Articles / early disclosure
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.