By Kate Brian, journalist, writer and author of four books on motherhood and fertility
Knowing how and when to tell your child about their conception can be a difficult issue for parents who have had fertility treatment in order to start a family. Whether you’ve used donor eggs or sperm or had IVF or ICSI, you may have concerns about how to begin to explain such complex topics to a young child, but parents often find that telling their child early is far less problematic than they had imagined.
Your own experiences
For you as a parent, your feelings about your child’s conception are often tied up with your feelings about your fertility problems. Going through treatment may have been a painful and upsetting experience, and there can be a lingering sense of stigma about not being able to conceive naturally that continues to resonate. You may not want to think about this once you have emerged from the other side, and the prospect of telling your child may bring back memories you’d rather forget. Do bear in mind that the unhappiness associated with treatment is your own, and that from your child’s perspective it is the story of the positive outcome that you will be telling.
Where do I begin?
Parents sometimes worry that their children are too young to understand about assisted conception, and feel that telling them will inevitably involve details about sex and reproduction that they would rather not broach at such an early age. In fact, telling a child that a doctor helped mummy and daddy to have a baby by putting their seeds together, or by using a seed from a kind donor, may be a far easier concept for them to grasp and for you to explain than the realities of ‘natural’ reproduction!
The other worry many parents have about telling is that it may have an impact on the way their child is treated; that they may be isolated because of it. Today, assisted conception and donor treatment is very much a part of life, and views are changing rapidly. Thirty years ago, being an IVF baby was a remarkable thing – but today most people know someone who used assisted conception or a donor and it is no longer unusual or an oddity to be conceived this way.
How soon can I tell?
The one problem with setting an age at which you are going to tell and then sitting down and talking about it is that your child will sense that this is something out of the ordinary and is more likely to pick up on any anxieties that you have about telling them. There is no reason not to talk about it from birth, to tell your child about how special they are and how wanted they were from before they have the language to grasp what you are telling them. As they get older, the way that you tell the story will develop and become more detailed.
If you have used donor eggs or sperm, the story may seem more difficult to tell, but in fact a simple explanation about the kind lady or man who gave their seeds to help you have your longed-for child can be told from birth and expanded on as your child becomes more aware.
A wanted child
Of course, when you decide to tell your child is a personal matter, but the advantage of early telling is that it will be something your child has always understood and just part of who they are. When parents delay telling until their child is a teenager, or even an adult themselves, this can be difficult as a young person may feel that there was a secret at the heart of the family which was kept from them.
What really matters to any child is feeling loved and wanted; knowing that your parents had to go to considerable lengths to have you and hearing about how overjoyed they were to discover that you were on the way can be a very affirming and positive experience.
- The Donor Conception Network have the booklet Telling and Talking for parents of donor-conceived children aged 0 – 7.
- They also have a film of young donor-conceived people talking about what being donor-conceived means to them, called A different story…
- Eugin Clinic offers to its patients the illustrated book The mystery of the baby seeds, a very well written book that explains, in language a child can understand, the different ways of being conceived.
Writer and journalist
Kate Brian is a journalist, writer and author of four books on motherhood and fertility, including The Complete Guide to IVF. Kate started writing about the patient perspective on infertility after having IVF herself.
Currently, she contributes to various types of media as an expert on fertility and writes her own blog, where she gives all the latest news and views on fertility issues, as well as useful advice and links for anyone trying to have a baby.