“I have to tell you a question”. That’s what our daughter says whenever she has something really important to say. Like, “Emma’s favorite color is pink” or “After Sam falls asleep I want to watch Bob the Builder”.
You don’t need an advanced degree to see that it’s not so much a question as a statement. Yet on a certain level it’s a curiously appropriate phrase if you apply it to telling people about donor conception. It’s a topic that tends to generate many questions. In a way, you really are telling a question when you tell someone that your children are donor-conceived.
Over in the UK, the Donor Conception Network (DCN) is expanding their “Telling and Talking” series, which helps parents tell a child they are donor-conceived. The new booklet in development will provide guidance on talking with family and friends. Later this month I’ll be talking with DCN’s Olivia Montuschi about our experience of telling. Of course, I’m probably not the most typically representative mother of donor-conceived children. A lot of newer friends, colleagues and acquaintances learned our truth by reading my New York Times Motherlode piece, or from reading this blog. It’s a rather public expression of a private matter. But I do like to stir up a bit of trouble and I want to write, so the shoe fits. However, it’s not for everyone.
That being said, recent experience represents round two of telling. Round one took place many years ago, before we were even married. As it turns out, it’s a lot easier to talk about your hypothetical donor-conceived child than to talk about the real one. I spent many happy evenings in grimy New York bars talking with friends about how we might have a child someday, if the time came. Talking about your hypothetical child sets you on the path of openness, laying the foundation for building your family in a spirit of honesty. But it doesn’t necessarily prepare you for openness once they are here. To my slight surprise, once pregnant I found myself retreating from telling. As I started to research how you introduce a child to the concept of being donor-conceived, I also started to feel that our daughter should be the next person I tell. Newer friends, no matter how much I adored them, could wait. For me, the most respectful path was to start talking with our daughter before sharing with anyone else.
For other parents of donor-conceived children, the path to telling may look entirely different, particularly for LGBT and single-mothers-by-choice. There’s no right or wrong way, just the most comfortable, respectful, and child-centered way. For many people trying to figure it all out, I have no doubt that DCN’s booklet will help a lot of them find their path.