by Teresa and Bernard Villegas MD
Benefit Number One: The Telling. As parents, we stand in front of our children and we experience first hand reflections of ourselves at our best and at our worst. Our children are teachers, our mirrors to how we feel about our own identity and authenticity. Their beautiful little faces, looking up at us with their innate predisposition of pure-nonjudgemental-joy-filled-hearts. They have the super powers to reflect anything we give them; our love, attention and appreciation as well as anything we are not giving them. They also have the ability to reflect and/or absorb, anything that we are feeling uncomfortable about within ourselves.
Bringing up the topic of when and how to tell your child about their donor conceived origins, may be one of those uncomfortable feelings facing you now. Going through the demands of IVF and pregnancy, and now being a new parent (some of us to twins like we were) are already exhausted both physically and mentally. This topic could easily be classified as one of those "we'll cross that bridge when we get to it" kind of topics. Well, realistically, once your baby is born, that bridge is already here, but you don't have to cross it quite yet. Just knowing that it's there, and that it's really much easier to cross than you think, will put your mind at ease.
In our opinion, (as well as professional psychologists) parenting a donor conceived child has the added responsibility of sharing their birth (and genetic) origins in a way that they can understand at every age level of their development. Sharing the fact that we have children because someone else, outside of our partnership (– or ourselves, if you are a single parent by choice) and outside of our genetic makeup, helped us to create our family has led us to many thoughtful and bonding conversations we could never have imagined. It wasn't an easy topic to broach but discovered that telling them early on was much easier than we thought.
Telling your child can best be thought of as a process. An ongoing open conversation throughout the life of your child as they grow and mature in their thinking and feeling. Most of the time, now and in the future, donor conception issues will not be in the forefront of your daily lives. However, it's a really good idea to begin looking for casual opportunities to begin the conversation while your child is young, about 1-2 years old.
You will find opportunities that offer openings into the conversation. Such as when you are holding them or cuddling with them. Tell them about how much you love them, and how much you wanted them. Making positive emotional connections they can feel and relate to at such a young age. An example might be to say "We are so happy to finally have you, we have been waiting and loving you forever! We are so fortunate and grateful to the kind man (or woman) who helped us to have you."
At this early age, telling is really more for you than for your child. By practicing to say the words, and hearing yourself saying the words in different ways will allow you to begin to feel more comfortable and at ease. Reading children's books specifically written for donor conceived children at an early age are great ways to introduce the subject in an easy and casual way.
Other opportunities as they grow from 2-3 years old, can include your experiences nonchalantly into your conversations. Such as when you are making a visit to the pediatrician for a check up. You could say something like "I remember when we were having a hard time getting pregnant, and had to visit many different doctors' offices before you were born. We were so fortunate that we got such good care and help from others so that you could be born."
Other situations where they need the help of another person to accomplish something are great conversation lead ins such as ”I’d be happy to help tie your shoes, I know what it's like to need someone's help. The best help we ever received was from your egg donor." As our children got older from 4-8 in addition to all the children's books about nature and baby animals, we included videos about the natural world, as teaching moments to open conversations about making babies and families.
When we take road trips, or in the car for extended periods of time, we like to leverage our captive audience; and keep ourselves sane too since we have to listen to it by playing "teacher movies" as our children affectionately call them. Some of our family's favorites include the fabulous BBC Earth video series "Life" that are brilliantly and soothingly narrated by naturalist David Attenborough. His other videos "Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life" when they were in k-2nd grade. Recently we've exposed them to Novas "The Elegant Universe" and "Cracking The Code of Life" now that they are in 3rd-4th grade. These shows, along with the information we have been telling them about their own genetic beginnings, have already informed them immensely about the natural world, mating, and how their birth story relates. And this leads us to our next benefit for being parents of a donor conceived child.
Benefit Number 2: Early Sex Education. Because we are parenting donor conceived children, perhaps our kids have gotten a head start in their education when it comes to physiology and biology. From everything we have shared with them starting early on, and in open dialogue with them over the years, we discovered something else that they were getting that we never anticipated: basic sex education awareness.
With their understanding of what it takes to make a baby, weather it be an animal baby or a human baby, the same three parts are needed; an egg, a sperm and a gestational carrier or a safe gestational place -typically a female (tho not so with seahorses!) They have learned that when animals are "mating" they are making offspring aka “babies.”
"Yes kids, mating is "having sex" but there's more to it, and we can talk about it whenever you want."
Our children attend public school and have been coming home with many questions about what they hear on the school playground. At age six, they asked "What does 'sexy' mean?" because of a pop song kids were singing at school. Now that our children are 8 years old (boy/girl twins) and 9yr old boy, we talk frequently about about "sex" and how it's used in derogatory slang words, cussing, and sexual innuendos they hear more often as they get older.
This is the perfect age to tell them the specifics because of the "yuck" factor.
Answering their question "exactly how does the sperm get to the egg, mom?" I simply told them the truth in the nonchalant-matter-of-fact, medical terminology way like we have been doing for the last 8 years; "Well, basically, it's similar to animals mating -we humans are animals after all. The male puts his erect penis inside the female's vagina." I didn't need to go any further, and just paused. What we heard were their shrieks of "oh, that's so gross, yuck!" Exactly. We looked at each other and smiled. Laughter, humor, giggles, and fun; an honest and satisfied answer to their question for now.
