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Triple Helix – Lauren Burns

Triple Helix - Lauren Burns - Keeping  Up With The Penguins
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You surely know or have heard about “miracle babies”, donor-conceived and born through “assisted fertility treatment”. It seems to be the happy ending to a sad story, but for these babies the story is just beginning. What becomes of them when they grow up?

Lauren Burns is one such “miracle baby” – a donor-conceived person – and Triple Helix is the story of her search for her biological father (originally depicted on the ABC program Australian Story, an episode that went on to win a Walkley Award). The wonderful team at UQP Books were kind enough to send me a copy for review.

The first half of the memoir is dedicated to Burns’s personal search – from the “ordinary day” that her mother told her the truth of her conception, to the day she pulled into the driveway of her biological father’s home for the first time. The second half follows Burns’s activism, and the fight for legislative change to allow donor-conceived people the right to access information about their genetic origins.

I picked up Triple Helix because I was hoping to understand why Burns and other donor-conceived people so desperately sought the identity of their biological fathers, and why that desire – in Burns’s view – should overpower the donor’s rights to privacy and anonymity at the time of donation. Unfortunately, Burns didn’t articulate this aspect of her journey clearly, beyond calling it “complex”, the need to be part of a historical continuum, one that others couldn’t possibly understand.

I respect Burns’s position, and I’m exceedingly glad for her that she found the answers she felt she needed… but I came away from Triple Helix with more questions than answers myself. The legal rights of donor-conceived people, and the ethical ramifications of assisted reproduction, are fascinating topics, but the view of them that Burns presents is one-sided and deeply personal.

If you’re looking for a subjective account of a donor-conceived person’s experience, Triple Helix is the perfect choice, but if you’re looking for a more comprehensive understanding, you may need to look further afield.

2 Comments

  1. Based on your review, Lauren is correct that people who know their parents don’t understand what it is to have part of one’s identity missing. These issues are complex and require much reflection and empathy.

    As an adoptee who doesn’t know either parent, Lauren’s quest to complete her identity and her feelings of loss and invalidation are totally understandable and her reasons obvious.

    Many of the issues for adoptees are very similar to those of the donor-conceived community and I recommend reading Tony Corsentino’s 14 Propositions about Adoption here: https://corsent.substack.com/p/fourteen-propositions-about-adoption?utm_source=%2Fprofile%2F87368921-tony-corsentino&utm_medium=reader2&s=r

    Particularly relevant are proposition 4: Loss of mirroring is harmful.
    “Here is a kept person, the philosopher J. David Velleman, with an insight: “When adoptees go in search of their biological parents and siblings, there is a literal sense in which they are searching for themselves. They are searching for the closest thing to a mirror in which to catch an external and candid view of what they are like in more than mere appearance. Not knowing any biological relatives must be like wandering in a world without reflective surfaces, permanently self-blind.” (See page 70 of his “Family History” here.)

    There is a “literal sense,” he says, in which adoptees, in searching for consanguinity, are searching for themselves. And not just in “mere appearance:” not just the shape of the nose or the pitch of the voice. This is because “if I want to know what a person like this can make of himself, I can look first at what my parents and grandparents made of themselves, or at the self-cultivation under way on the part of my brothers and cousins.” (“Family History,” page 70.)

    In terms of donor secrecy, look at proposition 10: “Privacy entitles you to withhold from me something about you, not something about me. This is true even if the fact is an intimate fact about your life, as long as it is also an intimate fact about mine. ”

    You write ” The legal rights of donor-conceived people, and the ethical ramifications of assisted reproduction, are fascinating topics, but the view of them that Burns presents is one-sided and deeply personal.” The book is subtitled “My donor-conceived story” and is a memoir. It is very obviously a personal story so I’m not sure what you were expecting and why this is a criticism.

    I thought the book was well written and I found Lauren’s account interesting and touching and her advocacy inspiring.

    • Sheree

      May 28, 2022 at 9:42 AM

      Thanks so much for offering your insight, Sooz – Velleman’s articulation of the issues is very helpful. As for my comment re: the personal and subjective nature of Triple Helix, that wasn’t a criticism so much as a heads-up for future readers (this being a very recent release). Regardless of topic, some memoirs present a more comprehensive view than others. Neither approach is “better” than the other, but some readers will have a preference. As I said immediately after, Triple Helix would be a perfect choice for readers looking for a subjective, personal account of a donor-conceived person’s experience 🙂 Thank you again!

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