The first step to disclosure is letting go of your ideal family.
It was already decided pre-birth, that full disclosure of our children's donor assisted origins, was what we were going to do, but –how– were we going to do it was still processing in our minds. Off and on, I would find myself rehearsing in my mind, imagining what we would say, and what words to use and say to our child once they were old enough to comprehend the meaning of "family". The more I thought about it, the more confident I became, as if this was a subject that could be easily explained, in baby words, and in baby steps – but I was wrong.
The intellectual part of me was comfortable with it, but my emotional part wasn't ready, and crept up on me by surprise. I still had an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and unease about telling our first-born about it, and couldn't understand where that was coming from. I asked my husband Bernard (B's undergraduate degree is in psychology, before his MD) about this and if he had similar feelings and he said "no." Then he said it was likely due to some unresolved feelings within me, about having to use an egg donor, and not being the genetic biological mother. This made perfect sense to me once he said it. But what were the specifics about these anxious feelings?
The good thing was that I had time to process this while in the thick of the "survival years" of raising our three beautiful donor conceived children. There was no rush, but still I wanted to understand and feel better about this. I thought I had already gotten over "my ego" about using an egg donor long before we made the decision. I also felt I had a calm awareness and acceptance within myself of not being the biological mother. But in my drive to get pregnant, I had glided over something I hadn't realized and something that was keeping me from talking about it.
It turned out that I was still holding onto my ideal thoughts and feelings of having a biological child of our own. I hadn't really thought much about "not" having that ideal family and what that really means and feels like.
I distinctly remember my mourning period of all about 6 minutes. It was July 2003, I got the call from our reproductive endocrinologist telling me that my tubes were blocked, and with the combination of having early menopause (at age 35), that I would not be able to conceive naturally. I hung up, cried for 3 minutes, called Bernard, cried some more to him, and then I got back to work on how we were going to build our family. I hadn't even explored the one critical step that I needed to do first: I had to let go.
I had to let go of the biological child(ren) I thought we would have. I had to let go of the guilty feeling of lack that I wasn't able to give my husband this ideal family we dreamed of. I realized that until I let go of my romantic desire to have "our-own-perfectly-matched-love child" I would never be able to move forward. I would never be an authentic comfortable wife/mother on all levels, who used egg donor assistance, in the presence of our beautiful children –no matter what we talked about. It took me 2 years to fully process, decipher and to slowly let go of this ideal-family-dream. Like a helium balloon finally grounds over time, in its subtle yet notable way, it eventually happened.
First by acknowledging it, I began to let it go. Over the next 2 years, I continued asking myself more questions about my insecurities. Such as: "Why do I feel inadequate because I have diagnosed infertility issues?" and "Why do I feel less than because I have to ask for help?" and "What does it really mean to be a mother?" I struggled with the answers my inner-critic-of-perfection was quick to point out, and I was so used to listening to. Then it hit me "why was I being so hard on myself? I realized that I had given so much attention to my inner critic and had neglected my inner compassion. This realization shifted everything for me. If I couldn't feel compassionate towards myself, how would I treat our children? My feelings of self judgements and inadequacies were replaced with a connection of inner peace and appreciation. Now instead of an uncomfortable, uneasy feeling of insecurity in myself, I feel grateful, energized, capable, and honest.
I know this much: ask yourself the questions, and the answers will come. I hope that if anyone is feeling any anxiety or resistance to disclosing donor information to your child, and that if you hadn't already taken this first step, to stop and think about this. I wish I had this information available to me when I was going through this years ago.
Here is a helpful fact sheet series published by RESOLVE.org. This one is titled "Disclosure Issues" written by Dr. Madeline Feingold, PhD and Carole LieberWilkins MA, MFT and they are longtime voices of compassion and resources we'd like to share with you. Here is part of the article:
DISCLOSING ORIGINS: CHILDREN BORN THROUGH THIRD PARTY REPRODUCTION By Carole LieberWilkins MA
...."The first step in addressing the disclosure issue is for parents to examine their own feelings about the donor conception. Did the couple agree on the path to take to parenthood? Did they grieve the loss of the child they thought they were going to parent? Parents can get a feel for their comfort level about how their children came into their lives by asking themselves how it feels to imagine talking to their kids about it.
This disclosure involves the acknowledgement that there is a third person or another family that is connected to the child. Some feelings of being threatened by this are normal, particularly before infertility is resolved and before parents are comfortable with using a donor. As the infertile partner comes to terms with their own infertility and grieves the loss of the genetic child they will not have, they will feel more empowered, indeed entitled, to be the parent of a child whose “blood” they do not share". (read the whole PDF article here)
Carole LieberWilkins is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Los Angeles, CA, specializing in reproductive medicine and family building options. She is a founding member of RESOLVE of Greater Los Angeles, and served on its Board of Directors for 14 years. Carole has lectured widely to professional and non-professional audiences on a variety of infertility subjects, but is perhaps best recognized for her work in talking to kids about unique conceptions. she is the mother of two sons, one through adoption and one through egg donation. Learn more here.