How to Talk with Kids about Donor Egg, Sperm, and Embryo

Radio Show


Third Party Reproduction: Telling Your Child




How in the world do you explain something so complex as conception from donor egg, sperm or embryo to a child? When should you tell? How much detail is necessary? What words can you use? Our guest to talk about the nitty gritty of telling is Patricia Mendell, therapist in NYC specializing in infertility and founding member of The American Fertility Association and Currently Co-Chair of its Board of Directors. She is a member of the Mental Health Professionals Group of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.


+ Highlights of the show (click to expand)

  • What percentage of families created through sperm donation, egg donation, or embryo donation (embryo adoption) tell their children about their conception and genetic history?
  • Are there situations where it is not advisable to tell the child the truth about their conception?
  • Why are families hesitant to tell their children?
  • How should you explain such a complex subject to children?
  • What age should you tell children that they were conceived with the help of third party reproduction?
  • What are the key topics should you include when talking to children about assisted reproduction?
  • How can you stress to children that this is not information that they should share outside of the family?
  • How should parents tell an older child conceived via donor gametes or embryo who is learning this information for the first time?
  • What language should you use to describe the donor?
  • What should parents do if the child wants to meet the donor?
  • How much detail should parents share with the child?
  • How often should parents talk about the conception story?
  • If parents choose not to tell, what things should they think through?
  • How would you start the conversation with a preschooler about being conceived through IVF with sperm donation, egg donation, or embryo donation (embryo adoption)?
  • How would you start the conversation with an elementary aged child about being conceived through IVF with sperm donation, egg donation, or embryo donation (embryo adoption)?
  • How would you start the conversation with a older child, tween, teen or older adolescent about being conceived through IVF with sperm donation, egg donation, or embryo donation (embryo adoption)?
  • What resources are available for parents to use to talk with their children about third party reproduction?


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23/01/2013 | by Radio Show | Categories: 2013 Shows, Infertility, Infertility Radio Shows, Radio Show | 1 Comments

One Response to How to Talk with Kids about Donor Egg, Sperm, and Embryo

  1. Avatar marilynn says:

    It is evasive and dishonest to represent the relationship between a person and their offspring as being anything other than parent and child. That is the the type of parent that everyone absolutely can count on having even if they cannot count on being raised by them. A person becomes a parent when they have offspring; its the kind of parent anyone who is raising donor offspring wanted to become when they set out to have children and it’s the kind of parent they were sad that they could not become when they realized they could not have their own offspring or realized they did not have a partner who could have offspring with them. The person you are telling the truth to does have parents who they are the offspring of and they are those people’s son or daughter regardless of whether or not they wanted to take responsibility for them and raise them. It is the biggest disservice to people raising donor offspring to suggest that the tell the truth but do so in an evasive way that sidesteps the use of titles and terminology that they know the rest of the world continues to use. It is also insulting and degrading to tell a person that because their father did not want to raise them or wanted to allow others to raise them that they are no longer allowed to refer to him as their father or her as their mother – a person’s feelings about being a parent don’t change the fact that they are a parent anymore than a person’s feelings about their race can change their race. It is dishonest and cruel to expect others to deny who they are to you just because you want to deny who you are to them. If advising people to be truthful advise them also to be respectful of the feelings of the person being told and don’t confuse the issue by focusing on things like eggs and sperm and conception and origins – all of those words are just distracting – you are telling them that their parent is not going to be raising them and that their parent has given permission for someone else to take over their parental duties. That is what the egg and sperm donor agreements actually say – this is not something anyone can deny and its far more straight forward than confusing a child by saying things like “mommy and daddy’s eggs did not work” “a nice lady gave her eggs so that mommy and daddy could have you” – those types of statements make it sound as if the people raising them conceived them together and that they are their offspring only missing the genes or something absurd like that. Once a person is born all the reproductive stuff and donation of gametes goes out the window – that donor became the parent of the child other people are raising for them and clarity is really desperately needed when people tell. I help put the separated families of people in these situations put their families back together and most of them were told early but in a shady and evasive way that made the people raising them appear insecure and not in touch with the reality of what actually happened. Sue Hurst’s blog is an excellent resource for women raising children of egg donors. She did the job of telling the truth in the most respectful way and recognizes that her egg donor is his mother even though she is not the one functioning day in and day out as her child’s mother, Sue is. She has a good relationship with that child because of her frank acceptance of who he is which is another woman’s child. She has empathy for the loss and has helped him establish a relationship with his mothers relatives despite his mother’s current rejection of him. I also just helped a girl find her father who was an anonymous donor and he has signed a voluntary admission of paternity to be added to this girl’s birth certificate and now her mother has finally come to terms with the fact that he was always her child’s father just as he has now come to terms with that and they are all three going down to the court house to have him named on my friend’s birth certificate and she will take his last name even though this makes my friend’s former social parent, her mother’s spouse uncomfortable because they now recognize that it’s important to my friend to be legally recognized as her father’s child and everyone needs to stop referring to him as ‘her donor’ because he became her father the day she was born whether it was recorded or not. He’s prepared to do this for the entire sibling group on the Donor Sibling Registry and any of his children that may come along in the future in order that they may all be considered legal kin to one another and the children he’s been raising himself with his wife. It’s important to him that he do the right thing and not try to pretend that his children are someone else’s just because he was not the one who raised them. His wife is not happy about it but again his chief concern is doing the right thing by starting to live authentically and use the right terminology for himself in relationship to his offspring. This will be a legal first in the U.S. but will begin a wave of others especially siblings looking to set their records straight and be legal kin to their sibling groups that are in some case numbering in the hundreds. So when people tell the truth also respect that they are not diblings or donor siblings but regular maternal or paternal siblings who may one day wish to make it legal and be aware that will require the removal of anyone from their birth certificates named as parents if they are not those people’s offspring. Hopefully people who raised donor offspring will be comfortable that their relationships can stand on their own without trying to prevent the donor’s offspring from gaining legal recognition within their families.

    People who decide to have kids with gamete donors need to brace themselves for the likelihood that some day they will loose their legal position as parents because they did not gain that authority in court through a legal adoption that terminated the rights of the parents who in this case may have been gamete donors but that has no bearing on their claims of either maternity or paternity since people cannot give up their parental title or obligations in private contracts. Tell the truth keeping in mind that it’s not the truth if you use the wrong words and tell the truth keeping in mind that the gamete donor is in reality that person’s parent and through that parent there are other people that child is related to. Be as respectful as possible even when speaking with a child on the topic and there is the possibility they will feel supported in their efforts to reclaim their identity and kinship in their own families while still feeling as if they are part of the families of those who raised them. I know my statements are frequently unpopular but these things these legal movements are really happening with donor offspring who were told the truth all their lives these are not disgruntled late-learners who felt rejected by their social parents. These are people who had very happy childhoods and close relationships with social parents but who still reject the notion that the social parent replaced their own parent and family.

    These attempts to get legal recognition in their own families will hopefully bring about change in the area of conceiving with donors so that people will choose other alternative ways of building families with people who are in similar situations who want to have kids but have infertile partners . They can collaborate from the outset and raise the child together as parents sharing custody and their respective spouses and partners will have their legal rights within the existing construct of step parenthood which is still very legal and allows for people to forge bonds with their partner’s children without the child being made to loose one of their parents and half their relatives in the process. Hopefully people will start doing that seeing as it’s free and does not involve all kinds of doctors and lawyers and hundreds of thousands of dollars and there won’t be any big truth to tell because they child will have both parents in their lives because they’ll be trying to get both parents into their lives always under the current “reprotech” model of family building.

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