In this day and age, families come in all shapes and sizes, and are created in various ways. Scientific and technological advancements in the field of fertility, as well as the growing number of adoption agencies worldwide have altered the idea of a ‘typical family. No longer does a family necessarily consist of a mother, father, and two children who look just like them. This has changed, and will continue to do so. As former executives in the fertility industry, we helped start over 1,000 families – many of them from Australia and New Zealand.
Parents who utilized one or more alternative methods to have their babies struggle with whether or not to tell their child. We cannot emphasize enough the importance of honesty and positivity when disclosing to your children how they became part of your family. It alleviates any fear that the child will accidentally find out one day and be hurt and confused by it. We urge parents to talk to them at the very beginning rather than once they have discovered things for themselves.
Starting a family through adoption or assisted reproduction is positive. The parents who take this journey want their children so much that they will do whatever is necessary to bring them home, despite the adversity they may face along the way. Once a child understands this, they will realize just how loved they are, regardless of whether or not they share their parents‘ genetics. The biological link is not the basis of what creates a family unit. On the contrary, it is the unconditional love and support that is vital in contributing to what makes a family.
Over the past several years, we have discovered that many recipient parents feel a sense of shame about utilizing egg donation as an option. This stigma seems to vary from culture to culture, at least to some extent. For example, in our experience, couples in Asian countries want their donors blood type to match their own, and choose not to tell their children or family, taking extra precautions to hide this fact from others. Americans usually want the “perfect” specimen of a donor – beauty, brains, artistic and athletic abilities, and will sometimes throw obstacles in their own paths along the way in search of this ideal donor, who may not even exist. This is usually because they are not ready and have not dealt with the emotional issues at hand. Self-sabotage can be a way of mourning the loss of their own genetic traits, in hopes of enhancing their potential child(ren) with certain advantages. Every intended parent deals with their feelings in their own way. The important thing is to be free of any shame or guilt before embarking on this endeavor so that any pessimistic feelings are shed before your child adopts them. Children learn by example, as we all know.
Many years ago, a lovely and very accomplished Australian woman met with us in our Los Angeles office seeking an egg donor. This woman seemed to have it all ~ natural good looks, an expensive education, international acclaim as a high profile personality, and a loving husband. She worked very hard to achieve all of these things, which made the fact that she was unable to become pregnant even more devastating to her. No matter how driven and determined she was, she would never be able to be a mother without someone elses help.
Though her family was close, she could not bring herself to share her fertility struggles with them. One night, while she and her husband were staying with her family, she was lying in bed reading a book about coping with infertility when the fire alarm went off. All of them had to evacuate the house immediately, and the book was left on the nightstand. The next morning, it was discovered by a family member, who approached her about it. What she feared would be a devastating and embarrassing situation actually changed her life for the better. Her family was extremely supportive, and helped her get through some very challenging times in her journey to becoming a mom.
Telling your child the story of how they became part of your family is a wonderful bonding opportunity for both parent and child. If the parent explains everything in a positive way, the child will follow suit. Children are not the ones who attach any negative stigma to assisted reproduction, it is the parents who do so, albeit unintentionally. The last thing any parent wants is to pass this along to their children, but that is an unfortunate result of cultivating these negative and shameful feelings. Once they get past their issues, sometimes with the help of therapy, they come out the other end with an entirely different perspective, which they can pass onto their child later. At this point, the intended parent can move forward and begin the process with optimism and hope rather than shame and despair.
Some parents cant wait until their child is old enough to understand the concept of assisted reproduction. They feel so much joy in that they can explain to their child the lengths that they went through to bring them into their family. For these parents, we have seen that a solid foundation of trust, openness, and truth go a long way. Many parents who used a donor to help create their family keep their donors information, profile, and photos in a safe place so they can bring these items out when the time is right and share them with their child. Naturally, the child will be curious and likely fascinated by this information, and it will only benefit them. Remember, we as parents are essential to shaping our childs belief system, social mores, self-esteem, and self-confidence, so why not build up the child and provide them with the tools and coping skills with which to navigate life? Lets send our children out into the world with a sense of pride, and the knowledge that they are no different than any other child.