Friday, August 28, 2015

Talking to a 2 Year Old About Her Donor Conception Origins

Recently we purchased a book for Audrey that discusses the origins of a sperm donor conceived child. I've done a lot of research on this topic (big surprise!) and what I found was that telling your children about their donor conceived origins was not only recommended, but that there are benefits to starting "that talk" early in their life. Before we decided to go the route of donor sperm I had read several books on the subject that included stories from donor conceived persons. Many said they remembered when they were told about their origins and that it was traumatic for them. I didn't want Audrey to remember a specific day where her belief that Ryan was her biological father was shattered when we told her the truth. We decided it would be best to start talking about it during the toddler years in a simple, easy way for her to understand and adding more age-appropriate details as she grew older. In this way we treat the issue like we would if she was adopted: these are the facts, they are not a shameful secret, and you have a right to know about your origins.

Of course this means we will have to have the "birds and bees" talk much sooner than most families do - but we would have done that anyways! At this point we aren't talking about sex at all, I explain more below.

Every time I think or write about this topic I feel a bit conflicted and worried about how she will feel in the future. There's a very real possibility that she will hate the decision we made to use a donor and prefer that she didn't exist; many persons of donor conceived origins feel this way. We are hopeful she can have contact with the donor in the future, but that's not a guarantee. We are in contact with many of her half-siblings at least, but there's still an entire "family" of blood relations she does not know. This is very similar to the situation many adopted persons and families are in, but of course adoption does not still carry the stigma that donor conception does. And there's the argument that adoption is morally acceptable because those children already existed, but with donor conception you are purposefully creating children who may never know their biological relatives. For now, we do the best we can for Audrey and only time will tell how she feels about her origins and our decision to conceive her from donor gametes.

So onto the main point of my post: how we are beginning this conversation with Audrey!

I was really excited about this book (you can read the whole book, and their other books, here. I didn't post pictures of the entire book, only the pages I read) but after reading it a few times I realized it was too complicated for her current level of understanding. So when I read it to her I basically read my own invented version, shown below:

I begin with talking about how "Mommy and Daddy met and fell in love. We had a lot of fun together!"

"Mommy and Daddy got married and became a family of two" (at which point Audrey usually says "TWO!!") But we wanted to have a family that included children."

"Mommy and Daddy tried really hard to have a baby, but it didn't work. We were very sad because we wanted you SO much!"

"We needed to get help, so we went to the doctor." 

"The doctor told us we needed two parts to have a baby. A part from Mommy and a part from Daddy." (I omit the 'nest' referral here for simplification) "Mommy had her parts, but Daddy didn't have his parts." (Not fully true, if you recall Ryan has a very low sperm count but IVF isn't an option for us for several reasons. But for her level of understanding, I currently omit that complicated detail.) "We needed help!"

"Since Daddy didn't have a part, we got the part from another man called a 'sperm donor.' Donors are people who help other people build families."

"The donor's part worked and you started to grow in Mommy's uterus in her belly! Mommy and Daddy were SO happy and excited that you were coming!"

"You grew for a very long time in Mommy's uterus and then you were born at home!" (I usually add a detail or two about "coming out of Mommy's vagina." She has watched many birth videos with me while I prepare for teaching class and seems to remember this is how [most] babies come out!). "Mommy and Daddy were so excited to hold you and meet you!" (Enter additional details about being born in the water and having 'nursies' for the first time - this usually results in her wanting to have some 'nursies' right now)

"Now we are a family of three" ("THREE!!" says Audrey) "Our family is Mommy, Daddy, and Audrey!"(And then she talks about the bikes - bikes are a big deal lately)

As Audrey gets older I will add in more details about her half-siblings, the IUI process (this book actually has a page about IVF so I will have to customize that somehow), the actual conception process, the cryobank, how most hetero couples get pregnant, other types of families, etc. And I'm sure she will have lots of questions. But I'm so glad we've at least started the process of "telling." And hopefully we will continue to have an open and honest dialogue about it.

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