A couple of weeks ago the president of our organization went to Italy to give a presentation. Her being there generated some interviews in the Italian press.
One of the interviews she gave was for Avvenire, a newspaper of Catholic Bishop Conference of Italy (CEI).
1) What’s your story?
My name is Stephanie, I am 36 years old and a donor conceived from Belgium. My story starts with two persons: my mother and father. After 8 years of trying to start a family my father was eventually diagnosed with infertility. My mother desperately wanted to have children and persuaded him to see a specialist. This doctor suggested a ‘fertility treatment’ with the sperm of a man that resembled my father. They paid a lot of money, signed a document, my mother got hormones and they were told that if the treatment would lead to the conception of a child that they should never tell the truth. I am an ‘endproduct’ of the first official sperm bank in Belgium.
My mother was inseminated in the spring of 1978 and in January 1979 I was born. But I wasn’t alone: a brother and a sister joined me. I am a part of a triplet. We often cynically joke they got 3 for the price of one.
3 years later my parents naturally conceived a child of their own: my little brother.
For my father it was a shock, because he never thought it was possible to have a biological child of his own. He felt betrayed by my mother and the doctor.
I always experienced a distance between my father and myself. Somehow I could not connect with him. As child you long for the acknowledgement of your parents, you want to be loved, cherished and accepted, but for whatever reason we shared very little common grounds: we didn’t resemble, we had different interests. He didn’t grasp my being, my sense of humor. The love I felt for him however was unconditional.
As a child you don’t have the tendency to question the reality that is presented by your parents. You depend on them and you accept everything even to a level of obedience. When you are a child you are often told by your parents that you are not supposed to lie, so you don’t expect them to deliberately lie or keep information from you.
I did not question the ancestry that was presented.
2) How did you know the truth about your conception? What was your reaction and your siblings’ reaction?
We uncovered the truth when we were 25. My triplet brother was told by his girlfriend because an aunt had shared ‘the secret’ with her. My brother immediately decided to tell us because we all had suffered from the unexplained distance we had experienced through our childhood. When we were young, we thought that we were not good, smart or kind enough to deserve his love. We always felt like there was something wrong with us. It affected our self-esteem but also our relationships.
When my brother told us the truth at first I really thought it was a joke. But then it sank in and I started to realize that I had falsely identified myself biologically with a man who wasn’t my biological father. It was a lot to take in and it caused an identity crisis for my sister and me. It meant rebuilding our identity, realizing we were missing a very big part.
My triplet brother was relieved that he was not biologically connected with our father.
I can remember clearly that my little brother (he was 22 at the time) ran away from the table and hid himself in the toilet room. My sister and I went after him. We found him crying on the ground. He told us that everything had changed: that we were no longer siblings anymore.
My sister and I also started to cry and told him that he would always stay a whole brother to us. And that being from different biological fathers didn’t mean that we weren’t brother and sisters anymore. Our bound is due to love and not to 100% shared genetics. We reassured him that our relationship would stay the same and we always would be there for one another.
3) What does it mean to be a donor-conceived child? How do you feel?
Being a donor conceived means to me that I was created on purpose by an industry that offered ‘a solution’ for an infertile couple to start a family. I feel an injustice because vital information is kept from me. Not only am I missing an important (equal) part of my ancestry, my being, because others decided for me what I can and cannot know about myself. Realizing that there is an actual file that contains the information I need to feel complete, but I am legally not granted to look into makes it all absurd. My identity is a state secret.
I also feel like a product, because I know that it is possible that 100 to 300 hundred siblings were potentially created with the sperm of that man, but I also cannot know or trace them.
I become angry every time I sit in a doctors office where I have to explain that I only know the half of my medical background because others deprive me from it. I have two children: I worry for their wellbeing and am aware of the possibility that later in life there is a chance that they meet up with children of my half siblings maybe fall in love, have children through incest, …
I am also angry because politicians remain blind for the consequences of an industry that sells and creates human beings through donor conception and surrogacy.
