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Cornerstones of the Donor Family: Kindness and Empathy

From choosing a donor to expanding one's family to include donor relatives. 

Key points

  • Kindness has both genetic and environmental roots.
  • When choosing a sperm or egg donor, indications of kindness and empathy might be the most important attributes to look for.
  • Empathizing with the motives, hesitations, fears, and situations of one's donor relatives is crucial.
  • Creating kindness as a core value of a donor family circle benefits everyone.

Raising, or being a donor-conceived person, and maneuvering through and defining one's curiosities and new donor family connections gives us many unique opportunities to acknowledge others' feelings and experiences that may be very different than our own. Even when first choosing a gamete donor, empathy is a quality that can be put at the top of a list of requirements.

  • Prospective parents: When prospective parents are perusing through donor profiles, ready to choose the biological parent(s) of their future child, my recommendation is that looking for an indication of kindness, over intelligence, academics, or even physical appearance, should be the #1 factor. While a person’s ability to be empathetic is affected by their experiences, environment, community, and culture, to a certain extent, we have a genetic basis that supports a lot of the processes that make us nice. “…kindness is in our genes. According to several studies conducted over the past decade, kindness has a genetic component. At least some aspect of altruism and empathy is hereditary, and it's written in our genes - our DNA." Kind words in a donor profile can indicate the donor's ability for empathy and compassion. Other indicators might be a strong desire to care about and help their fellow humans or devote their lives to the well-being of others. This attribute can be extremely beneficial to donor-conceived people later on when contact is desired, attempted, or made.
  • Parents: Empathy requires a parent to support, listen and feel, even if they may not understand their child's feelings. It's not about fixing the problem or always having the answers; it is about being able to walk with them as they navigate their own story, oftentimes while also maneuvering through their own complex emotions. Parents can be empathic, self-assured, and brave enough to acknowledge that while they might not view their children’s genetic donor relatives as “family”, their kids are likely to. A donor-conceived person needs affirmation that what they feel is real and valid as it may be incredibly hard for them to process, articulate, and share what they are feeling about not knowing more about their ancestry, family medical history, and close genetic relatives. It is important that donor-conceived people know that their parents can welcome hard conversations.
  • Donor-conceived people: finding out as an adult that they're donor-conceived and/or that they have a large number of half-siblings. Donor-conceived people don’t want to hear why they shouldn’t feel upset, sad, or angry, or that they should just be happy to be alive. Sharing one's own perspective is oftentimes less comforting than showing that one empathizes and honors the other's experience and perspective. Donor-conceived people need to have their feelings and emotions sensitively and compassionately recognized and validated with kindness by their loved ones. They need to hear that loved ones are ready to walk with them as they navigate the challenges connected with their story, whether they have just found out, or have been on the journey for a while.
  • Reaching out to newly-found biological parents/donors, half-siblings (and their parents), biological children, and other relatives should be an invitation based on empathy, not a demand. People might be reaching out to others like donor-conceived people, children that the donor is raising, and parents of donors, who had no idea of a donor situation. It's important to see others' perspectives and try to meet them where they're at instead of expecting them to feel as you do. It's common for many egg and sperm donors, parents, and donor-conceived people to have as their mantra, "please be kind" after sending their initial message to a donor relative and waiting and hoping for a positive response. The tone of one's initial message should be based on kindness and understanding as one can't be sure of the new contact's personal donor family experience so far.
  • Being contacted by parents, biological children, half-siblings, and donors. Even if one isn't ready, needs some time to process, or just doesn’t currently have the perceived emotional bandwidth needed to connect, responding with kindness goes a long way. Responses can be based on love and possibility instead of fear and mistrust. The person reaching out has placed themselves in a very vulnerable position and it’s wise to respond honestly and handle them with care. Leaving the door open for future correspondence, even just a crack, can be a meaningful step for all involved.
  • Connecting with people in different family structures and from different religious, socio-economic, sexual/gender, academic, or cultural backgrounds necessitates honoring differences. Sometimes, parents or donors have not told their children the truth and they may also ask others to keep the secret. Responding with anger or shaming these parents will not help them to understand the importance of honesty. They can be gently and kindly encouraged to read up on the current donor-family research and advice and recommend that they speak with a professional.
  • Understand that everyone defines “family” in a different way. Some people insist that DNA doesn’t make a family. This may be a fear-based response and can be met with empathy along with a desire to inquire more deeply into this belief. DNA isn't the only way to make or define a family, but it certainly is one way. Parents and donors can read up on the experiences of donor-conceived people to better understand that many of them do indeed include the sharing of DNA as one of the ways they perceive their own family. Just because a parent doesn't consider their child's donor relatives as "family" doesn't mean that the child won't. “Family“ can have a wonderful, evolving, and expanding definition over time.
Earthbound Madness
Source: Earthbound Madness

Kindness is the desire and choice to empathetically understand another’s mindset, motives, and situation.

Empathizing with donor family members' experiences and perspectives is crucial, even when they are far different than one's own. Kindness can provide avenues for trust and a deeper connection among donor relatives. Creating kindness as a core value of a donor family circle benefits everyone, including the new genetic relatives yet to find and/or join the group. Creating a welcoming and safe space for new half-siblings, parents, and donors (and their families) cultivates a healthy, grounded, and ever-expanding donor family.

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