How We Became A Family / Articles
This is Father's Day weekend in the US. We honor fathers with extroverted actions of affection and appreciation with handmade gifts from the heart. Yet we know that no matter what we give on Father's Day to express our feelings, it can only be an approximation.
Expressing our feelings as adults is more natural for some than others. And much of it stems from our upbringing. As parents of donor conceived children, we know that genes don't make a family; it's the feelings of love, acceptance, care, and nurturing that makes a family. We know that skin color, race or gender isn't what keeps us from this love, or from being a family.
Fathers of donor conceived children know this, because using a sperm donor or an egg donor to help create their family has had to shift their feelings and minds to move beyond the traditional concept of "family." They know deep down that it's love that matters. We show our children how to love, by the way we demonstrate our feelings of love; to ourselves, our partners, our spouses and to them.
Fathers are esential in their roles, in expressing their feelings, especially with our sons. Our children converse with us on an emotional level from the very moment they are born. They get their needs met by expressing their feelings of hunger, comfort and satisfaction on a very basic level. Either they are feeling happy or unhappy, content or non-content. So why and when is it, that they slowly stop expressing and talking about their feelings so much - toddlerhood, preteen, teenager? Why is it ok for babies to express their feelings and not older children?
Generally, when it comes to feelings, mothers seem to connect to them more readily and openly than fathers, partly because it is culturally driven. Women and mothers have more permission to be emotional. Support is more widely available to them much more so than to men and fathers. Emotions and feelings are a part of life. And a part of growing up is being able to recognize, decipher, understand and share them openly and honestly. Our feelings tell us everything about ourselves if we are willing to pay attention and listen to them. The very thing that many men, fathers and boys are not encouraged to listen to, let alone express.
As our children grow, their world becomes more complex as they navigate their feelings and see how they are either accepted or rejected by those around them in their families, in their classrooms, and on the playground. Are they being allowed to show their feelings, to simply be themselves and most importantly do they feel safe in doing so? Are their feelings of curiosity, fear and anxiety being acknowledged or negated? If their feelings get shut down repeatedly from an early age, with nonchalant responses from us such as "don't cry," what does that teach them? Does it help them or does it reinforce the message that their feelings don't matter or have value?
Fathers have generally gotten the short end of the parenting stick, as far as recognition goes but times are changing. There is more support available to them now. They are more commonly seen nurturing the young, are stay-at-home-dads and generally becoming more open and recognized as "nurturers" in our culture and we can truly appreciate everything that means on all levels of our society.
This video trailer is by Documentarian Jennifer Sibel Newsome. She created the project through her organization called "The Representation Project," as a way to show what we’re doing to boys and how it affects them as they grow into manhood. This work is hopeful, and says a lot about the challenges our fathers have faced themselves expressing their own feelings as young boys and are now courageously addressing them, especially when it comes to raising our boys. Thank you to all the fathers who are aware of this, and taking action. Please share.
"They really buy into a culture that doesn't value what we've feminized. If we are in a culture that doesn't value caring, doesn't value relationships, doesn't value empathy, you are going to have boys and girls, men and women go crazy." - Dr. Niobe Way, Psychologist & EducatorThe Representation Project is a movement that uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people's consciousness towards change. Learn more here.
We have the best job in the world, bar none. We are privileged every single day to walk alongside people pursuing what is, and will most likely always be, the biggest dream of their lifetime: creating a family. We find ourselves in the midst of a gigantic social change, if not a global movement, and
illustration by Monica Ramos
By RENE ALMELING
NEW HAVEN — The new movie “Delivery Man” stars Vince Vaughn as a former sperm donor who finds out that he has more than 500 children. Is this a Hollywood exaggeration or a possible outcome? Truth is, no one knows. In the United States, we do not track how many sperm donors there are, how often they donate, or how many children are born from the donations.
Unlike a Hollywood happy ending, however, this lack of regulation has real consequences for sperm donors and the children they help produce. The Journal of the American Medical Association published one case study of a healthy 23-year-old donor who transmitted a genetic heart condition that affected at least eight of 22 offspring from his donated sperm, including a toddler who died from heart failure. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends genetic screening of sperm donors, and many banks do it, but the government does not require it. The risks become magnified the greater the number of children conceived from each donor.
How did we get to this point? Sperm donation has evolved from a practice of customized production to an industry that resembles mass manufacturing.
