What do we tell the kids?

tell kids
photo by Jan Geertsma

By Angie Best-Boss

If you have used third party reproduction to build your family, one of the difficult challenges you may be facing is what to tell your child about his or her genetic origins. And if you decide to tell, the questions become when and how much and how?

Is everybody else telling?

The Boston Globe reported that "research shows that as many as 44 percent of parents who used egg donors have no plans to tell their children the truth about their origins, a figure that surprises psychologists and fertility specialists who had expected a higher rate of disclosure at a time when openness is encouraged about such matters."

"Despite the popular genre of psychology books that say all the different ways you can do your disclosure, I'm not finding too many people who are actually doing it," said Dr. Mark V. Sauer, director of reproductive endocrinology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. "The great majority are keeping it a secret."

A personal decision

One of the prime reasons parents choose not to tell children about third party reproduction is the belief that telling will cause the child pain. One young man conceived by donor insemination explains. "It will present a mystery that can't be solved," he says. "But the pain of not knowing one's identity is far worse.

Tell the truth

Many people argue that it is in the child’s best interest to tell him or her about their original beginning. As one mom explains, "Secrecy only breeds shame, and this is something to be proud of! The message the child should be given is that his parents wanted him soooo much that they asked for someone to help them with an incredible gift! A lot of love goes into creating a child this way, and that should be a source of joy and celebration, not secrecy or confusion. As to the question of who is the "real" father... it is the day-to-day parenting that makes someone a father." Lisa

How to tell

Sharon Mills of San Francisco-based Pacific Reproductive Services says her company counsels clients to tell their offspring "the story of how they were born." A good way to do this, she says, is to "have a scrapbook that tells the story. The scrapbook can include pictures of the clinic where the insemination took place, pictures of the pregnant woman, and so on. Every year on their child's birthday the parents can take out the scrapbook and add new birthday pictures while once again reviewing the story."

When to tell

"Our child is kindergarten-age now. We have always wanted the info of how we conceived to be something she has always known about, but it's not a concept any child could grasp clearly even at this point, despite loving the birth story. We have a book, "Mommy Did I Grow in Your Tummy?," and when we get to the part about ovum donation, we say, "that's what mommy and daddy did", but it's simply not an issue yet. As she gets older and asks more questions, we plan to tell her openly, honestly and without any embarrassment how hard we worked to bring her here." Bonnie


For parents

  • Having Your Baby through Egg Donation, Sterling, Evelina. Perspectives Press.
  • Flight of the Stork: What Children Think and When about Sex and Family Building, by Anne C. Bernstein. A "must read" book. Focuses on how children's thinking develops. Explains how children organize and internalize information on sex and reproduction, at different stages of development. Includes insights about how children think about reproductive technology.
  • Building Your Family Through Egg Donation: What You Will Want to Know About the Emotional Aspects and What to Tell Your Children, by Joyce S. Friedman.

For children

  • Recipe of How Babies are Made, Carmen and Rosemary Martinez A children's story which explains in a very simple way all the different methods used to conceive children.
  • How Babies and Families are Made: There is more than one way!, by Patricia Schaffer, explains the facts of anatomy, conception and birth in a context that acknowledges a variety of ways in which families can be created, including donor insemination (doesn't mention donor egg or surrogacy).
  • A Tiny Itsy Bitsy Gift of Life, an Egg Donor Story, by Carmen Martinez Jove
  • Hope and Will Have a Baby: The Gift of Egg Donation by Irene Clacer. Follow an inquisitive little boy who learns of his parents' quest to have children, and the success they ultimately achieve in creating a family. Told in a language a child can understand, read the tale of how mom and dad met, fell in love, and ultimately built a family.
  • Other books in the Hope and Will collection are The Gift of Embryo Donation, The Gift of Sperm Donation, and The Gift of Surrogacy.
  • The Kangaroo Pouch: A Story About Gestational Surrogacy For Young Children, Sarah Phillips Pellet. Written by a surrogate mom, this book is narrated by a young kangaroo character, whose mother has decided to help another family in their efforts to have a child, the story gently guides the reader through the surrogate's decision-making process, the pregnancy, and the resulting baby that is then given back to the biological parents.


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