How to Talk to Your Children About Donor Conception
For many intended parents, surrogacy is impossible without a sperm or egg donor. Whether the intended parent(s) unsuccessfully struggle through the IVF process, they’re part of a same-sex couple, or a single parent that can’t create an embryo on their own, it is common for these individuals to turn to egg or sperm donations for a viable embryo to complete the implantation process. Last year, the number of conceptions through assisted reproduction technologies reached an estimated 5 million worldwide, making donor conception a mainstream medical procedure.
While the process of finding a sperm or egg donor can be relatively straightforward with the help of a fertility clinic, many intended parents wonder what it will be like to raise a egg or sperm donor conceived child. For families of donor conception, one of the most delicate issues of parenthood is how to talk to their children about their donors. Raising a donor-conceived child can seem challenging, but fortunately, there are many tools available to parents today to ensure a donor-conceived child is raised with a healthy knowledge of their biological history.
Let’s look further into how to create a healthy conversation about your donor conceived child while preserving their identity using this step-by-step guide.
- It’s a Process. Begin by laying out the foundational groundwork. It’ll be tempting to tell them the entire story but oftentimes, that can be information overload. Start with the basics and add in the relevant details as your child ages.
- Don’t Wait. It is easiest to start the conversation when your child is young and impressionable to the notion that everything about themselves and their identity is magical (because it is!) The added benefit to starting young is that you will be able to work your way up to answering the tougher and more detailed questions. We recommend talking to your child about their donor conception before the age of six. However…
- It’s Never Too Late. Even if your child is dawning facial hair or beginning to drive, it’s never too late to talk to them about their conception story. Try to find a way to broach this subject naturally and don’t overload them with information during the first conversation. Add some detail and see if you get any questions. Continue to revisit this conversation when you find good opportunities to give your child a chance to ask questions after they have had time to process and mature into a greater understanding. Keep in mind that part of not telling almost always involves lying, either explicitly or by omission. Don’t forget to allow space for emotions like hurt or anger. Lastly, make sure you explicitly leave the door open for them to ask more questions. No matter what you think, it is not implied.
- Correct Wording Matters. Normalize your donor conceived child’s conception story as much as possible. The more you normalize their conception and show pride in their story, the more your child will internalize that identity and mirror your own feelings. Each child will be different, but the more open you are about how they were born, the more comfortable they will be with their story. Additionally, it is important to use the appropriate language. For example, use the word “donor” instead of “mother” or “father” to describe the person or people who donated embryos or gametes.
- Stay Positive. Embracing the process will be as helpful to your donor conceived child as it was to you while you were going through it. Using positive language is of utmost importance. Donor conception is a confusing topic. Using basic, positive language like, “We wanted you very, very much” and “We were so happy when you finally came”. Remember, they will feed off of your energy and are looking to you on how to accept themselves. Be a good role model. Even if you prefer for the world not to know, there is a fine line between privacy and secrecy. It is alright to encourage your child to strictly talk about their conception within the family, but you also risk making it seem like a secret, and secrets imply that there is something wrong or shameful about their conception.
- Be Open to Questions. While you may think this is implied, make sure your child knows that it is always okay to ask questions.
- Keep it Honest. Positive transparency is key. Even children can pick up on when a conversation feels inauthentic. Be open about your child’s conception using phrases like, “We had trouble getting pregnant” and “We got help from a doctor, because when you have trouble you get help and sometimes you have to try a lot of different ways before you are able to get what you want”. Infertility awareness and donor conception is nothing to be ashamed of. It is important that your child knows just how much you wanted them!
- Be Prepared to Give Information. Many kids will ask if they can meet the donor(s) at some point in their life. They are not looking to replace you as their mom or dad, it simply implies curiosity. Answer honestly. If you have identifying information, the answer should be “yes”. However, ensure all parties are ready. If you do not have identifying information, the answer is “maybe”. If the donor opted for anonymity, finding them can be a complicated process. Explain this to your child and let them know that if it is still important to them in the future, you will continue to help them as much as you can.
- Check In. As with everything in life, following up is everything. Some children (and adults) need a little coaxing in order to start talking about the things that are on their mind. Don’t assume if your child does not talk about it or ask questions that he or she is not thinking about it. Keep in mind that it’s likely that your child may sense that the topic is uncomfortable for you and will therefore keep their thoughts and questions to themselves. It is the parent’s responsibility to raise the subject and ask for questions.
- Respect Their Feelings. Every child is different, so their feelings toward their donor parent can change as they grow up. Their feelings may not always be what you’ve anticipated. Whatever their feelings are regarding their own biological history, accept them. Don’t push your child in a direction they don’t want. If they want to try to find their donor parent later in life, support them; if they would rather not know, don’t try to change their mind.
As you prepare to raise your donor-conceived child, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to your fertility clinic and surrogacy professional for advice. There are many communities online like Creating a Family that provide resources from other intended parents like you for every step of the donation process. Remember, your child’s donor conception is something to be proud of. Raising them with a full knowledge of their genetic history can help instill an identity that they’re proud of, as well.