Although some parts of the donor conception world are moving at the speed of light, many things remain the same. Choices for potential parents have become much more complex but the need to keep the well-being of the child at the heart of decisions made – YOU might feel more comfortable with an anonymous donor but how will your child feel about this – remains a fundamental challenge for everyone contemplating having a child with the help of a donor. DC Network’s Preparation for DC Parenting workshops help couples and individuals face these very intimate and difficult questions in a safe and non-judgemental space. The Telling and Talking workshops continue the theme into thinking about the principles and practice of ‘telling’ children. Early in the creation of these workshops I wrote down what I thought we already know about how parents can best convey the information in a way that supports their child through the different stages of their development and understanding what DC means for them. There are also many things we still don’t know and I’m sure there are many more points that could be added to this. Anyway, I came across the list just now and thought it might be helpful to share. I’ve updated it a bit but it feels as relevant as when I wrote it ten years ago. Some basic things just don’t change.
What we know and don’t know
What we know
- That parental comfort and confidence with decisions made is the most important factor in children’s acceptance of DC as just part of ‘their story’.
- That, as in adoption, the earlier children are ‘told’ the better (ie. start the process under the age of five)
- That, again as in adoption, DC people who are not told in childhood sometimes feel ‘different’ anyway, but having no explanation for this often blame themselves for relationships in the family that seem remote or for not being like anyone else in the family.
- As in adoption again, it seems that it is not the information itself that might cause upset or stress, but the way it is managed and how the story makes sense to a child. “Not what happens to you but the way it is made sense of.” Part of this is having feelings, whatever they are, acknowledged and responded to with empathy and kindness rather than denial and defensiveness.
- Telling our children early in their lives seems to have a protective effect on how they feel about DC and themselves but it will not prevent the possibility of a mixture of feelings – curiosity, sadness, possible confusion or anger as they grow and think for themselves. Parental understanding of this and willingness to manage it rather than shy away from these feelings is likely to be helpful.
What don’t we know?
- We don’t have a lot of information about how those told early and who have appeared to be comfortable with information, feel as they move into full adulthood and have children themselves. The majority of ‘searching’ in adoption takes place after age 25, with women being more curious generally and searching earlier than men.
- We don’t yet know how those children conceived abroad will feel, or those born since donor anonymity was removed in the UK. We also have considerably less information about people conceived by egg or embryo donation and if there are significant differences between them and those conceived by sperm donation. Although we may have some idea from the previous experiences of adopted people and sperm donor conceived adults, we don’t know exactly how their experiences will be the same or different or what support and services they may need.
And then there is sibling and donor tracing and DNA testing……