Below I am re-publishing the transcript of an online discussion that Katrina Clark hosted as a follow-up to her Opinion piece in the Washington Post, published on Sunday December 17, 2006.
Katrina Clark, a freshman at Gallaudet University, was online Monday, Dec. 18, at noon ET to discuss her Sunday Outlook article on being conceived by a sperm donor and searching for her biological father.
The transcript follows.
Mom-to-be, Rockville, Md.: Your article seems to be less about donor sperm and more about the consequences of single motherhood by choice. I am a married woman preparing to conceive using donor sperm. My child will have a FATHER - my incredible husband - regardless of DNA. I'm sorry that this is something you were not given - but it bothers me that your misguided criticism will affect loving couples like myself who can provide that ideal life that you described - if only biology hadn't stolen it from US. Do you recognize the distinction?
Katrina Clark: I do recognize the distinction, as I have networked with many other donor conceived people from a wide variety of family backgrounds. I do also see the similarity in most of us for the desire to at least have the option of knowing the identity of our biological fathers. Some interesting situations I have come across regarding donor conceived people in a two-parent, mother-father household include being concerned about admitting the want to know the biological father's identity for fear of hurting the "social" father (aka, the dad) or not being aware that they are donor conceived at all. Both instances, I believe, were brought about by some lack of communication on the parts of the parents to encourage their children to be OK with talking about their feelings regarding the circumstances surrounding their conception.
Much of my own bias is simply due to the fact that I have never really had a sufficient father-figure, and I do realize this (I was raised well all the same). I also realize that this is not limited to one-parent or same-sex parent households. I cannot and will not blanket the opinions of all donor conceived people or future donor conceived people with my own opinion, but I can share what I have experienced personally and observed from other donor conceived people from every walk of life.
Detroit, Mich.: One item I did not see addressed in your article was if you have discovered other children conceived with the sperm of your biological father (thus possible siblings).
Also, though I can sympathize with the feelings you describe, I have personally seen people with far worse situations into which they have been born: abusive parent(s), severe dysfunctional families, poverty and lack of parental support such that children can never obtain a reasonable education, etc. Families are seldom the "ideal" situations often depicted on television shows. The realization of that helps with coping with one's own situation.
Katrina Clark: I have not come into contact with any half-siblings as of yet, if I even have any; there is no telling.
Everyday their are countless people conceived in less than ideal circumstances. All the examples that you have listed are absolutely correct, and they are also absolutely not encouraged for anyone involved. Interestingly enough, artificial using anonymous donors is the exception.
Alexandria, Va.: Although you say you aren't angry at your mother, your portrayal of her is rather bleak--"she allowed herself" to become pregnant, she sat back, "lonely and tired" with a "weak smile." Honey, none of us asks to be born, with one parent or two. How did your mother react to your search--and did you do it with her knowledge and help? Has your relationship with her changed after you found your donor/dad?
Katrina Clark: My mother has been awesome throughout this process. She understood the yearning to know the identity of my biological father and simply to have adequate medical history information. At my request, she let me search alone as I updated her anytime something changed in my search. Don't worry, she kept tabs on me, especially as I was coming into contact with an adult male stranger.
I do believe our relationship has grown stronger from this experience. I appreciate her so much more now than ever before. I cannot thank my mother enough for being open with me from the start and letting me find my own way to come to terms with everything regarding her choice for my conception.
Washington, D.C.: Katrina,
Thanks for your thoughtful article. I am currently pregnant with twins conceived with the help of an egg donor. She is a "known donor" we found via the Internet. She is open to meeting our children if/when they desire and having an ongoing relationship with our family. I feel that, given the choice we made, this is the best we can do. And I am wondering how you view this arrangement. Before choosing this method of conception, we agonized over how our child/children might feel about it. I'm curious to hear if you have any suggestions.
Katrina Clark: The "known donor" programs nowadays is really a big step forward in the exercise of human altruism. I applaud those willing to come forward for the sake of the children. I am rather curious myself about the effects on the children of having the "donor" in their life from a young age and knowing this person as they grow into adults.
I do think it is awfully risky for recipients of anonymous donors to seek out their donor before their child or children can understand what it means to be an anonymous donor. This is especially true if the anonymous donor does not want to be found (hence the title "anonymous"). Starting off with a known donor is probably the best solution to this dilemma. My favorite program is when the offspring and only the offspring can have the option of accessing files containing the identity of their biological father/mother when the donor conceived person reaches age 18. This lets the child decide for him- or herself if they even want to know. Not everyone does.
