You have experienced the joys of pregnancy and child birth with your adopted child. Now comes your next hurdle: Telling your child their origin story. How do you go about bringing that conversation up? Do you start now or start when he or she is old enough to understand? Do you even need to tell them at all?
Yes. You need to tell your child their adoption story.
It’s a gut reaction for some families not to tell their child their origin story. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine determined the most ethical route is to tell children born from donor conception where they come from. And most experts in adoption and psychology will tell you it’s not “do I tell or not tell,” it’s when you tell.
Open and honest communication is important with any child born through embryo adoption. Secrets and dishonesty can cause lifelong tensions between the family and friends who know and those who don’t know about the adoption. It has been found that openness does not damage the child in any way and can even have a positive effect on the parent-child relationship.
So… where do you start?
- Prepare yourself – Preparation is key. You need to become comfortable with the story yourself before you share it with your children. The more normal it is for you, the more normal it will be for them.
- Remember: It is not a secret – Even if you do not want the world to know (which most don’t), there is a big difference between privacy and secrecy. It is okay to encourage your child to only talk about their adoption within the family, but if you go overboard in warning you risk making it a secret. Secrecy implies there is something wrong or shameful about their adoption. There is not.
- Don’t wait… - It is easier to start the process when your child is young and predisposed to believe everything about themselves is magical, and usually not inclined to ask tough questions. It is more of a shock to children who first here their adoption story when their “old enough to understand.”
- …but it’s never too late – Even if you now have a moody teenager, it’s never too late to sit them down and tell them their story. Watch this webinar for tips on how to talk with older children.
- Remember: Telling Takes Time – Don’t think this is going to be a one or two time conversation. Telling takes time. Start with ground work and start adding detail as the child grows.
- Don’t over tell – The temptation is to put it all out there, tell everything you know and be done with the conversation. Start simple and build upon the story.
- Language matters – It is important to use the word ‘donor’ or ‘placing parent,’ rather than ‘mother’ or ‘father’ to describe the person or people who donated gametes or embryos. You are their true parents. Never make them question that fact.
- Encourage questions and be prepared for some uncomfortable ones – Make sure that your child knows they can always come back to you with more questions, and that you expect they will have more questions. If they maybe ask an uncomfortable question (like, “Can I meet them?”) don’t be thrown off guard. This is something that is going to be a natural curiosity for them—this family is genetically related to them after all. Take the question in stride and answer honestly and to the best of your ability.
- Every piece of information you have belongs to the child – Ultimately, any info that you have should be given to the child. Yes, that includes identifying information if you have it. This does not have to happen right away, but when the time comes, the information should be handed over to them. They can decide what to do with it from that point.