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Talking to Your Children

By Carole Lieber Wilkins, MA, MFT

The single biggest concern of individuals pursuing donor conception (donor egg, donor sperm, embryo and surrogacy) continues to be the impact on the children conceived through this family building choice. Parents want to know whether to tell their children of their genetic origins and if they do tell their children, how to talk to them about this complex and confusing subject.

With few exceptions, in the best interests of your child and your family as a whole, it is best if your child grew up with the knowledge that they are not genetically related to one (or both) of their parents but still loved. Some reasons for this include:

  • Secrets in families are damaging;
  • Adoption has taught us a great deal about how children feel in families where there are genetic secrets;
  • Children often “sense” there is a secret and that there is “something wrong”;
  • Children who “sense” there is something wrong in their family usually assume it is about them and assume the worst;
  • Secrets almost never stay secrets forever;
  • When secret information finally comes out, the feeling of betrayal can be overwhelming; and
  • Feelings of betrayal in families often lead to issues of trust.

The first step in addressing the disclosure issue is for parents to examine their own feelings about the donor conception. Did the couple agree on this path to take to reach parenthood? Did they grieve the loss of the child they thought they were going to parent? Parents can get a feel for their comfort level about how their children came into their lives by asking themselves how it feels to imagine talking to their kids about it. This disclosure involves the acknowledgement that there is a third person or another family that is connected to their child; a parent in a way that their mom or dad is not. Some feelings of being threatened by this are normal, particularly before infertility is resolved and before parents are comfortable with using a donor. As the infertile partner comes to terms with his or her own infertility and grieves the loss of the genetic child they will not have, they will feel more empowered, indeed entitled, to be that parent of a child whose “blood” they do not share.

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*Links to web sites provided as additional resources does not mean endorsement by RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.