Arlington, Va.: How did you resolve the possible conflict of interfering with the biological Dad's life ?
Katrina Clark: I let him lead when it comes to being in his life. The contact between us is mutual. We respect each other and go with the flow. There have been some obstacles thus far in learning how to fit each other in our own lives, but I think we're doing well with what we have.
Capitol Hill: Should single women be prohibited from using donor sperm to conceive?
Katrina Clark: That's a tough question that I do not feel I am credible enough to answer. I do know from my own experiences that I would not have the way I was raised any other way. I am certainly not 100% against the idea of single women or same-sex parents, for that matter, being artificially inseminated using donors. Situations and abilities vary from case to case, person to person. I would just hope that these women would be willing to use known donors.
Washington, D.C.: Hello. What exactly is the law about finding the donor dad? It seemed all the states have different rules, regulations and policies but no law.
Katrina Clark: It is curious you should bring up such an inquiry. In the United States, as of now, there are no such widespread laws regarding donor conception. Every set of rules varies from each physician and each sperm bank. As parallel as donor conception can be to adoption, it makes me wonder why the states do not use that as a model to "conceive" laws about donor conception.
And this is a warning for the donors... If they are not willing to be found, there is certainly no law stopping the offspring from this prerogative.
Silver Spring, Md.: What makes you think that having a known father would have made your life better? Ask someone whose father was an alcoholic who beat his family. Ask someone whose father sexually abused her. Most nuclear families are not the Waltons.
I think my parents were wrong in not divorcing since their constant fighting was like living in a war zone. My husband's son is angry that his parent's divorces since he thought that if they stayed together his family would become like "Leave it to Beaver."
Were you abused, hungry not given an education? What you fantasized as a family does not exist.
Yes you have a right to know you genetic history although many who have had father's that abandoned them do not have that luxury. What you think you missed just does not happen.
Katrina Clark: Believe me when I say that I know it's not always "peaches 'n cream" behind closed doors. As a little girl, I did fantasize occasionally about what my life would be like, or at least what I hoped it would be like with a father figure in the mix. Now, I would not want my life to be any other way. I am genuinely happy and grateful with how my mother brought me up and I am proud to say she did it all herself, regarding parenting, anyway.
The one conundrum left is the right for everyone to know their genetic roots. Some people simply cannot take advantage of this right and that is very unfortunate. Let's not make donor conception an unfortunate circumstance, either.
San Francisco, Calif.: I felt the need to comment after having read your article. I was conceived by donor insemination 22 years ago when my lesbian mothers decided to start a family. My donor is one of the 'identity release' mentioned in the other article on the page with yours. Me, and my younger brother and sister have always had a loving and stable family, and have never felt as though we were missing anything. When people ask me how it was growing up, I say just like any loving family.
Though I always knew that when I turned 18 I would have the option of finding out the identity of the sperm donor, it was never more than a curiosity. When people ask me why I haven't yet, nearly 4 years later, the best answer I can give them is, "I guess its just not that important to me?" While knowing medical and genetic history do interest me, and are probably no more than a phone call or an email away, I simply haven't done it yet. My brother and sister just turned 18 (they're twins), so we'll see if either of them contacts the sperm bank.
I guess that what I'm getting at is that not all donor-inseminated children share your opinion, and most especially, that no parents should feel disheartened by your article, because there are many many happy families with children conceived by donor insemination, some that we know personally, and I would hate for any parents, same-sex or otherwise, to be discouraged from starting a loving, happy family.
Katrina Clark: I definitely agree with you. I never meant to construe my opinion as "the" opinion for all donor conceived people, internationally, even. I think it is great that you have access to that kind of information, as I think all donor conceived people should have! That was were my frustration can be found, in not having a choice, though my familiar circumstances were not entirely unfortunate (no more than most people, anyway). Now that I am in contact with my biological father, there are some things I could ask him, but choose not to, just as yourself. I do love that freedom of choice much better than being stuck with what doctors with good intentions set that part of my life to be back in the 80s.
Arlington, Va.: I really applaud you for your honesty in writing this article, since it must have been difficult to write about your childhood fantasy of a perfect dad/family. I think your point that individual moms (or dads, in the case of a surrogate), who yearn for babies using a sperm donor really, really need to think about how the use of an anonymous donor will affect their children's lives down the road is a very important one.
Having said that, it seems as though this technology is here to stay. And as long as -college aged- students are solicited and paid to donate eggs and sperm, it seems abundantly clear that the donors may well have substantially different views about their biological offspring when they grow up.
