If you are a parent of a child who was conceived with a donor egg or sperm and they do not yet know it, the time to be proactive is now. Consumer DNA tests like 23andMe and AncestryDNA are changing the way people discover their genetic origins, and this new reality has implications for many people, including those who have kept the secret of donor conception hidden from their children.
If your child is already an adult, the Donor Conception Network in the UK has developed a booklet. You can buy a PDF download or order a copy by mail and use it to help you think about and prepare to share the news:
Link to DCN’s printed handbook on telling an adult child they were donor conceived
Why is being proactive so important?
We already know of many cases of donor-conceived half-siblings discovering one another via family matching services that DNA testing companies provide. Donor-conceived people also are being matched with genetic aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and in some cases, the donor.
Because of this new development in the way kept secrets are being revealed, your child’s donor conception must be shared with them as soon as possible. Aside from the social implications of an unexpected DNA surprise discovery, there are a few reasons your child needs to know their origins.
1) Your child has a right to accurate family health history, if it can be known.
Family health history is inaccurate if someone wrongly believes that a certain person is their genetic parent. This affects the ability of a genetic counselor or doctor to assess risks for hereditary conditions. Your child might believe they are at risk for certain conditions that run in the family when they have no genetic connection to the members of the family with that condition.
2) Your child deserve to know (prior to dating/marriage) that they may have half-siblings and other genetic family members they don't know about.
A person risks dating, marrying, or having children with a genetic relative if they are not aware of their complete genetic heritage. Fertility industry standards are inconsistent about how many times a sperm donor can be chosen, increasing the chance your child might unintentionally meet up with a donor sibling born in the same area around the same time.
But how do you tell?
Donor conception can be a sensitive topic in many families. Some might find it helpful to establish a relationship with a certified counselor, therapist, or psychologist, either as a family or as an individual. You might be able to locate someone to work with by using the search tool at Psychology Today. Not many counselors or therapists will be familiar with DNA testing, so if you or the counselor needs help in that arena, I am here with consultation services.
No matter what, I’m here to support individuals, couples, and families dealing with this new reality in which DNA secrets can’t be kept.
I offer help in understanding DNA testing and support in discussing with parents how they might go about sharing news. I can help you prepare, a process that includes gathering the right resources for your situation and finding the right words and way to share the news with your child. The ideal time to work on this is before a secret unexpectedly comes out, but some people find they need help right away when confronted by their child and they are in a panic or not quite sure what they should do next.
The good news
The good news is that given the right tools for communicating and support, many families have successfully navigated these waters. The intense emotional reactions felt all around can lead to healing and deeper relationships, based on a foundation of openness and honesty. There is no reason to feel alone if you realize it’s time to share and you’re not sure what steps come next. Many other parents have wondered what and how to talk about their children and I’m here to help you connect with them.
If you need help, please reach out.