Of course, we've talked more with them about sex and we again turned to books to read with them. These are the ones we've really liked and you might too:
- "It's Perfectly Normal" by Harris and Emberly
- "Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (but were afraid they'd ask)" by Richardson and Schuster
- For our daughter "The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls
- For our sons "My Body, My Self for Boys: Revised Edition (What's Happening to My Body?) " by Lynda Madaras and Area Madaras.
Us parents in the Unites States have much to learn about teaching sex education. There has been a huge effort in countries like the Netherlands and Switzerland addressing the topic of sexuality and sex education classes beginning in kindergarten. Statistics back up the benefits with the lowest teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates in-the-world: about 6 per 1,000 women.
These are some examples of how we have approached the process of telling our children so far. Stay tuned for more posts. We welcome you to our parenting community and trust that together we will grow. Any comments or examples for telling are welcome, feel free to contribute below.
Gamete Donation: Findings on Disclosure and Anonymous Donation
When couples or individuals walk through our doors, we may encourage them to envision their future family in our consultation rooms. Therefore, one goal when meeting with intended parents is to provide them with information about donor conceived families so that they can make informed decisions about how to proceed with gamete donation.
Once the “future children” are brought into the room, questions are at the forefront of intended parents’ minds. Should they tell their children about the donor? When should they tell? What will their children want to know? Fortunately, clinical and empirical data exist about the effects of disclosure of donor origins and donor anonymity and this information may serve as a foundation for raising healthy children and building strong donor conceived families.
What Do We Know About Disclosing Donor Origins?
Infertility produces a life crisis and often leaves people feeling stressed and stigmatized. In hopes of protecting themselves and their children from stigma, couples may choose to keep their infertility, and all associated with it, a secret. Additionally, parents may decide not to inform their children about donor origins because they fear their children may view the donor as the “real” parent. Parents may believe that disclosure of donor origins has potential negative consequences and that non-disclosure is neutral. In actuality, both disclosure and non-disclosure have ramifications on families.
Research suggests that non-disclosure is related to psychological upset. In several studies, parents reported that keeping donor insemination a secret from their offspring created psychological discomfort (Daniels et al, 2009, 2011). Other studies revealed that parents who did not disclose donor origins had higher levels of distress than their disclosing counterparts (Murray, et al, 2006; Nachtigall et al, 1997; Salter-Ling et al, 2001).
Studies also reveal that the issue of disclosure and non-disclosure seems to impact family functioning. Non-disclosure may negatively affect communication between spouses and other family members and it may also negatively affect a couple’s relationship (Hargreaves and Daniels, 2007; Lalos et al, 2007). Conversely, research indicates that disclosure is beneficial for families. In disclosing families children reported less tension in their relationship with their parents, mothers reported less frequent and less severe arguments with their children and couples reported more positive family relationships (Lycett et al, 2004, 2005). Furthermore, it is important to note that non-disclosure does not guarantee secrecy. Many parents, who have not told their children about their donor origins, have told other people. This situation leaves open the likelihood that donor offspring will discover their donor origins from people other than their parents, a highly undesirable possibility.
What Do We Know About When to Tell Children about their Origins?
Research suggests that telling children about their donor origins at an early age has benefits for both the offspring and their parents. Parents who disclosed early appeared more at ease with the disclosing process, felt relief after telling and reported that early disclosure gave them the opportunity to gradually introduce the topic. Additionally, children who were told at a young age processed the information in a factual and non-emotional way (MacDougall et al, 2007; Lycett et al, 2005; Rumball and Adair, 1999). Furthermore, when children were told early, they did not respond to disclosure negatively and did not reject their parents (Bake, et al, 2010; Scheib and Ruby, 2006).
In contrast to the benefits of early disclosure, postponing sharing information about donor origins may have negative consequences. Studies reveal that those who learned about donor insemination later in life experienced confusion regarding their identity, more negative feelings about their donor conception and feelings of deceit and mistrust (Beeson et al, 2011; Daniels and Meadow, 2006; Daniels and Thorn, 2001; Jadva et al, 2009; Turner and Coyle, 2000).
What Do We Know about Donor Anonymity versus Open Identity?
It is commonsense that disclosing donor origins to donor conceived offspring will lead them to have questions about the donor, and research supports that information about donors is important to donor offspring. Several studies indicate that donor conceived offspring want to know about their donor origins, request information about the donor and feel a sense of loss and questions about their identity when knowledge is lacking. Furthermore, there was a disparity between the small amounts of information the offspring possessed about the donor in comparison to the extensive amount of information they desired (Benward et al, 2009; Cushing, 2010; Mahlstedt et al, 2009; Turner and Coyle, 2000).
Importantly, studies also indicate that an offspring’s curiosity about the donor was independent of the parent-child relationship, meaning that children can have positive relationships with their parents and also be curious about their donor origins (Beeson et al, 2011; Mahlstedt et al, 2009; Scheib et al, 2003; Vanfraussen et al, 2003). In fact, one study demonstrated that many donor conceived offspring felt that contact with the donor would help them learn more about themselves, but that very few desired a father/child relationship (Scheib et al, 2003). From the parents’ perspective, almost no parents regretted their decision to use an open-identity donor (Scheib et al, 2003).
