbed the "Let Me Explain" book byJane Schnitter. This is the book where the story is told by a 7 or 8 year old girl how she was born using donor insemination.

I am not exactly sure why I chose this book but I have to think it had something to do with a sibling / family addition chart his kindergarten class had in school where I noticed a few days ago that my son had added a male sibling where he does not have one. I had asked him at school how he came to have a brother when he knows its just him and his sister and he merely indicated he had wanted a brother. I told him if anything he could include his female halfsibling as she really does exist. I realized however to include her would require using the term "sister" which in our home we do not use to describe this little girl. I did not say that to him but Iwondered if he would make the connection.

After reading the "Let Me Explain" book which spoke about how the little girl got her genes from her mom and some from the donor I decided to draw out a family tree so my son could see the relationship between himself and others in our extended family. As an aside I have to say that we use the term "donor" in our housewhere there are folks out there that use less clinical words. It is how we started and how the kids know the man whose sperm helped create them. My son also has a problem saying or remembering the word "donor" so occasionally he will say "owner" (how I hear it) which he finds amusing as to him he is only saying "onor" and gets embarrased by his forgetting the "d".

Anyway we drew out the chart including the donor and my children's half sibling as well as her mom (they are a single mommy family). We also included my sister and her family as well as my wife's brother and his family. We also drew out all of the individuals who reside in my children's grandparent's generation and their parents as well. Let's just say the page was getting a little crowded.

While drawing the chart for purposes of showing shared genes I drew the lines to my kids as solid lines from my wife and the donor and a dotted line from me to the kids. My son later drew over this dotted line as a solid line conecting me to him and his sister. I will admit I smiled at that not truly knowing what made him do that or really why. I can say to myself he did it to make me more real but (1) I know I am real so that thought is silly and (2) I have no idea what he was thinking and I should have asked to see what he would say but the moment passed quickly.

When we finished the rough hand sketched chart he asked if he could bring it to school and I paused and stated that we should wait before he does that. He did not push the issue so I was not required to say why or why not I had made that decision which I was happy about as I was not ready to answer it myself despite the fact that some of the other parents already know our story.

All in all an interesting week as I had not been thinking about thisstuff too much lately.

I hope everyone is well and not getting a Summer cold which I nowhave and truly is annoying in 100 degree temps in the NYC subwaysystem.