Sunday, 14 January 2007

Brown-eyed girl

When I was 15, I found out by chance that I was donor conceived. There were a couple of letters in a drawer that I didn't know I shouldn't be looking in. They were from a clinic in Harley Street and were addressed to my mother. One was dated a year or so before I was born, and said that the clinic would be happy to help my mother again, and would 'try to ensure that the same donor is used'. The other was dated about seven months before I was born, and talked about 'the second success'.

I tackled my mother about this, and she gave me a cock-and-bull story about blood tests. I didn't have the courage to pursue the matter, so I gave up. A few months later I tried again, and didn't give up. She broke down in tears, and told me that they had never intended us to find out, but that my 'father' had been unable to have children, so they'd gone for 'artificial insemination by donor' as it was known in those days. Apparently they'd matched the donor with my 'father's' hair and eye colour, and that was that.

Then the lies began. The man listed as my father on my birth certificate, isn't. No-one knew, or even guessed, the truth. The little lies my mother told helped the deception. My brother had big hands like Dad. My sister had blue eyes like Great-Granny Alice (on my 'father's' side. The correct term these days is 'social father'.) What I have only just realised is that these lies even extend to what colour eyes I think I have. Mark and I have a long-running joke/argument: he says I've got green eyes, I say they're brown. When I look in the mirror, I do see that the nearest they get to brown is hazel. Maybe. But the reason I think they're brown is that my mother always said I had brown eyes like Dad. So all along, in school essays entitled 'Myself' or letters to penpals or anything, I have said I have brown eyes. But I don't!

I did always worry as a child that I was adopted, and even quizzed my mother about it on several occasions. 'You would tell us if we were adopted, wouldn't you?' 'Oh, yes.' My mother even told a story of a boy who killed himself on discovering, at the age of 18, that he was adopted. Strange choice of anecdote in the circumstances.

I did also feel a bit like a changeling. For example, I had my nose in a book from an early age. My mother had done well at school, but wasn't a reader; I never saw my 'dad' open a book except for a car repair manual. He left school at 16 with no qualifications. (He said he'd failed them on purpose so that Grandma couldn't force him to become a doctor. Hmmm.) But he apparently produced three children who were in all the top sets at school...

The irony is that I spent several years as a teenager (OK, I was a weird teenager) researching my family tree. My mother and I went into the wilds of Leicestershire looking at obscure parish records to see how far back we could get. As I found out, these random Leicestershire labourers were nothing to do with me.

Now there is a great big gap in the children's baby books for their grandfather. I've registered with UK DonorLink (a voluntary agency where donors and donor conceived adults can register their DNA) but realistically, there is a minute chance that I will ever find the donor. He did the deed for money as a medical student and has probably wiped the memory from his mind.

Funnily enough, for years I perpetuated the lie with my own children. How on earth do you broach the subject with tinies? But at some point I realised that I was repeating, albeit in a minor way, my parents' own deception. We'd covered the facts of life in a basic way when Gregoria was about 4, because she asked. So I just told her at some point that the daddy who brought me up wasn't my real daddy because he coudn't make seeds, so my mummy got the seed from someone else and unfortunately we don't know who that is. Now that is as normal to her as anything else. She knows I'm sad about it, and that's OK too.

I am passionately opposed to donor conception, because it deprives children of a basic human right: to know, and be brought up by, their mother and father. It is completely different from adoption, because in that case the child already exists and needs to be cared for. Donor conception exists for the convenience of people who want to be parents. Wanting a baby is a natural desire, but is not to be achieved by unethical means. Why can't infertile people adopt a baby? 'Because it wouldn't be ours.' Why do they privilege the genetic link on the one hand and deny it on the other?

I could go on and on, but for the sake of my home educating readership, won't. Please excuse me venting. This is part of my journey of self-acceptance. (When I was exploring Catholicism and finding out about Catholic opposition to various artificial means of conception, including this one, I worried that perhaps it meant that I didn't have a soul!) For many years this was my guilty secret. Now it's part of who I am.

Normal service will resume soon.