One of the first uses of donated sperm was reported in 1909 by a doctor recalling his days as a student observing medical practice. A 41-year-old wealthy merchant and his wife had been unable to conceive. An examination revealed that the husband did not produce sperm. The doctor requested a sperm sample from the “best-looking member of the class.” He asked the wife to come in for an examination, administered chloroform, and without her knowledge, inseminated her with the student’s sample. Nine months later, she gave birth to a healthy boy.
Several aspects of this vignette foreshadow the trajectory of sperm donation (but not the practice of inseminating women without their knowledge). The medical profession continued to play a central role. Doctors selected donors on the basis of their “superior” qualities, secrecy marked the enterprise, and sperm was produced for a particular recipient. According to one mid-century study of several hundred men, the majority of donors produced less than 10 samples.
AIDS changed everything. As doctors in the 1980s learned how the disease was transmitted, it was no longer advisable to transfer fresh samples directly from donor to recipient. Physicians began to use frozen sperm from commercial banks because it could be quarantined for six months, after which the donor could be retested for H.I.V.
Under these conditions, mass manufacturing began to make sense. A sperm program required personnel to keep track of donors, lab technicians to test samples, facilities to store the frozen vials, and distribution departments to ship the product around the world. Doctors could not handle these complexities on their own, so the procurement of sperm was outsourced to for-profit banks.
Today, the supply of sperm in the United States is concentrated in a few large companies that maintain multiple offices around the country, generally near college campuses. Recruiters write cheeky advertisements (“Get paid for what you’re already doing!”). They comb through hundreds of applicants to find the “few good men” who will pass rigorous medical screening and have sperm counts high enough to survive cryogenic freezing. Because of the large investment in finding donors, sperm banks require men to make regular deposits for months on end, resulting in large caches of genetic material that can produce tens and perhaps even hundreds of offspring.
Regulation has not kept up with the fundamental shift in how the fertility industry sources sperm. No federal agency or professional organization monitors the number of men donating, vials sold, or children conceived. The Food and Drug Administration requires that sperm banks test donors for particular diseases, but does not collect data about how many times men donate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conduct an annual survey of fertility clinics, but don’t ask about sperm donation. Sperm banks say they cap the number of offspring per donor, but have no way of compelling customers to report when they get pregnant or give birth.
Similar information gaps about the number of donors, and the number of children born, plague egg donation. But until now, the market for eggs has resembled the old-fashioned version of sperm donation: women produce a small number of fresh eggs for a particular customer. Now that scientists have figured out how to successfully freeze eggs, egg banks are being established, and the scale of production may eventually lead to the same challenges sperm banks face.
We owe it to sperm donors and the children born from their donations to gather basic data. Sperm banks should be required to report the number of vials sold per donor to the F.D.A. The C.D.C. should expand its survey to include sperm donation. These reasonable first steps would allow for an evidence-based discussion about whether there should be regulations to limit the number of offspring per donor. At the least, we would get a handle on whether the typical number is in the dozens or hundreds.
It is Thanksgiving Day here in the U. S.. As I write this, there is a photo next to my computer of our 3 beautiful children. This is what I am most thankful for. Years ago, we made the decision after many attempts over 4 years, month after month using various methods (drugs & procedures with recurrent disappointment) to finally use the help of an egg donor to build our family.
Not a day goes by that we are not reminded of the gifts we have been given by the thoughtful women who donated their eggs to us. And this is the perfect day to thank all gamete donors (egg donors, sperm donors, embryo donors, surrogates). The people who have helped other people suffering from infertility or inability to build families and gave of themselves. Without their help our children wouldn't exist.
There's controversy in the fertility world over the use of the word "donor" because they get paid for their services. Therefore it's not really a donation. Regardless of the donors motivations, for us it was a gift. The fact that this option even exists is the same no matter what you call it and that is where the gift lies.
For all of us who've traveled down this path of infertility to family building, it's an opportunity. For the successful and fortunate ones like us –it's a baby or two. In general, throughout the whole donor process, it's not common practice for the receiving couple to have any contact with the donor. The donor service we went through did not encourage it and anonymity was the only choice at the time in 2002. This was our lawful agreement.
But on the day when our anonymous donor was scheduled to arrive at our doctors clinic to retrieve and transfer her eggs, we could not ignore the fact that her presence was there. She was in the same city, in the same fertility clinic, in the same parking lot, in the same waiting room, with the same doctor and staff –within 24 hours of us.
