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Views on Disclosure

by Bill Cordray | 0 Comments

As an advocate of disclosing a child's donor insemination (DI) origins to them, I often hesitate to publish my feelings since I am sure that it will seem as a criticism of some of those who support nondisclosure. I can't avoid that reaction but can only say that I do feel there is a right and wrong decision in these matters. I know that it is a personal decision, and people are looking for support in their decisions, but I also know that this is an issue that deeply affects everyone involved.

The impact is greatest on the child.

Does support mean that we avoid the implications of such a decision? There are several people who aren't sure of their own decision and so I offer my own experience as a possible influence.

Just because some feel that their decision is right for them should not keep the rest of us from expressing our concerns about what DI children may experience. Many of us are religious and go to church to get support from our religious community. We listen to our ministers, rabbis, and priests and consider the moral implications of their advice. Our religious leaders do not hesitate to make judgments about our actions and decisions. It is seen as a way to support a moral life.

I am not a minister and definitely do not have the right to pass moral judgments on nondisclosures. However, my experience with the effects of secrecy ought to be seriously considered. In addition to my own experiences growing up as a DI child, I can also inform you about the feelings of over seventy other DI children and adults. Many of our parents also believed that we would never need to learn the truth. It was only after years of secrecy that they finally realized that disclosure was the right decision for them, despite their earlier certainty that it would cause us harm. They were initially comfortable with nondisclosure but grew to see it as an unbearable burden as they realized their teenagers or adult children needed to know the truth. In reality, the real harm came from ignoring the reality of our identities. It affected our parents as well as ourselves.

I know that as parents you want to reach a decision that feels right to you or gives you comfort. I am not convinced that we can ever be certain we are right or that we are always going to be comfortable about such a decision.

While it may be comforting to have convictions that not sharing the truth is in the best interest of the child, it will be profoundly unclear whether the child is actually harmed. By not sharing, you will never have a sense of the inner conflicts a child goes through as she tries to form an identity based on incomplete and contradictory information, You will never know if your child senses a lack of genetic resonance with her father. You will never know if she is confused by her artificial identity. Will she feel you are like a stranger to her? Will she try to become like her father and feel like a miserable failure if she cannot share his interests or have his talents? Will she wonder if she is adopted or if you had an affair? Will she suspect something is being withheld from her and lose her trust in you?

Even if her eyes are the same color as her father's, will she wonder why she has features unlike both her parents and the extended family? If her father or paternal grandparents contract an adult onset disease like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or Alzheimer's, will she become obsessed with her own future health? Will she have many unanswered questions which she doesn't dare ask you because she is confused? All these feelings are experiences I lived through. They are also feelings many other late disclosure DI adults have expressed to me. They have told me that, during the years before disclosure, they felt bewildered. The disclosure liberated all of us from this confusion. The typical reasoning our parents gave was that they wished to protect us from the painful truth of our conception. The truth was not painful at all, only the years of being misled. In reality, the years of genealogical bewilderment were far more painful. All of us DI adults believe we should have been told when we were young children.

We all saw this as a secret. The truth was not just our parents' private business but information that had a profound effect on us as DI children/adults, even years before it was revealed. It is ultimately our information that affects our whole lives, not just the twenty years we spent with our parents. We were deeply saddened that our parents feared rejection, that they did not trust our love for them, that they didn't believe we would understand the pain of their infertility.

I have also talked with many early disclosure DI teens and young adults. They certainly have unanswered questions but are not nearly as confused as you fear they would be. They are grateful to their parents for their courage to disclose. None have rejected their fathers. None have suffered from discrimination or the cruel teasing that a few traditional adoptees have experienced. Both of my children (not conceived through DI) have been teased by their peers. My gifted daughter was teased for being an outstanding scholar. We taught them how to deflate such discrimination by helping them to be proud of who they are. Their strength of character and secure self-image sustained them.

Inherent in the decision to keep this information from your child is a belief that genetics matter much less than environment. It also underestimates the interest that children have in their roots. Parents need to respect and honor the child's full heritage. How can we understand a DI child if we ignore his origins, if we pretend it has no influence on the child? Nondisclosure encourages the idea that we can erase the blueprint of genetic inheritance and create an artificial self. We feel we have a right to our authentic identity.

Do I have a right to be politically incorrect by saying nondisclosures are making the wrong decision? Of course not. I can only tell you about the experiences of every DI person I know. It is clear to me that such a decision will prevent you from ever being aware of your child's true feelings.

Bill Cordray is a "DI Adoptee" who has met more than 70 other adults conceived through Donor Insemination. They are part of an international network of offspring, parents, psychologists, social workers and sperm donors who are pushing for more openness.

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