Where Did I Come From? How to Talk to Children About Donor Conception.
If you’re considering using an egg, sperm, or embryo donor, then you may be wondering how to talk to your future children about donor conception
At PNWF, we follow the guidance of professional medical societies by encouraging parents to tell their donor-conceived children about their beginnings, while recognizing that sharing is a personal decision.
These conversations can seem daunting, but they may be easier than you think! Read on to learn why we recommend being open with your children about their donor conception, as well as tips for how to discuss it in age-appropriate and affirming ways.
Why Should I Tell My Child They Came From An Egg, Sperm, or Embryo Donor?
The Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) strongly encourages parents to tell donor-conceived children about their origins for several reasons:
- Many feel that children have a fundamental right to know about their biological origins.
- It’s important to have accurate information about genetic medical history.
- Intentionally sharing the information prevents the child accidentally learning it from a relative, family friend, or at-home genetic testing kits.
- Sharing the information encourages honesty, trust, and openness in the family, whereas keeping secrets can be stressful and damaging.
Practically speaking, it’s very hard to keep donor conception a secret forever. Studies have suggested that accidentally learning about their conception can be damaging for a child, while learning about their origins early on doesn’t appear to have a negative affect on kids.
When Should I Tell My Child About Their Donor Conception?
Many experts recommend telling donor-conceived children during their preschool or school-age years, and definitely before they go through puberty. During puberty, kids naturally experience questions and anxieties about their identity and feelings of belonging or isolation. Discovering their donor conception at this time can add to some of those confusing feelings.
On the other hand, telling kids they were donor-conceived early on means they grow up always knowing the truth about their origins. This way they have time to absorb the information gradually, at age-appropriate levels, so they can accept it as a natural part of their identity and family.
How Do I Talk to My Child About Being Donor-Conceived?
It’s important to keep the information age-appropriate and in manageable chunks. You don’t have to explain the technical details of assisted reproduction with a four-year-old!
Instead, start with the basics:
- There are lots of different kinds of families.
- To make a baby, you need three parts: an egg, sperm, and a uterus for the baby to grow.
- Sometimes parents need help to make a baby, if they are missing some of the parts or if theirs don’t work right.
- A kind person/some kind people helped me/us by giving us the parts I/we needed.
- I/we love you very much, and am/are so grateful to the people who helped so I/we could have you!
Stay positive and proud, while also not making it too much of a big deal – being donor-conceived is just one part of your child’s story.
Very small children may accept this information without much question (or even interest!). Later on, they may ask about how the process worked, the donor, or where some of their traits or abilities come from. It should be an ongoing conversation, not a one-time discussion.
What if My Child Wants to Know More About the Donor?
Donor-conceived children are often curious about the people who contributed to their genetic background. This is a normal part of forming their identity, and we encourage parents to be open and supportive.
You should have access to non-identifying information about your chosen donor, including their health history and certain biological or personality traits. You can certainly share this information with your child if they are interested.
Your child may ask if they can meet or contact the donor. When you choose a donor, it’s very important to discuss this possibility with the donor agency/bank to find out if the donors have consented to being identified. Different state laws may also apply; for instance, in Washington state egg and sperm donors decide at the time of donation if they are open to their identity being shared when the donor-conceived child turns eighteen. Knowing the wishes of the donor allows you to be open and honest with your child if they ask about contacting the donor.
Keep in mind these two important things:
- While it is your choice to tell your child their conception story, it is the donor’s choice to be identified or contacted when the donor-conceived child reaches age 18.
- With the wide availability of at-home genetic testing, there is a real chance your child can come across their donor, even in a non-directed (or “unknown”) donation. You and the donor should discuss this possibility.
Most importantly, remember that your child’s curiosity about the donor has nothing to do with your role as their parent. You are your child’s parent, you love and support them, and nothing can change that.
Suggested Reading for Telling Your Child They Are Donor-Conceived
Story books are a great way to have this conversation! Here are some suggested books to read with your child:
- Assisted Reproduction: Books for Children (book list, continually updated)
- Patient Bookshelf: Bibliography for children and parents of assisted reproduction (book list from Mental Health Professional Group, a professional group of the ASRM)
- Celcer, I. (2007-2019). The Hope & Will Collection (includes books for egg donation, sperm donation, & surrogacy for heterosexual, LGBT+, and single parents)
- Bourne, K. (2002). Sometimes it takes three to make a baby: Explaining egg donor conception to young children (heterosexual couple)
- Nadel, Carolina (2006). Mommy Was Your Tummy Big? (egg donation)
- Schnitter, J. T. (1995). Let me explain: A story about donor insemination (heterosexual couple)
We are happy to provide additional resources and guidance for approaching this conversation – reach out to us today.