We have dehumanized human life from the moment we started to commercialize it. I don’t want my children growing up in a world where there is a state of mind that it is ok or normal that children are being produced at their expences.
It is ridiculous that our society has created a system that in the so-called name of injustice of not being able to procreate with your own genetic material, we force an even bigger injustice upon on the children that are being produced. Children, human beings who can and will struggle with the fact they are forced to grow up without access to their ancestry, identity and biological family.
Did you know that there are more ways to track down the origins of a packet of meat than there is for a human being who was deliberately created in a lab, by insemination or through surrogacy? Apparently our society values food more than we do our children.
4) Is it for your personal experience that you founded your association, Donorkinderen?
It is indeed true that my personal experience led to the foundation of my association Donorkinderen VZW. At first I just wanted to create a safe platform for donor conceived to connect. Back in 2012 there was nowhere for donor conceived, in my country Belgium, to go to. The more people I met, the more I realized that we shared the same issues.
It is strange to meet people you have never met, with a different background, from different family structures, whether they knew all their life or found out at a later stage that they are donor conceived: we suffer the same.
5) Discovering the truth about your conception had an impact on your relationship with your parents?
Of course it had an impact. When you find out at a later age, there are two things:
- An identity crisis because you have reflected yourself biologically to a person that is not your biological parent. It is rebuilding your identity from the start.It is looking in the mirror and not being able to identify yourself to the fullest. The first time I looked at myself, after the truth was announced, it was as if I was looking at a stranger. Of course I can pinpoint some aspects of my being to my mother and her family members, but there is a gap… and it is a very big one.
- When I found out it also meant that I realized that my parents had lied. It meant a breach in trust. The two persons in life that should be complete honest with you, but haven’t been honest about an important part of information about/of myself. Most little children have the natural tendency to go up to their parents (in a hetero sexual couple) and ask them at an early age: what do I have from you? When you decide – as a parent – not to tell the truth, you start to lie. It starts with a little lie that in time is covered by even bigger lies.
After I found out I had a serious talk with my parents. My mother justified herself by stating that she only had followed the advice of the doctor and that she did not think about it. She thought we would never have issues with being lied to or the fact that we were donor conceived. (She now regrets the decision she made back then, because now she understands the implications and suffering we are going through)
My father said to me that he was relieved that we now knew so that he wasn’t obliged to fake his relationship with us anymore. He told me that he could not accept us completely because we weren’t biologically his. For him we were the constant reminder of his infertility. After this conversation he banned me, my sister and brother (the triplets) from his life. Photos were taken down, for him it was like we never existed.
Of course it did hurt. But I am grown up now. In time I processed it. I have a life of my own now where I have left the past for what it is, trying to be a good person and the best parent I can be for my children.
I know of fathers and mothers where the non-genetic bound didn’t affect the love they felt for their children. I hope that everyone offers their children the love and respect they deserve.
6) When it comes to these issues – in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination – people talk about the right of being a parent, but no one talk about the child’s rights. Why?
Because everything starts with the desire of having a child or wanting to start a family. Without the desire there would be no child. But the right to a child or becoming a parent is a self-proclaimed right. There is not such thing as a right to a child. In adoption we speak of the right of the child to have parents that provides for him/her.
The right to a child has become an overruling argument that is often put on the table in the debate regarding legalizing donor conception treatments or even surrogacy. But nobody succeeded in explaining why the fact that not being able to procreate, due to infertility, same sex couples, singles, missing a womb, can ever justify the fact that we are globally dehumanizing the children that are being created to fulfill a personal need or desire. We ignore the tendencies, the risks, the scale, the abuse, the inevitable consequences, …
The fertility industry focuses on short-term results: clients, success pregnancies rates, advertising, huge turnovers, best sperm, eggs, embryo’s. They are not interested in the implications on the children or the families. They refuse to take any responsibility whatsoever stating they are only offering what their customers want.
