(Photo courtesy of Unsplash: Alexander Shushtov)
Until I heard Brené Brown talking about it, I thought shame sounded terribly dramatic. Like it was exclusively for topics such as domestic violence, child abuse, alcoholism, affairs. The stuff most people really don’t want to talk about. But what I discovered on my journey as a donor mum is that it is just not the case.
Shame affects all of us.
Shame is the fear of disconnection because we feel we are somehow flawed and unworthy of love. It is different from guilt and in Brené’s work, she differentiates it simply by stating that guilt = I did something bad; shame = I am a bad human being.
Shame is a sneaky little beast and here is the uncomfortable bottom line…
If you are struggling to tell your nearest and dearest that your children were created using a donor, or you fear being asked about how they were created and not knowing what to say, then you are probably carrying some shame. Listen to Chantelle…
Chantelle is a donor-conceived adult who found out about her donor conception when she was 8 years old. I don’t know Chantelle personally, but after watching her heart wrenching, brutally honest speech at a donor-conception event in Australia, I feel like I do. She shares the story of learning about her creation, and being asked to not tell her extended family. Her massively valuable, sit up and take notice, smack in the chops lesson, comes when she says… “(I) realised that it wasn’t my shame, it was the shame of the adults around that I had been carrying as a little girl for so long and finally as an adult I was able to say, that is your problem, I am proud of who I am and I am proud of how I was made and you need to start to tell people because it is not something to be ashamed of because, if you are ashamed of this, then you are ashamed of me.”
I listened to Chantelle speak back in 2013 when I was a very new donor mum. Adam and I had told our family, but we hadn’t really decided who else we were going to tell. Once I heard Chantelle speaking, I had a huge realisation that if, as a donor parent, we don’t take a good look at ourselves, identify our shame triggers and learn how to deal with them, then we are going to pass down our shame to the beautifully innocent donor conceived babies that we created.
So what to do?
We build our resilience to shame. Shame resilience is the ability to recognise shame when we are in it so you are able to move through it in a constructive way that allows you to stay true to yourself and grow from the experience. This isn’t small and it isn’t easy, but it is doable. Brené has a clear process to build shame resilience. You can go here to find one of her facilitators in your country. They are the awesome group of people (of which I’m lucky to be a part of) that are certified to facilitate her shame resilience work.
Step 1. Know your shame triggers
Over the last three years I’ve come to understand and work through what triggers shame for me as a donor mum. Mostly it is when people use the term “real mother” or “biological mother” in reference to our egg donor.
As in… “What are you going to tell Rosie, Jack and Maggie when they ask about their real mother?”
And… “So that means you aren’t really Rosie’s biological mother?”
The first time any of these triggers turned up, I was paralysed. Stomach in knots, palms sweating, heart racing, feet like lead and a mouth full of cotton wool.
Mastering this step alone is life changing.
Step 2. Raising your critical awareness about your shame
The next step is to understand your shame critically. Which means: break it down, pull it apart and analyse the guts out of it. Why is it happening? What fuels it? And how does this fit into the bigger picture of the world? This is about putting your shame in context, rather than isolating yourself and making it just about you (because it rarely ever is).
Steps 3&4. Speaking shame
The last steps are about reaching out and sharing your story and then speaking about shame. As you can imagine, this takes a huge amount of courage and support.
I found that in my incredible husband who sits and listens to me when I’m struggling and feeling shame and we talk about it. All of it. And I have a few besties that are great with it too. Find your people, it helps massively.
Brené says “Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment … Shame cannot survive being spoken, it cannot survive empathy.”
Beautiful, important and crucial work.