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Audio Transcript from “Potential Pitfalls

Annette Baran, MSW, is a social worker and psychotherapist in Los Angeles who has written extensively about adoption, assisted reproduction, and their effects on families. She says that it's critical for parents to examine their feelings about how becoming involved in ART affects how they view themselves. Here, she focuses on couples that used sperm donation.

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ANNETTE BARAN, M.S.W.: It was our understanding, from interviewing enough of these men that sterility is often part of a feeling of impotence. Even though the man is not really impotent, he feels impotent. And this is supposed to take care of that. However, from the man's point of view, having never resolved or explored any of the feelings involved with it, they hung on. And he felt like a fraud through the whole pregnancy. And particularly when everybody was congratulating him that his wife was pregnant. And then finally when he was handing out cigars and it wasn't his child. And it continued and upset the family system incredibly.

Between he father and the mother, the power shift was patent. The woman had all the power. It was her child. And what she would silently, loudly scream is, "This is my kid, not yours!" It hung between them. The father, losing power and feeling impotent, really did not take as vital a part in the parenting of the child, and the whole system went awry.

In an interview with a couple at the adoption agency, who had to tell me about their infertility record because we asked. And these people leveled, and told us that he was infertile and that their first child—the only child they had—was a child of donor insemination. And they raved about this little girl. And I said, "If this kid is so terrific and it was such a great thing, why don't you do it again? Why are you adopting?" There was this enormous silence while she sat there looking down at her lap, quivering. And he said from somewhere deep in his gut, "If it's not mine, I don't want it to be hers, either." And he couldn't go through it again.

Similar feelings occur in couples who use donated eggs or surrogate uteruses, according to Hilary Hanafin, Ph.D., the chief psychologist at the Center for Surrogate Parenting in Los Angeles.

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HILARY HANAFIN, PH.D.: When I started, I didn't realize that shame was such a big part of this. I've seen, over the years that with women in particular, the grief and the shame that they could not do what women are supposed to do according to history and nature and society. That they could not provide the uterus, the egg, the birth for their husband or for their child. I have some parents who really feel it very little. But the women who do feel that shame really, I think, struggle the most, because it's such a private, buried feeling. They can cloak it in many things.

I have found that the women who come to this process feeling shame about their inability to fully create the child on their own, and the women who already carry some shame for whatever reason in their history, due to their own parents, or where they come culturally; the women who feel shame have a much more difficult time trusting that when the child knows the story, that everything will be okay. That they don't trust that their relationship with the child will survive the truth, because their own shame and grief dominate the cloud of secrecy of where the child came from.

Elaine Gordon, Ph.D., a psychologist in southern California who specializes in issues related to infertility, has noticed the same patterns.

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ELAINE GORDON, PH.D.: I've seen shame as an underlying, just really motivating force for the decision making that a lot of parents make as they try to build their families. That they have gone through lots of failed, unsuccessful, heart-rending infertility efforts--sometimes years and years and years. And they're ashamed. I mean, they basically—they do not feel man enough, woman enough, that they are just not who they are supposed to be or who they thought they were supposed to be. And then that starts to contaminate how they look at themselves, and how they treat the children and what they tell them, or what they don't tell them, what they tell their friends, what they tell other family members. It's a grand contaminant that is not going ultimately to serve the family.


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