(Originally published as my Mombian newspaper column.)
A long-running study of lesbian families created through donor insemination made headlines June 7 when it published new results showing that teens from these families tend to do better than their peers socially and academically. While these findings from the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study are positive, they risk blinding us to the fact that children of LGBT parents may still face certain unique issues and challenges. The COLAGE Donor Insemination Guide, launched just a few weeks ago, aims to address some of those concerns by sharing the perspectives and answering the questions of donor-conceived children.
The Guide was created by Jeff DeGroot, a 2009-2010 COLAGE Fellow who was himself conceived through donor insemination and raised by his two lesbian moms. It is aimed primarily at other “DI COLAGErs” in the fifth grade and above, but also at parents, prospective parents, teachers, and service providers.
DeGroot spent several months conducting focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and online surveys with LGBTQ parents who had used donor insemination and with the children themselves, who ranged in age from 11 to 37. The DI COLAGErs were a mix of those who had anonymous, known, and open identity donors. (Open identity donors agree to make contact information available when the child turns 18).
DeGroot found that most DI COLAGErs had certain experiences in common. “We’ve all had to think about what having a donor means to us,” he said in an interview. “We’ve all had to figure out that relationship and grow up with that relationship, and it’s probably evolved as we’ve grown up.”
“We’ve also all had to explain our origins,” he added, noting that this can come up unexpectedly, such as when a playground conversation turns to, “Oh, what does your dad do?” “If you follow it to its logical course,” he explained, “it can lead to a description of insemination.”
Those with anonymous or open-identity donors, he said, would also tell him that they absolutely love and are happy with their families, but still have a curiosity about their donors. “It’s about me finding out more about myself,” they would explain, “not about wanting a father figure or a heterosexual parent. This is a journey of self-discovery. . . . Not ‘I need to know this person,’ but ‘It would be kind of neat to meet this person or at least find out more information.’”
The key issue for most people with known donors, he found, is figuring out one’s relationship to the donor and how to explain that to the outside world. Many ask themselves, “How do you explain that this person who is your biological father is not your dad?”
The entire guide is informed by DeGroot’s interviews and surveys and infused with quotes from numerous DI COLAGErs. DeGroot says he made extensive efforts to reach DI COLAGErs and their parents across the country in order to get a variety of perspectives. Still, he says, he wishes he had been able to reach more racially diverse families—over 90 percent were Caucasian. He said he even contacted sperm banks to try and determine the racial mix of parents who use donor insemination, to see if his sample was representative, but says there was no research available. “Hopefully in future editions we can address [racial issues],” he said. “This is not to say these issues don’t impact our families, because they do.”
One chapter is titled “I Love My Life!” with a section on “Why Being a DI COLAGEr is Fantastic.” If that sounds a little too relentlessly peppy, keep in mind the wide age range that the Guide tries to address. A little pep talk can be a good thing. DeGroot does not, however, shy from discussing difficult issues such as feelings of guilt about wanting to meet one’s donor or feeling an inability to articulate one’s family structure to classmates.
The Guide also contains a list of resources, tips for medical professionals, and legal questions and answers provided by the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
While the main audience for the Guide is DI COLAGErs themselves, DeGroot hopes others will benefit from it as well. He is the son of two public school teachers, and hopes other teachers will use it to help inform themselves about COLAGEr issues. “It might just not cross the mind of a well meaning teacher that a family-tree exercise or a Father’s Day event could make one of their students feel isolated,” he explained.
For parents who use DI, he advised, “Listen to your children. Be very open to their curiosities. Don’t take things personally. Make sure you are on solid ground emotionally to be able to hear your children’s thoughts and emotions. Make sure your children feel safe to have a conversation.” By safe, he explained, make sure they don’t feel that they’re going to hurt you by expressing an interest in their donors. “Bring up the topic and understand it’s a continuing conversation.”
COLAGE is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. The DI Guide, modeled on the organization’s Kids of Trans Guide (2008), comes as the first generation of self-identified DI COLAGEs are coming of age, when we are also learning that kids of LGBTQ parents do generally turn out all right—if not better than all right. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t welcome resources such as this to help them on their way.
The DI Guide is available through the COLAGE Web site.