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The End of Donor Anonymity

I began counseling couples going through the International adoption process. Even though domestic adoptions were becoming more open in the US, international adoptions were still inherently closed. When international adoptions declined drastically in the mid-2000s to improve child trafficking regulations, I switched gears. I learned about third-party reproduction counseling from my fertility doctor, and I began screening anonymous egg donors. Early on, the young women I screened didn’t give much thought to what it really meant to donate their eggs. I remember one young lady comparing it to donating a kidney. I knew more education was needed in the field.

I started to feel conflicted about my professional life. As the adoption field became more open, the third-party reproductive field remained fiercely protective of genetic secrets. I knew the psychological challenges of anonymous egg and sperm donation on a child. The closed adoption system was repeating itself, but worse. I knew that children should have access to their genetic information but there were no regulations requiring donation facilities to keep the information on file for a lifetime.

I couldn’t remain neutral anymore. How would these children find out their genetic information if they wanted to someday? There were major gaps in psychological preparation for intended parents. Intended parents had questions that agencies weren’t answering. Parents were seeking more than simple answers.

In session, I covered details that other professionals weren’t, like epigenetics and how infertility grief affects parenting across the life span. One counseling session was not enough time to prepare couples for the journey. I recommended joint counseling sessions with known donors to discuss roles and intentions and to anticipate the child’s needs. There came a point when I couldn’t be neutral anymore.

The turning point came when an angry client called and threatened me. I was on a road trip with my family in Oregon in 2015, when my cell phone rang. It was a client I had seen the week prior. He and his wife came to me for couples counseling to prepare to secretly use an acquaintance as an egg donor. I remembered his wife so well. She was suffering when she came to my office, deeply grieving. I felt for her. I saw her brokenness and felt her heartache. I felt the resistance in the room but who could blame them? Their dreams were broken and now they had to face the psychological complexity of egg donation.

I knew they wanted to just brush this under the rug and move on. It would’ve been much easier for me to avoid the hard topics, but my job was to counsel them according to ASRM guidelines. My heart pounded as I informed them of the ASRM’s recommendation to disclose the truth to the child. As the husband’s tension rose, I chose my words more carefully. I knew he was protecting his wife’s feelings, and I wanted to be tender too. It was uncomfortable, but it was my job to be neutral yet compassionate.

It was also my recommendation that their donor come to a counseling session with them to discuss their relationship moving forward. Do they all agree on disclosure? Has the donor shared the secret with anyone? How would they communicate if the secret got out? What would they do if the child wanted contact with the donor? What would the relationship with the donor be like?

The couple declined this meeting and we moved on. I sent a psychological report to their doctor and noted that the couple declined a joint session but had met the counseling requirements of the ASRM. My personal recommendation upset the doctor’s office manager, and she wanted me to rewrite the report without the negatives. I explained I did not put anything in the report that would disqualify them for the procedure according to the ASRM guidelines. I simply felt it was best for known donors and couples to talk through what their relationship would look like for the child’s sake.

That’s when the office manager contradicted the couple and told me they were using an anonymous donor. I’d like to think it wasn’t a direct attempt to lie to me. I’d like to think she meant that the known donor wanted to remain anonymous but that was impossible. The couple already knew their donor. They were friends on social media, so by definition it was not anonymous. I refused to change my report, so the office manager threw it in the trash and told the couple to see a different counselor. That’s when the husband called me and accused me of not providing the proper counseling. He threatened to report me if I did not refund his fee for counseling. He felt that I shoved “my agenda” down his throat during our session.

I was ready to quit counseling for third-party donation that day. I was sickened by what I saw happening. I had already been bullied by egg donation agencies to pass unqualified donors and lost business because I wouldn’t rubber stamp the psychological evaluations. As I expected, the angry client’s doctor’s office never sent another one of their patients to counseling with me. I knew so much more than they did, but they didn’t want to hear it.

I knew that life was long and I may have to answer to the unborn children someday. I felt a deep responsibility to them because I was one of them. I was a child with a mysterious identity to figure out. I lived through the confusion, the grief, and the silence. I fell silent again, muted and unheard in this field.

As disgusted as I was by the phone call that day, something stirred in me, and I knew I couldn’t go back to doing what I was doing before. Not the same way. That angry client showed me that I wasn’t okay with the way anonymous donation was being conducted. Science may change the way we conceive babies, but it can’t change the role DNA has on human identity development.

