Thursday, March 3, 2016
Friday, July 3, 2015
Secrets and lies: why donor-conceived children need to know their origins
In all Australian states and territories, laws are now in place to ensure that when children born via donor conception turn 18, they have a right to access information about the identity of their donor. However, research suggests that most heterosexual parents who conceive via donor conception never tell their children.
Donor insemination became widely available in the 1980s with the emergence of sperm freezing technology. However, in these early days few jurisdictions had clear regulatory frameworks around donor conception and record keeping was often inconsistent.
The lack of regulation allowed for, and was facilitated by, a culture of shame and secrecy around infertility and donor insemination. It was common for medical practitioners to advise parents not to tell their children they were donor conceived. The prevailing wisdom was that anonymity and secrecy was better for children, families and donors.
Victoria was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to introduce laws banning anonymous gamete (sperm, eggs and embryos) donation and requiring donors to consent to the release of identifying information to donor recipients aged 18 or over. These laws came into effect in 1988.
By 2005, anonymous donation was prohibited nationwide. However, many donor-conceived children still struggle to access information about their donor, due to laws not being retrospective in many states, or because records have been destroyed.
When Victorian donor-conceived children born after the introduction of the law were due to turn 18, the Victorian Infertility Treatment Authority in 2006 ran a campaign entitled “Time to Tell”. This encouraged families to talk to their children about being donor conceived.
As the use of new reproductive technologies had become more common, stigma around this had decreased. This brought concerns about the rights of donor-conceived children to the forefront. The new laws supported the rights of children to access information about their donor, but this did not necessarily support parents to tell their children they were donor-conceived.
However, studies had begun to reveal potential problems that arose from not telling children. While in general, people who are donor-conceived are not disadvantaged in terms of well-being or connectedness to their family, problems can occur when they learn of the circumstances of their conception later in life.
When this happens, people may feel betrayed by their parents, leading to resentment, confusion and distress. This may be particularly destructive if a person inadvertently discovers they are donor-conceived, rather than being told by their parents.
Alongside this, there is an emerging body of research which shows that telling children they are donor conceived does not damage their well-being, particularly if they then have the option to learn more about their donor.
These days, clinical guidelines generally suggest doctors and counsellors encourage parents to tell children about their donor conception.
Despite this, most heterosexual couples who conceive children using donor sperm do not tell their children. In Australian studies, fewer than 35% of couples surveyed had told their children they were donor conceived. This is consistent with overseas research, which suggests the majority of parents never tell their children.
There are multiple reasons why parents choose not to tell their children they were donor conceived. Some are concerned their child will feel different or “not normal”. For others, the pain of infertility is raw and avoiding the issue is emotionally easier.
Some parents intend to tell but never find the right time or words to do this. But a common concern is that children will no longer see their “non-genetic” parent as their real parent.
Biological relatedness is central to idealised Western notions of family and kinship, even though the reality of contemporary family life is much more complex than this. Step and blended families, families created through adoption or fostering, same-sex parented families and networks of close friends all involve non-biological family relationships. Many children are raised by, and form strong parental attachments with, adults to whom they are not genetically related.
This is not to say that biology is irrelevant. Many people’s sense of place in the world is connected to their biological heritage. Donor-conceived people often feel that knowing about their donor is an important part of forming and understanding their identity. But biology in itself does not create family relationships.
The problem with secrecy around donor conception is that it contributes to the notion that biology is more important than lived family ties. It implies that a child having a genetic link to someone else undermines the importance of those parents who have raised that child.
By contrast, openness about donor-conception allows parents to emphasise the strength of their family connection and includes their children in the creation of the family narrative.
Laws that ensure donor-conceived people have access to identifying information about donors encourages greater openness around donor conception; although some people argue the laws need to go further, mandating parents to tell their children.
The complexity of this issue points to a continued need for resources to support families to talk to their children about donor conception.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
A central argument made against same-sex marriage is that children born into these marriages will be disadvantaged: they will grow up with inappropriate gender role modelling, be bullied at school and suffer poorer emotional well-being than their peers.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
By Jennifer Power, La Trobe University
This piece was originally published on The Conversation website.
In the 2005 film Transamerica, Felicity Huffman’s character, Bree, is set to begin gender reassignment surgery when she receives a phone call from a teenage boy looking for his father, Stanley, the man Bree used to be. Bree’s psychiatrist refuses to sign off on her surgery until she resolves her feelings about her unexpected “fatherhood”.
This scenario is primarily a set up for a quirky road trip as Bree sets off to meet her son. But it also reveals a lot about the starkly gendered terms around which parenthood is constructed: How will Bree feel about being both a woman and a father? Is there not an inherent contradiction in these two identities?
Parents who are transgender tend to confront people’s ideas about the possibilities of parenthood. In 2008, American transgender man Thomas Beatie went public about being the first legally recognised man to give birth to a child. The media was aghast with the idea of a pregnant man.
They debated whether he should be seen as male or female, the concept of a transgendered man seemingly difficult to accept. Commentary implied that Thomas Beatie gave away his right to claim a masculine identity when he chose to use his uterus.
