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The Kids Are All Right

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a blog by Michelle Ottey, PhD, Director of Operations, Fairfax Cryobank and Cryogenic Laboratories, Inc, July 28, 2010

My partner and I headed out Friday evening to see the new movie: The Kids Are All Right, a movie starring Annette Benning, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffulo about two teenagers conceived via artificial insemination who seek out their biological father.

We bought our diet soda and Snow Caps, found good seats right in the middle of the theater and starting looking around. The theater was filled with a diverse group — from older heterosexual couples on their Friday night date to young lesbians excited to see a mainstream movie featuring a lesbian couple, a rare occurrence.

Being “in the business,” I had some expectations and fears about the movie, but tried to keep an open mind. The movie started, and I was immediately invested. The characters were well-developed, the story was relatable, and the relationships made sense and felt authentic. I would characterize it as a “slice of life” film. There was no agenda — they were not promoting anything.

Everyone wants to be seen and reflected. We all respond to advertising, literature or movies that we can relate to in some way. It was wonderful to see Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, mature women, aging beautifully, depicting a couple with real issues trying to be the best parents they could be. It was great to see two Donor Insem (DI) kids who were going through the things that teenagers go through. They were presented realistically. Their desire to know more about their donor was understandable as was their reaction to him when they did meet him. This was a Hollywood movie and so there are some plot twists that complicated things, but in the end the kids and their moms are a complete family unit, and the kids were indeed, all right.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine published an ethics report in 2004 that encourages disclosure of donor origins to DI kids. This may seem logical to many of us now, but for years reproductive medicine was shrouded in secrecy, and it still is for some. We’ve learned over the years that exposure and education are the key to opening minds. As more people are open about using donor sperm to conceive, the practice will grow to be more accepted by our society and the easier it will be for DI kids to talk about it themselves.

A recent study was published, “My Daddy’s Name is Donor,” which presents, with an obvious agenda, that DI kids are not as well off in terms of behavior, mental health and self worth as others their age. Biased and hurtful publications like this continue to perpetuate an unnecessary stigma. They do not address the fact that over time, as donor insemination becomes more common and understood, it makes logical sense that the societal effect on the development of DI kids will continue to change for the better. As more people understand DI and the creation of all kinds of families, we will all benefit from the acceptance of this diversity. All of the components of the DI process need to be acknowledged: from the women undergoing the inseminations to the donors providing the sperm to the resulting children.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is after Laser and Joni, the kids, meet the donor and are making somewhat snarky comments about him, Joanie says, “…but we wouldn’t be here without him.” It felt like a moment of clarity. That short simple line says so much. Children conceived using donor sperm are wanted children; they exist because of a person or couples’ deep desire to parent. They are here because these generous donors participated in a donor program.

I know it was a movie and that the characters were fictional, but after the movie ended I turned to my partner and told her that I am really glad that I do what I do.

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Comments (4)

I have had a hard time finding recent articles or research surrounding DI. My husband and I found out we were dealing with male factor infertility about 5years ago. Initially our first thought was DI. We actually purchased 3 vials, but then got scared and never used it. We still pay for the freezing every year. One of our issues was that we were immediately given donor booklets after being told my husband did not have sperm. We were never given the opportunity to try anything. Recently we tried the fairly new TESE procedure, but that too was unsuccessful and we were told we exhausted all efforts to have a biological child. In a sense it was a bit of closure for us, because finally we were able to try something, even if unsuccessful. Now we are back to DI or adoption. We worry about the emotional effects of DI. Will my husband be able to connect? Will the kids view themselves as being outcasts? Will all of the emotional issues put too much strain on our marriage? We have just as many concerns and questions about adoption. We are trying to make an educated decision, but it is very difficult finding recent information, articles, or research. We also would love to read about other people in the same situation who share their thoughts and decision making. I would like to know how it has worked out for others and what struggles they faced. I have only found a few things. One book I found is about 15 years old and most of the male infertility was due to cancer, which is different than we are going through. If you could provide any resources to help us out, I would greatly appreciate it.

Please visit the following link:
There are some resources that may help.

As a doctor who treats lesbians, gay men who want biological children, single women, and couples where male infertility is present, and as a parent of 2 children, I was very impressed with the movie and the way they handled the stress of parenting teens, and the issues that affect families formed with a third party, or with any medical intervention. I think anyone who is considering having children, or who has children, or knows anyone with children should see this film.

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