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.


Nissa said...

Wow, Elizabeth! Your story has stunned me. I'm so sorry for the pain it caused you to cope with the knowledge of your conception. But thank God your parents had you and that you are here today!

Anonymous said...

I'm sure it's even harder being surprised with it - the person you *thought* you were isn't who you are.

I too am sorry you have had to go through this. I can relate to a lot of what you are saying! Feel free to come by any of my crazy blogs and vent about it anytime.

biodad said...

Hi Elizabeth

Would just like to know if you would mind if I copy this particular post to my own blog because I think you have portrayed perfectly both the subliminal and overt identity questioning which donor-conceived people experience when they have been kept in the dark about their origins. My blog is at

Also would like to wish you all the best with your homeschooling. All three of my daughters were homeschooled up to the last two years of secondary school and they did, and are doing, just fine.

Regards, Michael


Laurie (formerly known as Momseekingpeace) said...

Just wanted to stop by and say hello and say that as a mom of adoption loss I empathise with your pain.
I also know that others mean well when they say "just be glad for what you have now"
When trying to share my grief that I was going through after reuniting with my son, I used to hear "be grateful for what you have now"
Sometimes I just needed people to aknowledge my loss.

I hear you, it must have been painful to find that out when you were older and to have to deal with half truths. The whole truth needs to be there before healing can begin.
Warmly, MSP

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, Hi, I found you from Veronica's blog. I'm so sorry for the shock you must have felt learning that as a teenager, and also for not knowing your father. I'm also sorry too for others who seem to want to post negative comments to you for sharing your truth - I saw that on the other blog and on your other post as well.

Donna-Jean Breckenridge said...

I've never read a story of someone who has dealt with donor conception, and I appreciate your candor. I always imagined it would be the way you described it. In fact, an anonymous past is one reason we sought open adoption for our children (two of whom came to us via adoption). I'm wondering, though, you never mentioned again your relationship with your father - the one who raised you ("social" father?). Do you not consider him your father in any way? (I'm honestly just asking, I hope this doesn't sound in any way accusing.) As an adoptive parent, I'm wondering about the parallels - and differences - in how someone views, for example, a family tree, as you described it.

Frabjous Days said...

Donna-Jean, thanks for your comment. I didn't want to go into too much gory detail, but my social father was abusive and ended up in jail. That's why I don't have a relationship with him any more rather than because of DC per se.

anna2001 said...

Hello Elizabeth
I'm writing a story about donor conceived adults for the Good Health section of the Daly Mail, it's covering the emotional pull of wanting to know your true identity but also the fact that as many donor conceived adults get older and have their own children, not having access to half their health histry becomes more and more of an issue. I wonder if this is true for you and whether, if you are UK based, you would like to talk to me for this story. My email is

Frabjous Days said...

Anna, I'm not really interested in being interviewed at the moment, but I've posted your request to the yahoo group I belong to, in case anyone there wants to get in touch.

Anonymous said...

There are sadly all too many casualties of donor-conception. So as a sympathiser I put my blogs up on the sites of the adults involved, here they are >

and >

MedievalMe said...

Hello, I live in Germany and I thought that it's interessting for you to hear, that we wrote an english test about your post ;)!
Your story is very absorbing. I let you now which mark i get.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating story, it helps me understand my own family - thanks to your sharing. Although my story is different to yours the similarities are there and *sigh* it helps me clarify my own experience.