Talking About Donor Conception
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Olivia Montuschi says to put yourself in the shoes of the child you might have
Known for her passionate commitment to openness in donor conception, writer Olivia Montuschi is an advocate for straight talk about the challenging topics that may arise from this scenario. Her blog, Olivia’s View, is where she shares her personal views on donor conception—issues, questions, and family life, as well as commentary on media coverage.
As one of the cofounders of the Donor Conception Network (DC Network) in the United Kingdom, an organization aimed at supporting families through donor conception, this mother of three brings a unique perspective, having experienced conception with and without donor assistance.
With a background in teaching, counseling, and parenting education, Montuschi’s skills range from public speaking and workshop facilitation to writing books and articles on donor conception. She also takes pride in being a good listener and, she hopes, a good friend.
Q: How would you describe what you do?
A: As a founder and part-time practice consultant for the Donor Conception Network, I have an overall role of keeping an eye on the ethos and founding principals of the organization. We are parent led but child focused, supporting parents in being open with their children and others—wherever conceived (many UK families go to other European countries and sometimes the United States for treatment) and in whatever form the family takes.
I run special projects and write materials to help parents with “Telling and Talking”: from books for parents, journal articles, contributions to other people’s books, or our regular e-bulletins. Alone and with my husband, Walter Merricks, I give talks to professional and parent groups in the UK and abroad. I am the “face” of the network at conferences and events for parents and fertility professionals.
Sometimes I speak with people in complicated family situations involving donor conception. I have a particular interest in and have made a specialty of supporting parents in telling their adult children about being donor conceived. My husband and I sometimes see couples contemplating this “late telling” in our home.
Q: What was your experience with your own children?
A: My husband and I have three adult children: the eldest  was conceived without help in my first marriage, and the other two [32 and 29] were conceived via sperm donor. My husband was infertile. But my experience was long enough ago as to be of no relevance now.
Q: What is the DC Network, and is it a practical resource for women in the United States?
A: DC Network is a self-help charity founded in 1993 with the aim of encouraging and supporting people to be open with their children and others about the use of donated eggs, sperm, or embryos for family creation. From the start, our focus has been on the well-being of the children, and for this reason, we have always welcomed all types of families.
A single woman and her three children were among the five founding families, and single women form nearly a third of the membership. We have them at all stages of the process: from contemplation of going ahead alone to raising donor-conceived children.
We produce a range of written resources for donor-conception families. It is these that are likely to be of most interest to people in the United States. We sell a lot overseas.
You may be particularly interested in the storybooks for children conceived into Solo Mom families. The main Our Story book is for children conceived using donor sperm, but we have “on demand” books for children in single mom or lesbian couple families that conceived with double (egg and sperm) donation, embryo donation, singletons, or twins.
We have about 600 Solo Moms as members of DCN. Members are welcomed by people in the same situation and are given access to others via a contact list. Our members-only website also has a forum. Overseas memberships are welcome.
Q: How was your experience telling your children their story?
A: We began telling our first child when he was around four and started asking where babies come from. There were no storybooks to help us at the time, and we just muddled through as best we could, building up the story brick by brick over time until he really started understanding at around the age of eight. (This is a normal time for this to happen.) Both of our donor-conceived children say they are very glad they were told so early. They cannot remember a time when they did not know.
Q: I am friends with a gay couple that have kept in touch with their surrogate but were never permitted to meet their egg donor.
A: Sometimes I get anxious that egg donors get written out of the story. This can happen when a Solo Mom or a same-sex or heterosexual couple has egg and sperm or embryo donation. Single women tend to be comfortable explaining about the sperm donor but much less comfortable talking about needing a donor egg as well. In surrogacy, the emphasis is on who carried the child, but the egg donor is a very important person as well and needs acknowledging and, ideally, remaining in contact with.
Q: Any final thoughts for those considering donation?
A: I always recommend anyone considering third-party donation to think long and hard before making the decision to go ahead. My experience is that single women are usually extremely thoughtful about it. The most important thing is to put yourself in the mind and shoes of any child you might have. Explore every avenue and angle before going ahead. It’s not just about you.
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 18, and William, age 14.
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