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“When I explain to parents that the child understands that there’s something important about his birth that needs to be said, they are convinced at once”

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The psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Serge Tisseron, who participated in the celebration of Eugin’s 15th anniversary, stresses the importance of addressing the issue of origins in families with children born after assisted reproduction

Serge Tisseron | Image: Juan Antonio domingo

Since the age of three, when he began devouring the adventures of Tintin, the French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist SergeTisseron hasn’t stopped being curious about family secrets. In his early contact with the work of Hergé he was acutely surprised that the detective twins Dupont and Dupond had different surnames. Three decades later, in 1985, he published a fascinating book that pointed to a family secret as a Rosetta stone for deciphering the universe created by renowned Belgian cartoonist. Subsequent investigations confirmed his hypotheses about the family trauma Hergé had to endure. Today, one of Serge Tisseron’s main lines of work has to do with the communication between parents who turn to assisted reproduction techniques and their children.

At the event to celebrate Eugin’s fifteenth anniversary last October 3, Tisseron reflected on the possible consequences which, in his opinion, could result from hiding the origins of children born through assisted reproduction. “The youngster senses at all times that something is being hidden from him and starts to believe that what is hidden is something painful about his birth. He may give up asking, of course, but this question is so important to a child that in the end he won’t dare to ask about anything.”

If parents react uncomfortably and evasively to inevitable questions like “Mummy, where do babies come from?” Or “Daddy, tell me about how I was born?”, “the youngster will grow up in a family atmosphere where he will always wonder what he can ask and what he can’t”, he explains. According to this renowned researcher, a situation like this “will harm family communication and generate insecurity in the child.”

The difficulty of many parents in tackling this key issue with their children is, from Tisseron’s experience, due to two main reasons. On the one hand, many people find it painful to recall the waterfall of intense emotions experienced, and not always positive ones, during treatment. The second reason has to do with the tension that can be created when explaining to their own parents how their grandchild was conceived. “Many parents tell me that they are prepared to explain to their child that he was born through assisted reproduction, but are afraid that he will explain it to the grandparents. And they say, “My mother could not bear to know that I’m sterile” or “My father would be saddened to know that the genealogy of the family has been broken”, explains SergeTisseron.

What advice, then, for parents who are reluctant to discuss this with their child? “When I explain to parents that the child clearly understands that there’s something important about his birth that needs to be said, they are convinced at once. For parents, the first thing to do is to tell the child, and then the time will come to talk with the grandparents.”

How and when to start up the conversation is a recurring question among parents intent on talking openly about assisted reproduction. Tisseron recommends talking about it in front of the little one when the baby is still just a few months’ old and doesn’t understand what is being said. “It’s like a rehearsal to perform a play. The baby is there, but isn’t yet able to be a spectator to understand the work, so the parents can repeat it as many times as it takes in front of him. Thus, when the child begins to ask the first questions, the mother or father, or both, will be able to respond without difficulty.”

Language adapted to the child

When the 4 or 5 year-old child asks the question about origins in a natural way, Tisseron recommends that parents respond with simplicity and precision, putting themselves at the same level as the child and supporting their words visually and using gestures. “It is pointless to want to explain everything at once. If the child asks how he was born, it doesn’t help at all if the parents explain that they could not have children, or that they went to the doctor once, twice, that they went to the hospital … you just have to explain what’s essential.”

To help parents weather the first major conversation with the children, Serge Tisseron published an illustrated story entitled The mystery of the baby seeds.

With the aim of helping future mothers in this process, Eugin Clinic offers this book to its patients, who greatly appreciate this initiative. This is a very well written book that explains, in language a child can understand, the different ways of being conceived.

As far as Laura Venereo, a psychologist at Eugin is concerned, “the decision to explain to the child rests solely with his parents. In that case, it is important to know how to adapt the information to the questions he formulates” she explains. “The aim is that he constructs his own story himself. If parents decide to tell the child about its origins, this type of book is a good tool to help the youngster understand and accept the explanations in a natural way”, she concludes.

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