There is no doubt that the very best time to start telling children about their beginning in life by donor conception is under the age of five. In this way the story is started well before a child has any memory of parents first talking about it and can be built on as the years pass. This is the modern, and now largely accepted in the UK, way of raising families by donor conception.
But it wasn’t always this way and there are large numbers of adults who still do not know that they are donor conceived. Most recipients of donor sperm and then eggs were advised by their clinic never to tell and most parents of this previous era, with some exceptions, were happy to go along with this.
Walter and I have made something of a speciality of supporting couples who have as yet untold adult children, but who feel that the time has come for the truth to come out. Their reasons for this are many and varied but a shared feeling is that of increasing discomfort between the very open and honest relationships they have with their children about every subject but this one! Occasionally there have been cases of adult children becoming preoccupied with genetics and family trees in a way that seems to indicate that they have at some level an idea that there is something different about their family, but mostly the children have had no inkling at all. And this was the case with the most recent family we have helped.
Sue and Steven (not their real names) have three adult children, all conceived with different donors. Steven has been diagnosed with a life threatening illness and together he and Sue decided that their children should be told about the donor conception in order to reassure them that they are at no greater risk of developing the condition themselves, but also so that they would not discover about the non-genetic connection after his death. Sue and Steven had been very open with their children about all the tests that Steven had to have and about his diagnosis. It felt very wrong to them that they were still hiding the information about DC.
Walter and I talked with this couple for the best part of a couple of hours. It was clear that they were both devoted to all three of their children and to each other. A strong and loving family. I think they enjoyed the opportunity of talking about their relationships with their children and how they thought that each might respond, and indeed who else might need to know and who’s decision it would be to tell them. But to be honest, I think they knew what they wanted to do from the beginning. They had a family activity holiday planned for July where they and their three offspring would be tackling a challenge together. They had decided that they would tell the children on the Friday night and then set off together the following morning to face the physical obstacle together, whilst talking about the bombshell they had dropped the night before. I had wondered if it was a good idea to do it this way as each offspring would be separated from their partner, in whom they might want to confide immediately. But as this was to be the only opportunity for all members of the family to be together until next Christmas, it seemed like a no brainer and anyway electronic communication meant they could keep in touch with people important to them. Walter and I put the date of the Friday telling in our diary and sent silent best wishes winging to them that evening.
A text the other day has let us know that Steven and Sue were as good as their word. The telling took place and the physical challenge and the talking happened the following day as planned. Their children’s instant reaction was, unsurprisingly, one of shock – they hadn’t had a clue – but they also said that they were glad that they hadn’t been told sooner, or at all. Their parents know that this may change and that it will take some months for the information to be properly digested, but I suspect that this lovely family will be fine. Without refuting the role that genetics undoubtedly play in our lives, in the end it’s strong relationships that really count.