Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Where did I really come from?

When my son was quite new I was fortunate enough to find a ‘baby group’ for lesbian and gay parents.  The group was just for little kids and babies who weren’t quite old enough for the rough and tumble of playgroup. Every week I’d wrap my baby in his ‘hug-a-bub’ sling and trundle down on the bus to baby group. It was fun!

There were no dads in the group at this stage and the mums would talk about all sorts of things that are probably pretty  common topics in mothers’ groups – sleep, pooh, milk, sleep, boobs, settling, sleep. But one topic seemed to recur in a way that I think is probably unique to a lesbian mothers' group. How did you conceive your baby?

Some people had hilarious tales of surreal moments exchanging “The Jar” with a known donor. Others had war stories of miscarriages and IVF cycles that spanned years. Either way it was endlessly intriguing to hear about people’s different experiences. (Not surprisingly the mothers in my ‘straight’ mothers’ group found it similarly intriguing to hear how my son was conceived when the topic came up).

But there were a few women in the lesbian mothers’ group who were very quiet about their childrens'  ‘conception’ stories, feeling the topic was private. One woman explained that she wanted to protect her older child – who was old enough to retell the story to her friends but perhaps not old enough to understand the implications of this – from any unnecessary attention gained from being ‘different’ to the other kids.

This was an interesting point and one that led me to bite my tongue on my own story for a while. But it also led me to wonder how many kids of heterosexual parents have a conception story? Do I have a conception story?

When I was born, my sister was only 18-months old. So, given my parent’s had a young baby at the time, I imagine my conception story isn’t particularly wild. (But honestly … too much information!!) My family like to joke that my sister was conceived in the back of the Kombi Van while my parents were travelling. We have no conclusive evidence to support this, but it certainly counts as a possible conception story. Still, the details of how this conception actually took place are not part of the story. They linger in the background of course. Everyone *knows* what went on in the Kombi Van. But clearly this sort of detail is not the stuff of family legends.

But for kids who weren’t conceived through sex, whether or not they are kids of LGBT parents, their ‘conception’ story is not just about where it happened so much as how the sperm managed to meet the egg in the first place. This makes it a whole lot more complicated.

How do you tell your kids this story? Do you tell them at all? And, if you do, what exactly do you tell them?

I did a quick “Google” search on this topic and surprisingly found a lot. It is a topic that parents with children born through IVF have been grappling with for a number of years now. While I couldn’t find any resources for people who had used home insemination with a known donor (I am sure they are out there, I just didn’t look hard enough), there was plenty of information around for people who had used donor insemination through a clinic. Following are a few interesting resources:
The organisation ICSI, International Consumer Support for Infertility, has a brochure on their website which details all sorts of resources for parents and their kids who have been conceived through IVF. The list of kids’ books they recommend sounds pretty cute with titles like, “I’m a Little Frostie” and “Where did I really come from”.

The Donor Conception Network also has some interesting materials on their website, including the transcript of a focus group discussion that they held with young people who had been conceived through donor conception. In this interview they ask the kids what language they think parents should use to tell their kids about how they were conceived. Seventeen year old Sam says, “I just think that they should just use big, science words as early as possible just start, just have them grow up with the scientific terms from an early age, even if they don't understand them at first, then they will always be used to them.”

My very favourite resource, however, is a comic-style book written by Melbourne based artist and graphic novelist, Kath D. "Here I am" tells the story of how Rowie’s mums meet and make their family. Kath has the full comic on her website and you can also order a hardcopy for AUD$5 plus postage. All the pictures in this post are from "Here I am".

I’d love to hear more from people about their thoughts on this issue or how they told their kids.

Today is the 5th Annual Blogging for LGBT Families Day. What a great idea! I love a good blog. The best ones, I find, seem to take you on a bit of a journey through argument and opinion into easygoing chit chat followed by a quick tour of the author’s family album. If you are up for a good read, you can find a list of all contributors to this Blogging Day here.


  1. My oldest is 3 so we haven't talked about conception yet. We're just getting to the part where he's noticing that some kids have daddies. Glad I found your blog through the Blogging for LGBT Families Day!

  2. This is such an important topic, Jen. In the parenting book i argued that we really do need to develop and disseminate our own conception narratives (as people already have been doing on the websites as you note). I am really interested at the moment in getting together resources for talking about the 'birds and the bees' for our children in non-normative ways (i cant find *any* books for kids that do this). And of course, i am always interested in the ways that foster carers tell their own conception narratives of the start of their foster family :)

  3. Yes I agree it's an important topic and also very interesting to hear about the different stories people's tell their kids (or don't tell their kids). I'll let you know if I come across any more resources :)