It seems especially obvious that it's a genuine crapshoot whether a college-aged man who donates sperm is going to grow into a thoughtful father with a compelling interest in the lives of say, up to thirty of his biological offspring - raised by different mothers/fathers/partners that he's never met, and may not have anything in common with.
Katrina Clark: I do believe you've hit the nail on the head.
Alexandria, Va.: Do you know if your biological father has sired other children with donor sperm, and if so, would you like to meet them, or have you met them?
Katrina Clark: Neither I nor my biological father have yet to come into contact with any half-siblings of mine. I have no idea how I could have, if any at all. If I were to find siblings one day, I would love to meet them. I have become a bit protective of the slowly budding relationship with my biological father, but my no means would I ever deny another offspring the right to join the relation beyond DNA.
Md.: Please let me say first I have no frame of reference for your experience. I have not walked any mile in your shoes. I found your article very well written and thought provoking but was dismayed by the level of anger. Do other kids conceived in this way harbor the same resentments? I would hope you could somehow find a degree of peace and closure so that you don't go through life as bitter and furious as you sound now. Otherwise we will have lost a very articulate writer.
Katrina Clark: Perhaps it was not entirely clear in the article that I no longer hold resentment against any persons involved in my conception. That is not to say I have never felt such resentment. I have, obviously, but it was mostly due to the fact that this part of my life, knowing any information about my biological father, was outlined for me by people with the interests of the adults in mind at the time of my conception. Since I have worked around the system and found my own way of obtaining the reigns to access such information, it has left me a better person. Had I still been holding onto any anger, I do not think I would be much help to people when it comes to understanding or at least pondering the perspective of the children (or adults) that are donor conceived.
Dupont Circle: Your piece was certainly an eye-opener. But as I read it I couldn't help but feel a little bad for your mom. I felt you took a bit of an unsympathetic tone toward her and her decision 18+ years ago.
While you honored her by discussing how she raised you with little resources, it seemed as though you feel she's one of the those who didn't think through the implications on the child. Given how intelligent and thoughtful you are, I imagine she's a smart woman, too. Did she think through the decision in the way you would have wanted? I wish you had acknowledged that and included her feelings in the piece a little more.
Thanks for the opportunity to share a thought.
Katrina Clark: Sorry for any part of the article that seems to be cut off. It is quite difficult to condense such a broad topic into a limited word count (just ask the editor).
Naturally, my mom and I have talked deeply about her role in my conception, especially since I have become so outspoken about the issue. My mother is, indeed, an incredibly intelligent woman and she did give thought to how I may react. She predicted that there was a possibility I may grow to strongly resent her in my teen years. It is interesting that she understood this to be a possibility (though slim at best), yet still chose donor conception. One thing that needs to be understood is the lack of good arguments against anonymous donors back in the 1970s, 80s, and even the early part of the 90s. The deciding factor in any and every case was the intentions for the donors and recipients mainly due to no clear information as to how offspring may be affected. Now there is and I hope this new information for most will be taken into consideration more often or, ideally, every time the issue is brought up.
Chevy Chase, D.C.: Katrina:
I found your article very interesting but I am intrigued by your sense of entitlement. You state that you have a basic "right" to know who your biological father is. I am not so sure. My wife is adopted...so she has no idea who either of her biological parents are. I think she would confess to some curiosity but has never claimed a "right" to know. Do you think that the rather strident position you have taken could reduce the number of donors or people's willingness to put a baby up for adoption if they were, for whatever reason, concerned about their privacy?
Katrina Clark: In the United Kingdom, there is currently a ban on all anonymous sperm donations. Since this policy has been enforced, the number of donors has decreased dramatically and sperm banks are desperately seeking out more donors. In the same respect, those wishing to conceive who are frustrated with the limited options in the UK are now going to other countries to conceive all for the "guarantee" of anonymity.
Certainly my particular stand point (being synonymous with many other donor conceived people) of absolving anonymous donations would be in the United States, as it is now in the United Kingdom, a deterrent for the whole donor conception industry simply because it would force donors, recipients, and everyone involved to seriously mull over and give thought to more possible ramifications of their actions. Imagine that.
Katrina Clark: I would like to give a word of thanks to everyone who has given me feedback about your own thoughts on the issue. It has never been my intention to criticize or insult anyone with an opinion on the subject at hand. I simply want people to be able to ponder artificial insemination using anonymous donors with more depth than what was previously possible. This has happened, I do believe. Thank you all for taking the time to read of my story and I hope it allows for better applications of such critical reproductive technological advances.
All the best,
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