Difference, stigma and children’s language

We had a lovely weekend away and meeting up with a DCN member, I’ll call her Susie, was a special part of that.  She and her husband have a daughter conceived with the help of IVF and then, following premature ovarian failure in her early thirties, they had twins by egg donation – egg-share at a London clinic – nearly three years ago.  This family is doing really well.  They have been very open with family and friends, have started to share information about the twins origins with their older child and will be reading the Our Story book to the young ones very shortly.  They also hope to come on a DCN Telling and Talking workshop in the autumn.

The twins have very different colouring to their parents and older sister and Susie and her husband have become used to responding to people’s questions about this without feeling anxious or undermined in any way.  Both of them are comfortable with ‘difference’ and feel very positive and excited about their future as a family.  What has helped them in making the necessary adjustments is that needing egg donation to complete their family and having to face all the long-term implications of this, has been the second crisis they have had to face together.  The first was a serious health issue that marred Susie’s early twenties and has continuing implications for the future.  Explaining about this issue has meant facing stigma and both Susie and her husband were determined that their lives were not going to be defined by this.  They feel the same about egg donation.  They don’t go around telling the world but if it comes up when talking with friends or significant others both of them are very comfortable dropping the information into a conversation.  The only thing that makes Susie worry about in prospect is the much dreaded, ” You’re not my real mother anyway” when an angry teenager (and she thinks it is likely to be her younger daughter rather than her son) is trying to challenge her authority in teenage years.  We talked about suitable ripostes to this and to possible sibling ‘teasing’ in later years about who was a proper son or daughter and who wasn’t.  What Susie didn’t know, and I think many parents don’t, is that the language older children and teenagers use to describe their donor changes over the years…and sometimes even in the same sentence.  The term ‘real mother’ (or father) is sometimes used by young people, but only because at that moment they have in mind the conventional linking of genes and parental status.   Use of different terms seems to be a very normal and natural part of a young persons exploration of and thinking for themselves about their origins.  It’s hard for parents not to feel anxious when they hear this language but our experience in DCN is that it has no meaning in relation to the warmth of feeling for a parent and the more relaxed and accepting parents can be, the easier it is to talk about the words used or just accept them as part of a developmental phase.  Most young people settle on a preferred terminology by the time they are in their early twenties.  But it’s good for parents to be prepared for this stage.


About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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