Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Have you got a name for it?

Last year I was fortunate to go to a conference held by VANISH about adoption issues. Evelyn Robinson, a birth mother turned social worker and author, was one of the key speakers. I must say that this day, for me, was life changing.

Evelyn spoke about a concept that I have never heard of before; disenfranchised grief. I was to later learn that Kenneth Doka coined this term and wrote about it in his book called Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow. Doka states that this is
“Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned, or socially supported” (Doka, 1989, pg.4).

Evelyn spoke about how this type of hidden grief operates in adoption and I could instantly see the paralells it had with my situation and donor conceived people's grief. It explained so much of what I had been feeling for the last few years. I felt that I had lost half of my family and the relationships with my father and all of these people, yet I did not feel that I could express this until quite some time later. Even now I do not feel that I am completly understood in this regard. I hid my sorrow, because of many reasons. Firstly, being told that I was so "wanted" and "special" meant that I did not want to show my sadness. From what everyone around me was saying I should be happy that my parents went to so much trouble to have me! There was no way in my mind that I could ever see myself expressing my true feelings, let alone anyone acknowledging my loss and pain.

Even though I am able to speak about my feelings now, my loss is still not acknowledged, it is definately not something that is publically mourned or socially supported. The vast majority of the public are so blinded to the long term effects of this practice. What most see is that it is so wonderful, as it gives a couple just what they wanted, a child to love. That is the happy ending, right? That is what is most important! How could anyone dispute this practice as being anything but good? (note sarcasm)

What I have always wondered is how can anybody, especially those who take for granted knowing their identity and their history, look past the effects seperating someone from their family really has? I often wish I could have the same powers as that guy in the Green Mile. Hold someone's hand (I have often thought this would be great to do with some politicians or fertility doctors), and let them truly feel the pain, sadness and loss that I have over the last 8 years.. all in one hit. I think people would realise then, but mainly people's lack of compassion and unwillingness to put themselves in someone elses shoes means that this practice will continue to fool people. Just like that big fast food chain claims it's meals are "healthy" at any cost, the fertility industry will spout any old line to keep raking in the money. "Sure there are no long term consequences!", "All they need is love", "Everything will be just FINE!" (now give us your money!).

I have thought about this a lot, as you can probably imagine. Something that I think helps to perpetuate this fantasy that donor conception is a fantastic and revolutionary practice are the labels used to change and distort the relationships that truly exist. The word donor for instance is one of them. I find this term highly offensive. He may have donated his sperm to my mother, to my parents, but he did not donate his sperm to me, as I was not yet alive! He is my biological father, and calling him otherwise hides the true connection that we have. This is one reason, I believe, why my loss is not recognised. Everyone says "He is just the DNA", "He did not raise you, so he cannot be your father!", and so on. To that I say bull! No matter what way you look at it he IS my biological father. He is more than just DNA, he is a part of me, my identity and who I am today. I walk with his influence everyday. I carry his traits, his families traits with me everyday. And the other day I remembered that the sperm determines the sex of the resulting child. So he is the reason I am a woman!! He may not have raised me, but he will always be my father. There is no denying it. Call him whatever you want, but I can see that people are just trying to distort reality for their own satisfaction, for their own cause, for their own position.

The fact that T5 is not a part of my life is a major loss to me. Not being able to know him and my paternal family is... indescribably hard.

So this concept of disenfranchised grief gave me something to look to... a name for what I had experienced. I remember coming home and just being blown away by Evelyn's speech. I sat and cried, but this day I cried happy tears. "I am not going mad!!!!", I thought. "I have a name for it, my sadness makes sense! It is real. Thank God!!!"

Sometimes I wish I could have some sort of public ceremony to recognise my loss. But this wouldn't really work. I have thought about this a lot too. T5 may be alive or dead, but I do not know if he is either. And what if he were to appear in my life later on? How could I possibly mourn his absence, if there is the possibility that he might come into my life one day? I feel as though it is so important that my loss and other donor conceived people's losses are acknowledged. I am not sure exactly how. Perhaps a good start is that the public start listening to people like myself and not write us off as a disgruntled few.

I believe that there might only be a few people like myself speaking out even in years to come. It is so hard to do this. I have been to this posting page so many times over the last few weeks and felt physically ill at the thought of writing about this. It takes so much energy, that I don't blame other donor conceived people for sitting back and letting a handful of people speak on their behalf. This is what has happened in the adoption community, here in Victoria, Australia anyway. With time I am hoping however that more people come forward.

I'm reading a book at the moment about an adopted woman. She had a really hard life and chose to write about it so candidly. She reiterated my feelings about why some people (adopted and donor conceived) choose not to venture into finding out about their history: "It is my belief that even when an adoptee claims to be a non-searcher, they are at some level, conscious or not, curious about their origins" (Seitz, 2001, pg.100). People often think that I am prescribing my own experience onto those who say they do not wish to know anything about their true genetic origins when I say "Actually I think they really do want to know and just don't want to open Pandora's box...". However the more I read adoption material, the more I speak to donor conceived people, the more I can see that there is a lot of truth to my instincts about this. All I can think is this: Regardless of what kind of relationship a donor conceievd person might want with their biological parent/s, how can they deny that these people helped to create their identity? How could someone not want to learn more about themselves? People who say they do not wish to know, I believe are using a coping mechanism to survive. And once again, I don't completely think this is bad, each to their own, however I think that for them to even admit that they want to know more would be recognition that they do feel some loss. I believe that for some people it is just far too hard to acknowledge, even to themselves.

Ok. Well that is all I have to say right now. Oh and if you haven't guessed it yet, the answer to that question in the previous post,
("What about children whose parents have died and whom they have not yet met?"), the lecturer replied, "Disenfranchised Grief".