Whose information is it, anyway?

I was at a party this weekend with a handful of new queer parents. Some of the babies were adopted, some were conceived with donor sperm (purchased frozen I think in every case rather than obtained warm from a known donor).
At some point the conversation turned to the issue of sharing information about birth parents and sperm donors with people other than our children. Some felt that that our kids should be the first to have this information, so other people shouldn’t know much about the circumstances of the adoption/conception/birth until our children are old enough to hear it themselves.

One person made the point that it’s rare for a child to be the holder of that information, since much of it is general knowledge already when a child is parented by two biological parents.

Some people are taking a modified approach, sharing some carefully selected information but holding back other information. Others are sharing information freely to make sure they don’t inadvertently send the message that there is anything to be ashamed of.

And of course the issues aren’t identical for adopted children and children born via donor sperm.

Anyway, it made me really curious to hear more perspectives. If you are a birth parent who has contact with your child, an adoptive parent, a parent whose child was conceived via donor sperm or any other less-than-straightforward way, how do you handle it? If you’re not yet a parent but you think about these issues in your own future, what’s your take on it?

I’m purposely not sharing where we are on this in this post because I really want to hear different perspectives, but if people are interested I’ll talk about it in a near-future post.

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19 Responses to Whose information is it, anyway?

  1. I’m pretty open about the circumstances surrounding Ruby’s abandonment & adoption. Not everything mind you, but enough that, when faced with a curious friend, the answers appease them & aren’t upsetting for me to divulge. Ideally it’s Ruby’s story to chose to share, should she want to do so sometime down the road. For now, I do my best to share things in an educational way knowing that… most of the time, it’s other adoptive or soon to be adoptive parents who are genuinely curious & have the best of intentions in asking such questions.

    Give our best to Roo *hugs&smoochies*

    -Amy & Ruby Cate

  2. Erin says:

    We’re to-be-adoptive parents, hopefully in the next year or so. I plan on talking about our child’s adoption as often and openly as possible–since we’re a Caucasian family planning to adopt internationally and transracially, it could hardly be a secret. I just never want my child to worry that we’re ashamed of his/her origins. I also don’t want him/her to feel afraid to ask questions about it. We’ll share anything we know with our child. That said, I know there are sometimes circumstances that aren’t as appropriate to share with a small child, so we probably won’t put all of it out there at once.

  3. techie says:

    I’m the non bio parent of a 2 y o with 2 moms. We used ‘frozen pop”

    We haven’t really decided, because he’s so young. My theory right now is that I’ll answer questions as they come up. Frozen pop decidedly limits the amount of information that you have.

  4. ladybug says:

    i am curious to hear from parents who conceived using a known donor – as i am seriously considering this option, in terms of cost-effectiveness for me. tho, i do wonder what i would tell the baby when they are asking who their father is. i wonder what i would say when asked why i went with an unknown donor as well.

    lots of thinking about this lately… thankfully i have plenty of time before i have to make any decisions.

  5. afrindiemum says:

    as an adoptive family i feel like i’m constantly battling to keep normalcy around z’s adoption and our family – mainly because i believe society still thinks she’s not my ‘real child’ because we openly acknowledge her first family. sometimes maintaining normalcy means just showing that we are a family (when we receive odd looks i loudly say something like “come give mama love, z” or something that lets them know that, yes, we are different races and yes, we are a real family. other times maintaining normalcy means speaking openly about her adoption and first family, because that’s normally how we talk at home. and sometimes protecting normalcy for us means ignoring or confronting rude questions, as the situation calls for.

    for the most part, we’re extremely open about z’s adoption. we definitely fall into the camp that feels we need to openly discuss things so that there isn’t any veil of shame around her adoption. there are a few pieces that we only share with people we trust (other adoptive parents in the form of support or information, some members of our family, our friends). these are the pieces that z must have control over, in our minds. but we hope in the telling we do, we are able to educate others and in the process let people know what a normal family looks like.

  6. DS-L says:

    We are in an unusual situation because when our a-daughter is just with me everyone assumes she’s adopted (she’s Chinese and I am white) but when we are together as a family (husband Chinese-American and two hapa bio boys) she “passes” I am conflicted often when that (the passing) happens as I wonder whether I should correct people. Then I realize — when it is people I don’t know or mere acquaintences I would not share any personal information about the circumstances of the boys’ conceptions or births, so why should I say anything at all about our daughter. When people say she looks just like my husband, I just smile and say yes, she does. When I do get adoption questions (again, usually when I am alone), I cheerfully answer up to a point. The questioning from strangers and or mere acquantiences can become VERY intrusive so I usually change the subject after the very basics are covered. For example, I will answer where is she from, but not was she abandoned of what do you know about her birth mom. Not their business. We are, however, very open about adoption talk at home and with close friends and family. THere are no “secrets” Our daughter will learn / know everything we do and we already talk about birth Mommies etc. With TRA, you have to figure out a line with the outside world that you are comfortable with and just stick with it.
    DS-L

  7. florida friend says:

    We’re two mommies with one known donor and one sassy 20-month old. We’ve evolved on this issue.

