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Family Narratives

a blog by Ellen Glazer, June 20, 2013

I am a big believer in family story telling and feel strongly about it’s role in donor conception. I see all donor parents as architects of their family story and encourage people to build a story they feel good about and about which they can speak with pride to their future child or children. Unlike adoption, in which adoptive parents continue a story that is already underway, with donor conception parents get to “conceive and gestate ” the story from the start. I was therefore excited to hear author, Bruce Feiler speak of the importance of family narratives in a recent NPR interview and to follow it with an article in the March 17, 2013 NY Times titled, “The Stories that Bind Us Help Children Face Challenges.”

Feiler talks about research that came out of Emory University. Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush asked children 20 questions about their families. These included “Do you know where your parents met?” “Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family?” “Do you know the story of your birth? What the researchers found--which comes as no surprise to those of us who believe in family story telling--is that the more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self esteem. In fact, the researchers found that the “Do You Know?” scale was the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”

Duke and Fivush not only report this research but also offer explanations for why knowing family history is so important. They speak of the importance of a child having a strong “intergenerational self.” They know themselves because they know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

So what does this have to do with donor conception? Everything! If it is important for all parents to offer their children a history and a context and a sense of being firmly rooted in generations past and future, than it is all the more important for parents through donor conception to do this. As I have written in the past, with donor conception you “graft a new branch” onto your family tree. That new branch in no way threatens the integrity of the original tree; rather, it broadens and expands it. I encourage donor parents to choose donors they feel really good about --donors whose life story and donation story will be one they will want to celebrate with their child. In keeping with Duke and Fivush’s themes, they will want, also, to share with the child their story of redirection, discovery and resilience as they made their way to donor conception, unafraid to let their child know that it takes strength to ask for help.

Years ago I knew a woman who adopted a little girl from China. I have long been deeply moved by her words, “Someday, my daughter will learn that she was ‘forsaken on the street,”’ abandoned under unknown circumstances, and waves of pain may send her reeling. But I like to think that I will steady her, that we will share our stories of loss and redefinition. I can hold her hand in mine and show her how to face pain with honesty, integrity and a deep wonder at its unexpected potential to shape our lives. My little girl has no birth date. She lacks one of the essential pieces of information needed in life. And I, a barren woman, have a beautiful daughter. It just might be a match.”


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