“This time last year my oldest (donor sperm conceived) child had just turned 3. Having embraced the option of donor sperm and being transparent about this with close friends and family, we steeled ourselves for the next chapter in this journey: how to start telling our son about his very special origins
My wife and I love to read to our children (our second, a daughter, was both in Spring 2020), so it made sense to have a look on-line and see what suitable books may be available to gently introduce this important yet delicate subject. We ordered a couple of the limited number of books we found and were quite disappointed with the contents. In particular, I saw first-hand how the books, in trying to achieve the admittedly difficult job of being relevant to all who had used sperm donors, were too generic and, as a result, did not tell a story that engaged with my young son.
I am a qualified lawyer now working in insurance, which is a far cry away from the creative world of producing children’s books. Nevertheless, I have always loved mentoring younger talent in and out of the workplace, coaching tennis in my late teens and always the first adult to slip away from the dinner-table to play with the children.
So, I thought, why not have a go at writing a suitable story myself?
This I did, a very personal one, based directly on the genesis of the Silver family, and then read it to my wife. She loved it but also told me it was too long, a bad writing habit dating back to my lawyer days and also the reason why my wedding speech back in 2012 sent some guests to sleep!
Now you may be thinking my wife is biased and you would be right, so my next step was to send a much shorter version of the story to a publisher friend of mine, who is also a mother to three (not donor conceived) children: she also gave favourable feedback and encouraged me to get the script illustrated. I have always been a terrible artist, just about able to colour within the lines and holding my best friend and youngest sister in awe that they could draw. However, both of them declined to help, making it clear I would find illustrators who were much better than them (surely not!) online.
I went on to partner with a fantastically talented illustrator, an American lady called Brianna Peterson, who is also a mother to young children
Brianna listened carefully to what I wanted and produced a superb set of colourful vivid images that now decorate the finished book. “Sharing Seeds: a donor sperm story for mummy, daddy and children”
Sitting down to read the illustrated book with my wife and children was a very proud moment: the pictures helped the words come to life, as our son was instantly drawn in by concepts such as the magical freezer and the men carrying seeds, as well as some images that were unique to him, including characters bearing more than a passing resemblance to his beloved mummy, daddy, pet dog, sister and, of course, himself!
Young children are constantly evolving and are inevitably fickle and I don’t mind admitting that my book, just like many others that our young son has devoured, was read once and then temporarily forgotten about. However, as time has gone on, and less and less with his parents’ prompting, we have heard our son asking to read “daddy’s book”: he has now turned 4 and is full of questions galore, meaning that each time we read the book together, we cover off some repeat and some new territory, including empathy relating to daddy’s poor quality seeds, as well as interest in the wider fertility and pregnancy process (mummy stuffing her face with pizza and ice-cream gets him every time!).
We have probably read the book 10 or 12 times now and think we are somewhere in between the stage of introducing some of the key fertility concepts and my son truly grasping that this story is about where he came from
As both our children get older the hope is that this book will sensitively help them in understanding their genesis, how much they were wanted, carefully chosen and nurtured and ultimately lead to their acceptance and embracing of this modern-day blessing. And, whilst there are no guarantees things will play out in this idealistic way, I like to think that this book will subconsciously aid them on whatever path the journey of life takes them on.
The book is yet to become an international best seller and nor has it been picked up by a publisher or literary agent! But that is not the point: instead, what I have inadvertently created is a children’s book that I genuinely believe has its place in today’s increasingly accepting world, lightly introducing to youngsters, whether conceived via donor sperm or otherwise, the diverse origins of some very special children.
I have also gone on to become an ambassador and writer for the online fertility magazine IVF Babble, seeking to raise awareness of male infertility and reduce the unmerited stigma associated with this fundamental evolutionary subject (male infertility statistics have risen alarmingly during the last few decades).
There has been feedback, positive plus the occasional criticism, as not every book can appeal to every reader. The main criticism has been that my book is, ironically, not generic or inclusive enough. But that was never my intention, as this first book was deliberately based on the Silver family’s own tale. However, as the “Sharing Seeds” concept started to gain traction, with book sales and my Instagram followers now in the several hundreds (@sharingseedsbooks), I began to turn my attention to gathering some source material for some other “Sharing Seeds” stories.
A second book is now nearly ready to launch: “Sharing Seeds: a donor sperm story for mummy and child”, focusing on a single lady’s journey to becoming a mother
I am aware that an increasing number of fertility patients and sperm bank clients are single mothers, and I have deliberately sought to tell this tale with a broader more inclusive audience in mind, whilst also staying true to my ethos of seeking to tell a traditional, simple story in an engaging and colourful way. To ensure authenticity, I have partnered with several single mothers who have made the conscious decision to start a family via a sperm donor, speaking to them about their experiences and doing my best to incorporate some of their key insights into the book’s content.
And don’t worry if you are again thinking this story is not so relevant to you, especially for those who have experienced different fertility journeys, such as same sex couples using donor sperm or surrogate or a heterosexual couple using a donor egg: those are stories that I plan on bringing to life over the next few years, so watch this space!”
Read more from J R Silver here