Wednesday, July 22, 2020

My Take on Telling

When we were kids the word “telling” usually involved tattling and getting someone in trouble. Maybe that is when we all started associating telling with a secret or ratting someone out and disclosing something that should be left unsaid.
Telling in the donor conception world is no less fraught with fear, apprehension, relief and honesty depending on who is doing the telling, who is hearing the telling and of course what is being told.
My own views of telling after all these years is that it represents openness and truth and information that does not belong to me. The question that comes next for me today is that as a dad to two donor conceived children, now teenagers, who am I allowed as their guardian to tell and if so when.
But let’s take a step back. To when this journey began for my family and how my views on telling came to be.
Like many young couples experiencing infertility, especially male factor issues, there is a historical societal push to brush it under the rug for fears of emasculating the husband of his stature etc with the knowledge that no one needs to know and it’s for the benefit of the child and the family that no one know that perhaps donor sperm was used to conceive and create the family.
First off I have never liked sweeping things under rugs or hiding things. Second, I hate the concept of stigmas. When I was a kid I knew a couple of kids that were adopted and they were normal kids but somehow the issue of their adoption was a thing. Back then I did not understand why but I also knew that something was a thing.
Telling for me is the overall understanding that children created via donor conception methods have a full right to know their story and that they be given the opportunity to claim their story and narrative. That as parents we support their wishes and their questions.
We decided early on that our children would know their conception story. Pretty much from birth each child would be told that a donor helped create them. At age two, or thereabouts, we started reading donor conception themed books to my son and as his sister came along soon after she heard the same stories from day one. He had accompanied us to visits to the hospital infertility clinic and knew mommy and daddy were trying to have a brother or sister for him. We did get some evil stares from people bringing a child along sometimes but we had no one to watch him and he being the generally well behaved kid he was at that young age usually won over the room. This without wearing a t-shirt that said don’t hate me I am an IUI baby.
Parents, Siblings, and Extended Family
Parents knew early on that our plan was to try to use my stuff via a testicular biopsy in conjunction with IVF. I don’t recall now if we told them during our attempts that we had chosen a donor as a backup. When my Ex was pregnant with our son both sets of parents certainly knew that a donor had been used. My sister knew but my wife’s brother may not have, at the beginning, as he was somewhat religious in his faith and we were unsure as to his reaction. Eventually he was told.

I felt it was important that the immediate family that the kids would interact with the most know the truth so any side comments etc would not be treated as secrets etc to be hidden and whispered about. As half siblings were found and we started spending family vacation visiting these siblings it made it easier for family to know who we were off seeing and who these folks were coming to NYC especially as my kids refer to their half siblings as their sister and now brothers.
Extended family including aunts, uncles, and cousins we never directly told. I can’t account for whether my parents or her parents told anyone, or whether our siblings told anyone else in the family. They may have but we never specifically told anyone not to tell. We do believe it is our children’s story and if they want to tell people it is their decision to do so.
Doctors, Teachers, and Indian Chiefs
Pediatricians were told and highlights from the donor’s medical profile shared as we filled out the normal paperwork all doctors generate as we have taken the kids from doctor to doctor. Teachers found out on their own as they assigned family based projects and our kids explained that they have half-siblings that live in different homes or when they used medically accurate terms to describe generally what gametes are needed to create a baby. Those were some amusing phone calls after other parents learned from their kids how babies were made. Oops sorry.
You must also understand that we live in NYC; the family configurations you run into on the playgrounds and classrooms vary in every shape, color, and size. My kids from K to 5 had friends who were from mommy and daddy homes, single mommy homes, and two mommy homes. These kids all learned to accept it as normal the different types of families that exist.
Friends and Colleagues
The decision who to tell here was always on a case by case basis. Those they needed to know why we were late to work needed to know. When I had my biopsies I told a few close colleagues that knew what we were dealing with emotionally and so the questions why I was walking with a cane each time would not be a distraction. And as anyone knows, infertility and IVF are tough emotionally. A number of close friends knew. Others learned from press that I did as I became the poster boy for men dealing with MFI who then chose DI / IUI to create our family. One childhood friend’s mom learned by reading of it in the USA Today article she found outside her hotel room. My blog extended the circle as to who knew. The USA Today article lead to members of our Temple to know that had not known.
Our local Rabbi was told as my Ex was going through a conversion to Judaism and we wanted to ensure the children would be considered Jewish or what steps would be needed to consecrate each child as Jewish. In the end my son is currently irreligious and did not become a bar mitzvah, his choice, so that reasoning went out the window. He did have a brith milah and she a baby naming. My daughter also dropped out of Hebrew school before becoming a Bat Mitzvah. I regret these decisions but they were theirs and at the times we were dealing with other issues that took center stage.
I grew up in a mostly secular home but the Shul / Temple was the center of social and cultural life in the town we initially grew up in so it was important for me that the donor be Jewish and that we started the kids out with a Jewish upbringing, My daughter does say Shabbat prayers with me each week on candle sticks that have been in my family and generally continuously lit each week for close to 125 plus years.
Telling involves several factors. Being honest with your child. Being honest with yourself. Deciding who should be told and who does not need to know. When do you bring it up and when do you stop telling reserving those decisions for your child to make giving them the power to decide who knows their story.
The physical act of telling may stop but the knowledge becomes inherent in the base of everything life touches. Not generally present but a pillar in the life that builds upon it. The donor conceived’s life as well as the parents. It’s either a joint foundation when the child is told or separate pillars each not as strong individually when secrets are kept.
I have counseled families and individuals to at a minimum tell their child as early as possible. Beyond that no one else truly needs to know. But in creating an atmosphere where it is not a secret, the child and individual they grow into, in theory, will process at least who they are with a stronger sense of self. Telling allows a freedom for everyone to be honest. There will certainly be more questions, and identity junctures along their path, but telling starts their story with all that is known on the table.

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