But after the pregnancy there is a child, a human being, that grows up and is forced to endure the inevitable implications by the way and structures it was created.
I am not of the opinion that every one is entitled to have a child. You can’t ever justify a policy where there is a violation of human rights of a human that is being deliberately inflicted, purely out of a personal desire of wanting a child.
The self proclaimed right of wanting a child has put the interests of that very own child out of the equation. Donor conceived do suffer from the fact that they are obliged to live with a gap in their identity, missing a big chunk of their ancestry. We have to endure the direct consequences of choices that adults made and this throughout our whole lives.
7) Now that you are a mother, can you understand your parents’ choice, or do you feel that the protection of the child it’s much more important?
I can empathize with the desire of becoming a parent or wanting a child. But as stated earlier: if there is a legal policy that offers adults the possibility of becoming a parent, that policy or government should include the rights of the children too.
A policy should always start from the best interest of the children. If not, we should not allow these kinds of practices, because you cannot have a policy that goes at the expenses of those interests. The children are affected the most by the way they were created.
8) Techniques like in vitro fertilization led to practices like surrogacy, which is a much debated issue. And again, when it comes to surrogacy, the supporters stand for the rights of being a parent, while the detractors stand against the exploitation of women’s bodies. Very rarely someone puts the child, his rights and the possible consequences into the equation. What do you think about it?
I have got big issues with surrogacy, but also with donor conception. I have done a lot of research and for me surrogacy is the next frontier to be exploited so that extra possibilities can be offered to a group of adults that feel discriminated because nature didn’t grant procreational organs or material. Since donor conception this society only focuses on bending even more legal, ethical and natural values. You don’t lift one feeling of discrimination by delibetarly creating another one.
In may 2015 a surrogacy fair was held in Brussels for European gays. Of course I went to listen and see what was presented. It was gob smacking: a pure justification of fulfilling a personal need with no mentioning on what the implications were for the children. At the fair we received an excel sheet with potential cost on eggs, lawyers, treatment, surrogacy fee, … I left the building very upset and sad.
This society shifted when it reduced its children or human life to something that can be ordered and bought online, depriving them from access and contact with their biological parents, siblings, and family. It is intentionally and deliberately cutting off labels or adjusting them, so that reality can be bent.
At the conference only ‘once upon a time’-selling propositions stories were told. There were no adult donor offspring, only the cute 3-years old that looked as like the flyers that were being handed out.
Nowadays the fertility industry projects upon society the image that is ok to perceive children or parenthood as a life style … a commodity to spark up your life. There are already cases of parents/customers who rejected their responsibility when the child didn’t live up to the expectations or contract agreement like baby Gammy or the white lesbian couple in America who went to court when they got a black child instead of the white one they ordered.
9) Lastly , if you’ll ever be able to meet your biological father, what would it be your first question? Have you ever thought about it?
I would love to meet my biological father. I want to see his face and talk to him. I want to reflect myself in him and find out what we do have in common.
I think my first question would be: ‘is this situation as awkward as it is for me?’ It will be strange to meet someone that I am related to for the half of my being, but I was never allowed to know or to build a meaningful relationship with. My sperm donor/biological father probably was told that he was helping some indented parents to have a child. I suspect that by now he has realized that his so called ‘gift’ led to the existence and being of a human. For him as well it must be strange that there are people out there from whom he, and if he ever started a family of his own, is the biological father of.
I would tell him that I have missed him, even though it sounds strange because I have never met him before. I really do miss him, he is a part of me, and a person I will always look for. I will find some peace because then I will know who he is so I can stop searching for him.
You know, it is absurd that our society deliberately creates people that have to wonder and go to huge lengths to try and find their biological parents or siblings. We know the stories and suffering from those who were torn apart from eachother. That’s way this donor conception and surrogacy is wrong, and almost absurd: we intentionally inflict the same suffering on people before they are even born. Where is the sense, logic or love in that?