The day before, we arrived at the clinic in the morning to prepare for the next days transfer and brought with us a little gift bag of our appreciation and thanks with a card expressing our gratitude. The nurses said they would be sure to give it to her, and hopefully she received it. I remember writing a note in the card, and what a hard time I had doing so.
What can you say to someone who is giving you the gift of an opportunity at life? This little gift bag of lotions and self-care products from Origins (along with the thousands of dollars we had already previously paid her), felt like an uneven exchange. Would I still feel as grateful to her had we not succeeded? Who decides the monetary value of donor gametes, is it "what the market will bear" kind of value? And is it true that donor gametes aren't as valuable unless they are fertilized and successfully become a baby? It didn't really matter at this point. She agreed and we agreed. We both kept our word and did what we said we would do.
Because she was so close in proximity to us, we had to at least try to let her know how much we appreciated her. We don't know if she got our token gift or what happened next for her, but our growing appreciation for her will forever remain constant in our family. If we could write her a note today, it would be a little different than the first attempt, and this is what we would say:
Dear Egg Donor,
This letter is written to express our gratitude to you and to let you know how much we both admire and respect you for what you have done for us.
We know that this letter of appreciation cannot come close to the gift you have given us, but we want you to know that we are reminded every day when our children look up at us with their beautiful faces of your generosity.
Through their eyes that shine, laugh, cry and love us, we know that we could never have had this in our lives if it weren't for you. Our hope is that if you ever have any doubts about yourself, your choices, or the direction your life is taking you, you should know that you have given a part of yourself that continues to give love and joy in this world.
Being the generous and thoughtful kind of person who went through all this for us, makes us want to say thank you again and again. From the bottom of our hearts, we are grateful for everything you have done to help us fulfill our dreams of becoming a family with three beautiful children.
With gratitude, appreciation and love, Teresa and BernardIf you were going to write a letter to your donor, what would you say to them today?
Research has found that reading with young children and engaging them can make a positive impact on the child's future and their family. Bradford Wiles is an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in early childhood development at Kansas State University. For most of his career, Wiles' research has focused around building resilience in vulnerable families. His current research is focused on emergent literacy and the effect of parents reading with their children ages 3 to 5 years old.
"Children start learning to read long before they can ever say words or form sentences," said Wiles. "
My focus is on helping parents read with their children and extending what happens when you read with them and they become engaged in the story." The developmental process, known as emergent literacy, begins at birth and continues through the preschool and kindergarten years. This time in children's lives is critical for learning important pre-literacy skills. Although his research mainly focuses on 3-5 year olds, Wiles encourages anyone with young children to read with them as a family at anytime during the day, not just before going to bed. He also believes that it is okay to read one book over and over again, because the child can learn new things every time.
"There are always opportunities for you both to learn," said Wiles, "and it creates a family connection.
Learning is unbelievably powerful in early childhood development." It goes deeper than just reading to them, as parents are encouraged to read with their children. Engaging children is how they become active in the story and build literacy skills. "There is nothing more powerful than your voice, your tone, and the way you say the words," said Wiles. "When I was a child, my dad read to me and while that was helpful and I enjoyed it, what we are finding is that when parents read with their children instead of to them, the children are becoming more engaged and excited to read." Engaging the child means figuring out what the child is thinking and getting them to think beyond the words written on the page.
While reading with them, anticipate what children are thinking. Then ask questions, offer instruction, provide examples and give them some feedback about what they are thinking.
"One of the things that I really hope for, and have found, is that these things spill over into other areas," said Wiles. "So you start out reading, asking open-ended questions, offering instruction and explaining when all of the sudden you aren't reading at all and they start to recognize those things they have seen in the books. And that's really powerful."
Wiles explains it in a scenario where a mother reads a book with her 4 year old about a garden. Then they go to the supermarket and the 4 year old is pointing and saying, "look there's a zucchini." The child cannot read the sign that says zucchini but knows what that is because they read the book about gardens.
During this time called the nominal stage, the developmental stage where children are naming things, a child's vocabulary can jump from a few hundred words to a few thousand words. The more exposure they've had through books and print materials, the more they can name things and understand.
