Are non-telling parents braver than those who tell?

You are not bad parents to want to keep it secret, I think it is often a braver thing to do”

The above quote is from the Non-Telling thread on Fertility Friends and it intrigued me.  Could there possibly be any truth in the second half of this statement.  So I started by looking up dictionary definitions of ‘brave’ and came across the following: “courageous, dauntless, perhaps a little bit daring; a person who is brave faces danger or difficult situations with courage”, which led me to try and understand exactly what ‘courage’ means.  Apparently this is the ability to do something that frightens one – bravery or strength in the face of pain or grief.

Given these definitions it is very hard to think how NOT doing something that is  clearly perceived as potentially causing pain and grief (whilst giving great pleasure in the form of a longed for child at the same time) could possibly be brave, but I thought I’d try it out.

Could it be considered brave to – not want to face up to infertility or the consequences of your own decision making; to go ahead with donor conception but carry on as if you haven’t; to lead others and your child to believe that they are genetically linked to both parents when they are not; to evade questions or lie when asked about family resemblances and habits; to hold a fundamental secret from a child when a parent’s first duty is to be their child’s moral guide and compass.   I don’t think so.

But the Oxford English Dictionary in their definition of ‘brave’ did begin to give me some clue as to what the author of the quote above might have been referring to.  OED says brave has to do with being “ready to face and endure danger or pain” and this is just what the non-telling parents on this thread seem to be doing already, even though their children are still tiny.  One in particular is enduring relatives endlessly banging on about the child not looking like what is actually the non-genetic parent.  The danger of energy being sapped by constantly being on the watch out for questions about family likenesses (and all families talk about them), of children picking up the clues about something being wrong because parents are pre-occupied and evasive, of rifts in relationships because of secret keeping.  These and many other situations are likely to bring grief and pain in the future.  Could it really be brave to be taking this on or actually rather sad, lacking in courage and quite the opposite of dauntless and daring?  Fear is a very poor basis for raising a family.

So perhaps the non-tellers really are braver because I certainly don’t think ‘telling’ is particularly brave.  It’s just the right thing to do…and so much easier than keeping a secret.


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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14 Responses to Are non-telling parents braver than those who tell?

  1. marilynn says:

    Dang look at you! You told them what’s what. Good. Very cool

  2. marilynn says:

    Part of me wants to believe that many people do want more than a superficial bond and that it’s possible for people to have revelations as time passes and come clean seek forgiveness apologize and feel empathy regardless the subject. But then part of me looks at how they wound up putting themselves and the other person in a compromised situation and it becomes clear to me that you won’t reason them out of lying to the person they are raising because they were not reasoned into the decision to do it in the first place.

    Now I know your focus is on the concealing and the lying but just in general the whole kit and kaboodle of it and how they just pretend the kid came from them because that is how they want everyone to see it…their fantasy is more important than anything else. There is nothing brave about it its balzy not brave. Brave is when you face danger when you could just give up give in or go the easy way. Brave is doing something I associate it with acts of courage out of kindness to others but I suppose you could be brave if you yourself were in danger too.
    Good post

  3. gsmwc02 says:

    I agree with you Olivia on this. I don’t believe the non tellers are braver than those who are honest with their children. They maybe brave in a sense but for me being able to face the scars left by infertility and do what is best for their children is what is the most brave IMO.

  4. Sarah says:

    I don’t think not telling is being brave at all, it’s more like burying the head in the sand. These things have a habit of coming out at some point, maybe decades later. How can a relationship with child based on lies be brave? Being brave is accepting the situation you are in, making the decision to go with donor/adoption or whatever it might be and then living by it, honestly.

    Our children are who they are because we made the choice to use donor. Had our children been genetically my husbands, then we not have the beautiful children we have today, we would have different beautiful children. (I wouldn’t change the ones I have). Therefore, to deny where they have come from is to deny part of who they are.

  5. Silver says:

    Our family had a real life situation which might have exposed a non-teller. My father had High Grade Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and, had the chemo not been able to knock it out (which it hadn’t, at round 7 out of 8 of the chemo sessions), the next step would have been a stem cell transplant from either a sibling or a child. I would hate to end up in such a situation and have to find a way to explain to an child (even/especially an adult child) why they couldn’t donate to their parent. Or why a parent couldn’t donate to a child!

    Ultimately, the main reason to tell is because that information doesn’t just belong to us – it should belong the the child too – it’s part of their story. I think that those who do not want to tell have not come to terms with their own situation and are still grieving what they cannot have – a genetic child. Just as with adoption, those who enter into donor IVF should see it as a positive step, not a poor second choice – or not do it at all!

    • oliviasview says:

      Thanks for taking the time again to comment Silver. I agree that donor conception is not for everyone. In my ideal world those who cannot shoulder the responsibility to ‘tell’ would not be using donor conception to make their family.

  6. Mac says:

    I have for a while wanted to reply to some of the fertility friend posts but no my replies would not be welcome – being in the pro telling camp and all.

    I can see these ladies are in distress and I too was there not that long ago. Although, I have always been clear in my mind that I would be honest.

    It took me a long time for donor conception to sit comfortably with me. It was only when I accepted that conceiving naturally with my husband is not possible and taking time to grieve my fantasised family that I could look at donor conception comfortably. I am not saying that the family we are having will be second choice, far from it. I just never considered that there would be a need to consider options out with naturally conceiving. topic icon topic icon
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    Keeping donor conception a secret, in my opinion, is not brave. For me, I would be keeping secrets because I felt shame in my actions. That sits very uncomfortably with me. Having a family should be an exiting time. Bravery is taking accountability for your actions and supporting the family to grow up strong and confident.

  7. Mac says:

    There have been a few times when I have wanted to comment on the fertility friends posts. However, I know that I will be met with hostility – being in the pro telling camp and all.

    I feel the pain and frustrations of not knowing what is best. For a long time, donor conception has sat uncomfortably with me. It was only when I fully accepted that my husband and I will never conceive naturally and after grieving my fantasised family that I could move on. Donor conception sits far more comfortably. I am not saying the children we plan to have will be second best, far far from it. It is just that I never thought there would be the need for a second option.

    As far a bravery goes. For me, keeping a secret would be implying that there is shame to be concealed. Bravery, is taking full accountability of your choices and supporting your family to flourish. Having a family should be an exciting time.

  8. Liz says:

    Parents who don’t tell make a mistake. They miss the chance to convey the idea that donor conception is no big deal.

    Hiding donor conception suggests to the child there is something shameful about donor conception. It also suggests that the family is not legitimate, unstable, and vulnerable.

    Hiding donor conception may suggest to the child that her/his family is not “real.”

    Children need to know their family is stable, dependable, and reliable. Confident parents convey this message to their child from a young age.

    Lying to children undermines confidence in the family structure.

    • oliviasview says:

      You hit the nail on the head as usual Liz. I am taking your comments to the Preparation for Donor Conception Parenthood workshop I am contributing to tomorrow.

  9. Lorraine says:

    Although I strongly oppose the Anti-Donor conception camp, this subject of this post illustrates the reasons why I am overall more frustrated with comments parents that use TPR than those that oppose it.

  10. oliviasview says:

    Deeply frustrating Lorraine. I so agree.

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