The most important point to make when talking to your child about their conception is letting them know how deeply loved and wanted they are. So much so, that an entire team of people came together to bring them into existence and into your family.
One of the most delicate, yet important, questions for intended parents is, “how do I tell my child that they were conceived using an egg donor or donor embryo?” Although IVF using donor eggs or embryos offers amazing advantages, it’s also important to address these valid concerns to help alleviate any stress or fear that intended parents may feel. For parents who have chosen to disclose the information to their children, this blog shares some insights we have gathered from other families, including donor conceived adults and children themselves. Additionally, we share some resources, such as children’s books, to help you navigate the process of telling your child about their donor conception.
Note: We recognize that in some cultures and some family dynamics, telling children about the nature of their conception is a more complex issue than what may be represented throughout this blog. We respect that each family lovingly chooses what they believe to be best for their specific situation.
The first piece of advice is agreed upon by many child psychologists, fertility specialists, recipient parents, and donor conceived children: Consider telling your child as early as possible. Studies show that stress, anxiety and depression levels are lower in families who choose early disclosure.
By sharing the truth with your child from an early age, you are creating a foundation to continue building the story with age-appropriate information as your child grows. This is beneficial for both the parent and the child as the conception story becomes a gradual process, organically unfolding over time instead of a formal announcement that may be stressful for the parent and shocking for the child.
As stated by the Donor Conception Network, “the goal of early telling is that a child should grow up ‘never knowing a time when they didn’t know’ about their origins by donor conception.”
Intertwining the donor conception into their birth story typically isn’t a big deal for kids, especially if the parents don’t make it a big deal. Commonly, egg donor conceived children that have always known share that it simply became part of their identity and they still felt that their parents were their parents, whether there was a genetic link or not.
Young children are very concrete thinkers, they do not develop abstract thinking until early adolescence. So, if you’re prepping yourself for early disclosure, keeping it simple for their little minds to comprehend works perfectly fine!
For instance, when your child is three or younger, the language can sound like this:
“We tried so hard to have you. Sometimes parents need a little help to make a baby. Mommy and/or daddy received a special gift from someone that helped us have you.”
There are resources available that break it down by age to help you determine what is developmentally appropriate for your child. One resource is the Telling and Talking Series by the Donor Conception Network, which has a variety of books available, including a book for telling a child age 12 - 16 for the first time.
Of course, telling your child early doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be off the hook for some follow-up questions. You can expect (and should encourage) them to ask questions about their donor.
If the child asks to meet the donor, they are not trying to replace you. They are likely just intrigued by the thought of this mysterious person. Instead of responding with a hard “no” which may be off-putting for the child, you can leave the door open by simply saying, “maybe someday.”
Remember: Kids are curious about everything, so don’t panic! You can choose how much information to give them in response to their questions, and they will likely move on fairly quickly after you’ve engaged them.
Language is important, and specialists encourage parents to not overplay or underplay the role of the donor. You can refer to them as either the “donor” or the “helper.” However, calling the donor “mother” or “father” is an example of overplaying the role of the donor as that may confuse your child.
It’s also important not to underplay the role of the donor. After all, in the case of an egg donor, she did contribute to 50% of the genetic makeup of your child, or 100% in the case of an embryo donor couple. Although genetics are not everything, they are still very important. As your child begins to understand more about genetics, they will come to understand how the contribution from their donor helped make them who they are.
Some parents feel that it is important to honor and recognize the donor for their generosity. It is possible to acknowledge that the donor is a real person, and is very special, without compromising the very important and special role that you play as the parents.
It may be beneficial to naturally bring up the donor here and there when you see an opportunity. For instance, if your child is showing an interest in singing, you can share with them that their donor was also a very talented singer! This is an exciting way to show your child that you are comfortable bringing it up, and therefore, they can also feel comfortable enough to come to you when they have questions. This approach can help relieve any tension or nervousness surrounding the topic as it becomes normalized in your family and the child understands that it is nothing to be ashamed of.
As stated by Creating A Family,
“It’s the child’s story. Even if you do not want the world to know, there is a mighty fine line between privacy and secrecy. It is fine to encourage your child to only talk about their conception within the family, but if you go overboard you risk making it a secret, and secret implies there is something wrong or shameful about their conception.”
By thinking about certain situations beforehand, you can maintain control with any boundaries that you do have. For instance, you may choose to share with your child early on, but would rather wait until they are a bit older before you share additional specific information about the donor or the egg/embryo donation process that occurred. If possible, try to clearly communicate your feelings and expectations on the matter with everyone that will be close to your child. Let them know how you’d like them to respond if your child goes to them for information at any point.
Within donor conceived families, you will notice kids having similar mannerisms to their parents, using similar phrases, and sharing many other similarities. Without spiraling too deep into the epigenetics and nature vs nurture conversations, we will just say this: your child conceived using donor eggs or donor embryos is every bit your child and they feel the same way. As beautifully shared by donor child Allegra in this video, “I am my mother’s child.”
We were fortunate enough to have donor egg mama and industry advocate Victoria Nino shed some light on how she approaches telling her 3-year-old daughter about her egg donor. As shared by Victoria,
"I am a huge believer in epigenetics and talk about the impact that all three people had in making her - our egg donor, her father and me. I'm constantly experimenting with different ways of explaining this to my three-year-old, and find it easiest to casually mention where she gets things from as they come up, like her button nose from her donor, her beautiful eyes from dada and her sense of humor from mama."
Understandably, some parents may have a deep-rooted fear that their child will not feel as connected to them if they know that they are not genetically related. Fortunately, that’s not the case! Many egg donation children comment on the love and connection they feel with their parents, regardless of genetic linkage.
By sharing the donor conception story with your child, you are ingraining into their identity just how wanted and loved they truly are.
Whether it’s a support group, professional counseling, or insights from books, there are many resources available to help you navigate telling your child about their conception. There are counselors and psychologists that specialize in egg donation, ready to discuss any fears or concerns you may have about telling your child.
Children’s books offer a relatable and engaging template for telling children the story of their conception. Below are some additional resources for you, the parent, as well as books for your children. For additional resources, you can reach out to the Donor Nexus team and we will be happy to help.