In my role as support services counselor at a well known reproductive center, I work with those who have made the decision to create their family with the use of donor gametes. This means they have chosen to use either donor sperm, donor egg, sometimes both, as well as donor embryo.
It is my job to inform them of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s (ASRM) recommendation for full disclosure to their child(ren). In other words, it is best practice to be honest with children about how they were created. It can be tempting to some couples to pass the father off as the person who contributed the male side of the genetics, and it can also be tempting to pass the mother off as the person who contributed the female side of the genetics.
What we have discovered over time, and what I personally believe, is that children have a right to know their origins. I often put myself in the children’s shoes, and wonder what it would feel like to be lied to, or not told the whole truth. How would it feel to believe that I was not genetically linked to my father or mother? If I was lied to about that, what else have they falsified or not told me?
I also ponder what it would feel like to have someone outside of the family inform me of my origins. Once anyone outside of the person or couple using the donor gametes knows, there is a strong possibility of the child finding out.
I was driving with my older son the other day, and the fact that I had written a book came up. He is now in elementary school, and I wondered if he was aware of the book’s content. We had had discussions about me working at the facility that helped us to have his younger brother, but not so much about having lost pregnancies / babies along the way.
“Did I ever tell you that we lost a baby?”
“Really? I thought I had. Well, unfortunately the baby that was growing before your brother was born, died. You would have had a brother or sister who was two years younger than you instead of four.”
“So it would be 4 right now instead of 2.”
“Yes, that’s right. We’re sad about that, but so grateful that we have your brother.”
I sometimes second guess myself about my degree of honesty with a younger child. Will I scare him? Will he believe that he will die like the baby did? Will he tell his friends and teachers?
Then I realize there’s a reason we advise people to be honest. Children are resilient. They can comprehend and embrace what we tell them more effortlessly than we give them credit for.
My son’s response was more of a “Hmmmm, okay” than I had anticipated. I had expected him to ask more questions, but he was satisfied with my brief explanation. At that point, I didn’t feel the need to explain the other early pregnancies we had lost.
He wasn’t scared. He didn’t initiate any death questions afterwards. And as far as I know, he didn’t mention it to any of his friends or teachers. If and when he is ready to discuss the topic, I will be willing to speak honestly with him.