When first meeting people at the beginning of their fertility treatments involving donors, helping them have their future family in mind and providing information about donor conceived offspring and families is useful. People find this focused consultation helpful in easing their fears and helping them make decisions, based on their beliefs and values, which will impact their future family. Therefore, prior to commencing with medical interventions, intended parents significantly may benefit from discussing empirical and clinical data about the effects of disclosure of donor origins and donor anonymity with a mental health professional that specializes in third party reproduction so that they can make informed decisions about how to proceed with gamete donation.
Bibliography available upon request.
Madeline Licker Feingold, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Oakland and Walnut Creek,
Original Source posted by path2parenthood.org
Early on in parenting advice we are told to tell our children "use your words." This is something we parents can practice too, no matter what the topic, including the most challenging ones with our partners.
“I feel…, when you…, because…, and I would like for you to….” is a good template for us to follow as well. It takes a lot of courage to stand up for ourselves and others, so practice with the little things first, then you'll feel more comfortable with the more prickly topics. Here is an example from a couple who shared with us this conversation starter that helped them move forward in their family.
when you…are reluctant to tell the truth about our children's genetic origins.
because… they need to know how much we love and respect them and want them to feel secure and safe in who they are. I want them to know they can always hear the truth from us first about this or any subject no matter how uncomfortable it might make us feel. They are growing up fast, and I don't want them to discover the truth from someone else and then question if we had lied to them about other things in their life.
I would like for you… to respect and be proud of our choices in how we brought our child into our family. I'd also like you to be honest and open in telling our child the truth of their genetic origins, or at least allow me to tell them. If you are still having a hard time with this, I will support you in any way that I can to find a way for you to feel good about this.
Research and history show that as with adopted children and decades of donor conceived children; that the earlier we tell our child about their origins, the easier it is for everyone.
Mindful and Just Parenting: Cultivating the Courage of Radical Compassion
by Teresa Graham Brett -ParentingForSocialChange.com
If we are redefining adult-child relationships in order to parent from a place of trust and respect, we must bring to consciousness the underpinnings of the institutions that we grew up within. We must also understand how the experiences we had within those institutions (including within the family) created a particular view of how the world works. Our families are reflections of the broader culture as well. A culture based on power and control. Fear, isolation, separation, ignorance, and disconnection are all characteristics of a culture that is based on power and control. (Harro, 2001) Power and control are embedded in almost all of the institutions and systems in our culture, including families, schools, religious institutions, the legal system, and the medical system. They are, for the most part, all based on the top down, hierarchical models that operate from a base of power and control.
As individuals grow up in our culture, they are trained within these systems to accept the use of power and control over them.
Individuals grow up and take their place in society and take up the work of socializing younger, less powerful members of our social structures to internalize and accept the use of power and control as normal. Fear, ignorance, and shame are the tools used by the more powerful to ensure compliance. The most challenging part about these tools, is that we all had them used on us and we learned how to use them. Because power, control, fear, and shame are so commonplace in the majority of child-adult relationships, they become unremarkable. This is how they become part of our subconscious. We see them as normal.
If you are an adult, you have more power over children. And because you (and I) learned that these tools are "normal," we have to become aware of when and how we might be using them unconsciously.
What begins as externally imposed fear and shame, quickly becomes internalized during childhood. Children looking to the adults around them for safety, food, shelter, and love, seek to please those adults in order to survive. Children internalize the ways in which the family, group, and society are structured and conform to those structures.
This internalization of shame and fear works to separate individuals from each other.
More importantly as individuals are properly trained and socialized in the cultural norms of power and control, they begin to question their inherent goodness and their humanity. How could we not question our humanity and the inherent goodness with which we are born? We learn on a daily basis that we are not good enough from adults around us. We are expected to perform others' expectations or else face judgment from them. The wholeness with which all individuals are born is fractured and replaced systematically with external authority, fear of failure, and the need to do what others expect in order to be cared for and protected (or to feel "safe").
The normalization of the more powerful controlling the less powerful and the use of shame and fear to control creates the foundation from which oppression and discrimination thrive.
Using fear and shame to control ourselves Even as we seek to reconnect to our wholeness through a practice of mindfulness, we use fear and shame internally to control our own thoughts and behaviors when we deem them unacceptable. We learn that certain parts of ourselves are not "right" or "good," that they need to be hidden because we were punished as children for showing them. As a side note, when I do these workshops, many people only think of punishment as coming from parents. Punishment against those who do not conform occurs in the majority of institutions, groups and relationships in our culture. Additionally, if we cannot hide parts of ourselves we bear the additional burden of systematic oppression. This discrimination is based not just on our status as children or young people but also based on our gender identity, race, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, national origin, and language, for example.
Though we may grow up and move into the more powerful role of adult, we still face that oppression based on other identities. A reality for our culture is that we have all faced at least one common experience of oppression and discrimination. We were all once children. And the vast majority of us faced the pain of being treated as less than human. This loss of our humanity, or wholeness, means that we continue to seek love and acceptance outside of ourselves to relieve the pain of the loss of unconditional love in childhood. The common oppression of childhood, of being part of a social identity group that is seen as less than, has created deep shame and emotional harm that continues to haunt us as we grow up. We internalize the oppression of childhood. And we learn to effectively use power over others who are deemed as “less than” in our society.
