An Alternative to Adoption

Even before I knew so much about adoption, when secondary infertility became an obstacle to my husband’s desire to be a father, my OB-GYN said, “there is another way.” Now that I know more about the trauma that adoption causes, than I knew at that time, I will always consider this the best way. Even before we knew about that, my husband and I rejected the idea of adopting children. I do feel that sperm donors are more worrisome because the history of that kind of donation may include many, many half siblings. I have a biological, genetically related, grown daughter and two grandchildren, so having been there and done made accepting the “other” way easier for me personally.

Distance prevents us from having a closer relationship with our donor but my children have met her on more than one occasion. They are aware of her and that she has children, two sons and a daughter, which she has raised. Occasionally, I show them pictures of her and those children, when she shares them at Facebook. She has always been interested in the boys, while being non-intrusive but totally open to any relationship they may want to create with her. They have a private method of contact with her, if they wish to use that, through 23 and Me.

The Guardian today has another family’s story. “They used her eggs to have a baby. Now they’re one big family.” by Ellie Houghtaling, with photographs by Bridget Bennett. The subtitle notes – “Anonymity is meant to protect donors, but taking another path can afford a different sort of security – and new ways to think about how to raise a kid.” We took a similar path, our donor was a stranger we “met” on the internet and had what is called a “known donation”. We have not had exactly the same style of parenting as in this article. We have always been open and transparent with our sons about how they were conceived because they were wanted and not some kind of accident.

It is rare for families to meet the stranger donating eggs to them. In the US, egg and sperm donation is usually a closed process. It is more common for a family to hear about the donor through an agency. With anonymous donation, the couple may receive only basic, non-identifying features about their potential donor – such as their university or their eye color – without ever learning their name or hearing their voice. Most donors go through some testing. In the case of egg donation, hormone injections are utilized over a period of time to procure whatever number of eggs the donor produces. With agency facilitated anonymous donation methods, the donor is never told whether their donation was successful, who the family is, or what any offspring that result look like.

Before our first procedure (she donated again for our second son), we spent time with our donor and her youngest son. We were respectful of what she was doing for us. Both times, we provided her with whatever comforts she suggested would be helpful after her eggs were retrieved and have stayed in contact with her over the years. Our sons are genetically the same – the sperm and egg sources were the same for both. I see our donor and her children reflected in the appearance of our sons. It makes me happy – which might seem strange to some people – but I think it is a reflection of my fondness and appreciation for her. As far as being their mother – the donor has shown a total understanding of the differences in her and my roles. My sons treat me 100% as their mother, which seems natural and understandable regardless.

Becoming a family thanks to that “other way” has proven to be a good choice for my own family. Our sons seem to understand they would not even exist under any other circumstance.

So Many Siblings

There is a difference between sperm and egg donations which are utilized in assisted reproduction to enable a couple to become parents. A man donating sperm can father a lot of genetically related children – which is now becoming apparent to many of the maturing individuals who owe their lives to that process. It is a lot more complicated and involved for the woman who donates her eggs. Generally, she is never going to be involved in the number of offspring that a man donating sperms can theoretically create.

Donor conceived persons do have some concerns in common with adoptees as it relates to their medical family history and cultural genetics and the unknowns that such conceptions entail. Therefore, my blog today is inspired by a story in The Guardian about Chrysta Bilton. Her father was a prolific sperm donor. In her 20s, she discovered that she had dozens, and most likely hundreds, of biological siblings growing up all over the US. That the man she knew only as her dad, the one who struggled with homelessness and drug addiction, was secretly one of the most prolific sperm donors at the California Cryobank.

Chrysta’s story is complex, worth the time to read it, if it interests you. I was a young adult in the 80s and settled down into the married life that is mine late in that decade but I have some sense of what it was like. My life does not resemble Chrysta’s in the least really but there were the unconventional choices that I made as well – to leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother (I was already divorced from her dad) while I tried out driving an 18-wheel truck, which I found I could do. That led to taking off to live without much of a safety net in the marijuana growing region of Humboldt county. We had some bags of dried beans and the guys (I was the only woman and did the cooking and cleaning up afterwards) shot critters for us to eat. We also got some Salmon from the local indigenous people. Those were my wild days.

