Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Jenny and Erin, to whom we hoped to donate our embryos, wanted to know about our preferred relationship between donor and recipient families and the role of religion in our family. My wife, Sonia, having been raised Episcopalian, shared her experience raising Jewish children. She also spoke from the perspective of someone who had donated eggs to another family whose children were thus genetically related to her. Jenny wrote back:

"Sonia, thank you for the wonderful perspectives. I think from what you have described, that we do have a similar vision of what "knowable" donors entail. We of course were giving our "ideal" relationship with the donors and any variant of that would be acceptable. I also think that it is great that you have experience with having “family” in all different types of association.

Katie and her family sound like exceptional people. We completely
understand the need to continue her family’s legacy. If we were to be chosen to receive these embryos and children were born, I can say with certainty that we would gladly expand our knowledge (because they would be our children and part of us at that point), educate the children on their heritage, and allow them to express and celebrate their bloodline. This is something that I feel very strongly about.

We were getting closer to common ground with our potential recipients. It was time for me to lay out what I saw as an ideal donor-recipient relationship.


I was asking my potential recipients to be conscious of ways they could pass on an understanding of Jewish identity to any children they might have from my genetically Jewish embryos. They wanted to know how this worked in my own family. Was my wife Jewish too, they wanted to know, or was she in their boat when we met and started a family. My wife, raised Episcopalian like one of the prospective parents, shared her experience with how a non-Jewish parent can instill a sense of Jewish identity in her children, and what that identity means:

"Katie's father is healthy, alert and in his 80's. Her siblings live close by as well and we see them at least once a week, usually more. They are a close, vibrant family and in many ways fully expressive of their Jewish heritage. Being Jewish is so much more than being a particular religion (in fact, Katie's parents were completely non-religious). It's kind of like being Italian, but with different food.

When we got together neither of us was religious but once we decided to have children we thought very hard about the legacy of spirituality. Religion permeates the South, as you well know, and it gave me a firm framework to push against, analyze, and reject when I was younger. In my thirties, it has been nice to have that framework to lean back on during times when only something larger than yourself will do.

Southern religion is also so very social. It's not IF you go to church, but where. Consequently, no one pays much attention to exactly what you believe as long as you show up once a week. It's easy, and it's comfortable. (Or at least that was my impression years and years ago, when I lived there). It's much harder to be religious in the North: city life here is so secular that being even mildly observant is a BIG DEAL. You are presumed to be very religious if you simply go to services.

I want to give our children the same framework that I had, because as I've grown older it has stood me in good stead. I don't, however, have much opinion about which framework they get, as long as I believe in the general tenets of the sect.

Katie's response to this was that she hadn't thought about religion at all, really, but if our kids were going to be religious, then they had to be Jewish for exactly the reason I mentioned a long time ago above: being Jewish is about MUCH MUCH more than the religious aspect. It's an ethnic identity that has managed to survive dispersal to hundreds of lands through millenia of assimilation and persecution.

In 1935 Katie's mother had 4 grandparents, a dozen aunts and uncles and hundreds of cousins in Europe. By 1945, just three uncles and a few cousins had managed to escape. Their children are all that are left of a great Rabbinic family. If our children were to "forget" that they are Jewish, then those hundreds of deaths may as well have been for naught.

So this means that we're both learning a lot about Judaism, and actually, it's a really nice religion. They don't care what you believe either, merely that you follow the law, which includes a nice calm day of rest marked by lovely Friday night candles, a nice meal with the family, a toast and a blessing of thanks. It's a good legacy regardless of the spiritual aspect, though we go to children's services at the synagogue once or twice a month. I also have quite the library of Jewish Holiday children's books that the kids enjoy reading with us.

As the children get older it will get easier, I think, as we both will have more practice. There is an excellent book called "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" (you may have heard of it, it's quite popular) that speaks of child-rearing from a Jewish perspective but that is written for anyone. I've really liked it.

Whew, I hope this answers some of your questions, although any more are welcome."

I would not bind these recipients to raise their children in a religion or culture that was foreign to them. I just wanted them to know that considering consigning embryos in my bloodline to lose their cultural heritage was difficult for me. Any little thing they felt comfortable doing to diminish this loss would mean a great deal to me.

But if the recipients decided to take these embryos I had no moral right to dictate how they raised any resulting children. It was none of my business if they attended services for Christians or Muslims or Buddhists (actually, Buddhist would be cool).

Maybe the recipients didn't want to even both with this donation. I waited to hear what they thought of everything we had said.