This compassion begins with internal work. It is about creating compassion for ourselves and our experiences, thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs. We can learn acceptance of all the parts of ourselves, even those that were used as weapons of shame and fear against us. We begin with a journey that invites the unconscious to come to consciousness. Those things we have hidden from ourselves, we must be willing to shine the light of day on. We must begin to accept that those things are still with us. Radical compassion, then, begins with the self.
So many parents who are committed to trust and respect want to be able to offer radical compassion to the children in their lives. But we will have only limited success if we cannot practice that radical compassion for ourselves.
Radical self-compassion opens the door to a more authentic and just relationship to self, which can then lead to more authentic, just, and compassionate relationships with others. As we practice radical compassion it has the ability to lead us to the understanding of the interconnectedness of all the parts of ourselves. The "good" and the "bad." The enemy within us becomes a friend. The internal process can be externalized to others.
This article is an excerpt from "Mindful and Just Parenting: Cultivating the Courage of Radical Compassion" by Teresa Graham Brett -ParentingForSocialChange.com To read the entire article (highly recommended) go to: http://www.parentingforsocialchange.com/mindful-parenting-radical-compassion.html
Everyone has a right to privacy, and there is a difference between privacy and secrecy. How much truth do we owe our family, our children. How much do we share with strangers?
Privacy suggests that "until I know you better, and can feel a sense of trust with you, I will keep you at arm's length". Privacy is really a trust issue.
Secrecy says "don't tell anyone this, because I'm not comfortable with anyone else knowing this about me and my family". Secrecy like this, is really a shame issue.
Secrecy is about hiding something from the world, and it takes a lot of energy. It is the energy of keeping a secret that can be construed by children that the truth is somehow so bad that it needs to be kept hidden at all costs.
Often this can lead to children feeling that somehow they are flawed. Both Bernard and I grew up in a generation when families often limited their communications with each other to mostly utilitarian conversations such as "pass the bread and butter please." Both of our families often didn't confide in each others' fears or shared dreams. We were seldom asked "how do YOU feel about this or that"? We were pretty much told how we should feel, and what we should believe, because our parents' "authoritarian style of parenting" suggested that they knew best, and well, they did, until we started questioning them.
Then we began searching for more diverse answers on our own, which often didn't match with some of their beliefs. There's no blame, that's all part of growing up. However, because of their generation and the social norms of the times, many families thought that secrets were best kept to "protect" their children from any "unpleasant" truths.
Many years later, now we are the parents. We have a loving marriage, and we have three children all born from IVF with donor assistance. Because of the long road we had to take to become parents, we were able to think longer about what kinds of parents we wanted to be. We basically wanted to create a childhood for our own children that would be based on openness and free-flowing information. We wanted to have a family that would have strong communication skills. A place where we could share our feelings, fears and dreams equally – openly, as well as welcome our differences of opinions and beliefs with the support of each other. We want to convey that love and respect is the basis of a family, rather than just genetics.
So, we began conversing with our children about their origins from day 1, to make sure they knew just how loved and important they are, not just to us, but that the world is a better place because they are in it. It's easy to be a disconnected partner or parent and give reflexive answers to questions with responses such as "I'm fine" or "it's ok, it's not a big deal" or "because I said so."
We're all guilty of these replies, mostly because we are just too tired, or haven't explored other parenting techniques or learned better communication skills and automatically reiterate the way that we were brought up. We've only 3 children, but my parents had 6, and finding time to talk one on one is challenging for many families with more than one child. Bernard's family had 2 but he was adopted and not told until he was older because there was a cultural stigma with adoption.
Because of this, as most young children often do, he took on his parents' feelings that adoption was bad, and therefore he was a bad child, and he was at fault. We all do the best we can, as most often as we can no matter what generation we grow up. As adults, and partners, we've grown and realized that we can contribute to a conversation, because we are valued, and someone else actually wants to know what's going on with us inside our mind (which can be scary and even odd sometimes) and yet they will continue to love us and want to know more.
This can be exhilarating, and also terrifying. When a partner gently encourages the other to share all aspects of themselves, it will initially open up our vulnerable side, yet it becomes easier and easier the more we practice.
This is what we want to encourage and praise –openness and vulnerability within ourselves and within our children too. Being honest with ourselves can often be difficult, but we made it a conscious choice, and one that we constantly face as a daily practice.
When we were going through the whole infertility process, selecting a donor, IVF, pregnancy and birth, and being new parents after infertility, we saw how easily we could keep all of this to ourselves. We weren't a same-sex couple and didn't have to explain the obvious to the outside world as courageously as they do. People would just see us as a hetero couple with children and think nothing of it. But we knew in our heart of hearts that this would only be a superficial veneer of who we are, and dismiss and invalidate all we went through to have the family we always wanted.
There were scientists, doctors, nurses, technology, donor service providers and the incredible donors themselves. We all worked together, and we all worked hard to orchestrate and bring our beautiful children into this word. Our parents' generation didn't have the widespread options we have today in family building. They didn't have parenting advice and all kinds of information so easily available at their fingertips like we do now.
Once we made the decision to be honest and open with our children about their donor conceived origins from the beginning, it immediately got easier. Something significantly shifted. The more honest and transparent we got with the way we built our family, the bigger the sense of freedom we felt. There was a huge difference between privacy and secrecy, and a lesson we learned.
