In the parenting after infertility community, there’s a lot of discussion around “telling you kids”. We all have our unique paths to parenthood when dealing with infertility and we come out the other side a little worse for wear with a heck of a story to tell about it- And while many of us choose to share these choices and stories with other adults in our lives telling your child can be… a whole ‘nother ballgame. It seems complex and intimidating. Especially, if you are someone who shy’s away from the idea of talking about sex with your children in general! Add in not only the sperm and egg part but also words like surrogate, donor, petri dish and you’ve really got a mouthful!
But doing it is actually pretty important and doing it very early is the best bet. It’s well known in adoption circles that honesty is the best policy when it comes to the child’s origin stories or birth stories and that if the child is told early and often about how amazing the experience of bringing them into the family was then a child grows up “never not knowing” that they were adopted. Being told so early that they don’t remember “finding out” allows that part of themselves to be a fully integrated and essential part of who they are. This is a crucial part of identity development, children need to know who they are, learning things about themselves later in life that contradicts what they had always believed to be true (who they are genetically linked to or whose belly they grew in, for example) can be a very jarring experience and lead to many personal conflicts.
While discussions about conception are very important in foster/adoption and gamete donation families, because of the differences that might crop up between the parents and child physically or medically due to different genetic ties, I actually think that this kind of open discussion can benefit all children born after the parents struggle with infertility. All children whose birth stories contain extra steps should be honoured with the telling of those stories! Their parents should tell them early and often about how they came to be. Here’s why:
- It lets them know they were wanted: not all babies can claim to be the product of such diligent trying and unwavering devotion. That can make the child feel special and loved! What’s not good about that?
- It lets them know there are many ways to make a family: It is important that we start having discussions with our children about AL types of families. So the Chatwin’s down the road are adopted, their best friend at school has two moms, and the doctor that gives them shots has two stepchildren… all these families are valid. So is yours! Embrace the unique twist that gave you your family.
- It normalizes ART conception: Even though the world is a diverse place we don’t hear much about ART conceived babies. The less we hear about them the less “normal” it seems to be. With 1 in 6 families suffering from infertility in Canada you can bet that there are a lot of kids out there that just don’t know their story. This does the community an injustice. ART babies are amazing and miraculous, not weird and to be hidden! The only way to break the stigma is to talk more about it.
If we are being honest with ourselves it’s usually not our children we are trying to protect when we decide “not to tell”. We are hoping to make things easier on ourselves. It can be uncomfortable and emotional to rehash all of the pain that might be associated with our infertility journey to divulge these things to our kids. It might feel like it’s not important to introduce these big adult feelings and sexual talking points into their little worlds. But little worlds grow and little kids grow up, and eventually, they will be coming to you to talk about sex. Often times when that day comes they are most curious to know about their own stories. Did you plan to have them? Are there pictures of you pregnant? How did you find out? Did you and dad (or mom and mom/ dad and dad) have sex?!
There will come a time when they WILL ask these things. They will want to know. And if at that time, there has been no age-appropriate preamble about reproduction and no warning that their conception was anything other than in the back of a car or with a fine bottle of wine it can be quite jarring. Because it makes it seem dirty. Or wrong. Or secret. Why else would you have kept it from them?
But our children are not dirty or wrong! They are miracles, and glorious, and the realization of all our dreams… dreams that we worked our asses off for! Tell them that. Tell them that young, and often, and proudly. Tell them how exciting it was to learn you would have them! Tell them all the science that went into trying. Tell them of the wonderful donors and birth parents who played such important roles. Tell them all about your unique journey! The more they come to love and identify with it the more you may find that you do, too. It can help to reconcile all of those old hurts under the new umbrella of parenting.
You made it. Not everyone does. Own it. Love it. Tell your children.
Tell them they are extra!
*Oh hey, did you know I just published a children’s book titled Extra! to help you talk to your unconventionally formed babies about their conception/birth? Well, you lucky chickens you, I did! 😉 It’s aimed at children 3-7 years old as a first step conversation to discussing many of the family building options available to the infertility community. Introduces the concepts of egg/sperm donation, IUI/IVF, adoption and fostering without naming them directly. Get your copy on Amazon now! You’re gonna love it!