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Is Disclosure about Donor Parentage Wise?
Dear Dr. Kreiner,
I want to thank you and your wonderfully caring staff for all you did to help me have my daughter, Jessica. There was not a moment that I did not feel supported during the process, and for this I sing your praises constantly.
My daughter is truly a blessing. and I will always cherish that you helped bring her into this world for me.
We informed Jessica about her genetic parentage a few years ago with the help of a psychologist, who saw my husband and I first. and then with Jessica for two or three more visits. I thought it went well. Jess seemed to understand that we loved her and that Russ and I were truly her father and mother, and I cannot say that our relationship had changed in any significant way since then.
However, Jessica is now 14 years old and has recently been asking me about what I know about her genetic mom, which is how she referred to her. I took offense to her use of the term ”mom” and immediately corrected her, saying “you mean donor, honey”. This started a huge argument and has created a tense rift that still exists.
I know that she has been doing research to identify her donor, including calling your program. I don’t know what to do. Did we make a mistake by telling her? Should we seek out the donor and ask if she is willing to reveal herself to my daughter? Is it even legal or moral for us to ask? Should we tell my daughter that it is not possible to identify her and just leave it like that? I am afraid not to try, as it seems to be so important to her, and if I appear to be resisting she will get angry with me again.
What should we do Dr. Kreiner?
Still thankful but with some remorse,
Former donor egg recipient
An Important Question
I have been involved in these donor egg cases since 1985, and this type of question is rare for me to receive. But now I wonder if that is because patients do not feel close enough to me to discuss these problems years after my services have been performed.
It is not uncommon for potential donor egg recipients to say to me ”I’m not going to tell my child about the donor. I’m going to carry him. I’m the mom.” We have always recommended that parents disclose that they had utilized donation to their child, since it is thought that honesty is better than trying to shoulder "the big lie," which ultimately would be found out and lead to much larger problems.
If you are planning to build a family with a sperm or egg donor, you may be thinking about these very issues. Many patients believe that disclosing their child’s donor origins will damage the parent-child bond that is so precious to them. They fear that a genetic connection to a donor could trump their relationship with their child. Most commonly, my patients plan to tell their child about the donor but want the donor’s identity to remain anonymous. They worry that an identified donor could disrupt the integrity of their family by inserting herself or himself into it.
Professionals in the field of infertility tell us that patients who need help to have a child often feel vulnerable and may view donors as threatening.
To Disclose or Not, That is The First Question
Unlike heterosexual couples, same sex couples and single individuals understand that from the moment they decide to build their family that they require assisted reproduction. These families openly disclose their children’s donor origins because it is the only way to explain their conception and birth. Inevitably, the children look at other families around them and wonder if they have a mommy or a daddy. It does not appear that disclosure in these cases has a negative impact on the families.
However, the heterosexual couples seek assistance only after failed attempts to have a child on their own and sometimes even after multiple IVF attempts using the woman’s own eggs. These couples typically experience incredible loss, frequently feel inadequate and often become clinically depressed. Assisted reproduction with outside help with their family building was not something they ever imagined. Many feel a sense of shame that may add additional motivation to keep the donor parentage a secret from their child. We are told by those professionals in the field who study this that many former donor recipients turned parents fear their child will see the donor as the “real” mom or dad and believe they are preventing potential problems by keeping the secret from their child.
Interestingly, many individuals who are the result of gamete donation report feeling like they don’t fit in with their families. I have heard that when they ultimately are informed of their donor origin that it often makes sense to them and not infrequently is received by the child with a degree of relief to explain their uniqueness from their family. Sometimes donor conceived individuals inadvertently learn about their origins under less than ideal circumstances, such as from a family friend or relative. Nondisclosure, in these cases, usually undermines trust and honesty within a family and may lead to psychological harm.
Professionals studying donation tell us that when children have been told about their donor origins, they are typically accepting of the recipient moms and dads. In fact, it appears that when children learn of their donor origins at a young age, they are more likely to have a more positive experience. Their donor conception is integrated from the beginning into their life story. It becomes who they are at an early stage when they develop their own identity and sense of self. Individuals told later in life are more likely to have more negative feelings about their donor conception than those told earlier. They may become angry about being deceived and often feel betrayed by the very people they thought were the most trustworthy in their lives, their moms and dads.
Hence, disclosure at an early age is recommended by professionals studying this issue.
I will address the question of disclosing the identity of the donor in my next blog.