Sure, we could've kept it a secret, feeding any feelings of shame or inadequacy within ourselves, eating at us continually from the inside out. It would have been okay until our family or strangers would comment and say things like "do twins run in your family? or "who did they get their long eyelashes from, you or your husband?" over and over, year after year.
Then when your child gets to be age 12 and starts questioning their genetic makeup in their middle school biology class, and the "oh-why-didn't-you-tell-me-sooner-and-what-else-have-you-been-keeping-from-me-?" comes out of their mouths.
Keeping a secret is about hiding something from the world, separating yourself, and that takes a lot of energy. We had kept our infertility a secret for the first couple of years as we went through the initial diagnosis and various medical treatments while trying to conceive. It wasn't even a conscious "secret" but one of default because we didn't know how to talk about it. But as we became more honest in exploring our feelings about it, we both felt a sense of peace and acceptance. We realized that our bodies are capable and strong, reliant and our minds and hearts are flexible, reasonable, empathetic and compassionate. But our physical bodies isn't all that defines who we are. We are more than that, we are vulnerable, whole, intangible and perfectly imperfect.
It's perfectly okay to be private of course because you don't need to share or tell anyone anything more than you feel comfortable in doing. When it comes to talking with your child about their donor origins, you want to feel comfortable about it with yourself first. To be authentic with yourself, to be open sometimes takes courage, but when there is nothing left to hide, there is nothing left to fear.
It is important to acknowledge to yourself that you are not alone in this process. The use of IVF is widespread, and talking about it becoming more common and accepted. Becoming fearless can be the most liberating thing a parent can do for themselves and for their child.
We live from an openness that came from our relationship before we were parents. It has carried us through the toughest of parenting times, and we want to continue this with our children too. Is there any parent who does not ask their child to be honest and tell them everything that is on their mind? How can we ask of them what we are not willing to do ourself?
This is how we want to be, and it can only help to transfer this as loving and cherishing our time together. We also know that old habits can reappear and find ourselves keeping things inside, and so we ask ourselves the following:
What am I afraid of? We were afraid of what others would think about us. The biggie. We were afraid of being thought of as "less than" because we needed to get help to conceive. That we weren't a normal couple. Data shows that 1 out of 8 US couples, needs the help of medical assistance to achieve pregnancy. Because we also had to use an egg donor, I was afraid that others would think that I was less of a real woman because I couldn't produce healthy eggs. Or that people would think I planned my life poorly and chastise me for choosing my most fertile years (ages 18-28) happily living my life, going to college and building my career. How was I supposed to know that female fertility peaks at age 28, or that a women's ovarian reserves remained a mere 12% by the time they are 30? And that at age 35 is considered "advanced maternal age"? For couples who had to use a sperm donor, the loss of any kind of "male masculinity" is feared. Especially in a culture like ours where male aggression is thought of as something "respectful". What about thoughtfulness, patience, kindness, loving caring, nurturing and the ability to provide, all the traits a father really needs to raise a child, not a genetic code. So much of what we are taught about being a "true" man or a woman is based on our ability to procreate, rather than how to nurture and raise well-adjusted children.
What will we lose by being honest? We feared we might lose the respect of our family, since their religion doesn't approve of it. But they remained supportive. Once the babies arrived, their hearts opened up, and they figured out a way to make it work for them in their own minds. It was their issue to come to terms with their own beliefs, not ours. They did not withhold their love from our children or from us, and we are all happier because we were honest. While I was researching and gathering information for our new children's book "How We Became a Family" I talked with our embryologist about how people felt about telling their family that they were using IVF. He told me that many Catholics and Christians seek out the help of IVF, but are uneasy about it be cause it conflicts with their religious leaders. He respects their beliefs, and tells them that he doesn't know why he chooses one healthy egg or sperm over the other to unite and fertilize, and that perhaps this is the moment when "the hand of their God" is guiding him.
Can we retain our privacy without hurting others' feelings? If we didn't tell our parents, or our friends, we would have hurt them more by keeping something this important from them. They love us and support us and want to understand what's going on in our family. The more comfortable we became sharing this information with our family and close friends, we became eager to let others outside of our circle know. We wanted other people to understand why we chose to build our family the way that we did. As our confidence grew, the more people we told, we found out that strangers were not as cruel as we first imagined they might be. When someone would ask us "do twins run in our family?" we took it as an opportunity to inform them, to dispel any stigma associated with it. We would reply, "no, we had to get help from a fertility doctor and an egg donor, do you know anyone who had to do the same?". We've yet to meet any negative responses, but should we, we understand respectfully that it's their opinion or belief that they are entitled to, just as we are entitled to our own.
Is it detrimental to our children's well-being if we decide not to share? We have a history of secrecy among families who have adopted children in the past, and what it was like for them to live with the stigma of adoption. For anyone wondering about how to deal with the stigma of donor conception, we now have over 20 years of parents using IVF with donor assistance who can tell us their experiences. And we have donor conceived children who are now adults telling us what and how they felt about being told or not told from their perspective here. All this data points to early disclosure. As Dr. Madeline Licker Feingold, a reproductive family psychologist says "Speaking about third-party reproduction casually, early and often normalizes it. It makes the information simply a part of the family story." When we ask our own children, our boy/girl twins are now 8 and our singleton son is 9 years old "Do you guys find it uncomfortable when we tell people you were donor conceived?" They smirk their faces and say "no, why would we?" When we ask if they discuss their IVF and donor origins with their classmates, they respond "why would we?" By making it an early discussion, it is felt to be a natural part of your children's lives that has no negative connotation or an air of being unaccepted. If you find that for whatever reason, you haven't begun the conversation with your child and they are now older, know that it's never too late. Here is a blog post that helps parents begin the conversation with older kids.
