There are various unique issues that arise in explaining the “origin story” to a child of third party reproduction using Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART). Luckily with the aid of modern medicine there are a plethora of ways to create your family via gamete donation or gestational carriers, or any combination thereof. Fortunately, there is growing awareness and education around family building via third party reproduction, though there still may be stigma or lack of knowledge regarding who is the “real parent.” To simply address that, research supports the parent/child relationship over genes. The child’s genetic link to a parent is significantly less relevant than the attachment formed. In fact, as the vast majority of couples using assisted reproductive technology (ART) wait years for their baby, when they finally have their baby they are often highly devoted parents who can provide an optimal environment in which to raise a thriving child.
If you’re considering the route of third party reproduction to build your family, you might already be thinking of how you will tell your child her family building story, i.e., her origin story. At what point will you tell the story and why are you choosing that time? Will you tell her in infancy? In toddlerhood? In the elementary school years? Perhaps the research in this field can help inform your decision, though this decision is a very personal one that varies by family. Research indicates that the earlier, the better. It’s never too early to tell the child their origin story (some parents even tell their child their origin story while bonding with them during the first few days of life—it’s never too early!). Alternatively, if a child discovers their birth story from someone other than their parents because the parents withheld that information from her over the years, it will likely have a negative impact on the parent/child dynamic. Another benefit to early disclosure as indicated by the research is parents who disclose early are more at ease than parents who chose later disclosure—the longer the later disclosure parents waited, the more anxious they became about the “how/when” factor. Research also indicated that parents who disclose early do not regret early disclosure.
Here are some tips on the “how to’s” of the origin story: use simple, developmentally appropriate language when the child is young is best—no need to get too elaborate with a toddler or preschooler. Note that this story is one that will evolve over time, and it’s a story that will be disclosed and told in different ways, on a deeper levels, as the child ages and has more understanding. Make the story one that the child will want to hear and to tell, rather one that they would dread. If you can, find out aspects of the donor parents that transcend physical features, such as unique aspects of their personality, hobbies/passions, or awards won (e.g., “was voted most most likely to succeed in high school”). Also expect more questions from your child during her adolescence as she is navigating the individuation/separation stage.
It may also behoove you to consider how you might respond to the following:
-Questions about fully connected or half siblings
-What happens when your child starts telling other kids, and how other kids might react
-What happens if your child, particularly during adolescence, says “you’re not my real parent”
-(For same sex couples): Who is my mother/father?
-How might you navigate challenges with ill informed family members who make remarks about who is the “real parent”?
Every family story is unique in its own right, and every family has a story to tell. Your family’s cultural and religious background, where you live, where you’re originally from and your relationship with your own family of origin are some of the many variables that will influence how the story unfolds. There are many books and sources in the media that can help you navigate these waters. On a final note, do not hesitate to reach out to a professional or to support groups in your area as you consider these questions—resources in this area are growing every day.