Disclosing to your child that they were born via egg donation may make you anxious or nervous. You may worry about when, what, and how to tell them the story. Because of this, some parents may want to delay this conversation for as long as possible, or may avoid this conversation at all. Although this is your family and you get to decide how / if to tell your story, research has shown over and over the importance of openness and honesty in telling children their conception story and telling it early.
Why telling your child their donor conception story is important
But why is disclosure even important? Some reasons for disclosing include your child’s right to know about their genetics, the need for them to have accurate medical information, and most importantly – for encouraging honesty and trust in your relationship. Finding out accidentally from a family member, a DNA test, or routine medical check can create lasting psychological damage and make your child feel as though their conception is somehow shameful (which it’s absolutely not).
Although it’s hard to predict your child’s reaction to this knowledge, research has shown that most parents do not express regret about sharing their story with their child and report no negative effect on their child or with their relationship with their child upon disclosing. In fact, studies indicate that disclosing families saw themselves as being more competent as parents and having a stronger relationship with their children, than those who did not disclose.
When should you tell your child they are donor conceived?
But what about the timing? When should you start telling? The advantages of telling your child early (think toddler age) have been associated with better outcomes because starting early helps the child process the information in a more factual and non-emotional manner. It allows for the parents to establish the foundation for an ongoing discussion about how their family came to be. It also helps in introducing a vocabulary which can be used and elaborated on as the child’s understanding develops. Finally, it helps parents with practicing telling the story until it becomes second nature and just a part of their family history.
You have to keep in mind that disclosure is not about getting the facts right, it is simply about telling your child.
You have to keep in mind that disclosure is not about getting the facts right, it is simply about telling your child. Saying they are too young to understand can sometimes become an excuse for not telling the child early on. Parents may feel that they need to wait until their child is old enough to understand. But disclosure is a process, not a one time announcement. It is not about your child understanding the facts about reproduction, science or family origins. Disclosure is an ongoing process where more and more information is gradually shared and discussed.
Before you start writing your script or deciding on when and how you are going to share the conception story, it is important for you, as a parent, to think about what using donor eggs has meant to you. What are your fears regarding using a donor and how does that fear play a role in disclosure? You need to be at peace with yourself and your decision to use a donor. Secondly, if you have a partner, ensure that you are both on the same page regarding disclosure and the timing of it.
Tips for talking to your child about being donor conceived
So how do you start? The first part of disclosure is the when and how regarding conception. Start with the basics and use age appropriate language when speaking to your child. What does that mean? It means talking to your child in a way they will understand. Your script can begin with your want to have a family but inability to do so, therefore, needing to turn to a donor and doctor for help. Focus on the happiness and love that came when the special baby was born and your gratitude for all those who helped.
As your child grows older, you can begin to expand on this story by telling more facts about reproduction, egg and sperm, and the science used. You can also start telling them more about their donor. You will find as your child grows their curiosity about their donor may also grow. This is completely normal. But don't let this curiosity impact you negatively. Interest does not mean they are looking for their “real parent” or that your relationship with your child is in trouble. Knowledge about their donor is just one part of disclosure and can be an important part of identity formation. So try to preserve as much donor information as you can (profiles, pictures etc), as this may become important information for your child in later life.
There are many books that can be used to help share your family story. You can even make your own book with pictures of the donor, the doctors, the embryo etc. that can be read from day one. You can also read more about what other parents have done and what worked for them or join a support group specifically for families using donors to have a family.
At the end of day, you want to normalize your child’s birth story and you want to differentiate the donor from the parent. You want to reinforce your role as a parent and the generosity and kindness of the world that came together to create the most special member of the family.
Cofertility is a human-first fertility ecosystem rewriting the egg freezing and egg donation experience. Our Family by Co platform serves as a more transparent, ethical egg donor matching platform. We are obsessed with improving the family-building journey — today or in the future — and are in an endless pursuit to make these experiences more positive.
Dr. Saira Jhutty is a licensed clinical and industrial organizational psychologist in private practice specializing in fertility. She is also a Founding Medical Advisor for Cofertility, and has spent the last 11 years focusing on assisting people build their families using third-party reproduction. Dr. Jhutty’s expertise lies in the evaluation of and consulting with potential surrogates and egg donors, and meeting with intended parents to discuss their decision to use alternative methods to build their family. In the past, Dr. Jhutty worked as Director of Surrogacy and Egg Donation at Conceptual Options, previously leading all gestational carrier and egg donor assessments there. Through her work with Cofertility, Dr. Jhutty provides guidance to ensure Cofertility remains at the forefront of ethical standards, including egg donor screening, intended parent counseling, and support for donor conceived children and families. For all members of Cofertility’s Freeze by Co egg freezing programs, she also makes herself available for office hours, through which members may ask questions directly within our private community.
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