If it's Wednesday, I must be finally getting around to Sunday's paper
This morning Paul and I were messaging about Peggy Orenstein's outstanding article on donor eggs in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.
Paul, quoting the article: "One newly pregnant woman told me she picked her donor because the woman liked The Princess Bride. 'Some donors chose Pulp Fiction, and their favorite color was black,' she said. 'That's just not me. If I have the choice between someone who likes The Princess Bride or someone who likes Pulp Fiction, everything else being equal, I'm going for Princess Bride.'"
Paul: What do you want a donor's favorite movie to be?
Julie: I guess Rosemary's Baby is right out, huh?
Julie: Manos: The Hands of Fate?
Julie: Wait, wait, I know! I know this one! Call on me! Call on me!
Paul: Yes, Horshack?
Julie: Staying Alive!
An hour later I am still waiting for his response. I think he might have fainted.
I admit it: I approach articles in the popular press about ART with a chip already on my shoulder, my hackles expectantly raised, my dudgeon pre-emptively high. So seldom do they get it right, without sensationalism, with sympathy. So I avoided reading Orenstein's article for a few days, even though several of you were kind enough to point it out to me last week. I should have known better; Orenstein, the author of Waiting for Daisy1, herself a veteran of infertility and loss, gets it.
The article examines the complex questions recipients of donor eggs face. What are the ethical ramifications of donation, essentially paying for eggs? Do you tell your child about his origins? If so, how and when? How will you handle what one researcher calls "resemblance talk," the casual questions in the grocery store checkout line about whose blue eyes the child has? What will it mean for your child to have a genetic relationship to your partner and not you? Should the child have a right to information about his donor, a name, a meeting, a relationship? And, oh, yes, how silly of me, I almost forgot: Why don't you just adopt?
Orenstein's article came just in time. These are all questions I've contemplated, where "contemplated" means "whipped myself into a late-night heartburny lockjawed paralysis of anxiety over." But I hadn't set them down in such a straightforward, organized way as Orenstein has — a kind of final exam, essay format, in 300-level ART2. And she was even thoughtful enough to provide sample answers from the women she interviewed. As I read the article, I asked myself, "How do I feel about...?" And if the answer didn't immediately present itself, I read a bit further, considering the answers her subjects gave, then asked myself, "Do I agree?"
I say the article came just in time because on Tuesday, Paul and I have an appointment with our clinic's social worker to discuss just such matters. These are not the kinds of questions one should answer off the top of one's head, especially since when Paul and I were messaging, the first movie that came to mind was Faces of Death.
Disclosure. To tell or not to tell. Many people find that to be the thorniest question of all. As Orenstein reports, most donor recipients — 75% in one study — have not told their children they came from donor gametes. And she's careful to point out that research has shown these uninformed children to be as well adjusted as any others as of age 12. (Secrecy may not be inherently damaging, but we can only speculate about how well adjusted these children will remain if one day they find out.)
Most women I know, and the women Orenstein interviewed, plan to tell. Another researcher has found no negative repercussions among children who were told about their origins early in childhood, confirming that instinct. Among families who do disclose, many parents express relief at having told their children, "as if a weight had been lifted." And the children involved, says one researcher Orenstein consulted, expressed a range of feelings from neutral to positive. "Nobody regretted telling," said the researcher. "Nobody."
There has never been a question for me. If I believe that a biological connection is worth something — and if I didn't, this blog would be about three entries long — how can I then deny the very existence of one, even if it's not to me?
Besides, I can't deny that secrets, particularly those kept from the people they most profoundly affect, scare me. I like how noble I sound when I say, "I cannot imagine keeping such knowledge from a child," but if I'm honest, I have to admit that I always finish that sentence in my mind with "...and having him somehow find out later." Of course it would happen. My God, I've told the whole world, on my blog, on message boards, in chats; any hope of reproductive secrecy dissolved the moment I invented the Internet.
Just do me a favor, if you please. If, hypothetically speaking, I should have a child through donor eggs, and you should ever happen to meet him, please, I am begging you, do not ever, ever tell him I watch Staying Alive every single time it's on. Some secrets, after all, have the power to destroy entire families.
SPECIAL BONUS ORENSTEIN: I have not yet listened to this NPR interview with Peggy Orenstein, but I'm told it's good and I certainly will.
1 I've had this book on my desk since Orenstein kindly had it sent to me before its release. I read it with great relish, and I swear I will review it in detail...um, sometime. While you wait, pining, may I direct you to the always excellent Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters, where Mel organized a virtual tour for the book?
2 100 level: Charting; timed intercourse; Clomid; inseminations.
200 level: IVF; ICSI; FET.
300 level: Repeated failures; third-party involvement; experimental treatment.
400 level: The end of the line; holy wand-wielding Jesus, I'm pregnant with quints.