Assisted Reproduction: How can I tell my son or daughter that he/she was conceived in a different way?
Telling a child that he/she was born thanks to assisted reproduction is an option which has implications for both the parents and the child
On conceiving a child through assisted reproduction, parents may be faced with the following dilemma: “Should I tell my son/daughter that he/she was born due to assisted reproduction? How will it affect the child? At what age and how should I tell them?” In Spain, it is not obligatory to reveal the method through which the child was conceived and the parents can decide whether or not they want to tell the child.
If the parents decide not to tell the child, experts recommend taking special care in telling other members of the family to prevent the child from finding out how he/she was conceived by someone other than his/her parents. In the words of the French psychologist Serge Tisseron, author of the book “The mystery of the baby seeds, “the child runs a risk of distrusting his/her parents if he/she finds out from another person that he/she was not conceived naturally.
If, on the contrary, the parents decide to tell their child, there are several factors to be taken into consideration: How and when to do it? What affects could knowing the truth about the child’s origin have on that child? Different studies exist that deal with this question.
When to tell your children?
Experts say there are two crucial moments at which the child will be more receptive about understanding his/her origins. The first is at the age of between 3 and 5, when the child starts to question how he/she arrived in this world. Some parents consider that this is the best time, because the child can assimilate his/her history in a simpler way. This is what is known as “planting the seed”: if a the child knows and understands his/her origins from an early age, that child will feel he/she has known it “from the start” and for this reason, he/she will not question it in the future.
The second crucial moment is between the age of 10 and 12, when the child receives his/her first sexual education at school and understands how a pregnancy occurs. At that moment the child is ready to understand why it was not possible to conceive him/her naturally but in a more adult way. According to studies, this is the “right moment” strategy because it takes advantage of the time when the child learns about topics related to life, sexual relations and giving birth.
Studies stress the importance of not waiting until adolescence, from the age of 13, since this is an age when the child starts to develop his/her own personality and giving the child this information at this time could be negative.
What stories can help to tell it?
For younger children, fables or stories are the most appropriate method for telling them the complex story of their origins. As Tisseron says, “the more difficult it is to talk about a topic, the more important it is to take a lateral approach. Fables and stories introduce the topic at the right pace for the child, allowing the parents to explain it without having to go into their personal history”.
At all events, there are many ways to tell the child and the most important thing is to ensure each person finds the way that is best for them, depending on what they are like and the character and needs of the child. “Some of our patients use their hobbies to tell their children about it”, says Laura Venereo, a psychologist at Eugin. “People who are fond of photography use this method to explain it. Other people are better at writing and they put their experience down in a diary which can be used later to explain to their children how they were born”, she adds.
Implications for the parents
Deciding whether or not to tell the child is a very important decision for the parents. The surer they are and the more they have talked about it beforehand with their couple or with a psychologist, the easier it will be for them to tell their children.
“Each family is different, and so is each child”, explains the psychologist. “The decision of how to tell the child may depend on the child’s curiosity and the questions the child wants to ask, without offering too much information and giving the child the opportunity to build his/her own history”, she concludes.
Mac Dougall, K., Becker, G., Scheib, J., Nachtigall, R. Strategies for disclosure. How parents approach telling their children that they were conceived with donor gametes. 2006.
S. Paul, Marilyn, Berger, Roni. Topic avoidance and family functioning in families conceived with donor insemination. Human Reproduction, 2007.
Turner, A.J., Coyle, A. What does it mean to be a donor offspring? The identity experiences of adults conceived by donor insemination and the implications for counselling and therapy, 2000.