Dr. Madeline Feingold is a clinical psychologist specializing in reproductive medicine. She frequently discusses with couples how and when to tell a child that its conception involved donated genetic materials.
Grieve for the “lost” child: The realization that a couple will never have a child who carries DNA from both parents is similar to losing a living child. Grief is expected. Feingold advises counseling to overcome feelings of loss before the baby is born. The baby will pick up on sadness even though its miraculous birth is actually cause for immense joy.
Work through personal issues: Playing the blame game does nothing to advance a marriage. Guilt doesn’t, either. Speak as a couple with a trusted advisor about working through the burden of responsibility before the child is born. Infertility is a medical condition; it is not a choice nor is it anybody’s fault. It happened. You found a solution. Celebrate that decision. Celebrate the growing family that decision creates.
Practice telling the story before the baby is born: When parental accounts of a story are out of sync, children become confused. They don’t know which parent to believe and want to know why parents tell the story differently. They won’t know who to trust about other things. Practice as a couple how the story will be told. Say it out loud so the other partner knows exactly how you will portray your child’s conception. Practice until the words flow as freely as describing today’s breakfast. Your united front as adoring parents is one of the most valuable gifts you’ll ever give your child.
Don’t keep secrets: Secrets are seldom secrets. Kids sense secrecy with uncanny ability and will take them to heart, blaming themselves for the undisclosed “bad” thing no one mentions openly. There’s no harm done when the cat gets out of the bag if the cat is never put in the bag in the first place.
Secrets jeopardize trust: Start the conversation in baby talk. Make the child’s extraordinary conception a story of love and wonder that it knows from the beginning. Children can only absorb so much of such talk anyway but the familiar words of the story will become part of its own life story the same way the story of its first steps and first words will. Waiting in secrecy until the child is old enough to understand the birds and bees may generate feelings of deception that will jeopardize its feelings of trust toward the parents and may make it difficult to form bonds of trust with others.
Cultivate nature with nurture: Certain personality traits are influenced by genetics so embrace any unique quirks your child develops as it grows. Encourage individuality with unwavering acceptance. The more time a child spends in the loving companionship of an adoring parent, the stronger a role model the parent will be. Kids don’t really care about genetics; they DO care about mom and dad.
Inherited diseases: Genetics plays an important role in the medical risks a person faces throughout life. Keeping a child’s conception a secret can lead to undue worry or lack of attention to real risks. Some forms of breast cancer run in families, for example. If a girl born of a donated egg or embryo watches her mother suffer through this diagnosis, she may live her own life in fear of getting the disease. This is an extreme example of the damage secrets can cause, but knowledge is power. Knowledge can be love, too.
A lifelong awareness of the loving circumstances of one’s conception can lead to a lifetime of optimum health and happiness.
Source: Feingold, Madeline, PhD. "Disclosure Issues: Disclosing Origins: Children Born Through Third Party Reproduction." RESOLVE: National Infertility Association. July 2007. PDF file. Retrieved 15 Nov 2013.