Do we need to keep this a secret? If so, why? It's never healthy. Honesty with yourself will only set you free. Talking about your child's donor origins is a process, not a one time conversation, and one that you will tell in bits and pieces as they grow. You will add more detail as they grow and understand more. The sooner you lay the groundwork and the foundation of the conversation the better.
Practice talking with your child while they are infants and toddlers, children are very forgiving. Try it out casually and often in the very early years of their life. Talking through any apprehension you may have with your partner can rationalize and dispel any fears surrounding them. Nothing is as frightening as keeping it all inside. You are a team and together you can do this, and it will set the tone for future parenting challenges should they arise.
If you find yourself worrying, hiding, or feeling afraid to voice or talk about your family building decisions, ask yourself why. Living this way and encouraging our children to live this way has resulted in an amazing and consistent, relaxed atmosphere at home. There is no pent-up stress that can't be diffused when we ask ourselves questions like "why do I think like this?" "why do I feel like this?" Absolute honesty, in a gentle and respectful way, has created a totally safe environment for any family member to unburden themselves, if they choose to do so, without fear of blame or recriminations. Total trust has evolved into a love so pure and so beautiful, and knowing that the outside world will bring stress into our family world, we at least have built a foundation, a touchstone that we are always eager to get back to. We are happy we have found our voice as a family. Do you have yours?
By Professor Martin H Johnson • Professor of Reproductive Sciences, University of Cambridge • Appeared in BioNews 700
Energetic pioneer of IVF whose work led to the birth of the first 'test-tube baby' in 1978
by Miriam Katz
Like most parents, I have resolved to be the best parent I can be. And for me, that means integrating proven best practices as I come across them, incorporating them into my parenting tool belt. The end of the year is a time when many of us start looking to the future, reflecting on the positive changes we’d like to make in our lives. In the spirit of New Year’s, I’ve consolidated my top parenting resolutions here.
1. To love unconditionally. Most western parents today were raised using a model where we were given or withheld love based on our behavior. Our desired behavior was rewarded and undesirable behavior, punished. While this type of reinforcement is effective with animals, with whom these techniques originated, they also send our children strong messages that shape their self image and self esteem. Love is contingent upon children satisfying our expectations, we communicate. On the contrary, when children are given unconditional approval, which can be expressed through the absence of praise and punishment, they learn that – at their core – they are loved. Conversations about acceptable behavior can take place without communicating to a child that they are “good” or bad”.
2. To validate emotions and experience. Little children experience big feelings. If adults can be overwhelmed by strong emotion, imagine the experience of a child who has no coping tools and very little power. We can help children move through the turbulence of emotion by naming and validating their emotions. By making their emotions both relatable and acceptable, we give our children a safe space within which to grow. “You’re feeling angry because Johnny took the ball away from you,” we might say after witnessing our toddler’s rage. Offering to hold your child or speaking together to Johnny about the incident may help the child work through their feelings.
3. To instruct using positive language. As newbies to our world, children have tons to learn about appropriate social behavior. The word “no” in isolation is minimally instructive, as it provides no actionable information about what is desirable. Spoken over and over to a baby or toddler – or teenager for that matter – it can evoke strong frustration. Practical information about what is acceptable maximizes support while minimizing frustration. “Food is for eating, balls are for throwing,” can be a helpful response to a child who throws his food. While challenging at first, aspiring to reduce or eliminate the use of the word “no” can be a powerful tool for parents. A child’s boundaries can be set even more powerfully when the realm of acceptable behavior is clearly defined.
4. To model what I wish to elicit. Children learn by watching what we do, not by listening to what we say. While it’s tempting to demand respect from our children, one of the most productive – and fulfilling – ways to elicit respect is by extending it to them. Using polite language like please and thank you, responding to their requests with love and understanding – especially when they can’t be granted – and providing a safe space for them to create and make mistakes all send powerful messages about love. When we honor our children as separate beings with equally valid preferences – keeping in mind that it’s our responsibility in advance to limit their options to those that are supportive of their healthful development – we create a mutually respectful relationship.
5. To assume the best of intentions. Have you ever noticed how the world rises to our expectations? Expect to have a bad day, and you’ll notice the frustration of hitting an empty tank of gas. Expect to have a good day, and you’ll pay special attention when that lady lets you go ahead at the supermarket. Children are extremely responsive to our moods and expectations. We can avoid some huge potholes by refraining from labeling our children, i.e. “she’s the smart one” or “he’s the aggressive one”. We can also do our children a huge service by assuming that they have the best of intentions. Your child wants a strong relationship with you, filled with love, affection and mutual respect. And as long as you assume the best, even when he’s pulling the cat by her tail and throwing rice across the room, you can educate and nurture in a way that preserves a loving relationship. Remember, we’re all students here. And perhaps never more so than as parents.
