Choosing Non Genetic Parenthood

So, you want to find a donor or birthparent who possesses qualities you see in yourself, or perhaps even better? That makes sense. Angelina Jolie adopted her first child, but most people choose to have genetically related children first. It’s natural to want children who are connected to us, and the people we love.

If you are a same-sex couple, a heterosexual couple with infertility issues, or an individual who has suffered from an illness that has damaged your fertility, it’s understandable to feel sad about not being able to conceive with your own genetics. This idea upsets some people more than others. If you are able to overcome this loss without too much angst, you are fortunate. For many, the loss of a genetic connection is difficult to accept and may affect the way you choose a donor or feel attracted to a particular birthmother.

When individuals and couples meet a birthmother or look at a picture of a donor it’s common to hear such comments as, “she looks like me when I was little” or, “ I was also artistic when I was a child”. It’s natural to want to replace ourselves or choose characteristics we wished we possessed. So we may look for a donor with the perfect SAT’s or a birthmother who looks like a supermodel. These desires are understandable but they are driven by emotion. I would not suggest that you disregard your desire to feel some connection with the donor or birthmother. However, it also makes sense to be practical.

It is not possible to choose temperament, as any parent will tell you, and superior intellect is not necessarily inheritable either. This can be difficult to accept. Having children is such an intimate experience and the thought that our children could be different from us or different from the child we dreamed about can feel terribly disappointing. The loss we may feel is so personal and carries a different meaning for everyone. It is helpful to be cognizant of these feelings and work through them so we can be fully accepting of the children we raise. We may choose a donor who is very feminine and dream of the day that we will have tea parties with our daughter. However, it is possible we can have a tomboy who detests tea parties. This is a truism for genetically related children as well.

Even if this fact is understood it may continue to pull on your heartstrings. To make matters worse, friends and family will likely search for a physical or temperamental manifestation of your genetic connection to you child. Parents constantly hear, “he looks just like you” or “she must get her sense of humor from her father”. Perhaps it is part of our evolutionary drive to keep our species alive. Yet we cannot choose our child’s temperament, even with our own genetics. When we accept this fact, we can try to stack the odds for desirable traits in our favor.

It’s important to remember that you are not only choosing a donor or birthparent, but you are selecting a person from whom your child will inherit half of his or her DNA. This DNA does not simply represent the donor, it possesses information from his or her family on both sides. Therefore, an egg donor may have blonde hair and blue eyes, but if she has three red-haired brothers you may have a red haired child. If she is tall but everyone in her family is short, you cannot count on getting the genes for a tall stature.

It can also be helpful to consider how the donor or birthparents medical history will mesh with the genetically linked parent’s medical history. If we can accept that everyone’s family has some difficulties, we can be open to investigating, to the degree we are able, our birthparents’ or donor’s families. The key is to not only try to minimize difficulties but also to try to identify difficulties that are present in the birthparent or donor’s family and present in the genetically-linked parents family as well. If for example, the genetically-linked parent has colon cancer in his family we would not want to see colon cancer in the donor or birth parents families. In taking this simple shift of thinking, we can attempt to avoid increasing the risk of a particular problem for our child.

It is not always possible to obtain accurate information about your donor or birthparents. Psychological and genetic testing and interviews conducted by experienced professionals can be helpful in trying to obtain the most accurate information possible. For a small fee, criminal background checks can be ordered online and can reveal arrest histories of prospective birthparents. These efforts are not perfect but may be helpful.

The characteristics to which you reflexively gravitate may not be inheritable, and understanding this fact may cause you to change your mind about your list of priorities. For example, once you understand that your egg donor’s ambition, sense of humor or gentle demeanor is less likely to be passed down to your child than the dark hair or olive skin of her family you may feel more comfortable looking at other egg donors whose families have olive skin and dark hair.

In the age of the internet, there is no such thing as anonymity. Children are finding their donors on Facebook and adult adoptees are connecting with birthparents through genetic testing. It is important to understand that when you child is older, he or she may be able to connect with her genetic origins. At that point, your child may be able to have his questions answered and medical background revealed.

But why not know all you can now to tip the scales in your favor?

Many people who use donor eggs or sperm or adopt to build their families may have waited a long time to become parents. Often this wait causes frustration and a sense of desperation. When people feel frustrated and desperate it’s natural that their emotions will have an impact on decision making.

The irony is that although finding a donor or a birth parent that you feel a connection to may help you feel better about pursuing non-genetic parenthood, thinking clearly about inheritable traits is a strategy that is more likely to help you have the child who more closely resembles the child of your dreams.