Non-Genetic Parenthood & Your Child's Birth Story: Don't Personalize It
By Lisa Schuman, LCSW, Founding Director, of The Center for Family Building
Non-genetic parenthood is complicated. As a result, disclosure to family, friends and the outside world, the way we see our children and their adoption or donor gamete experience, can all be fraught with emotions. In order to be effective in helping our children understand their origins and assimilate a positive narrative about their beginnings into their persona, it’s important to separate the feelings that belong to you from the feelings that belong to your child. There are many feelings that can emerge from our personal experiences and create reactions to non-genetic parenthood. A few of these reactions can be related to:
- The experience of infertility
Infertility is painful. It can be an assault to our relationships, career, and sense of self. Men are affected, but it is often more personal for women. Women typically feel that their bodies are made to reproduce. Getting pregnant is the one thing that many women feel they can rely upon. Job opportunities and other life experiences may or may not fulfill their dreams but the dream of becoming a mother feels like it should just happen naturally. When it doesn’t, it can be shocking.
Women have reminders every month that their bodies are made to make a baby and of course they spend their young adult lives trying not to get pregnant. When pregnancy is not achieved, sadness and even depression can ensue. Fertility treatments and a loss of control can worsen the pain. It can be hard not to bring these sad and very personal memories into the parenting experience.
- Sadness about the loss of a genetic connection to the child
Fortunately, it is possible for almost anyone to adopt or use reproductive medicine to have a child. Unfortunately, a genetic connection to a child may not be feasible. Accepting this fact can be very hard for some.
Reactions are as individual as the person. Even for the woman who clearly understands that her desire to be a mother overrides a genetic connection to a child, coming to terms with the reality that she has lost a genetic connection to future children can feel hurtful.Like most grief reactions, it takes time to absorb the loss and grow accustomed to a new reality.
- Disclosure fears.
Many people who have non-genetically related children struggle with worries about disclosure. They worry about how their child will feel about their origins. They worry about how their children will fare in the world where others are aware of their origins. They also wonder if their child’s understanding of their origins will cause them to love their parents less.
All of these reactions are understandable, but the negative feelings are not insurmountable. Although we don’t have as much research in the gamete donation community as we have in adoption, we do have a lot of information from adult adoptees that is also useful for children born with the use of donor gametes. Children born to their birthparents and then adopted by another family often need to reconcile feelings they have about being placed with a family different from the one they are born into. Children conceived with donor eggs or donor sperm don’t need to cope with this difficulty, but they do need to come to terms with the understanding that they received genetics from outside their family.
It is understandable to have a desire to have a genetic connection to your child. Not only is there often an internal drive for this connection but others can contribute to the belief that it is preferable to have genetically related children. How often do you hear comments such as, “she looks just like you”, or, “he has your father’s laugh”? Perhaps the desire for a genetic connection is society’s way of keeping us together. The modern family has changed and evolved and we can too. Fortunately, nature will help. As we nurture our children, a connection grows and the love becomes mutual. It is our job to foster that bonding and not allow our anxieties to create difficulties for our children.
Your child’s story is as individual as your child. Some children may want to shout about their birth stories from the rooftops and others may feel more private. For more information on teaching children how to disclose to family and friends in helpful ways, see the TIP TOP booklet at www.Familybuilding.net or come to one of our workshops.
In the meantime, share information with your children about their origins, speak well of their donors and birth parents and give your children opportunities to explore their feelings about their beginnings at their own pace. Join them in their curiosity and make sure not to assume they feel the same way you do about their genetics.
Their understanding of who they are will evolve over time. It’s important for you as parents to understand this fact and to be there to hold your child’s hand when they have reactions to their birth history. While you may continue to have feelings about your children’s origins and your road to parenthood, those experiences were in your past. You are now a parent and your children belong to you, one hundred percent, and they will need your support to explore their feelings about their unique birth stories.
This article first appeared on the Center for Family Building Blog