Talking to Kids About Donor Conception

With the help of donor sperm, eggs, and embryos, families are able to have the baby they dreamed of. But do you tell your child about donor conception? And when do you do it?

Since 2004, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (”ASRM”) has recommended that parents tell their children about donor conception. ASRM’s main motivation was medical history – and making sure that children were informed of potential genetic risks. Psychologists urge disclosure citing the importance of honesty, the child’s sense of identity, and the stress on parents of keeping the secret.

Increasingly, experts suggest that parents tell their kids early and often that they were conceived with extra help. The idea is to avoid the moment of the “Big Talk” where a child learns about their donor conception. If the child hears the story at an early age she can incorporate it into her identity as it develops. Later disclosure can upend that identity and distrust, frustration, and hostility toward their family can result. There are also benefits to the parents. According to one study, parents who talked to their children before they turned 10 had full confidence they did the right thing by allowing the children to “grow into their conception story,” and reported no anxiety about the disclosure. Meanwhile parents who waited had high levels of anxiety while waiting for the “right time,” and “find themselves faced with the prospect of disclosing to teenagers or young adults.”

There are a proliferation of websites, support groups, and books to assist parents with talking to their children in age-appropriate terms. For families who want to start very early, there is a book called “What Makes a Baby” by Cory Silverberg. Silverberg uses colorful pictures and simple language to describe the basics of conception – separated from sexuality – for kids aged 3 to 7. The book is designed to be open-ended so that parents can fill in details that are relevant to their families.