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Openness in Embryo Adoption

This chapter is about openness in IVF embryo adoption and how to best address this with the child, immediate family, extended family and close friends. The benefits of openness outweighs any risks or concerns. Also allowing for continued communication between the genetic and adoptive family is important for all involved as you create and maintain openness. Sharing your child’s story with them and the loving act of the donors is a gift you can give to your child in an age appropriate way when you feel they are ready. For the genetic family maintaining openness allows for a sense of closure but also allows them to know that when they donate embryos for adoption, they are in safe hands. It might be initially difficult for the genetic donors to think about watching a child that might be as familiar to them as their own being raised in a different family, but in time they will come to see how this child differs because of their adopted family’s influence and environment. Within the donor family there might be genetic siblings who may develop feelings about their beginnings and having a sibling who is related but not part of their day to day lives. These are aspects that are particular to embryo adoption unlike a traditional adoption.

For embryo adoptive parents, having the ability to be pregnant and experience prenatal bonding with their child is priceless. As parents, it is important to understand your own personal feelings about open embryo donation before you share it with your child. Disclosure is good because it builds trust, allows a family to live in truth rather than living in secrecy, allows parents and children to be upfront in sharing medical history, encourages a child to safely question, strengthens honesty and is the right of the child to know about their genetics and their birth story.

It is preferable to talk with family and friends about your donor embryo adoption journey. Sharing allows for reducing stigma, obtaining necessary support during this amazing experience and allowing for others to be included during pregnancy. You need to share with others what you need and set firm boundaries. Of course, there are valid reasons to not disclose personal information which can include avoiding ignorant or intrusive questions, concerns that how your child is viewed may be affected and feeling that your business is your business. This is where considering who you tell and why is so important. Deciding what and how much you will share with others should be decided in advance.

Parents may feel uncomfortable about disclosing the embryo information or how their child came into their family and decide to not tell their child they were adopted. This may be due to their family cultural beliefs, fear of their child being stigmatized or teased, concerns of how the child will react (confusion, rejection, anger or identity frustration), and maintaining privacy and normalcy. Often parents have mixed feelings when they adopt a embryo as they may feel it was a second best way to building their family when the traditional way was unsuccessful for them. When adoptive parents decide not to tell their child the truth of their origins they must prepare for how they will navigate the future discussions they will ultimately have with their child should they discover their genetic beginnings. Whether parents decide to tell or not should be based on strong reasoning and an understanding of all the issues and concerns involved when information is withheld. The decision of disclosure should be only after careful thought was given on what is in the best interest of your child rather than any imagined fears and threats of the parents and family. It is crucial to understand that every parent who has struggled in building their family has his/her own feelings and concerns about IVF with embryo donation which needs to be discussed and worked through before disclosure of any information.

In traditional IVF embryo transfer, commonly one of the most difficult challenges parents often face is when to tell their children about their beginnings especially when a child is of a different ethnicity, where their adoption is generally more obvious and questioning whether or not to tell seems to not as big an issue. Years ago it was acceptable (and even advised) to maintain secrecy in adoption and more often than not, adult children would discover they had been adopted when they were a baby when one or both of their parents pass away. This is not only shocking but can have devastating outcomes when one realizes that just about everything they believed about themselves was a life-long lie. Additionally, there used to be shame in going for embryos available for adoption which was often judged and viewed as taboo. Early on, intended adoptive parents were advised never to disclose the child’s birth origins. Secrecy was a foremost part of adoption much to the detriment of the child and even the adoptive family. Everyone was sworn to secrecy which is never a good plan; eventually the truth will be revealed. Secrets are difficult to keep and information may be shared accidentally. Over time the values and views of adoption drastically changed from never disclose the truth to a need to tell the truth. It is not considered harmful to a child’s well-being to know about their genetic makeup; actually, currently most adoption professionals agree that it is better for the child if their parents are open about the child’s story. In traditional adoption sharing whatever information that was provided by the birth parents, attorneys or agencies is ultimately shared with the child. In donor embryo adoption sharing information about the donor family and siblings is encouraged and should be shared with the child from birth to adulthood. It is important for parents to understand the consequences of both telling and not telling, now and in their child’s future. It is also important to understand how disclosing their ‘story’ and information may vary depending on whether a donor wants to be known to the child and maintain connection to the adoptive family.

A child should never grow up not knowing a time when they didn’t know about their origins. Positive embryo donation adoption language should be part of every adoptive family’s vocabulary from the day your child comes into the family. It should be as natural a part your family’s culture as the holidays you celebrate and the beliefs you follow. Some people like to start talking with their baby about their adoption and this conversation can start as soon as your baby is born. When and how to begin the story is up to the parent; the earlier you start the easier it is likely to be. It gives you a chance to practice the language of IVF embryo adoption at a time when your baby is not really understanding the words but simply enjoying being talked to. It also means that once you have started you always have something to build on. If you share the truth with your child from an early age, you are creating a foundation to continue building the story with age appropriate information as your child grows. Maintaining a balance in discussing the donor is important; for example the donor, who is a helper, is special to us but they are not your mommy or daddy but we know they are important to us. If your child demonstrates talents or abilities that the donor has, you can bring this up to demonstrate how comfortable you are in accepting that certain aspects or characteristics are inherited. You most definitely should use discretion as your disclose aspects of your child’s beginnings and maintain boundaries in what you choose to share at certain ages. Communicate your feelings and expectations with your child and those who are close to them.

When and how to tell your child their ‘story’ is based on the maturation level of the child. There is a lot of available information on how and when to tell a child their ‘story’ for adults but there are also many children’s books on that topic that can be read to your infant and discussed with the child as they grow and mature. Here is some additional information you may find helpful:

Live As A Parent; Telling Your Child That They’re Donor Conceived: The Full Guide to Parents

Meeting My Brother by Jennifer L. Dukoff

Hope And Will Have A Baby – The Gift of Egg Donation by Irene Celcer

The Pea That Was Me by Kimberly Kluger-Bell

The Chicken Who Couldn’t Lay Eggs by Taylor Brandon

The Extra Button by Jules Blundell

Ready-Made Sweetie by Whitney Williams

Training Wheels by Chris Barrett and Sally B. Hunter

Mommies, Daddies, Donors, Surrogates by Dr. Diane Ehrensaft

Road To Rainbow by Kristy Davide

Mimi, The Solo Magician Mom and Cameron: A Donor Conception Story by Melissa Macdonald


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