As many authors have pointed out, gender tends to be understood in binary terms. You are either a man or a woman, a mother or a father – nothing in between. Transgender people are often understood as people who have “swapped” their gender – a man becomes a woman or vice versa. There can be pressure on transgender people to occupy hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine character roles to “prove” themselves as the opposite gender.
But in reality, transgender identity is often more about not fitting conventional gender patterns. Some people embrace the identity of “gender-queer” to reflect that it is about queering gender, not swapping gender. In this sense, a transgender man who has a child is not always going to see himself as a “mother” who has decided to become a “father”. He may be a mother who does not identify as a woman.
But gender binaries play out strongly in public dialogue around parenthood. Recently, Senator Ron Boswell lamented in the Australian Parliament that the problem with gay marriage was that there is no-one to take a male child fishing, or to the football, in lesbian-parented families. While most people now roll their eyes at such ludicrous gender stereotypes (and women have been known to go fishing), our culture still tends to be highly sensitive to gender norms when it comes to babies.
Women are often vehemently chastised for transgressions in pregnancy or early motherhood: returning to work soon after childbirth, prioritising work over childrearing or choosing not to breastfeed. It is on this level that a transgender man having a baby challenges deeply felt notions about the “naturalness” of motherhood.
Trevor MacDonald is a transgender man in same-sex relationship. By conventional standards Trevor McDonald is a “mother” — both biologically and socially. He gave birth to his baby, he stays at home as primary carer and he breastfeeds. But Trevor is a man and a father.
As a breastfeeding advocate, Trevor has publicly shared touching stories of support from strangers, such as the women who congratulate him for giving breastfeeding a go. But he also speaks about the criticism he has copped when feeding in public. On an airplane a woman felt compelled to publicly shame him, telling him his child needs a “real” breast. A real breast is presumably one attached to a female body, not Trevor’s body, irrespective of whether or not that breast produces milk.
The vitriol is hard to comprehend. Does it matter if Trevor is a man or a woman? He is caring for his child. But people get confused about how to comprehend a parent who might be both (or neither) mother or father — or whose gender status they can’t pinpoint.
As Trevor McDonald has experienced, often when people get confused they get angry. In the same way that so many women face criticism for their choices about motherhood, the “best interests of the child” can become a permission slip to attack an individual for their identity or decisions rather than to engage in any meaningful reflection on why traversing gender boundaries is so threatening.
This is the second part of our short series on motherhood. Click on the links below for other articles in the series:
Part one: A womb of her own: risking uterus transplant for pregnancy
Jennifer Power receives funding from the Australian Research Council, VicHealth, Relationships Australia and ACON and in kind support from Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria and the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities.
This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Work, Love, Play study, we have developed a set of Practice Guidelines for health and welfare professionals who might be working with same-sex attracted parents and their families.
I am always a bit cynical about Guidelines. Do they really change much? We all know most end up collecting dust.
But the central aim of these Guidelines was to get people to think about their own practice and whether what they currently do is inclusive or inadvertently exclusive of LGBT couples and families. So, hopefully, even if someone only browses these Guidelines once before putting them on the shelf that will be enough to spark some sort of reflection.
In the development of these Guidelines we spoke to same-sex attracted parents and to service providers (some of whom worked a lot with same-sex couples and some of whom had very little experience). The service providers all expressed an interest in resources that could help them feel more comfortable and confident working with same-sex couples—many said they felt ‘naive’ when it came to same-sex parented families. They were interested in ways in which same-sex couples created their families and family life, but were worried that they would ask the wrong questions or use the wrong words. So our Guidelines are partly educative (what are some myths about same-sex attracted parents? what do same-sex couples value when using services?) and partly instructive (what are some ‘door opening questions’ that will invite people to tell you about their family?).
These Guidelines are free and I am happy to send copies out to parents or to organisations. Just email or call me on 03 9385 5131 (Australian number) for more information or to place an order.
The Bouverie Centre also conducts training for health and welfare services on working with same-sex parented families. If you are interested in more information about this just email or call.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Thursday, March 29, 2012
|Image of JoEllen Marsh and Jeffrey Harrison |
courtesy of Redbird Media and Met Film
Donor Unknown begins with the story of JoEllen Marsh, a 20 year old from Pennsylvania who was raised by two mothers. JoEllen was conceived in the 1980s via donor sperm from the Californian Cryobank.
Having always been curious about her donor, she signs up to an online registry that connects donor-conceived children using the code she has for her donor, Donor 150. After some time, a half sister from New York, Danielle Pagano, makes contact with JoEllen and they begin communication and arrange to meet. At some point (it is not explained how) the New York Times picks up on this meeting and, in 2005, publishes a front page piece about donor siblings featuring the meeting of JoEllen and Danielle: Hello, I am your sister. Our father is donor 150.
The film then cuts to a man living a quiet, hippy-ish existence with his four dogs and a pigeon in a broken-down trailer at the shores of Venice Beach, California. Meet Donor 150. Jeffrey Harrison relates the story of having come across the New York Times article and being stunned to realise he was the donor for these girls. The chances that this man had several donor children out there were high: he had been a near professional sperm donor for several years in the 1980s, donating up to three or four times a week. Every week!