    We’d initially planned to keep it private and let our daughter answer questions when she felt capable or interested. But, a few things have changed that. 1. Reading about open adoption has made me value openness, in a different way than I had. 2. Our daughter has two bio siblings who are older than she is and we want them to be as included in any decision as she is. After all, it affects them too, and we want them to feel as though everyone was honest and aboveboard. 3. It’s a gift.A huge one. We realize known donor is hard for some people, but we’re so grateful for the way our family has come together, and so lucky to have role models of both genders (okay, that can be hearsay among mommies but C’s at a point where she is aware of both) 4. She’s had medical issues that have called for full disclosure, and as a result, we have a high level of comfort around it. 5. I’m not good at keeping things secret. Honestly, for us, I always do better just being straightforward.

    Having said all that, I don’t bring it up with strangers or partial strangers, or out of context. Because it’s not relevant. And, the questions have slowed as she’s gotten older. People are less willing to ask about the “third party” when C’s yelling, “mamma. mommy. mamma. mommy.” At this point in parenting her, we both feel blessed to have the situation we have. I think as she gets older it will be challeging for her to see all three of us — her mommies and her donor — with our good points and our warts and everything else.

  8. Liza says:

    We have a 7 month old, ukd, and hope that my partner will be able to have baby #2 with our remaining “swimmers on ice.”

    I’ve been very forthright with people about our process — when I was pregnant, I could always tell when a new acquaintence was about to ask The Question. The way they hesitated before asking became extremely funny to us. 🙂

    For our family, I think it would be hard to put the cat back in the bag. But at the same time, I haven’t done things like register with the donor sibling network. I feel like that kind of active and specific identification should wait until Noah, and hopefully his future sib, can participate in choosing whether or not to identify themselves.

  9. LENORA says:

    My partner and I are raising two incredible girls adopted from China. We have always been open and honest about how the girls joined our family and the motivations that drove us to choose adoption. While we do share all of the available information with our children, we do not share their individual abondonment information outside our family of four. The adoption photo albums that I have compiled for our girls are also theirs to share (or not share) as they wish.

    I have been very open with curious strangers regarding the requirements of International Adoption but, I have found that as my daughter ages she has very little tolerance for the curious. Conversations in public that single her out at age 7 have become difficult for her to handle. She has my permission at anytime to tell me that she does not want me to share information. I try to honor her wishes and follow her lead in these situations.

    My younger daughter (age 4) knows her story, but as yet as not demonstrated much curiosity regarding her beginnings. My older daughter began questioning us around age 2 1/2, and continues to ask questions as the need arises. She will often ask a question then mull the answer for a few hours/days/weeks and then come back for clarification or additional information.

    I guess the bottom line for us is to give our kids as much information as they want/need in an age appropriate way when they ask. And to honor their choices in what we share outside our family of four.

  10. brebecca says:

    We’re still working on this, since we haven’t yet adopted our first child. One thing we’re concerned about is, since we’ll be foster parents first, and therefore don’t have the right to disclose the details of the child’s history, and since my family is supremely nosy (I come from a long line of reporters), and since I’m not a particularly private person but my partner is, how we’ll best deal with this.

    The approval process has taught us quite a bit about openness. But we’ve also been taken aback by other adoptive families that have told us intimate and potentially hurtful details about their kids’ birth parents in front of their children. Certainly I don’t want my kids to feel shame. On the other hand, I do want them to feel as if they have some control over who knows what about their stories.

    It’s great to read other perspectives on this. Thanks for asking the question!

  11. cmp72 says:

    Thanks for steering the conversation in this direction. My partner and I are meeting an expectant woman at our adoption agency tonight (!) and have been thinking about these issues over the weekend. Looking toward this evening, we decided that there is part of a child’s story that is theirs alone, to hold or to share as they wish.

    We had a failed adoption a year ago. In the time between the “match” and the birth, we shared quite a lot of information about the situation with our family and friends, oping to prepare the people closest to us for what was expected to be a difficult situation. Only in the aftermath did we see that at some point we crossed a line that we had drawn for ourselves and shared far more information than we had intended. If we adopt in the future, we will have a story that is shared and a story that is kept just for our child.

  12. Mel says:

    We have twins, so the whole IF question comes up quite a bit. Like when I’m trying to buy groceries and the cashier asks, “are they natural.” Well…yes, they are natural in the sense that they are real babies with real skin and real blood. I tell everyone within reason and speak about it bluntly and openly. Especially in front of the kids. And I do this because I don’t want them to ever sense that there is any shame over their conception. There will be plenty of people who may make them feel shame in the future, but they won’t feel it from me. That’s just my feeling.

