I was struck reading the comment quoted below. This person, who goes by StraightGrandmother, is fine with donor-conceived offspring never having access to their “donor’s” identity even when that ignorance might injure them. Values like hers are common in adoption practice too. I can still find adopters writing in public forums that they chose international adoption in order to prevent their adoptees from discovering or being discovered by their first parents. Here is what StraightGrandmother wrote:
“This is they [sic] way I look at it, you may never know your sperm donor or egg donor and you just have to deal with it. None of us have perfect lives either. There are things about my past I wish were different but do I let that ruin my life? Do I obsess over them, or do I keep a stiff upper lip and carry on? Again we all have our cross to bear, just get on with life. This is going to be a part of your life that is different then most everybody else. If your birth mother, if adopted, or your egg donor wants to make contact with you there are many places on the internet for them to do that, until then love your real parents and move on. Life ain’t perfect…”
What does it say when an ordinary member of our society still wants to allow practices that provide less than optimal conditions for the development of the future generation (which society has already done for decades)?
I have often made reference in my writing on adoption to the Calvinist strains of American Christianity, and perhaps this gives me an occasion to expand a bit on this.
When I read things like this I turn to Calvin not in a derogatory or reductive way but as a way of explaining a mindset that speaks like this. If I examine the Calvinist teachings that we are born in “depravity”, that our fate is predestined since the beginning of time, that Christ did not die for everyone other than an elect, and that God does not wish for all to be saved, then this kind of sentiment makes sense.
It is why, I think, adoption mythology relies so much on Noah’s Ark as a metaphor, since in the story of the Ark some (an elect) were indeed saved and the rest left to their lot.
What bothers me is that this kind of sentiment seems especially reserved for those who retain the stigma of both original sin as well as illegitimacy, meaning, as bastards—those of unknown paternity—we are doomed to this kind of treatment. My orphanage in Lebanon refers to us as les enfants du peché—the children of sin, and the location of the orphanage has lent itself to the phrase les enfants d’Azarieh, which has become a euphemism for “bastards” among a certain sect and class in Beirut.
I am curious to know whether this Grandmother would say the same thing to cancer patients, or survivors of genocide, or those who come through a natural disaster intact.
It seems as though there are some things we are “condemned” to live as punishment for something we did not do.
The condemnation here is from one grandmother to another generation of children! Stunning to me. What does this say about our times?
Mark: part of what it says about our times is that those older people who are still kicking around with retrogressive opinions may be more visible (via the Internet) than previously. I certainly had no idea that my US countrymates are as fantastically disheartening as they often are, though it’s also worth remembering that one sees only a portion of culture through the Internet.
So, one of the things that it says about the times is that I need to be prepared to encounter breathtaking displays of vileness (on the Internet) and not get in the mind-set of thinking that that is the norm for people (not online).
Daniel: to try to answer your question, “I am curious to know whether this Grandmothe would say the same thing” (etc), I’d generally say, “Yes.”
It’s easy to attach what you write here about Calvin to an attitude that says, “None of us have perfect lives either. There are things about my past I wish were different but do I let that ruin my life? Do I obsess over them, or do I keep a stiff upper lip and carry on? Again we all have our cross to bear, just get on with life. … Life ain’t perfect.” What might make a difference would be if it were her grandchild, but not just because then her self-interest would be specifically engaged. The whole tenor of her remark has a bitter and carping quality; it hardly seems likely this is a person who has experienced a greater portion of joy than sorrow in life, perhaps because she became a cynic early on.
Her self-righteousness is kind of like the politics of envy (i.e., that people criticize those in power, but only because they themselves do not have access to power). She gives off the vibe of being someone who has belligerently forced herself to follow her own advice–or perhaps it was dunned into her by a parent or relative. She gets to be self-righteous, because she has refused to allow herself the indulgence of expecting justice in the world, and since she has self-righteously forgone that, anyone who makes a demand for justice is a threat to the structure of her coping mechanism, which must necessarily repeat like a mantra:
“None of us have perfect lives either. There are things about my past I wish were different but do I let that ruin my life? Do I obsess over them, or do I keep a stiff upper lip and carry on? Again we all have our cross to bear, just get on with life.”
There’s really a great deal of repetition in that, very redundant. It points to the degree of habituation (if not to the underlying desperation) of trying to maintain this disappointing and disappointed idea in teh face of life.
So, the main reason it would make a difference if her own grandchild or husband or whatever were afflicted by cancer, etc, is not because she’d reckon herself worthy of an exception to her rule, but because that kind of terrible misfortune is precisely what led to the formation of these defense mechanisms in the first place. A tragedy like cancer doesn’t have to enter through the gates of her fortress-defenses; it’s “already inside” so to speak, and would wreak havoc accordingly. She can be self-righteous about egg- or sperm donors, because that’s not already inside her defenses.
StraightGrandmother places in contrast the value of privacy for sperm donors (and less clearly “birth mothers”). “Privacy” has evolved in donor conception practice from clinical secrecy to juristic privacy. Earlier contexts were simply the doctor feeling a need not to tell the parents where the sperm donation came from. It is fairly recent that a legal context began to apply.
But the depth of feeling for this secrecy is startling, as this woman attests. My guess is she would never say something like this about a person who is facing cancer…based on her other comments. Her comment is not unusual – as all of us in the adoption world know.
SL, I’m going to basically reframe what you just said, but I guess the thing that gets to me is what goes unsaid in her statement. Meaning, one usually reserves the statement “get over it” for those who are seen as not of one’s station, or class, or position in society.
So there is a disturbing irony here, in the sense that she does not say “get over it” to parents who claim to have a “hole in their life” that needs to be filled [via donated gametes, adoption, etc.], but she reserves “get over it” for those who likewise claim to have a “hole in their life” because of such donations and adoptions.
This is a classist view of the world that got us to this discussion in the first place. And the vicious circle continues.
Daniel: to be fair to her–if that’s really fair–I wouldn’t be surprised at all if she fired off a “get over it” to wannabe non-parents who feel a hole in their soul. I venture she’s the type to grin like a jackass and say, “I don’t discriminate, I hate everyone equally.”
But your point, at least as I take it, is that the social function and effect of saying “get over it” to would-be not-yet-parents differs vastly from saying it to the children who filled that hole. Just as saying “I discriminate against non-whites and whites equally” can’t actually be done equally in the first place.
I am a grandmother and would never dismiss anyone’s feelings as that grandmother did. Sperm-donor conceived children are joining with the lines of adoptees, asking who is my ___? It was widely reported here in the states a few years ago when I was doing research. (I was struck that several egg donors insisted they have total anonymity, too, like many sperm donors did.)
We have two family trees as adoptees, from our birth mother and birth father, whether it’s through anonymous egg/sperm donation or conception. The long-term concern (for me and others who cannot fill in the blanks of ancestry) would be choosing a partner/marriage and not knowing who you are or your lineage from both family trees.
For generations, tribes have clans to prevent marriage of same clan for reasons of genetics and birth defects.
A child-then-adult must know who they are – regardless of race, clan or culture – before they become parents for those obvious reasons.