Conception Misconceptions

I really don’t want to be writing about sperm
. Some won’t stop, however, and so I find myself once
again turning to matters seminal. Elizabeth Marquardt, of the
Institute for American Values, has her say in
The Times
about children conceived by anonymous donors. She
claims “children today are being raised in an era of increasingly
flexible definitions of parenthood, definitions that often serve
the interests of adults without regard for children.” She has
spoken, she says, with donor-conceived children who are unhappy at
having been told their origins don’t matter and “they are silly and
deluded for thinking that some guy who went into a little room with
a dirty magazine holds a key to their identity.”

Shockingly, I find myself agreeing with her—to a point.
Origins do matter, and knowing something about
one’s donor can be important; not necessarily a key to one’s
entire identity, as Marquardt implies, but a satisfying
piece of the puzzle. One could say much the same about adoptive
children seeking their biological parents. Some of the strongest
champions of LGBT families, including Louise Sloan, single mom and
author of Knock
Yourself Up
, and Abigail Garner, daughter of gay dads and
author of
Families Like Mine

, would agree.
Garner says
, for example, in response to a reader question:

It is perfectly normal for a five year old to be
curious about where she came from. Her peers are equally as
curious. . . .

Avoiding this will not make it any less complicated. Be open with
her now, or face even worse misunderstandings about her biological
father in the future. And if at all possible, help your daughter
connect with other children who were created via alternative
insemination. (Family
[now Family Equality] and COLAGE are great places to start in
search of a group near you.) Helping your daughter understand that
she is not the “only one” could make a big difference in how
she feels about herself and her family.

Marquardt goes too far, however, when she bemoans children who
“lose the ability to grow up with their own mom and dad, whether
it’s due to donor conception, or parental abandonment, or
divorce.” News flash: Donor-conceived children do grow up
with their own moms and dads, or moms and/or dads, or mom or dad .
. . whatever the configuration of the parent(s) that changed their
poopy diapers, sat through the 6487th viewing of Shrek
, taught them how to walk, talk, ride bikes, play ball, say
“please” and “thank you” and generally get on in the world.

Parents, LGBT or not, who use donor sperm or eggs are not denying
children the right to grow up with their “real” parents. They are
instead bringing them into homes where they are wanted and loved by
parents as real as they get. Biology is not in this case destiny.
If the parents are smart, however, they will realize that biology
does instill curiosity, and allow children to learn about
their genetic origins to the extent possible, given the information
available and applicable laws. As two of the women in The
article point out, families who are open with children
about their roots are less likely to engender resentment than those
who treat it as a secret. Based on the people with whom
and others have spoken, moreover, donor-conceived
children are not trying to replace the parents with whom they grew
up, but simply trying to complete the picture of who they are.

One of the women in The Times asserts: “There has never
been a question about who my father is: a father is someone who
loves and raises you. I have always known that ‘daddy’ means
love and not sperm.” What, then, does “donor” mean? More than a
specimen in a cup, but less than a parent. Known donors involved in
their children’s lives may of course blur the lines even more.
Because of this evolving and variable definition, we as a
label-loving society are still struggling to
fit donors into our view of what makes a family
. Marquardt
views them as the “real” parents along with whomever provided the
complementary chromasomes. Some parents who use donors, on the
other hand, view them as nothing more than numbers in a catalog.
Our children, clever souls, sense a truth somewhere in between.

Perhaps the answer lies in the definition of family as well as
donor. One speaks of nuclear family, extended family, distant
relatives, step-family, and friends whom one considers family,
among other permutations. Why not add donors to the picture as
well, however close or distant we, and our children, want to place
them? Such flexibility is a strength, not, as Marquardt believes, a
weakness. It is not a “redefinition” of family, but rather an
extension of it. Children themselves, from the moment of birth or
adoption, extend the definition of who is in their families. New
spouses (legal or otherwise) do, too. Family is by its very nature
an elastic concept. Stretch it a little further. It won’t break,
and our children will benefit.

(Crossposted at Mombian.)