Even if you decided to talk to be honest with your child long before they were even conceived, it can be a daunting prospect to broach the topic for the very first time. Your "plan" to wait until your child started asking questions about where babies come from, or where they came from, may not have panned out. Although your kid may notice pregnant women, and know that "babies grow in mommy's tummies" he or she may express little or not interest in discussing the topic further.
This is where buying an attractive storybook for your child, and telling them its a special story you want to share with them, can save the day. Some parents prefer to avoid the words egg and sperm, and simply read books that refer only to "the special lady" (or man) who gave their parents a wonderful gift that enabled them to have their child. Then you can mention the fact that your own family had "a special lady" (or man) who helped them to have you!
When a child gets a little older, however (ages 4-5) its important to give them a little more information about "how babies are made". No mention needs to be made of sexual intercourse but even very young children can grasp the notion that eggs come from women and sperm come from men, and that putting the two together is what makes a baby start to grow. This more concrete information introduces concepts to your child that you can build on later on. It also gives you the opportunity to talk about the very nice lady (or man) who had eggs (or sperm) they didn't need and that the donor wanted to help the family have the child they wanted so much.
I got a call the other day from a woman who has boy/girl donor egg twins who just started kindergarten and she said she felt "terrified to tell them about their donor."
She said she had always intended to tell them as early as 3 years old but she kept putting it off and putting it off and now she felt like she had to tell them but she was afraid they were going to get really upset or ask a lot of questions about the donor that she couldn't answer or look at her "like I'm not really their mother."
She had books to read to them and had even rehearsed what she was going to say but she was still scared to death.
I assured her that it was highly unlikely that her kids would get upset by this information (especially if she presented it in an upbeat way). I also told her that although they might ask who their donor was, they were also very unlikely to ask many more detailed questions at this age.
She could answer the "who is my donor" question by saying "We never met her but we know she must have been a very nice person who wanted to help us." (Only when they are older would she need to get into more details and share whatever information they had).
By the time we finished talking she was "still stressed" but just "wanting to get it over with." I hoped she'd follow through. She was feeling so guilty about not telling with each passing day, and the longer she waited the bigger it felt.
A few days later we talked again. She was overjoyed to report that she read the book to them and talked to her kids about their own donor story. Both twins listened and her daughter asked "Does everyone have a donor?" "Not everybody," she answered, "But alot of people do." "Oh," her daughter she said. "What are we having for lunch?"
Interesting article a few weeks back at vox.com "With Genetic Testing, I gave my parents the gift of divorce" about a stem cell and reproductive biologist who decided to send off a saliva sample to 23andMe to find out more about himself on a genetic level and possibly learn more about his ancestry.
What he found out is that he shared 22% of his genome with a person named "Thomas" who had also registered with 23andMe.
This is a huge percentage and it took him awhile to figure out that he and Thomas shared the same genome with the author's father. When his father tested himself he found that "Thomas" was a 50% percent relation to him and a "predicted son".
The author didn't know what to do. He contacted Thomas and found out that he had been adopted at birth and had been searching for his birth parents for many years. Thomas also had a daughter who had no access to half of her family's medical history.
The author finally decided to tell the family about his discoveries when he realized that "Thomas had a right to know about his family's medical history, who am I to stand in the way and say 'You can't talk to my Dad--it might hurt his feelings?"
However, when he did tell, "years of repressed memories and emotions uncorked and resulted in tumultuous times that" tore his family apart.
Its a very sad tale, but one that we are likely to hearing more of as genetic testing becomes more and more common. And it underlines the fact that donor conceived kids will likely discover their true genetic origins sooner or later. How much better to be told by their parents than to discover in this way!
Click here to see the full article: "With Genetic Testing..."
I'm a former infertility patient, psychotherapist and author of Unspeakable Losses (WW Norton and HarperCollins).