6. To learn from my child. Children come into the world with a lack of inhibition that is tremendously instructive. They show no shame in asking for what they desire, and they act instantly upon their most primal instincts to meet their needs. Ever notice how young children will suddenly start running around, or singing at the top of their lungs? While most adults have learned to repress their desires, children are in touch with their basic needs – food, love, and exercise. When your child demands attention, take a cuddle break and relish the opportunity to love and be loved. When your child declares a dance party or initiates a wrestling match, join in! These feel-good games raise your heart rate and release your natural joy. What could be better?
7. To be present. So often, we get caught up in our thoughts or to-do lists. While we can experience a sense of temporary relief or satisfaction by making progress on standing projects, the high only goes so far. Children live the grace-filled experience of being in the moment, each and every moment. By letting our agendas go and allowing a child to draw us into his world, we experience the aliveness of living in the present moment. While we’re giving the child a gift by attentively joining his game, that gift returns to us tenfold in each moment that we’re consciously present. This year and every year, above all, I aspire to embrace the gifts that parenthood and life have to offer. I wish the same for you, in 2013 and beyond. I couldn't have said this better. This post was written by Miriam Katz on December 28, 2012view original post here
• Does talking about your experience with in vitro make you feel uncomfortable? • Does telling others that you needed to use infertility treatments and donor assistance to create your family, make you feel "less than"? • Do you want your children to feel comfortable and proud about their origins?
Talking with Children Conceived Through Donor Insemination, IVF with Egg Donor or Surrogacy By Ellen Singer, LCSW-C The Center for Adoption Support and Education
There was a time when adoption was shrouded in secrecy to protect all parties involved: adoptive parents from the shame of infertility, birth mothers from the shame of out of wedlock pregnancy, and adoptees from the stigma of being “illegitimate.” That time refers roughly to the 1930’s and 1940’s. Today, of course, adoption is viewed in a very different light with an emphasis on honesty, openness, and something to be celebrated as opposed to hidden. Although controversy continues to exist regarding adoption practices such as transracial and open adoption, there is no controversy about the expectation that at some point, adoptive parents will talk with their child about his/her adoptive status and share the facts related to how their child came to be part of the family.
Unlike adoption, however, no such clear expectation for disclosure exists for parents who conceived their child through alternative family-building methods such as donor insemination or in vitro fertilization (IVF) with an egg donor or surrogacy.
Both prospective parents and parents who have successfully conceived with the help of a third party continue to be counseled by some medical and mental health professionals that it is not necessary to share the circumstances of the child’s conception with their child – that it is not necessary for the child to know the truth about how he came to be part of his family. The rationale for this position includes respect for the infertile parents’ privacy as well as the desire to protect the child from emotional harm, especially in light of those people in our society who are opposed to assisted reproductive technologies. Because this rationale seems so similar to the basis for secrecy around adoption that existed at least two generations ago, it is no wonder that many mental health and adoption professionals disagree vehemently with this stance. Lois Melina, for one, represents the view that children conceived with the assistance of a donor or surrogate have the same rights as adopted children to know the truth about their origins.
In her book, Making Sense of Adoption (1989), Melina writes, “We should acknowledge that children conceived through donor insemination (donor egg, surrogacy) share many issues with those who are adopted in a traditional way.” This position does not ignore the many differences between families formed by adoption and those created with donor assistance or surrogacy but acknowledges that children conceived with donor assistance or surrogacy have the right to know that they are not biologically related to one of their parents.
The subject of disclosure versus secrecy received much public attention about six years ago because of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s story (raised as an Episcopalian, during her tenure asSecretary of State, it was revealed to her that her maternal grandparents had been Jewish) and the Academy Award-nominated movie, Secrets & Lies (1997). Because it is not possible in this article to address all of the concerns behind the various viewpoints related to the subject of disclosure to children, readers are encouraged to contact RESOLVE, Inc. for information on resources that address these issues.
This article is intended for those families who plan to or who are already in the process of sharing information with their children about their conception as well as parents who are still wrestling with this challenging decision and couples who are considering these alternative family-building methods.
Parents of both adopted children and parents of children conceived with donor assistance or surrogacy often ask questions about how to discuss their child’s “story” with them. Many of the same principles that apply to talking with adopted children, i.e., age-appropriate sharing of information, honesty, and conveyance of positive messages about how the family was created, also apply to children conceived with donor assistance or surrogacy.
The following information is a summary of a paper written by Kris Probasco, a clinical social worker from Liberty, Missouri, entitled Discussion With Children About Their Donor Conception,1993 . Ms. Probasco writes, “As with all children, children brought to families by donor conception need to feel valued, accepted and be provided with unconditional love.” She advises parents to “take advantage of moments that children naturally provide to give information about all types of families (e.g., single parent families, families with many children, families with one child) and the importance of loving and belonging within a family.” More specifically, all discussions with children should place emphasis on “acceptance of the total child, acceptance of the donor as a good person, and recognizing that donor conception is basically one person helping others to become a family with children.” However, Ms. Probasco advises that “the age of telling be geared to the individual child and its family, recognizing that children’s sophistication and capacity to understand varies from family to family and culture to culture…..
Parents need to bear in mind that, as in all educational processes, informing is not a one-time event, but rather a building-block process.” Melina, Probasco, and others all agree that children should have the details about how they came into the family before they enter adolescence. (Information related to the donor or surrogate may impact their teen’s struggle with identity issues and parents must be prepared to assist them.)
