On the 7th of December I was invited to do a short presentation at the public event on surrogacy and children’s right by ISS at the ISA expert consultation in the Hague.
My name is Stephanie, I am 39 years old and a donor conceived from Belgium. I am also the president of an organization for DC in my country. I am one of the founding members of the Donor Detectives and am also connected to several DC groups around the globe.
Before I start to address some of the issues donor conception but also children through surrogacy get confronted with, I would like to start with a short piece of my personal story. Note that this story is just one out of the towering pile of heartaches of donor conceived across the world.
My mother desperately wanted to have children. Her husband was infertile and they ended up in the private practice of the first Belgian fertility doctor who discovered that a lot of money can be made from the despair of adults longing for a child at least half of their own. In my country donor conception has been officially practiced since the early 50’s. Surrogacy has been practiced since 2003 without a legal framework. Surrogacy is often combined with the use of donor gametes.
My parents got one of the first package deals of the fertility industry: they paid a fixed price for the continuous effort to get my mother pregnant with the sperm of an unknown man. A man who would supposedly resemble my social father so that an illusion could be projected and it would be less awkward for everyone.
My mother needed to take hormones and got inseminated with sperm. In January 1979, my mother gave birth to a set of triplets. My parents got the advice never to tell us the truth. Pretending became a new form of parenting. Nevertheless, I always felt that something didn’t add up in the family where I grew up in.
At the age of 25 we discovered that we were donor conceived. At first I thought it was a bad joke. Firstly: how could my parents, the two adults I trusted the most, deliberately withhold fundamental information and relationships from me and lie? But also, secondly: how could a doctor enable such a kind of practice merely out of financial gain and a bit of fame? Thirdly: how could someone part from his own flesh and blood, abandoning them by giving them away to complete strangers? And finally, how could a government who signed the convention on the rights of children legalize and facilitate all this?
Needless to say, that I went through an identity crisis. For over 25 years I had wrongfully reflected myself to a ‘father’ and a family I didn’t descend from. From a false identity, I went to half of an identity. Instantly I was curious to know who my actual biological father was. It is very strange to realize that there is someone out there with whom I share half of my being, someone who exists because I exist, someone I truly miss having in my life but I am not allowed to know or have him in my life. The same goes for the many (ten to hundreds) halfsiblings we could have all over the world.
We started our search but we were instantly blocked. We weren’t allowed, files were destroyed, many told us we just need to be very grateful to be alive and keep quiet. And for a while we did keep quiet.
But then I got connected with other donor conceived. In the beginning, I could only found some trails of the existence of others. In my country, back in 2012, there was nothing for donor conceived to turn to. So, I started an organization enabling DC to connect, I reached out to parents and donors, but I also did a lot of research on the industry, legislation, lack of regulation, and got connected with independent specialists like professors in ethics, geneticists, lawyers, politicians, …
I participated in several official workgroups trying to accomplish that when the topic of children or the interest of children are being discussed it’s not just any more about what the industry or industry-users would like to alter in the catalogue of possible constructions to provide in their desire of having a child.
Over the years I have spoken to many donor conceived. Although there are differences in nationalities, ages, the family structures we grew up in, whether we always knew or we found out at a later age or the difference in status of the ‘donor’ anonymous, identifiable or known, there are common issues to be detected:
- We share a feeling of fundamental loss
- We experience difficulties in building our identity and relationships
- Physical and psychological health are affected
- We are deliberately deprived from meaningful relationships with our (biological) family
- We are the result of negotiations and a transaction
- Implication upon the children who come out of these constructions are hugely underestimated
Before I end my presentation, I would like to inform you about the Donor Detectives. It’s an organization that was founded by 6 donor conceived. 4 of us come from the Netherlands and 2 of us from Belgium.
We try to help and inform those who want to look for their biological family: donor conceived, donors, legal children of donors, parents, but also adoptees in making it possible in finding or tracing them. All over the world thousands of DC are doing the same: by subscribing to international DNA databanks and building family trees out of their DNA matches they can fill in the missing branches in one’s own family tree.
So far, we could help over 200 DC to find a halfsibling, 48 DC were able to trace their father. The numbers are clean cut, but behind them there are stories of great complexity, disenchanted grief, deeply affected lives …
What strikes me the most is that donor conceived but also children through surrogacy and adoptees must deal with all of this on their now. There is little or no after care for the children, nor is there a check up on our health or well begin. I would also like to point out that those responsible for the situation the children are in, are getting a free pass in accountability. There is a lot of money to be made from of the despair of those longing for a child, but when it comes to cleaning up the mess afterwards that, we leave up to the children.
DNA doesn’t lie and provides us finally with answers. But we are also uncovering the actual lack of morality and ethics of a ‘regulated’ industry. For example: limitations in the amount of DC were ignored, sperm of unhealthy men was used, and some doctors even used their own sperm… these findings also add up to the collateral damage donor conception and surrogacy can cause.
For me and many others it’s soar that our society and industry are investing in expanding the possibilities in baby making, yet refuse to critically evaluate the practice that started to shift ethics and morality at the expense and welfare of children.
If we are really taking the best interests of children in to account we should not be willing to make compromises on behalf of their interests. I really urge to do more independent research and offering help as support to the people that already came out and/or coming out of these constructions: learn from adoptees, donor conceived and existing children through surrogacy before enabling or facilitating the next model in the range of options.
Thank you for your attention.