It's the emergent literacy skills that can set the stage for other elements. The school of Family Studies and Human Services at Kansas State University is producing lesson plans to help families learn how to read with young children. These lesson plans are research-based but they have been condensed into usable and applicable lessons for families. Source" Kansas State University Research and Extension (2013, September 12). Read with your children, not to them. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November
The Increase in TwinsA 2012 study takes a more specific look at the data and establishes some trends about the increase in the twin birth rate in the United States between 1980 and 2009. A National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) brief from January 2012 provides the following information: • In 1980, 1 in 53 babies was a twin. • In 2009, 1 in 30 babies was a twin. This represents a 76% increase in the twin birth rate in the thirty years from 1980 - 2009. The study estimated that an additional 865,000 more twins were born during this thirty years than if the twin birth rate had not increased during those decades. To put this in other terms: • In 1980, the twin birth rate was 18.9/1,000. • In 2009, the twin birth rate was 33.3/1,000. In those terms, it is evident that the twin birth rate increased from less than 2 percent of babies born in 1980 to over 3 percent of babies born in 2009.
Twin Birth Rates Across the StatesAll areas of the United States experienced a rise in the twin birth rate, but rates continue to differ among the states. This chart shows the twin birth rate in each state of the United States, comparing the rates in 1980 and in 2009 and the percent change over the years. Rates rose by at least 50 percent in 43 states and the District of Columbia, and five states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island) saw the rate rise by more than 100 percent. The states with the highest twin birth rate in 2009 were: • Connecticut (45.9/1,000) • Massachusetts (45.2/1,000) • New Jersey (44.2/1,000) • New Hampshire (40.3/1,000) • New York (38.3/1,000) The states with the lowest twin birth rate in 2009were: • New Mexico (22.3/1,000) • South Dakota (24.6/1,000) • Arizona (26.6/1,000) • Nevada (27.4/1,000) • Vermont (27.5/1,000)
Reasons for the Increase in TwinsSo what explains the increase in the number of twins? Many assume that it is simply an increased utilization of reproductive technology. However the study identified another significant influence.Several factors have been identified as contributing to increased twinning. One study identified consumption of dairy products as a factor. (Cattle are given growth hormone to increase their production of milk and beef. When women ingest the milk from these animals, their own hormones react, stimulating ovulation.) Another associated rising obesity rates with increases in twinning, citing that overweight or tall women are more likely to have twins. The 2012 study of twin birth rates identifies maternal age as a leading factor contributing to the increase in twins. The largest increase in twin birth rates was realized among women over the age of thirty. It says "Historically, twin birth rates have risen with advancing age, peaking at 35–39 years and declining thereafter (4). Since 1997, however, rates have been highest among women in their 40s." The study illustrates the difference in twin birth rates according to age. In 2009: • Women aged 40 or over: 7 percent of all births were a twin delivery • Women 35-49: 5 percent of births were a twin delivery • Women under age 25: 2 percent of births were a twin delivery. This increase correlates to a shift in the age distribution of women giving birth during the thirty years of the study. Where only 20 percent of women giving birth in 1980 were over age thirty, the same population accounted for 35 percent of births after 2000. "The increasingly older age of mothers over the decades would be expected to influence twin birth rates because of the higher spontaneous (i.e., without the use of fertility therapies) twinning rates of women in their 30s." The study estimates that one-third of the increase in the twin birth rate can be attributed to this elevation in maternal age.
Fertility Treatments and the Twin Birth RateFertility treatments are largely assumed to the cause behind the increase in twins, and this study supports that theory. The study cites infertility treatments as being responsible for about two-thirds of the increase in the twin birth rate from 1980 to 2009. Fertility therapies include the taking of fertility stimulating drugs or procedures to assist conception, such as in-vitro fertilization. The influence of fertility treatments is somewhat associated with the issue of advanced maternal age as women over the age of thirty are more likely to seek fertility assistance, the study acknowledges. In the three decades during which twin birth rate data was studied, medical technology made fertility therapies more successful and more accessible. The use of reproductive assistance became more prevalent in the 1980's and 1990's. However, the processes have been refined in recent years to restrict the number of multiple births that result as an outcome of fertility therapy, recognizing that multiple birth is associated with elevated health risks and accompanied by greater health care costs. Source: Martin JA, Hamilton BE, Osterman MJK. Three decades of twin births in the United States, 1980–2009. NCHS data brief, no 80. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2012.
- 138,660 twins were born in 2008
- In 2008, the number of higher order multiple deliveries were 6,268, the lowest number in more than a decade. The number of higher order multiple deliveries by type were:
- 5,877 triplets
- 345 quadruplets
- 46 quintuplets or higher
- 17 percent of twins are the result of fertility treatments.
- 40 percent of triplets are the result of fertility treatments.