Our 9 year old
*note to reader, if you have a child in this age range of 8-11 yrs, and haven't disclosed any information to them yet, please see *note to reader, at the bottom of this post.
Talking with our 9 yr old son at bedtime has become a treasured opportunity for us. Ever since he turned 8, he hasn't been as openly affectionate with us in public as he usually was. He's clearly become aware of what his friends might think of him if they catch him holding our hand, or giving him a hug or god-forbid a kiss. Fortunately though at home, he's as cuddly-affectionate and loving as ever toward his siblings and to us. So, bedtime tuck-in has become a great time to cuddle and talk. It's dark so eye contact is minimal, and no distractions to our conversations - complete undivided attention (especially if we can stay awake).
We were discussing his first day of school (entering 4th grade), and he mentioned a couple of classmates he had already assessed and labeled "The Class Clown" and "The Smart Alec". (Where did the term "Smart Alec" come from anyway?) Then he said, "I wonder if it's in their DNA genes to be like that?"
Hmmm... we discuss a bit about the age-old question of nature vs. nurture. We also talked a bit about the scientific breakthroughs in genetics because of all the DNA coding and sequencing that has been discovered over the last 10 years. I told him that I heard a story on the radio by NPR, that there now exists data that supports genetic disorders along with personality disorders. (A genetic disorder is a disease that is caused by an abnormality in an individual's DNA. Abnormalities can range from a small mutation in a single gene to the addition or subtraction of an entire chromosome or set of chromosomes). For example, people experiencing depression, have been shown to have different DNA chromosomes than those who don't have depression. (Here's the NPR story audio link) Then he said, "well, I hope I don't have any of those genes."
It then occurred to me, "we're having a conversation about "genes" = teaching moment about his genetic makeup -the combination of his fathers' genes and his egg donors' genes". I tell him that I know almost certainly, 99.99% that his genes are all healthy and strong. Because the egg donor who helped us make him gave us a medical health evaluation and a psychological profile that tells us if there were any known genetic disorders. The doctors who also helped us (the Endocrinologist and Embryologist) also looked at all the DNA cells too to make sure your dad's sperm, the donor's egg, and once they were combined, they then made sure that the embryo was healthy and strong. Then, the doctors put you-as-a-strong-and-healthy-embryo inside me, I was pregnant for 9+ months, and then you were born!
Then he thought for a bit and then said: "so, I know you gave birth to me, but the donor gave birth to the eggs, right?" Yes, I told him, you could say "gave birth" to eggs.... but not exactly. Actually, all-female babies are born with all the egg cells she'll ever have. They are born with millions of them I think, I'm not sure exactly. As the female baby grows up, and becomes a grown adult woman, these egg cells start to die off or melt away, kind of like skin cells that die and slough off. So, by the time some women are ready to make a baby, they might not have any egg cells left, or the ones they do have are not strong enough to make a baby with. And that's what happened to me. (* see note below)
When your daddy and I were ready to make a baby (you), that's when I was about 35 years old and discovered that I couldn't "birth" any more egg cells, so we needed help. That's why we needed the egg donor - because I didn't have any strong egg cells left. That was the one missing part that your daddy and I needed to make a baby - to make you. You remember that you need 3 parts to make a baby: an egg cell, a sperm cell, and a uterus. "I'm glad she helped us and gave us her egg cells" he said. We couldn't agree more, and we will forever be grateful and forever appreciate all that she did for us. She helped us become a family with children. "Night mom, I love you."
Conversations like this help me to remember and celebrate the importance of donors and their gifts to us. To those of us who couldn't do it alone. And for those of us fortunate enough with the financial means to pay for their help, I know -yes we paid them, and they got compensation for their services, but it's still a gift. The donors didn't have to do it, they could've done something else, and their giving of themselves made our lives so much richer. And hopefully, their compensation whether financially and/or for altruistic reasons, gave them some joy, some gratification of giving such an amazing gift of possibility, to people who sooo wanted a baby. And that gift kept-on-giving as we donated anonymously the remaining 4 frozen embryos we had to another couple. It also makes me want to register with Donor Sibling Registry sooner than later.
* Even for a woman with healthy eggs, "At birth, a newborn girl’s body contains all the eggs she’ll ever have—literally over a million “potential futures.” But starting from day one, these immature eggs begin to self-destruct and be absorbed by the body in a natural process called “atresia.” By the time that baby girl reaches puberty, only 300,000 eggs will remain in her ovaries. And over the course of her reproductive years, only about 300 of these will actually mature and be released, one each month for approximately 25 years." Read the full article at Parenting.com.
*NOTE TO READER: We have been talking with our children about their donor conception since they could talk. However, If you have a child that is in this age range of 8-11 yrs old, and has never been introduced to the topic of their origins, there are resources that can help you begin a dialogue with your child. We recommend a fabulous resource from the UK. A British organization called Donor Conception Network. They have been publishing and tirelessly promoting since 1993 the awareness, support and dialogue for parents who have used third party family building. They also sell books and informational material for family support, specifically directed to this age group of 8-11-year-olds. Unlike the US, Britain has been leading the way with third party conception in their sciences and research for the general public, providing medical care that includes reproductive assistance. This also includes regulations and consistent research and data.
Do you have something you can share with us about this age group?