‘Your daddy was a donor’

With continuing advances in assisted reproduction, what to tell the child about their birth is a question faced by more and more parents. If a child is conceived with donor sperm, a donor egg or both, the question of how much to reveal is not as simple as it may seem.

The use of donor sperm has been around at least since the 18th century, and the first sperm banks opened their doors in the 1970s. Egg donation is a slightly newer technology, having come into common use in the late 1980s.

Psychologist Andrea Braverman notes in an article on Health Day that there is no one correct approach: ‘There are some cultures in which children born through assisted reproduction technologies would not be accepted. Ultimately, we must be respectful of parents to make their own decisions,’ she says.

‘The issue of disclosure is such a personal choice and is influenced by a multitude of factors - personal beliefs, family pressure, cultural issues, religious issues and so on’, agrees Tertia Albertyn, who runs Nurture, a South African egg donor programme. ‘As a donor agency, it is not our place to say which route is the best way to go.  However, on a personal level I am firmly in the “telling” camp. I believe it is in the best interests of the child and the future family to have full disclosure. 

‘Make the donor conception part of the child's birth story so that it never becomes a secret, it is never shameful or something hidden.  Because the cost of the “secret” getting out when the child is a teenager or an adult is disastrous - by its very nature, secrets are things we are ashamed about.’

If you do decide to tell, it makes sense to be age-appropriate. Small children may need nothing more than: ‘the doctor helped mommy and daddy to get pregnant’ while older children and teens will understand the concept of egg and sperm.

Albertyn suggests a simple story such as : ‘Mommy or Daddy's seeds or eggs were broken and Mommy was very sad. She so badly wanted to have a beautiful baby girl / boy called xxxx.  Then one day a very kind lady offered to help by donating an egg to Mommy.  The doctor placed that special egg in Mommy's tummy and from that day on, forever more, you became Mommy's very special miracle baby.’

Among the reasons sometimes raised for not disclosing are fears of rejection by family and friends, or the child’s sense of belonging may be affected. But, as Albertyn points out, once one person knows, it’s virtually impossible to keep the details of a child’s birth a secret.

Do you think children should be told if they were conceived from donor eggs or sperm?

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