Where Did I Come From?
What do I say to my kids about donor-assisted reproduction?
The late 1970’s saw the birth of the first ‘test-tube’ baby. That baby has since grown up and become a mother herself. The field of assisted reproduction has also grown and matured. Scientific and medical advances are now able to provide many more individuals with the opportunity to become parents. ‘How, what and when do I discuss with my children their unique birth story’. These are questions that parents of children born with the help of donor-assisted reproduction are asking themselves. Some may even be asking, ‘Should I tell?’ In the not too distant past, adoptions were shrouded in secrecy. Girls with unwanted pregnancies were sent away to have their babies in privacy. This was done in an effort to ‘protect’ the girl, her family and eventually the adoptive parents. Babies were adopted by families who not uncommonly kept their child’s birth origins a secret from them. This way of handling an adoption seemed to stem from feelings of guilt and shame from both the birth mother and adoptive parents. History has shown us that secrecy did not work well for those adopted children. Children do best when they know where they come from; that refers to both a genetic history as well as a relationship history. Feelings of betrayal are stimulated when secrets are kept and then inevitably found out. So the first step in considering what, how, when and even if to talk your children is to examine your own feelings. Develop self-awareness; recognize how you think, and equally important how you feel about your own experience with fertility and the way in which you have chosen to build your family. It is essential to identify, talk about, and come to terms with any continued difficult feelings. This will clear the way for productive, age appropriate discussions with your children about their special beginnings. The following are some guidelines to consider when talking with your child:
1. Recognize and accept that you may have some anxiety about telling your children their birth story. It is very natural to wonder how this information will affect them and their relationship with you. Don’t be deterred by nervousness, children do not expect perfection only to be loved.
2. If you decide to talk with your children while they are young, (before about age 7) their birth origins will become a natural and normal part of their self story and self-image. Young children look to their parents to define their feelings; if you are relatively comfortable confident and loving they will feel secure with the information.
3. Talking with children about being born with the help of a donor is a process. A conversation with a 2 year old quite obviously does not have the depth and range of a conversation with an adolescent. Over the years you will have an opportunity to revisit with your child their unique story. Be willing and prepared to answer questions as honestly and age appropriately as possible.
4. If your child is older (8-11), they may initiate questions on their own. If you have decided to wait this may be a wonderful opportunity to begin the conversation. As your child becomes naturally curious about where babies come from, you may be able to explain to them in more depth how they came to be.
5. If your child is an adolescent, you may be revisiting previous discussions or may be reconsidering a previous decision to not tell them of their donor conception. Again, it is important to be forthright, including if there had been some earlier ambivalence about discussing your child’s birth history. Adolescence is a time of defining and redefining one self; your child may find it challenging to integrate new information about themselves. Be aware of how your child is processing your discussion, allow them time to percolate. Answer questions as sensitively and non-defensively as possible. Recognize that complicated feelings may be stirred up for both you and your child. AND 6. Cultivate and truly feel the use of language that communicates the ‘specialness’ of your child.