Often, children have questions about who they are and where they come from. This knowledge helps them form the story of who they are and what it means to be a family. For donor-conceived children, the story is slightly different from the conventional story of the birds and the bees. When you have a child with the help of a sperm donor, it is a good idea to consider early on how to tell and talk to your child about being donor-conceived.
Why tell your child that he/she is donor-conceived?
As you are reading this, there is a good chance that you have already decided to talk to your (future) child about being donor-conceived. But if you are still considering if this is the right thing to do – or if you would just like to have your decision confirmed – take a look at the reasons below:
- With today’s possibilities within DNA testing, social networks etc., investigating family stories has never been easier. Therefore, it is recommended to tell the child the truth. He/she will probably find out anyway, and it is better to get the information directly from the parents than from someone else.
- Honesty and respect are always a good starting point for a relationship - also, in the relationship between parent and child.
- Significant differences between children and parents can be better explained and understood.
- The child can integrate the aspect of being donor-conceived in her/his own story and sense of self while growing up.
- You can give doctors the full medical history of your child's genetic origin (or the lack of it) in case this becomes relevant at some point.
When to tell your child about the donor?
Some parents start telling the story of donor conception and “how a nice man helped us make our biggest dream come true” when their child is just a baby. Others prefer to wait a little longer. When and how this becomes relevant is of course very personal and may also depend on your family structure. Children who grow up with lesbian parents or a Single Mother by Choice may start asking questions early on when they realize that some children have a father. Heterosexual parents of donor-conceived children will have to initiate the telling themselves at some point. The general recommendation, which is supported by Professor of Family Research, Susan Golombok, is the sooner, the better.
Starting early has several benefits for both you and your child such as:
- You get your story straight. In the beginning, you probably do not know exactly what you want to say or how you prefer to talk about the donor. If you start early, while your child is still a baby, you get to practice the story and build up confidence before your child starts showing interest and asking questions.
- You avoid secrets. According to the Donor Conception Network, your children should ideally grow up not remembering the moment when they were told that they were donor-conceived. By being honest and open about the donor from the start, telling becomes a process rather than an event, and your child will not get the feeling that something was being kept secret.
- Your relationship will likely be better. Studies about donor-conceived people based on the findings of Professor of Family Research, Susan Golombok, show that children who know from a very young age (before reaching school age and preferably even sooner) have a closer relationship with their parents as they grow up and have more positive feelings about being donor-conceived.
Personal stories - telling your child about being donor-conceived
Parents and donor-conceived children will often use creative ways to tell and talk about the sperm donor and how their family came to be. In the following TED talk, Veerle Provoost, a philosopher and social scientist, shares examples from her interviews with donor-conceived children and their parents.
If you are unsure how to tell your child about the donor, you might find it helpful to know how other parents talk to their children about donor conception. The following blog posts are all personal stories from parents of donor-conceived children who share their experiences and advice on how to tell your child about their donor:
What kind of reaction to expect from your child?
Depending on your child's age and the way you choose to tell the story, the reaction might be anything from “Can I have a snack” to “What does a sperm cell look like?”. Younger children rarely worry much about genetics, while older children tend to reflect more. If the last thing is the case, it is important to support the child’s wishes and check in again later to talk about the topic, when the information has sunk in and more possible questions appear.
Children’s books explaining donor conception
When the time comes, it might be helpful for you to use a children’s book that explains donor conception or different family forms. Below, we have gathered a list of such books in English, but there are great children’s books on the subject in many languages. Another possibility is to make a personal book about your child and his or her conception. This can be made as a scrapbook or a personal photo book, that you and your child can read together.
Great books for donor-conceived children
- Happy together, a sperm donation story (by: Julie Marie)
- Our story, how we became a family (by: Donor Conception Network)
- My family and me: a baby memory book for donor kids (by: Kim Kluger-Bell)
- You are my wish come true (by: Marianne Richmond)
- The pea that was me: a sperm donation story (by: Kimberly Kluger-Bell)
- The magic of you: helping tell children about donor conception or surrogacy (by: Sensitive Matters)
Other advice on how to talk to your child about the donor
Seeking advice on how to tell your child about their donor is perfectly natural and can be a big help. But remember, that as their parent, you are the one who knows your child best, and therefore the best person to know how to approach them on this matter too.
Here, we have gathered some general advice on how to talk to your child about donor conception.
- Be proud of your family and how it came to be
- Keep the conversation open
- Remember that you will always be their parent
- Respect that it is your child’s story
Be proud of your family and how it came to be
Today, parents of donor-conceived children are strongly advised to be open and proud of their family. You do not have to make a big deal out of it, but when you normalize donor conception and talk openly to your child and others about receiving help from a donor, your child will be more comfortable and be proud of his or her story too. Knowing where they came from is a big part of who they are. Let them know that they were very much wanted and that the generosity of another person, who also wanted them to be born, made it possible. That is something to be proud of.
Keep the conversation open
Telling your child about the donor is an on-going process. As he or she grows older, new questions or feelings might arise. It is important that you help your child address this. You might not have the answers to all the questions, but keeping an open and honest dialogue will help your child feel comfortable talking to you about questions and concerns. Share the information you have and speak positively about the donor. But be careful not to overdo it or give your child unrealistic expectations of the donor. Bear in mind that your child might try to get in contact with the sperm donor someday.
Remember that you will always be their parent
Some parents worry about how their children will react to learning that they may not be biologically related. This may very well cause questions, frustration, etc. at some point. Especially if the child is not told at early stages in life. But remember that what makes you a family is not genetics, but the social bond - the traditions and rituals, the love between you and being there for each other. Your child will know who their family is, even if their curiosity leads them to find their donor or donor-related siblings. Knowing their donor will not make them abandon you or love you any less.
Respect that it is your child’s story
In their first years, it is up to you to tell your child the story about how they came to be. And telling others, like your child’s primary school teacher, can be valuable so that your child’s story will also be included and supported when the classmates are taught about the birds and the bees. However, at some point, your child will be old enough to decide for themselves when and who to tell about the donor. At that point, it becomes their story to share – not yours. And as their parent, you must respect that, and acknowledge the story that your child forms and chooses to tell.
If you would like more tips about telling a child the story of their conception, you can read this blog post on how to talk to your child about being a donor-conceived child.