Every family has a story about how their child came into their lives, whether it be a story of adoption, foster care, natural conception, surprise conception, or via assisted reproduction. A child born via egg donation is no different than any other child. Your story is really no different than any other family, but there are a few things we think you should know.
1. It’s best to be truthful with your child.
You may be asking yourself if you should tell your child how they were conceived? And if so, when and how? Remember, this is your family story and your child. You get to tell them how they were conceived and you also get to choose when to tell them. But telling them is the key phrase. Most experts agree that it is best to be open about how your child was conceived and talk to them about their conception as early as possible. Telling your child early on helps normalize it for both you and your child. By being honest and telling your child how they were conceived, you are building the foundation of trust. And trust is one of the most important facets of a parent-child relationship.
If you are hesitant to share this information with your child, ask yourself why? What makes you hesitant or afraid? Play the tape forward and imagine two scenarios. One where you are open with your child and one where you are not. How do the two scenarios play out? Which situation do you believe is the best for you and your child?
One study out of Cambridge found that in families in which parents disclosed donor conception to their children before the age of seven showed more positive mother–child relationships and higher levels of wellbeing at age 14.
2. Don’t wait to normalize their conception story
When should I tell my child? As soon as they are born. While up for those midnight feedings, start telling your baby the story of how they were born. The more you practice saying it out loud, the more comfortable and confident you will become. Early on you may find yourself stumbling over your words. That is okay, soon enough you will craft the perfect bedtime story. By the time they are old enough to fully understand, they will have already heard the words egg donation and IVF. In other words, to them, these are things that are just a part of their life story.
What should you tell them? The truth. You wanted a family, but due to medical or biological reasons, you were unable to do so yourself. You were not going to ever give up your dream of having a family, so with the help of a very giving woman, caring doctors and the advancement of medicine, you were able to piece together the building blocks of life. In the beginning keep it simple and use words you know your child will understand. As they get older and their questions and understanding changes, you can start to give more details.
3. Start with a baby book
Aside from telling them verbally, another great way is to start a baby book. In your baby book, include a letter written to your child about why you chose this path to parenthood. Keep it simple. Let them know how much you longed to be their parent and how much you loved them before they were even born. Include this letter in your book along with information about their donor, the IVF clinic, your doctor, agency, etc. The rest of the book will look like any other baby book, full of milestones and sweet memories.
4. Your child may have questions, and that’s okay
Questions about their conception, especially questions about their donor, are normal. Questions do not necessarily mean that they are looking to meet and build a relationship with their donor. And it doesn’t mean they love you any less. All of us are curious about the make-up of our family background. This is why at-home DNA testing has become a billion dollar industry.
Try your best to create a loving and open family dynamic so your child feels comfortable openly discussing their questions. If you normalize their origin story as part of a bigger family narrative early on, they won’t feel any confusion or shame. Children are more resilient than we give them credit for. It is us adults who complicate things and make them more difficult than they need to be. Be open and honest. The old adage that honesty is the best policy, is undoubtedly the case when it comes to egg donation.
5. It’s best to tell your family too
If you have already told or are planning on telling your child about their conception, then it only makes sense that others close to you know as well. By not being open with others or telling your child to keep their birth story a secret, only makes them feel that their conception was shameful or wrong in some way. There is no shame or embarrassment about how your family came to be. You should be proud that you moved mountains to have your baby. It was your love and deep longing for this child that made you a family. Furthermore, educating others around you about egg donation can help normalize the process even more. Ensure you and your partner are on the same page regarding disclosure to family and friends. Come up with strategies on how, when, and what you will disclose. So, when Aunt Susy asks “whose side of the family did that red curly hair come from?” you and your partner will know what to say.
6. Transitioning to parenthood
According to Glainsky1 there are six stages of parenthood. The first one is image-making. This stage is particularly important for raising a donor conceived child. In this stage, it is important for parents to let go of their identity as an infertile person. This includes old thoughts and feelings of inadequacy and incompetency. Letting go of relationships with doctors and nurses, throwing out old medications, or deleting fertility webpages, can be difficult because these things have been a part of your identity for so long. Replacing your “old identity” with parenting classes and books, play dates, and even changing out their pristine white furniture, can be ways to make space for your new identity as a parent.
7. Ways to bond with your child
Parents sometimes ask if there is anything they can do to increase their bond with their child. Regular skin-to-skin contact, baby massage after bath time, and consistent bedtime rituals can help with bonding. Bonding also naturally occurs during feedings, whether chest or bottle feeding. Playing, talking, reading, making eye contact, and singing to baby are all ways to bond.
8. Being overprotective
Some parents may find themselves being overly protective of their child. They may become excessively involved or not allow independence. Others may find it difficult to discipline their donor conceived child out of fear of damaging their relationship. Every family has rules and boundaries set by their culture or own upbringing. Having a donor conceived child does not change how you enforce those rules or boundaries, or how you foster independence or emotional growth. Learning to manage your own feelings and expectations is an important skill to master as a parent. Joining parenting groups or utilizing the assistance of a therapist can be beneficial.
9. Trust your instincts
Parenting is hard. No matter how your child came to be, there will be moments of insecurity and fear that you are “doing it wrong.” All parents at some point or another feel this way. But just because your child was born via IVF or egg donation does not mean that this isn’t your child or that you need to do anything different than what you are already doing. You know what is best for your child. You are the best parent this child could ever have. Trust your instincts. Love your child and give yourself the grace that you deserve. You got this.
- Galinsky E. Between Generations: The Six Stages of Parenthood. New York Tmes Books, 1981.
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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