Simple explanations of reproduction can take place during the preschool years when children begin to ask questions about where babies come from, that in order to be born, there is a joining of a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm and then the baby grows in the woman’s body. Further discussion regarding reproduction continues into the school-age years. Probasco writes, “At this time, the story may continue to unfold in the following way--‘there are some people who are not able to make a baby, their sperm or egg don’t work properly, or the mother’s body cannot carry a baby. Remember we told you that we got help from a doctor and we want to explain what happened for you to be born.’” Probasco notes that it is important to include the following points in the story: “you were born just like everyone else,” “Mom and Dad worked together in their decision to become your parents,” “the donor or surrogate is a person who wanted to help people become parents,” and “the following are the people who know about how you came to our family.”
As children grow, depending upon their level of curiosity and maturity, questions and information given will become increasingly more detailed regarding: 1) the parents’ motivation in choosing this alternative to have children; 2) the description of all third parties involved, such as physicians, sperm banks, sperm or egg donor, surrogate; 3) an explanation of the donor’s or surrogate’s motivation for helping (parents can refer to articles on donor attitudes or if the donor is known, they can ask him/her to talk with their child);and, 4) genetic, medical, and other background information may be shared as parents continue to convey positive feelings about the donor or surrogate.
Most important, throughout all discussions and all stages of the child’s development is the need for parents to recognize and acknowledge their children’s feelings. Every child is different, and parents must assess their own child’s needs. Confusion, sadness, and pain are appropriate responses. Just as an adopted child may wish he had been born to his adoptive parents, a child conceived with donor assistance may experience a sense of loss that he is not biologically/genetically related to both parents.
Rather than protecting children from painful feelings through secrecy, parents who disclose information need to believe that children can be helped to cope with painful feelings. Parents can convey to their children that they experienced similar feelings and that they can be counted on to understand and to help their children cope with these feelings.
While adoptive parents must prepare their children for unkind attitudes, questions, and remarks about adoption, it is also important for parents to prepare children conceived with donor assistance or surrogacy for the sad fact that not everyone will understand or be supportive of why some people choose this method of family building. Probasco advises that parents can say, “We can help you think through who you would like to tell and what details would be appropriate to share. We want you to know that this is your story and we feel proud of the way you came to our family. We also want you to understand that if it is your wish to maintain privacy regarding your beginnings, you have our support for that choice.”
Many adoptive parents join support groups to help them ensure that their children will grow up knowing other families like themselves. While adoptive parents have a number of support groups to affiliate with, it can be difficult for parents whose children were conceived with donor assistance or surrogacy to find other families like theirs. One suggestion is to contact your local chapter of RESOLVE who may be able to assist you, or to ask your physician to help connect you with her other patients who like you, may wish to meet other families. Like adoptive families who benefit from professional guidance when needed, families conceived through donor assistance may also consider professional assistance related to sharing their child’s story as well as supporting their children through the feelings they may experience as they make sense of their story.
"A LARGE PART OF THE PRESSURE and frustration of infertility is the idea that fertility is normal, natural, and healthy, while infertility is rare, unnatural, and means something is wrong with you. It’s not usually a problem you anticipate; from the time we are very young, we are warned and promised that pregnancy will one day happen. At my support group, someone always says how surprised she is to be there." "Perhaps imagining ourselves as parents is not only the expression of a biological drive, but essential to understanding the scope of our lives, who we are and who we might become." here is a link to Belle Boggs' original story written for Orion Magazine.
-this is a post from resolve.org In the U.S., 2007, a new concern arose. RESOLVE learned that a group had collected sufficient signatures to put a proposed new law -- a "ballot initiative" -- before the voters of Colorado. This ballot initiative, called Amendment_48, would amend the definition of "person" in the Colorado state Constitution to "include any human being from the moment of fertilization." Thus, from the moment the sperm penetrated the egg inside a woman's body or, in the case of in vitro fertilization (IVF), in the laboratory, the resultant microscopic cell or cells would have "inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law." ...We undertook to research and consider in detail how this very fundamental change to Colorado's Constitution would apply to IVF as it is practiced to the standard of care in this country. The results of this analysis staggered us. We soon realized that if embryos were, for the first time in this country, accorded all the rights of full human beings, then any loss of embryos in the course of IVF could, presumably, be tantamount to murder.
The "personhood amendment" posed a serious threat to the ability of people with infertility to obtain mainstream, long-established treatments to help them have a family. The Colorado personhood amendment failed at the polls in 2008 and again in 2010, by a 3-to-1 margin. But the movement to pass personhood bills and initiatives has only grown since then. RESOLVE has battled to protect infertility patients against personhood ballot initiatives and legislation in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Texas.
So far, we have been successful, but this threat continues to grow. "Personhood USA," the group that promotes personhood measures, has announced 10 more states where it has started personhood campaigns for 2012, and has started petitions in all 50 states. Fighting these personhood measures has become one of RESOLVE's major activities. RESOLVE opposes all Personhood initiatives and urges all Americans to VOTE AGAINST any anti-family legislation as it undermines access to safe and reliable infertility medical treatments. Click here to read RESOLVE’s Policy Statement on Personhood legislation, which includes a full explanation of how Personhood legislation and/or Amendments will impact people with infertility. -find out what's happening in your state and this "Personhood Bill" here