The NYC Gathering

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Monday, January 3, 2011

The End of Don't Ask Don't Tell?

Happy New Year to all! One of my resolutions for 2011 is to grow The New York City Gathering and to continue to be responsive to the needs of all our members. I want everyone reading this to know that ALL people who are considering third party reproduction or are on the path to having children this way, as well as those actually involved in third party parenting, are welcome to The NYC Gathering’s events, workshops, dinners and discussion groups. My goal is to create a community for our families

Now, down to business: In 2010 we saw a few signs of public acceptance of Third Party Reproduction and Parenting and a few signs of how far we still need to go. When I started the NYC Gathering nine years ago, a respected friend told me that in twenty years this will be no big deal. Almost halfway there, I’m sad to say that this might not be. None of us at that first meeting on October 2002 would have guessed that in 2010 Arizona and Oklahoma would have had a vote on whether to put a ban on donor compensation, or that in 2009 Missouri would vote on whether to put donor names on birth certificates. On a positive note, who would have ever thought  that we’d see an HBO special “A Family Is” featuring gay celebrity adoption mom Rosie O’Donnell, loosely based on Marlo Thomas’s work in “Free to be a Family.”

In 2010, I heard many personal criticisms about my choices online, in person, from all kinds of people. Smart people who said to me: “Why do you have to tell your kids about this?”, or right in front of my kids, “Donor egg, I could never do that”. One professional with a deep interest in this field wondered if I’m just a little too public, and said maybe outing my kids is not such a good idea. Unfortunately, it’s not only the Internet-stalking crazy people I have to worry about, but the general population and their perceptions of Third Party Reproduction.

Online, I’ve been criticized for shoving a script down my kids’ throats about differentiating between egg donor and mom. They insensitively offer to comfort my kid in place of me, when she can’t find her “other mother.”   These people are clueless about the fact that in our home we encourage our kids to share their feelings. We encourage them to find and be the best of themselves they can possibly be and create their own definition of family. They will definitely be able to think and do for themselves because I wouldn’t have it any other way and neither would they!

In this week’s NY Times Magazine section there was a wonderful first person narrative written by Melanie Thernstrom about how she and her husband, Michael, had two children with the help of an egg donor and two surrogates. She was proud of her decision to go this route and disclose it to all, no matter what the repercussions might be. Bravo for her courage! Sadly, she is in the minority. Too few heterosexual couples are coming out about Third Party Parenting. perhaps because they feel it will invite judgment. This article garnered a robust 326 comments within its first twelve hours online, outpacing other hot-topics such as tax cuts, abortion, gays in the military and Wikileaks.

 I hope you didn’t miss Peggy Orenstein’s column in the Times Magazine section, “The Way We Live Now” column a few months ago about the “Think Pink” movement, and how years ago women who had breast cancer had to stay in the closet. Substitute third party reproduction/infertility for breast cancer and her 70's comparisons were right on the mark for where public acceptance and awareness of assisted reproductive technology are and how the fertility industry treats the hetero families they help create.

I was born in 1961 and remember in the 70’s, whispering the words divorce, black, cancer, gay and adopted. But we still can't even whisper donor conception, unless you've suffered a long and horrible road (with no disrespect to severe infertility folk intended). Ok, yes, we're shouting it privately amongst ourselves, but that’s about it.

Older moms received a lot of press in 2010. There was a nice article on becoming an older mom on The photo was bizarrely retouched to accentuate the silver-hair of a woman holding a baby. Donor-conception was mentioned as practically eliminating the biological clock. It was on the transcript of The Joy Behar Show with Joan Lunden on CNN. A sincere thanks to Dr Grifo, I really liked his honesty about fertility education. But according to the transcript, the mental health professional on that program didn’t even mention donor. What does that tell you??? Just think of the Travoltas, SJP and so on. No, celebrities don’t have to be the ones to come out and lead the way for the rest of us. I get that.

But the lines between privacy and secrecy are increasingly blurred, and most donor parents I know say it’s their kids’ story to tell. I really try to respect that--I'm not saying I don't. I just HAVE TO be the one to say it’s OUR story to tell because if I don’t, if I pretend its a non-issue when the rest of the world is so very open to just about everything else, then I fear that by the time my kids grow up they will deep down feel that there is something wrong with them. To me that equals stigma and shame. A subtle message, but a painful one nonetheless, as everything else is so openly discussed today other than donor conception. That’s problematic for me and I think it’s problematic for my kids.

In 2010, I saw The Kid, an Off-Broadway hit about a gay couple seeking to adopt. I loved the music, the lyrics, and the message. It didn't matter to me that its a gay story. It is the exact same story I have heard about TTC via donor conception and the infertility rollercoaster, including what it does to people and relationships, and what it takes to stay whole as a couple and a family, before, during and (hopefully) after kids. I saw two people speak to each other about the high cost of not having their own working ovaries and loving each other regardless, even in those horrible moments when they don’t know which way any cycle or pregnancy will go until they take home a baby. And on the other side of this story is the fact that the gay population have come along way trying to achieve their own acceptance, and are still fighting for equality today. They are now the leaders behind the anti-bullying movement and I applaud them.

Over the past eight years, I’ve met a broad range of incredible couples and individuals on this journey. Choice moms and gay families. Even this year’s film “The Kids Are All Right” showed us that gay families are like everyone else and pretty mainstream, almost passé, “No Big Deal“ according to a Sunday Styles piece in the NY Times. Sometimes I think I’ll never fit in anywhere, and I fear that my kids will feel the same. I hope and pray every day, and work fiercely to create a safe community for donor-conceived and surro families, so my kids won't feel alone and wonder why no one ever cared how they felt when people whisper, “Donor egg. I could never do that…..” You fill in the rest.


  1. Sara you do great work, you fit in with PVED just fine and your children they will fit too. I promise. Keep up the great work:)

  2. Bravo to you! We are also open with our twins about their unique origins and wouldn't have it any other way. We are proud of their story, as this journey brought them to us ~ and we truly believe that these two babies are the ones we were meant to have. We have told them that there are MANY ways to create a family, and each family is different, but none is better than another. What you are doing with this community is commendable...just wish you could hold meetings in CA too! Thank you for all your efforts to integrate our families and to educate the ignorant people out there who don't *really* understand the pain of infertility. Let them walk a minute in our shoes before judging us.