After decades of research, the adoption field understands why children should have access to their genetic information if they want it. It’s time for the third-party reproduction field to require more education and implement industry standards to reflect our knowledge of human development. If they would not listen, then I would go straight to those parents and ask the questions. It was time for me to do it. I might lose all my business, but I counseled differently starting that day. I started telling clients when they called for an appointment that I was on the side of openness before they even stepped in my office. I lost 80% of my business the following year, but slowly I began seeing more known donors, same-sex couples, and other couples that were open to being open. It was liberating.

Since then, I’ve counseled many couples using known (family members or friends) or open/ID release donors. The adoption community understands that openness is possible and healthy for the child. We can learn a lot from the adoption community’s approach to open adoption. I have interviewed hundreds of donors over the years and many of them were willing to be identified. We can’t let fear stop us from what is doing best for the children being born.

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Podcast on Fertilitypoddy

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“Are you trying to get your head around using a donor or processing the idea of adopting?  ‘Three Make Baby’ which is a brilliant guide and workbook to help you process the crazy range of complex emotions you have going on.” – Natalie Silverman
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Three Makes Baby– Bestselling Book for Donor Conception Parenting Preparation

Since it’s publication in August 2018, Three Makes Baby has climbed to Amazon’s #1 best-selling book in the category of donor conception preparation and parenting. Selling over 200 copies to five countries, this first-of-its-kind parenting book, written by a professional fertility counselor, is receiving glowing reviews from readers and professional groups across the globe.

“I just finished reading Three Makes Baby and wanted to thank [Jana Rupnow] for putting this wonderful book in the world. My donor-conceived kid is now in preschool and while we have been open with her about her story, my husband and I still have some unaddressed grief. Your book really helped me revisit some feelings from our infertility journey and go forward with more courage to address our pain.” – S

The Donor Conception Network in the UK has endorsed the book, offering it in their library to their group of over 2,000 families. Olivia Montuschi, co-founder and Practice Consultant at the Donor Conception Network writes,

“This wonderful book should be read by everyone contemplating having a child by donor conception, people who are parenting a child conceived by egg, sperm or embryo donation and the professionals who support them. What makes me most excited about this book is that it supports and mirrors very closely my own approach to parenting donor conceived children.  Firstly she recognizes that children will understand and give meaning to their conception story in different ways at different developmental stages.  Rupnow then acknowledges that mixed feelings about donor conception are normal in both intended and actual parents and indeed for DC children and adults.  The ability to be able to hold these mixed feelings at the same time, to be able to see both sides, (what she refers to as dialectical thinking) is vital for successful family building by DC.  If parents are happy to recognize and embrace difference whilst also embracing similarities between themselves and their children there is then room in the family conversation for children/adults to have both positive and negative feelings.  Rupnow endorses something I often say in Preparation for Parenthood workshops that becoming a parent by donor conception is a wonderful opportunity to raise a child who is ‘themself’ rather than expecting a chip off the old block.

Three Makes Baby can be purchased on Amazon. For media inquiries, professional development or speaking engagement requests email jana@janarupnow.com.

 

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The book I wish I had written: Three Makes Baby – How to Parent Your Donor Conceived Child — Three Makes Baby

Originally posted on oliviasview: This wonderful book should be read by everyone contemplating having a child by donor conception, people who are parenting a child conceived by egg, sperm or embryo donation and the professionals who support them. The author, Jana Rupnow, is a counsellor from Texas who says this book has been a labour…

via The book I wish I had written: Three Makes Baby – How to Parent Your Donor Conceived Child — Three Makes Baby

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The book I wish I had written: Three Makes Baby – How to Parent Your Donor Conceived Child

Thank you!

oliviasview

This wonderful book should be read by everyone contemplating having a child by donor conception, people who are parenting a child conceived by egg, sperm or embryo donation and the professionals who support them.  The author, Jana Rupnow, is a counsellor from Texas who says this book has been a labour of love and written with the people she has been helping over the last ten years in mind.  She takes a child focussed perspective but writes with enormous compassion for people struggling with infertility and trying to make the decision to have a child by donor conception.  As Rupnow herself is adopted and has a daughter she adopted from China she is no stranger to issues of loss, difference and interest in genetic heritage.  Throughout the book she uses examples from her own experience of adoption and parenting her daughter, recognising that adoption and donor conception, whilst sharing some…

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Lost Hope- How to Cope

IMG_6397.PNGIf hope is a dirty word to you, you’re not alone. Having your hopes crushed is heart breaking and it’s hard (and scary) to muster up the feeling. What if your hopes are crushed again? The ups and downs of infertility treatments can be so discouraging that you may lose hope all together. That means you could be paying thousands of dollars on something you no longer believe in.

