I belong to a group that almost 20 years ago divided into a “tell/don’t tell” perspective. I often wonder how that has worked out for the don’t tell group. And if it has served, at what point might their offspring do a inexpensive DNA test and thereby learn the truth – that they were lied to their entire childhood. I’m glad we never thought to go in that direction.
My blog today is inspired by an article in Psychology Today LINK> Secrecy v. Privacy in Donor Conception Families, subtitled Walking the fine line between privacy and secrecy is inherent in donor families. Some of the differences – Privacy is the choice to not be seen, while secrecy is based in fear, shame, or embarrassment. Privacy involves setting comfortable and healthy boundaries. Carrying a family secret is a heavy burden. Donor families based in honesty and transparency have more meaningful and deep relationships.
In that group I mentioned, we each recognized a right to privacy for each other and honoring their right to privacy demonstrated our respect for their choice and was a foundation for trust among us. Withholding information for fear of the consequences implies a negative kind of secrecy. Secrets require a lot of emotional energy and are a heavy burden to carry. Secrecy undermines trust and is therefore harmful within relationships. Privacy, which includes creating healthy boundaries is generally beneficial. Learning when and how to create boundaries is a good lesson to teach one’s children, especially in this age where information seems to flow so readily and once out there, can’t be taken back.
The stigma of infertility is still very present in society and is often the reason why a couple may not want to be open about how they were able to conceive their children. Yet there is also a sense of social responsibility that has mattered to me from the beginning. Women are generally NOT fertile beyond a certain expiration date. When someone conceives at such an advanced age as I did (46 and 49), that could give the wrong impression to another younger woman that they have more time in which to begin their family desire fulfillment than they probably do. There are always exceptions to anything age related but that is a general rule. Much harder to conceive after the age of 40. I conceived very easily in my 20s.
Many children not told the truth about their origin – whether it was adoption, a donor facilitated conception or an illicit affair – still feel that there was something being withheld from them. When they discover the truth, they often feel anger. Even with the more modern openness, such origin stories are still not the norm. Many who are aware of their status may have little opportunity to talk about it to others who understand. Some may not have the language to speak about their experience.
I have given my children the gift of 23 and Me testing and accounts. Both their egg donor and their genetic father are there. This has led to questions from relatives of the donor to one of my sons. My advice to him as tell them to ask their donor about whatever they are curious about. When one donates genetic material, they must be aware that questions may arise in the future. It is only natural. Still, it was my perspective it is up to her as to what or how much she wishes to tell one of HER own relations about the circumstances. Having the 23 and Me channel gives my sons a method of privately communicating with their donor. I also frequently show them photos of her and her other children, so they are more aware of these persons with which they are genetically related. Distance prevents closer, in person relationships at this time, though they have met her in person more than once. I have an interestingly close, psychic and emotionally connected, relationship with my sons. My belief is that it comes from a combination of carrying them in my womb and breastfeeding them for over a year plus being in their lives pretty much 24/7 for most of their childhood (though there have been brief absences for valid reasons).