I do have some understanding of the issues related to donor conception. With the advent of inexpensive DHA testing, something that seemed like it could be kept private within the closest family, is not something that can or should be kept private today. I’m grateful my husband and I have always been open, honest and transparent about our own choices regarding how we became the parents of our two sons.

Chrysta ends her story with this contemplation – What is family? What does it mean to be in someone’s family? What responsibilities do you have to those people? Meeting her 35 new siblings, she realized “something shared between all of us is that we all had a mother who desperately wanted us to exist.” That is a truth, children born by assisted reproduction are not accidents. They were intended. I believe that is an important factor.

In Britain today, donor children born since 2005 have the right to find out the identity of their biological parents when they reach 18. This “removal of anonymity” law came about after studies found that adopted and donor-conceived children benefited emotionally from knowing who their biological parents were, regardless of whether or not they had any contact with them.

As of late 2021, in the US, it is still technically possible to have anonymous donations. There is a Right to Know movement that is seeking to unseal closed adoption records but that has only been accomplished in about half of these 50 United States jurisdictions.

Chrysta’s book about her experiences is titled – A Normal Family. Her book is available in the US at all the usual booksellers.

Uprooted

This kind of discovery is happening more and more often with the advent of inexpensive DNA testing. I belong to a circle of mom’s who all gave birth in a 4 month period of time in 2004. We have pretty much stayed in contact – at least a majority of us. At one point, way back when, our group ended up divided on the common question for those who conceived via Assisted Reproductive Technology over whether we would tell our children the truth or hide it. Some definitely chose that second path, my husband and I did not. I am grateful for that choice.

It’s not as though we’ve ever made this a big issue in our household and I’ve not made it a public issue locally as well (in the early days I received some hints of questions seeking to know). One of the strategies early on was to let our children tell if that was their choice and not make that choice for them. Only recently, have I become more outspoken about our family’s origins because – gee, I will be 68 this coming May and I have two sons, one that is almost 18 and one who will be 21 this February.

There is another strategy that we owe it to other woman who could be deceived by our having given birth at advanced ages that they have all the time in the world – as I believed in my 40s when my husband decided he wanted to be a father after all after 10 years of marriage. He was always glad I had “been there and done that” so no pressure on him to parent, as I do have one daughter who is now soon to be in her 50s and she has gifted me with two grandchildren. Then we learned how low the odds of that actually happening were due to my own advanced age. A nurse practitioner recommended her own fertility doctor saying “you don’t have time to waste.” He is the first one who told us that there was “a way” and that way for us was via egg donation.

We have stayed in contact with our donor since day one. Facebook makes that easier today. The boys have met her in person more than once but distance limits that contact. I do show them pictures from her FB page from time to time. When she tested with 23 and Me, I gifted my husband with a kit, and then when my oldest son turned 18, I gave him one, and rather than wait for the youngest one to turn 18, went ahead and gave him a kit.

Doing this also allowed us to tell our boys, now that they are older, all of the reasons that we chose to do what we did. Also to emphasize that they simply would not exist or be who they are any other way. There is no “if only” things had been different. And that no one could be more of a mother to them than I am and it is clear by their behavior towards me that I am precisely that to them even with this complete knowledge.

While it is decidedly strange to see another woman listed as their mother at 23 and Me after having carried their pregnancies in my womb and breastfeeding each of them for a year, as well as being in their lives 24/7, I do not regret making private message access to her available to them if they so choose.

I understand the yearning for truth about our genetics. Both of my parents were adoptees who died 4 months apart, still basically ignorant of their origins. My mom did try to get her adoption file (a file I now have complete possession of) in the early 1990s. Within a year of my dad’s death, I had identified all 4 of my original grandparents and have contact with some cousins and a couple of surviving aunts.

There are very real and serious issues with donor sperm. It has produced a lot of children with the same genetic paternity and has existed under a protection of privacy. Unlike egg donation which we are aware that our donor went through a painful process as well as a fraught experience with powerful drugs, it is relatively easy and painless to donate sperm, as my own husband did in order to give birth to genetically, biologically related sons (our sons do have the same maternity and paternity and so are 100% siblings). Some egg donors were also promised privacy in the early days of assisted reproduction.

