Beware of Governments Bearing Gifts
If you’re donor conceived and living in Victoria, Australia, you’ve probably heard the government has passed a new law. Once you turn eighteen, you can apply for the identity of your donor, even if he donated under the condition of anonymity. You may be considering taking advantage of this. Before you jump in, please consider how it might play out.
You contact VARTA, and after the mandatory counselling, they send a registered letter to your donor. Now things get interesting.
Let’s assume your donor has normal social skills. If so, he’s probably been married for twenty or more years and may have two or three legal children. He gets home and his wife announces there is a registered letter.
“Who’s it from?” she asks.
He opens it up and the colour drains from his face. “It’s the sperm bank” he says, “there is a donor offspring who wants to make contact.”
“Well you need to veto that.” Her forced nonchalance betrays her rising panic.
“Why’s that? It can’t do any harm.”
“You need to ask? Our kids don’t even know. Tony’s got his HSC exam at the end of the year. Can you imagine how the discovery will upset him. And what if this kid turns out to be crazy? Have you read any of those DC blogs. Those kids are full of anger and resentment. If they take a dislike to our kids who knows what they can do? And even if they’re not intending harm, then why did they make contact? They’re probably after money or a kidney donation.”
He falls silent. He resents the betrayal of the agreement he had with the clinic, but at the same time he is excited at the thought of meeting this child, of seeing the person his donation has grown into. Still the immediate problem is his wife . He knows the fears his wife is expressing are irrational. Decades together have made him acutely aware of her insecurities, but still he does not guess her real motives.
She too reflects on what is really troubling her. In the early days of their marriage, she would grill him after every business trip, in case some female colleague had preyed on his sexual desperation. Then, as the years passed, she grew more comfortable, knowing that any woman young enough to attract him would not be interested in a balding middle aged man. And up her sleeve she holds an ace; she is the mother of his children. Even the hottest bade cannot trump that card.
But now, there are half a dozen or so new children and each has a mother. The mothers would be a decade or so younger than her, and some would be divorced. With the donor child came the possibility of a new romance, a woman young enough to be attractive, old enough to be obtainable and who could also boast that title; mother of his children. Barely a month passed without the gossip magazines telling the story of just such romances. Of course the men in the magazines were single, but there were others that did not splash their romance over the tabloids. She knew of two such cases including one in NSW where the husband left his wife for the mother of his donor child. The mother attempted suicide if she remembered the story correctly. No, this would not do. She had to go nuclear.
“Darling,” she says, barely holding back the tears, “if you contact that kid, I will divorce you!”
And so he takes a pen from the draw and ticks the box marked Contact Veto, before carefully placing the form in the return envelope.
The councillor is very gentle when she tries to explain to you that he’s not your real parent, that you should forget him and get on with your life. She also explains the legal ramifications of the lifetime contact ban. You cry, you swear and try to forget him. But it is so unfair. If only he met you, he would realise you are a nice person and are only seeking some answers. Surely the ban can’t be enforced. If the government really wanted to prevent contact, why give you his contact details? It’s some sort of Orwellian double speak where they are really condoning contact while pretending to oppose it.
And so you go to his house and stand outside watching, trying to learn something about the rock from which you were hewn. You don’t intend making contact but then he drives his station wagon into the car port. He opens the boot and picks up four bags of groceries. Drawn, as if by a magnet, you walk up the drive.
“Hi” you start.
“Hi, can I help you?”
“We’ve never met, but 19 years ago you donated sperm at …”
“Oh my God, you’re the person VARTA contacted me about.”
The bang of a fly screen announces your company of two has just become a very crowded three. A woman in her early fifties stands on the from porch, arms crossed.
“Darling, can you come here now?”
There is no mistaking the menace in her voice and leaving the boot open he quickly lugs the groceries through the door. You decide it’s a good time to make your exit and so beat a hasty retreat. As you wander home, you are oblivious to the conversation taking place in the house.
Over the few days you wonder what you should do next. But the next step catches you by surprise. It is three days later when your dinner is interrupted by a knock on the door. Your father answers it and returns to the dining room with two police officers. One does a doubletake as he sees you. Clearly you’re not what he was expecting and he is almost apologetic as he serves you with an apprehended violence order and explains what it means. You are now a criminal stalker and summoned to appear in court to answer charges relating to the breach of the veto. You feel yourself morphing into the angry resentful person his wife always assumed you were.
Our little story ends with no winners. But what could you have done differently? There are two key factors in how this played out. The first was using the government to identify your donor. In doing so, you conferred on him a legally enforceable right of contact veto. The second was letting his wife act as the gate keeper. She is not related to you and from her perspective, at best you offer no benefits and at worst, you are a danger.
The sensible alternative would be to use one of the commercial DNA services. Sooner or later one of his kids will also use the service. When this happens you reach out to them. They will be curious and even pleased to learn of a new sibling. The wife will find it much more difficult to ban contact when the kids already know you. True, this method will take longer but is more likely to yield results. As the old saying goes, “softly softly catchee monkey”