What to do? It may sound weird but I don’t encourage my clients to hope again. I know it’s too painful but I also don’t want them to lose hope completely. So, where do you go from there? To an in between place, a place between hope and no hope. Most of us have no idea what that is. Think of it as neutral. Neutral isn’t where you think about the future or past. It’s more like being in the moment. It’s an exercise and a skill you can develop with practice. I bet you would like an example so I have one for you! I developed an exercise called Sit and Soak that will walk you through an exercise in neutral. I originally created it to help clients with mindful eating and it works really well for that too. It’s going to take some time and practice but this is a good place to start. To get a copy of the Sit and Soak exercise straight to your inbox, click here.

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Want to learn more? Sign up for my newsletter to learn some  ways to get neutral.

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Grief Speaks First

The first word our daughter said to us was “bop”! It wasn’t a word in Chinese that we were aware of. We are pretty sure “bop” meant something along the lines of, “Who are you, put me down and I’m angry” or simply, “F U.” So, when people ask me when I started talking to my child about adoption, I tell them we started communicating from the first day.
Except for the word, “bop”, most of what we said about adoption had no words. Like most adoptive parents, we read her storybooks and used simple phrases to explain what happened. I can attest that talking to children about adoption in the preschool stage helps them accept the information more effortlessly. It set the stage for us to continue the conversation whenever it came up. However, reading I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, forty-seven times was a fraction of what was

IMG_3480actually being said between us. Even if parents do not openly discuss adoption with their child, they still communicate their attitudeabout it. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, a professor of psychology at UCLA, 93% of communication is nonverbal, 55% body language and 38% tone of voice. A child will come to understand adoption more through what her parents are feeling than what they are saying. Nonverbal communication plays an even larger role when adoption is deliberately not talked about. Parents that do not talk about adoption with their child are actually saying more than they may be aware of.

“What we bury, we carry through time.”

In 8 years of working with families, I find the biggest obstacle to open communication about adoption is a parent’s repressed grief. Adoption has inherent loss and grief for both parent and child. Most adoptive parents have not fully healed from the losses they experienced during infertility. Healing takes time and no matter how much work has been done, it’s normal to experience some grief while parenting.

The nature of our family’s adoption brought grief to the surface immediately. Our daughter lived with a foster mother in China for the first year of her life and the separation was traumatic. For months after coming home, she woke in the night in a crying rage, about 6 times a night. She was very difficult to calm. Even though I prepared for this possibility, when she raged something painful stirred in me too. It was my own anger, deeply buried and displaced. This was not how I imagined I would feel during the first few months with my baby. Processing loss takes a willingness to feel discomfort.

When parents bring their baby home they want to leave the painful past behind. Sometimes, this is when real grieving begins. It is tempting to want to bury grief and carry on with the distracting job of parenting. What we bury, we carry through time. Grief gets heavy and tiresome and can show up in different ways, such as irritability, resentment, or contemptuous feelings toward your child. Repressed grief may be displaced into negative parent reactions like detached body language or an unpleasant tone of voice. Ongoing feelings of sadness, resentment, regret or jealousy may cause distance between a parent and child. Years of unresolved grief has the ability to time travel through generations by influencing the parent/child bond. By talking with a professional or joining a support group a parent can continue the healing process. Parents who are able to resolve their grief have the ability to help their child work through genetic loss.

“Unresolved grief has the ability to time travel through generations.”

Luckily, my daughter’s grief uncovered mine and there was no stopping the feelings that came to the surface. I had to feel it to heal it and so did she. She also needed me to heal. By processing my grief, I was able to own my negative feelings and not project them on to my daughter. My husband comforted her in moments that were too much for me. Over and over, we held our daughter in the night and told her she was safe and loved. We grieved with her, confronted our fears and talked about the hard stuff. We used humor for reprieve from the heaviness. Fearful, sleep deprived nights gradually turned into peaceful days of acceptance. We are better parents because we got better at accepting both sides of adoption, the loss and the joy.

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Jana M. Rupnow is a licensed professional counselor, adoptive mother and adoptee, and author of the best-selling book Three Makes Baby. She specializes in fertility, including third party reproduction and adoption in her private practice in Dallas, TX. Learn more about Jana at janarupnow.com or email jana@janarupnow.com.