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To Tell or Not to Tell – Should Parents Tell Egg Donor Offspring that They Came from a Donor?

December 5, 2012 | Diane Hinson

Approximately a month or so ago, we met with some prospective parents who needed an egg donor in addition to a gestational carrier. In the course of our meeting, they told us that they were not sure that there was any reason to tell their future child that s/he was conceived with the help of an egg donor.
 
Needless to say, these were not any of CFC’s same-sex prospective parents.  Egg donation or sperm donation is a necessary part of a child’s life story if they have 2 dads or 2 moms – unless those same-sex parents plan to say that “the stork brought you” or decide to go with an “immaculate conception” story.  It’s hard to see either of those stories going far to convince a 14-year-old.
 
The prospective parents who we met with were, rather, a mixed-sex couple,  and, as is typical, they had not gotten beyond the “there’s no reason to tell them” level of analysis.  While, ultimately, the parents will make their own determination, we do feel it is wise to give them a few reasons that they might want to tell them… and suggest that they discuss it further with a mental health professional who specializes in Assisted Reproductive Technology.
 
For starters, couples who do not plan to tell their child need to understand that if they decide to keep it a secret, then they should tell no one… not even the child’s doctor. Why?  Because the child will not always be a child, and when the child turns 18, she will have the right to obtain all of her medical records.  So, if the parents tell the pediatrician, it will come part of the child’s medical file… and the child has a right to that file.
 
So, what happens when the parents take the child to the doctor and the doctor asks about the child’s family history?  This may put the parents in a very awkward position.  If the parents answer a question by using their own family history, are they putting their child in medical jeopardy?  Alternatively, if they answer a question more honestly, will it later be awkward if they have a second child with a different donor?
 
Let me give a very real example:  When my daughter was 17, I took her to an oral surgeon for a consultation to have her wisdom teeth extracted.  The oral surgeon asked if she had ever had any problems with anesthesia.  She and I looked at each other, shrugged, and I answered:  We did not know, because she had never had anesthesia.
 
He then followed up with a logical question:  Was there any history of problems with anesthesia in the family?  I told him it really did not matter, because I had adopted her. He nodded thoughtfully.  As we left, I thought:  What if I had been one of the parents who had used an egg donor and kept it a secret?  If I had then answered the question with information about my own family history, I could have been putting her physical well-being in jeopardy!
 
If parents keep something like this a secret, are they doing so because they think it will make their child feel less worthy?  Or because they think that it will somehow make them less worthy as parents?  Unfortunately, if the child discovers a secret, the child is going to think it has everything to do with them—in fact, research in the adoption field shows that children who learn secrets about themselves (e.g., that they were adopted), think that it was kept a secret because it reflects something “bad” about them.  Yet, isn’t it clear what is going on?  It has absolutely nothing to do with the children and everything to do with the parents. So why risk having your child feel that assisted reproduction is a reflection of something that is inadequate about HER?  As well run the risk of making her feel that there is something amiss in the parent-child trust relationship?  Rather, my view is to embrace the facts and let your child know how proud you are of her origins.
 
I guess my answer is clear.  My answer is yes.
 
Diane S. Hinson, Esq.