What Should You Tell Your Child If They Were Conceived Using Donor Eggs?
The birth of the first child conceived through egg donation in 1984 ushered
in a new era in infertility treatments. Many children conceived with eggs from
donors since then are now old enough to learn about their origins. Yet therapists
who specialize in fertility issues urge parents to assess a child's emotional
and intellectual abilities before deciding when and how to disclose information
about use of donor eggs. This is true for discussing conception of any child
with assisted reproductive technologies.
Before telling children that they were conceived using
eggs from another woman, parents should first carefully assess a child's emotional
and intellectual capacity to process that information, according to new guidelines
published by the American Infertility Association (AIA).
Since ovum donation was first used successfully in
1984, thousands of children have been born using this advanced infertility treatment.
In this procedure, the egg from a donor is fertilized with sperm (usually from
the male partner of a couple). The embryo is then implanted into the birth
mother's uterus to achieve a pregnancy. This is significantly different from
other forms of in vitro fertilization in that children born using this
procedure are genetically linked to the egg donor, rather than to the woman
who gives birth to them and then raises them.
Some parents may choose not to share this information with their children.
Others choose partial or full disclosure, or discussion on a need to know basis.
To assist parents with their decisions, the American Infertility Association
(AIA) has recently released guidelines that provide important insights on a
range of options. The recommendations were developed by Gloria Demby, CSW,
and Patricia Mendell, CSW, two nationally known therapists who specialize in
treating individuals and couples with infertility. The most important guide
to making that decision, according to the authors, is to understand what impact
disclosure may have on a child and on the parent-child relationship.
The new guidelines, "Talking with Children About Ovum
Donation", present advice for parents on options ranging from secrecy to full
Many experts feel that maintaining secrecy about ovum
donation is not the best long-term option for most children and families. They
note the risk of an unplanned discovery and the negative impact that holding
secrets can have on individuals and families. Despite these concerns, some
parents do choose to keep this information a secret in an effort to protect
their child and family. Because donation is often anonymous, parents may also
feel that their ability to offer only incomplete information may not offer a
child the desired levels of comfort and understanding. Therapists caution that
bonds of trust may be damaged if a child learns about ovum donation from a source
other than his parents. They also caution that, in the future, testing could
make it easier for children to learn whether they are genetically linked to
Partial disclosure is recognized as an important option
for many parents for several reasons. Details can be presented in stages over
several months or even years as a child develops and is able to process more
information successfully. Parents can also monitor a child's response to determine
the optimal time to offer further details. Introducing the subject with partial
disclosure also helps children to feel more comfortable about asking questions
when they feel that they are ready for more information.
Full disclosure is an option chosen by parents who
believe that a child should be told about his or her origins from the beginning.
This approach parallels current thinking about disclosure in adoption, which
emphasizes openness and disclosure. Again, therapists caution that such decisions
must be made with the child's best interests in mind.
For parents who choose disclosure, the AIA guidelines
note that children 4-5 years old are usually able to process basic information
about how babies are conceived and born. During adolescence, therapists caution
that children may probe for more information about their origins, and may also
develop resentments toward parents for decisions that cause them to feel isolated
According to the guidelines, parents should present
this news to children using positive language, noting that they are grateful
and very happy that the egg donor made it possible to have them. Mothers should
reinforce the bond with their child by discussing their own positive feelings
about pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. And when the father's sperm is
used in conception, the mother and father can reinforce their mutual involvement
in the conception and birth.
"Talking to Children About Ovum Donation" is published by the American Infertility
Association and is available to the public free of charge from the AIA web site
Created: 11/2/2000  - Donnica Moore, M.D.