  13. Shannon says:

    At first questioning, I tell the happy veneer part of the story but mostly I have stopped sharing any of the harder parts or details about Nat’s first family.

    If Nat isn’t around I feel more comfortable sharing more because then I know the other person won’t say anything stupid in front of her (just me, and I can handle it). But in general, I pick and choose who I tell based on who I’m talking to. Random strangers just get that she’s adopted and we know her mother and her mother is a good person who had her hands full with her other kids (if the conversation gets that far).

    I find I almost have to tell more than I’d like in order to defend Nat’s family, because people make stereotyped assumptions that I don’t feel comfortable leaving intact.

    So I wiggle on this depending on the situation.

    People have been asking less as Nat has become a toddler. I appreciate people’s seeming sensitivity to Nat’s ability to comprehend what they are asking.

  14. Sue says:

    I am unable to give you a definitive answer except that I feel it is a lot like talking about sex, in that it is a developmental issue that needs to be handled differently according to age and readiness. Furthermore, if we aren’t 100% together ourselves (and we are so not) it can be really hard to be articulate and answer to an unexpected question from our child or a friend, without doing a bit of red-faced stammering first.

    Our situation is quite unique in international adoption because we have had birth parent info but don’t feel we can act on it, and don’t know when we will be able to. Some of that is our choice, some of it is a desire to protect our daughter and her first parents, some of it is just plain not knowing how.

    As far as others’ questions, I don’t ever want her to overhear me divulging something I haven’t adequately explained to her, so most of it stays private.

    She, on the other hand, gets to say anything she wants to us without repercussions, even that she wishes she had never been adopted. I think is an important groundwork for future Q&A, up to and including a relatively healthy BP search and reunion, to the extent to which we can control it. And there is a large extent to which we cannot control things.

    How’s that for vague?

  15. Sue says:

    PS WordPress is repeatedly messing up my cookies so that my name will not connect to my website. I can’t figure out how to fix it other than to say this is Sue from mylifepostponed.wordpress.com signing out!

  16. Susan says:

    Good questions….we are in the position of having not much info about Curious Girl’s first family, although we do have some information, and we’re generally reluctant to share it. In the first flush of referral information, we shared pretty much all of what we knew with 3 different friends, one of whom then repeated some of the info to staff on our campus (which she realized later was a mistake, and is now more reserved with that info). These days, we keep what we know about CG’s first family to ourselves, particularly because Curious Girl doesn’t know it all yet. (She’s 4, and she has all the info we have in the lifebook we made for her, but we don’t yet read all the pages to her: she’s much more interested in the photos than in the words, and when she reads it to herself, she has her own version of the story). So we’re working towards full and early disclosure to her, but in a developmentally-appropriate way.

    But this is a tough situation, since it means I’m keeping info from some of my closest friends that otherwise I would share, and I wonder sometimes whether I’m going too far with the secrecy. And I have started to share info with some other adoptive parents as a way of helping support them and to get help for me as I think about how to frame certain pieces of info for CG.

    I’ve also noticed that the older she gets, the fewer questions we get from strangers about her past.

  17. Lisa V says:

    The difficult stuff I share rarely- it’s Apple’s and Scruffy’s info. Just like no one needs to know about my parents marital troubles or alcoholic grandfather unless I choose to share it. The good stuff, I share, though I often ask Apple and Noelle. I share little about the other three birth/first parents in my children’s lives on my blog or IRL. Noelle knows every word I say about her, she reads the blog, she can refute it if I get it wrong, the others don’t know about the blog so I keep quiet out of respect for them. Apple is used to my big mouth. So far it doesn’t bug her. When she says it does, then I will adjust.

  18. Eric says:

    As the social father to two DI conceived children,my wife and I decided before their conceptions that we would be open with them. My son was told when he was two and has heard the story many times. His sister at two plus a few months has basically heard the story from birth but is too youg to process any of it yet. We met their only known half sibling (found via http;//donorsiblingregistry.com) and while we don’t refer to as their sistet she is very much their half sibling.

    I am a big fan of openness and disclosure. My own process of addressing these issues is document on my own blog as “life as dad to donor insemination kids”.

  19. Jess says:

    We have an international open adoption–pretty unusual and therefore a topic of many unwanted (but understandable) questions. Our son, K, was adopted at 6 mos and is now 5 and 1/2. We have been back twice to his country of birth to visit with his birthmom, aunties, uncles, and cousins. It is a weird tension–how much info to give out without giving your kid a complex about too much sharing or too much secrecy. Now that he is older, it is easier. We just let him answer the questions. He is such an extrovert. He usually is open with the minimum details. Especially right before or after a trip–seems more real for him I think. Mostly, I try to let him take the lead in those conversations.

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