Tens of thousands of people use donor sperm, egg, or embryo to create their family. The majority of these people are not telling the child.


Parents who used a donor to conceive often fear telling their kids for any number of reasons. I’ve heard the following.

  • We are the real parents. The fact that someone else donated some DNA is not important to us or to our child.
  • The child won’t understand until they understand reproduction, so I’m waiting until they are older.
  • I’m afraid that it will affect how the child feels about me (or my husband).
  • It will only confuse the child.
  • I know I probably should, but I can’t imagine how to begin.
  • Maybe I should have when he was younger, but I’ve waiting too long now, so I’ll just see how it plays out.

For the folks who are not telling or are putting it off, there is one thing you must know.

The child is going to find out.

Maybe not when she is 5 or 10, but by the time she is in middle school every passing year increases the chance. And one thing is crystal clear through research—secrets are destructive to the very foundation of families. We had a panel of donor-conceived adults on a Creating a Family Radio Show/Podcast. Most had never been told by their parents, but found out in adulthood. To a one, these people felt betrayed. They weren’t particularly upset about the donor conception, but were struggling to get over the fact that their parents lied to them repeatedly to maintain the secret.

How Donor-Conceived People Will Find Out

The number of ways your child will find out are too numerous to mention—suffice it to say that if you have told one person other than your partner, the chances expand exponentially. This is the type of information that is shared, even if you have sworn the other person to secrecy. I guarantee it.

But the main way donor-conceived people are going to find out in the future is not from loose lips and gossip but from studying basic high school biology or from mail-in genetic testing.

The Perils of Biology Class

In most schools student start learning basic genetics in middle school. I can remember being fascinated by Punnett squares in 7th grade, but for those less nerdy, here’s a refresher.

The Punnett square is a square diagram that is used by biologist to predict whether a child will inherit a specific trait when two parents reproduce.

punnet squares used in donor conception

Your kids will start learning about Punnett squares in middle school usually beginning with fairly easy dominant/recessive traits such as earlobes and the ability to roll tongues. By high school they’ve moved on to things like blood type. If you are not genetically related, here’s what might happen.

donor conceived children should be told.

donor conceived children should be told.

donor conceived children should be told.

donor conceived children should be told.

donor conceived children should be told.

donor conceived children should be told.

donor conceived children should be told.

And some of the replies:

donor conceived children should be told.


donor conceived children should be told.

Perils of Mail-In Genetic Testing

Another way that donor-conceived children will find out about their conception is through the popular mail-in genetic testing of the spit in a tube variety—such as 23 & Me or Ancestry.com. Close to 12 million people have done this testing and it is expected that they will increase in popularity.

The podcast Death, Sex, and Money had an episode recently where a woman found out that her parents had used donor sperm for her conception through using a mail-in genetic test.

Amy was in her 40s and interested in genealogy so decided to take the test on a whim. Her dad was an immigrant from Egypt and proud of his Sephardic Jewish ancestors. Amy was surprised when her test results showed no Jewish ancestry.

She decided the test was likely wrong but was then contacted a few days later by a man saying that it looked like they were closely related, but he didn’t know how. They both looked through their family trees to see if they could find names in common but came up empty.

A few months later she checked back into her ancestry.com account and saw a message that said: “RH [she is not using his full name] is your father.” She had never heard of this name, but he had the same last name as the man who had contacted her months before. She sent a message to him telling him that she had received this strange information and asking if he knew RH. He responded a few days later saying that RH was his brother and when asked he acknowledged that he had donated sperm in college.

To put it mildly, she was shocked.

Donor-conceived children will find out someday and it is better if they are told by their parents.

She thought for sure that her parents had been tricked or that somehow there had been an accidental mistake because she simply couldn’t believe that her parents would have hidden this from her. Her father was dead, but she finally asked her 84-year-old mother for the truth. Her mom admitted that they had used donor sperm and had agreed to tell no one. They thought there was no way for anyone to find out.

There is always a way and it will be increasingly easy with every passing year as is evidenced by a recent story in the news where a woman found out through a mail-in genetics test that her parent’s infertility doctor used his own sperm to inseminate her mother as part of her “treatment”.

How to Tell Your Kids They Were Conceived with the Help of a Donor

Tell your children if they were conceived by donors. It is easier to start telling the basics of their story when they are very young. Start by incorporating into your daily reading with your child books about all the different ways that families are made. Then add books about the specific way your family was made. Creating a Family has a huge list of children’s books to help you talk with your child about conception through sperm donation, egg donation, and embryo donation.

Creating a Family also has many resources on how to start the conversation, what to say, and likely questions you will get.

It’s Never Too Late

Some parents fear that if they haven’t told their child by some magical age it is too late. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is likely to be more awkward when your kids are older, but it is definitely doable. Check out this blog for specific suggestions.

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Other Creating a Family Resources You Will Enjoy


Will you tell your child? At what age will you start telling? What resources will you use?

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