Right now, Baby’s strongest interests are probably your face, your partner’s face if you’re parenting with a partner, and figuring out how to grab that thing that’s just out of reach, whether it’s a toy that’s six inches away or your glasses right off your face. Before too long, though, they will start to expand their interests – in the next few months, for example, they're going to start to be interested in solid foods! And in a few years, they might start to have a few questions about their birth story.
When to start talking about birth through surrogacy
Experts, including the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, recommend that children born through surrogacy, as well as children whose parents used sperm or egg donation in their conception, be told the truth about their origins. The reasons for this recommendation are varied, and range from the importance of being able to give an accurate medical history to the breach in trust that hiding such a large secret represents.
There’s no hard and fast rule for when sharing this information should happen, but many families find that, by being open about it throughout their children’s lives, they’re able to cut out the need for a dramatic conversation where they reveal the truth – instead, their children can grow up thinking of their origins as just one more variation on how families are formed.
Another reason many families find starting the conversation about their children’s origins early to be helpful is that not everyone starts out knowing what to say or how to talk about the reproductive truths that lead families to surrogacy. By starting to talk to young children about how they came to be at a very early age, parents can grow comfortable telling the story of this part of how their family was formed.
As children get older
Of course, very young children are still learning everything about the world, and openness at an early age generally makes the most sense as a simple, basic version of the story. As children move into the more curious toddler years, though, it may be appropriate and helpful to talk about the basic body parts involved in a pregnancy – that their parent or parents may have needed the help of someone else’s uterus in order to make a baby – and some of the basic terminology, including the words “surrogate” and (if applicable) “donor.”
At a certain point, as toddlers turn into preschool children, curiosity often turns from “what” to “why.” Parents can help to navigate this stage of development by answering questions calmly and matter-of-factly, and by using picture books and other stories to help frame narratives about alternative ways of building families – including families formed differently from their own, to emphasizes that there are a whole range of different ways loving, happy families can come to be.
Older children may have more detailed questions about who their surrogate or gestational carrier, and, if applicable, their donor, is, and may want to talk about their origins in more detail. At this point, you’ll have a better idea of your child’s personality, and the best way to approach these topics in order to help them feel happy and secure in their knowledge of their origins. Some older who feel curiosity about their origins may be hesitant to bring them up with their parent or parents, especially if they sense any kind of embarrassment or negativity from parents about the subject, or want to spare a parent’s feelings, so at certain points as a child grows, it can be helpful for parents to open up the conversation, or to ask questions about how children feel about their origins as they grow.
Children who are conceived with anonymous donor sperm or eggs may wish to try to contact their donors when they reach age 18. This time can be unsettling for donor-conceived people, and the support of their families as they reach out can be extremely meaningful.
- Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “Informing offspring of their conception by gamete or embryo donation: An ethics committee decision.” ASRM Pages. 109 (4): 602-605. https://www.asrm.org/globalassets/asrm/asrm-content/news-and-publications/ethics-committee-opinions/informing_offspring_of_their_conception_by_gamete_or_embryo_donation.pdf.
- “Should parents disclose?” American Psychological Association. APA, 37(8): 54. September 2006. Retrieved February 6 2019. https://www.apa.org/monitor/sep06/disclose.