Have you ever wondered how to talk to the surrogate child, the sperm donor child, and the adopted child about how they came to be a part of your life? This is often a difficult topic to broach, but one that is necessary. As couples and individuals are turning more and more to adoption and assisted reproductive technology, we cannot ignore the questions that arise.
The first question, and a difficult one for many, is whether to tell at all. Many choose to be open about it from the very beginning, sharing with friends and family each step along the way. Others, particularly those that may have struggled with infertility problems, may feel shame and embarrassment, and prefer to keep these things secret.
Spouses often disagree whether to tell or not, and this can strain a relationship. It is important to be on the same page with your spouse, and to empathize with the spouse who may have fertility problems about the shame. Only then will it be possible to move forward as a team if you decide to talk your child about it. Each family has the right to make the decision that works best for them.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that if you choose not to tell, your child may still find out at some point in his or her life. You must be prepared to deal with the emotions that may arise if this happens. Similarly, being open and telling children about adoption, sperm or egg donors, and surrogacy has its own emotional challenges. Either way, you must be prepared.
The most important thing you can do is reassure your child that he or she is loved, and do this as often as possible. There will be times when he or she questions this. Don’t take it personally. As your child grows and develops, different questions and struggles may arise. Keep the dialogue open and answer questions as honestly as possible, never giving more information than was asked for. Always start and end the conversation telling your child “ I love you”.
When discussing adoption, simply stating the facts that “someone else gave birth to you, but then you became part of our family” (or some variation of this), is usually enough when they are young. If he asks why he doesn’t look like you, you can remind him that everyone looks different, and some people look like their biological parents, and some don’t. If you have pictures of the biological family, and are comfortable sharing them, go ahead. You can talk about these issues from the time they are babies, and it becomes very matter of fact, or you can wait and choose a time that your family is comfortable with. I find the latter more difficult.
If your child asks to meet his biological parents, much of your answer will depend on the agreements you have legally. Otherwise, I personally recommend being supportive, but letting your child know that you will be happy to facilitate this when he turns 18. From a developmental perspective, unless it is an open arrangement, where the biological family has been a presence since birth, this is not typically something a child is equipped to handle before the age of 18.
You made the choice to adopt or use other assisted reproductive technology, and so you have an obligation to inform yourself and make decisions about talking to your children and dealing with the difficulties it sometimes brings. You must know what to tell others, even when they are ignorant or hurtful with their comments. Stay confident in the fact that there are many ways to build a family, and how a child was conceived or born is not what defines a family. Families are built on love, trust, and respect. Enjoy the family you have built.
Note about the author:
I am a step-mother, adoptive mother, and biological mother (in that order). Everyone in our family and most of our friends, know how our family was created. We are not ashamed of our story, and are actually quite proud of the family we have built. There are four siblings that love each other dearly. I could not ask for more.