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Donor Conception: Disclosure

Deciding whether to tell your child that she/he was conceived with the help of a donor is difficult for most parents. While experts agree that telling children they were conceived with donor gametes (sperm or eggs) or embryos (fertilized eggs) is best for your child, ultimately you will decide this based on your personal values and beliefs.

To Tell or Not to Tell

Mental health professionals point out that openness and honesty help build trusting, secure relationships, the emotional bedrock for children. In contrast, maintaining such a secret can create a sense of mistrust in families, on some unspoken level. In fact, knowing their genetic roots, along with their family’s cultural roots, has helped many donor-conceived children build strong, healthy identities.

Furthermore as genetics are playing a greater role in medicine — in assessing risks for inherited diseases (such as some cancers, cystic fibrosis) and in treatment (such as organ and bone marrow transplants) — revealing the truth to donor-conceived children is considered a medical imperative. Many child welfare professionals believe it’s children’s right to know. Conversely, many parents believe it’s their right to keep this information private.

What's Best for the Child?

The main fears parents face is that disclosure may unnecessarily confuse their child. “If my mom/dad is not my biological parent, then who am I?” Or, parents worry that some day their child will seek out his/her biological parent/s just as adopted children have done. Other parents and potential parents fear that their children will feel freakish upon learning they were conceived in a Petri dish.

These concerns are absolutely normal. Exploring your feelings is a necessary first step to making this important decision. Though donor conception is non-traditional, it shouldn’t be viewed as weird or “less than”. Indeed, it’s an honorable, courageous way to build a family. If you feel clear and positive about your donor-conception decision, your child will perceive this even if she/he doesn’t yet understand its mechanics. Psychologists suggest that parents initiate this conversation when children are 2 to 5 years old, when they’re beginning to understand the social world and have a genuinely open mind.

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