Here is some information about the book, Uprooted, that I have featured today (but which I have not read) –

By his forties, Peter J. Boni was an accomplished CEO, with a specialty in navigating high-tech companies out of hot water. Just before his fiftieth birthday, Peter’s seventy-five-year-old mother unveiled a bombshell: His deceased father was not his biological, genetic father. Peter was conceived in 1945 via an anonymous sperm donor. The emotional upheaval upon learning that he was “misattributed” rekindled traumas long past and fueled his relentless research to find his genealogy. Over two decades, he gained an encyclopedic knowledge of the scientific, legal, and sociological history of reproductive technology as well as its practices, advances, and consequences. Through twenty-first century DNA analysis, Peter finally quenched his thirst for his origin.

​In Uprooted, Peter J. Boni intimately shares his personal odyssey and acquired expertise to spotlight the free market methods of gamete distribution that conceives dozens, sometimes hundreds, of unknowing half-siblings from a single donor. This thought-provoking book reveals the inner workings—and secrets—of the multibillion-dollar fertility industry, resulting in a richly detailed account of an ethical aspect of reproductive science that, until now, has not been so thoroughly explored.

The Audiobook and ebook have been available since January 4 2022. The print book is to be released tomorrow on January 25 2022.

Morally OK but illegal ?

An adoptee’s birth certificate replacement

Has anyone seen the recent AskReddit post where the question was something like “What’s something that’s morally ok, but illegal?” Somebody said showing adoptees their original birth certificates and the comments have made one adoptee livid. Apparently, adoptees are just horrible stalkers, biological parents deserve anonymity, and how dare we upset our adoptive parents.

Here is that adoptee’s response in the comments (with a few added remarks from my own story) –

Sealed adoption records are actually a product of the past when it was considered shameful to be born “illegitimate” aka out of wedlock. Then, it became at the adoptive parents didn’t want contact with the biological parents.

It had NOTHING to do with promised anonymity to the biological parents. At least not in the United States. This is not sperm donation that we’re talking about here. And even in sperm donation they’re moving away from the anonymous donations because people WANT to know who their biological parents are.

Plus, Ancestry DNA exists (and I will add 23 and Me – both have been helpful for me to learn my true genetic biological origins).

The adoptee writes that “I guess I’m one of those horrible adoptees that you all hate because I found my birth mother 7 years ago and we have a relationship still. She said she always wondered if I was ok. And my full brother found me via Ancestry DNA.

In my own story, my mom’s half-sibling always hoped she would turn up. Sadly it never happened. My dad’s birth father (his mother was unwed) is now known to me thanks to 23 and Me and a long chain of coincidental events.

The adoptee goes on to write – F**k closed records. There are senior citizens out there whose biological parents have been dead for a while and they still can’t legally access their records or original birth certificate. It makes no f**cking sense.

I also ran up against continued obstacles in the states of Virginia, Arizona and California.

The adoptee concludes – Adoptees should not have to be stuck with this additional life-long burden to keep everyone else comfortable. We didn’t ask to be born. The adults in the situation need to understand that if you produce a child or adopt a child, then they might want to know their biological family. That’s just the way it is. Even with records being closed. It’s not right to ask us to be skeletons in the closet.

A Better Way ?

Will the business of buying and selling human beings
continue to be an option for those who cannot conceive children ?
~ The Baby Scoop Era

I really don’t expect it to end anytime soon.  Having learned all that I have learned over the last year plus, I do not think that adoption is generally a good way to go.  There are wounds inflicted on mother, child and even the adoptive parents.

Thankfully, medical science has progressed to the point that many couples who were previously unable to conceive are able to now with assistance.  Single women who’ve been unable to find a partner to parent with them can still have children and raise them well.

Medical assistance comes in many forms and sometimes involves more than two people in the genetics and biology of a child.  This is the real world we live in today.

With assisted reproduction techniques, babies grow inside their mother and have all of the advantages of natural conception.  Therefore, there are no wounds, just a more complicated genetics.

With inexpensive DNA testing, those people who do chose to conceive a child in this manner would do well not to hide it from the child who comes into existence in this manner.  Discovering such a reality unexpectedly can wound almost as much as separating a child from its mother can.