The Beautiful Epic of How a Family is Created
Thousands of children are born into loving families each year through egg donation. This is a wonderful phenomenon to be celebrated. Yet many couples are still being advised to tell no one, not even their child. Silence concerning such an important event can suggest that there is something shameful about donor third-party reproduction even if that is not the intent.
For children, learning how they came to be part of your family is always an exciting adventure that they love to hear over and over, regardless of how your family was created. Your child is starting with a clean slate, without any preconceived notions of what is “traditional”. If you are comfortable with how you are growing your family your child will be too. Your child is an outgrowth of the love you and your partner have for each other. Your child was so dearly wanted that you went to great lengths to bring your child into your family. Adoption and sperm donation have been the pioneers in growing families. As groundbreakers, they have learned some lessons the hard way. There is much to be learned from both.
Adoption has been practiced for centuries and has traditionally been shrouded in silence. The thinking in earlier years was that it was better that the child never knows they were adopted. It was believed that this knowledge could be devastating to the child on the contrary, over the years; research has indicated that not telling the child can be more harmful in the long run. Having them find out accidentally is traumatizing, often setting the child on a path to find out whatever they could about their biological parents.
In recent years, adoption has become more and more open. Adopted children are told from an early age how they became part of their family. Parents share the great joy they experienced and continue to experience since welcoming the child into the family. They are encouraged to talk to their child about the day they came home to be part of the family. Parents are advised to tell their child’s story in a positive light. Mary Watkins has written Talking With Young Children About Adoption, which addresses both issues you and your partner may be facing as well as addressing some of the tough questions that can arise that, may be similar to egg donor, third-party reproduction.
Sperm donation has been practiced for over 70 years. Because of the stigma associated with male infertility, families have often kept silent, thinking it was for the best. In many of these cases, fathers never had the opportunity to grieve the loss of their own biological child. The couples were often so happy to have found a solution to their infertility issue; they simply went full-speed ahead without addressing some of the deeper psychological and emotional issues. It was assumed that they would not discuss the details of their child’s special conception, never realizing that silence has a life of its own and its presence is always lurking in the family’s subconscious. “What isn’t there has a presence, like the absence of light.”
In recent years, research has shown the damaging effects silence has caused in families who have conceived through sperm donation. Lethal Secrets, by Annette Baran, is an excellent example with many vignettes of children conceived through sperm donation but never told until they were much older or by a harsh accident. They are often left feeling betrayed, confused, and sometimes hostile toward their parents (parents always refers to the couple who raises and nurtures the child). The result, often is, fathers who feel detached from their children and children who feel they are different from the rest of the family but can’t put a name to exactly what or why. In a worst-case scenario, when a child learns abruptly by accident or at a delicate time in her life such as adolescence, her personal identity is shaken. To suddenly discover the people whom she loves and trusts most have chosen to be silent concerning such an important issue can be devastating, no matter how well intended.
With third-party reproduction, specifically egg donation, I suggest you talk to your child when you are pregnant. I suggest this not because I think the child will get the message prenatally but as a therapeutic way for you, the parents, to become comfortable with the unique way in which you are building your family. Most of all, it is important to remember you are doing this for the child to give him a healthy and honest beginning. It is better for a child to hear his story from you, his parents, than by accident some day through another source. This is his story as well as yours.
Children love to hear how they came to be part of their family, no matter how they were conceived. Your child especially needs to hear from you in a gentle, loving manner how this memorable event came about. One question that adopted children often ask that you will never have to answer is, “Why didn’t they keep me?” Your child is a product of your love. Creation comes from God and He has chosen you to be this child’s parents. The love you have for each other was so great that you wanted to share it with a child and you went to great lengths to bring your child into your family.
One way to get started is to keep a scrapbook with pictures of the important players: you and your partner, the doctor, other family members who have supported you through your child’s conception and birth, and the donor. If you like, you might want to include a letter or journal entries of your thoughts and feelings while you were waiting for your child to join you in the world.
Discussions with your child should always be age-appropriate but even very young children know what helpers are. You can tell them that you had many helpers working to bring him into the family: there were doctors, nurses, and a donor. When your child is very small they will have no idea or even care what a donor is. As she gets older she may ask, “What’s a donor”. You might chose to tell her that to make a baby there has to be an egg and a sperm. Mommy was out of eggs so, ”We borrowed some.”
The donor is a special person willing to give something of herself to help your child become part of your family. She has done a noble and essential act toward your child’s conception. She helped make it possible for the love between you and your partner to culminate in the birth of your child. The donor is a genetic relative donating tissue. She is not and never will be the mother; only you and your partner are the parents. Without you this child would never have come into the world.
In conclusion, we can learn a lot about the advantages of open communication by looking at the problems silence has caused in both adoption and sperm donation in years past. Elaine Gordon has written an excellent book for talking to any child about all kinds of reproductive issues. It is called, “Mommy Did I Grow In Your Tummy” . This is a good tool for any parent, no matter how they choose to build their family. Flight of the Stork by Anne Bernstein is also a helpful book. Both books can be ordered from your local bookstore or through your local Resolve Chapter.
The following quote embodies what I would like to convey to parents and future parents. It applies beautifully to third-party reproduction. The only change I would make would be in putting love first because that is where your journey begins.
Life is the first gift, love the second, and understanding the third.
Watkins, Mary. Talking To Your Child About Adoption. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
Atwood, Margaret. The Blind Assassin. New York: Random House, 2000.
Baran, Annette, Reuben Pannor. Lethal Secrets: The Shocking Consequences and Problems of Artificial Insemination. New York: Dodd Mead, 1989. (Out of print, may be available used)
Gordon, Elaine. Mommy Did I Grow In Your Tummy. Santa Monica: EM Greenberg Press, Inc.,1992.
Bernstein, Anne. Flight of the Stork. Indianapolis: Perspectives Press, 1994.