We’ve all seen the children’s book “Are you my Mother?” (P.D. Eastman, 1960) and it is a perennial favorite among children. But I am using this and inspired by recent films to open a discussion of the issue of children wanting to know who their parents are. Two recent movies have me thinking about it- in each the issue of sperm donor parentage is focused on. While I have not dealt with someone becoming re-united with a “donor” , I have many times had cases where an adult or child is seeking their birth parent, or information, or connection and I don’t think the issues are any different. It is a longing to know. A longing to connect. A natural curiosity.
The theme is always the same: it is very human to want to know your parents and your beginnings. It is also common for this search and longing to be a disruptive or at the very least an unsettling process within a family. It is not an individual process. There is the subsequent process of how to introduce the person or information into the family. Even when there is no real life re-unification or meeting, children seeking parents find out things that may radically change their internal story of who they are or who they think they will become. The family that raised them is also often unsettled, threatened, resistant, ambivalent, confused… the list goes on and on. Not to say that this is always a negative process. In several cases I have been involved with, the outcomes were positive overall- but absolutely still very life-changing and unsettling.
When movies focus on an issue, I begin to wonder what societal trends or timing lead to that. Art does imitate life. Maybe we are just now at the point where children conceived with sperm donation are reaching the age of maturity and young adulthood and can seek their parentage. Sperm donation is also more a part of our media-saturated lives where we see news, shows, comedy, and drama about so many topics that only a few years ago would never have been mentioned out loud. Life has been changing at the cyber-speed and I don’t think we are all keeping up. Laws have struggled to stay current and a quick search on the web reveals many recent court decisions related to identification, information about medical conditions, privacy and notification issues, etc. etc.
One article on the Daily Mail out of the UK summarizes many of the feelings of children of donors; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1289042/Caroline-fathered-sperm-donor--does-bitterly-resent-stranger-gave-life.html
Just reading the web address can give you some idea of the content! Like so many issues, this one too boils down to the truth that it just is not a simple thing. Maybe as we teach ethics we need to continue to bring in these societal trends that technology- not just web or texting technology, but medical technology brings in. I think the films give us an outlet for our collective anxiety about this issue as well as a forum to talk and explore.
Joan Phillips is a counselor, art therapist, and marriage and family therapist. She maintains a private practice and teaches at the University of Oklahoma.