Talking to our children about their conception – Q&A with Dr Marilyn Crawshaw

Talking to our children about their conception – Q&A with Dr Marilyn Crawshaw

 

I recently created a resource to support those using a donor to conceive in talking to family and friends, with advice for loved ones on what it means and how they can best offer emotional support. One the the topics covered was ‘why is there a need to talk to the child?

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know that being honest with our children is something I advocate for from an early age, a topic I share our own personal experiences of, as a way to give confidence and support to others.

I was honoured last year to have the opportunity to interview Dr Marilyn Crawshaw, a researcher into the outcomes of donor assisted conception treatments, in a Paths to Parenthub webinar all about talking to our children in the younger years. Marilyn has vast amounts of professional experience within this field, researching and speaking with many families through donor conception. She recently very kindly answered a few common questions about talking to our children for my family and friends Paths to Parenthub resource. Her responses were so succinct, important and powerful that I’ve decided to share them here as a DefiningMum blog post, one that is easy to share with others who may wish to understand more.

 

Times are changing, but some people may still wonder why there is a need to even tell a donor-conceived child how they were conceived, why it’s important if they already have a family who love them, and whether it might do more harm than good to know that they don’t share genes with one, or both, of their parents.

Whether these are questions you are asking yourself, discussing with your partner or are questions you’re facing when talking to others, hopefully this will provide some compelling answers, based on research into lived experiences, from Dr Marilyn Crawshaw. 

Will it harm the child to know how they were conceived?

All the evidence so far suggests that children are not harmed by knowing how they were conceived. In fact it’s more likely to be harmful for them not to know, especially if they find out later in an unplanned way. Children can be very matter of fact about such information, especially if those around them feel comfortable about talking with them about it.

 

“Often it’s the deception, not the conception, that is problematic”

– Marilyn Crawshaw

Will the child reject their parents if they know about their origins?

No. Relationships between parents who have used a donor and their children are usually very strong if they are open about the facts. This is true even as the child grows up. If everything is out in the open, parents don’t have to worry about how to keep it a secret so can concentrate more freely on enjoying family relationships.

It’s worth knowing that some children can be very curious about the donor, but that doesn’t mean they’re wanting them as their Mum or Dad! And it may come as no surprise to hear that there may be turbulent patches, usually short-lived, when teenagers experiment with saying their parents are not their ‘real’ parents, especially when being asked to do something they don’t like! It’s all part of growing up.

If the decision was not to tell them, will they ever find out?

There’s always the risk that the secret will be uncovered at some point. Perhaps in an argument; through overhearing adults talking; by someone else telling them that the parent had told in confidence in and so on.

More recently there’s another way that children can find out. In the last few years there’s been a big rise in commercial DNA testing all over the world. That growth is expected to continue. Nowadays, anyone can buy a testing kit relatively cheaply and send it off. People are finding genetic ‘relatives’ or are being traced by genetic relatives, even if they haven’t themselves taken a test. So in the lifetime of anyone born today, the likelihood of them finding out that they were donor-conceived is growing rapidly and parents have little or no control over this.

So it’s much better to talk openly with children from the start so that they don’t find out another way.

When is a good age to tell children about being donor conceived?

Understandably, some parents assume they should wait until their child is older before talking with them, perhaps thinking they need to know at least the basics of how babies are made or about sex. That’s not the case.

Both research and what we know from child development suggest it’s much easier for the child in the long run if they grow up always knowing the story of their origins rather than having to get their heads round a new story later on. Of course the language used needs to be very simple in the beginning and added to bit by bit as they get older.  There’s some really good story books to help with this.

As the child gets older, it will increasingly become their decision about who to tell or not and it’s important to respect that.

Sometimes it takes a while for children’s questions and feelings about their story to bubble to the surface.  So it’s important to be ready for them, making clear that you’re happy to talk whenever they wish and that you don’t mind what they ask or say.  It can be helpful too if other adults in your networks are ready to respond if children want to talk to them as well as their parents.

It’s also important to remember that ‘telling’ is not for one time only.  There may be lots of occasions over the years when the child or family want to talk about donor conception. That’s what family is all about: parents being there for their children as and when they want to talk!

“I found out about my conception in later life, which only made me think that my parents were ashamed of my conception. I couldn’t understand what the big deal was about it, as I’m not upset or angry about being donor conceived. Not telling me or anyone else highlighted that there was something ‘wrong’ about it to them. If they were happy and proud of their journey then why hide it?”

– katie, UK, Egg Donor Conceived Individual

“I was told from a young age and my wider family were aware too, which was a relief to know that it wasn’t a secret. We didn’t talk about it much, but I knew I could talk about it if I wanted to.”

– Emma, Denmark, sperm Donor Conceived Individual

“Being donor conceived does not in any way mean that people are going to love their parents any less.”

– martha, UK, Egg Donor Conceived Individual

“Children don’t understand the reasons for a secret, but they do sense the weight of topics that are too painful or shameful to discuss. When parents educate their family and friends about donor conception, it helps create an environment where a developing child is free to explore their identity with natural curiosity. If they can safely discuss who they are, it means they can also trust their closest family and friends to tell them the truth about the world.”

– melissa, usa, sperm Donor Conceived Individual

If you would like to hear Dr Marilyn Crawshaw speak about this in more depth, alongside both myself and Julie Marie, a fellow recipient parent & author of Happy Together children’s book, there is a whole Paths to Parenthub webinar dedicated to both the why and how when it comes to these conversations. There are also many other recordings available to allow you to listen to both donor conceived adults and recipient parents of older children as they speak about their own experiences – all available to view for members of Paths to Parenthub – click here to find out how to join

You can also read some of my previous blog posts on this topic about my own experience talking to my girls about their conception as well as a blog with tips and advice as to how to talk to your child.

Free Web Resource

Donor Conception – Supporting Your Loved One

Q&A with Martha, an egg donor conceived adult

Q&A with Martha, an egg donor conceived adult

I’m continuing to share experiences from those who are donor conceived themselves, a vital perspective for us to understand and learn from as parents through donor conception.

I’ve found it much more difficult to find voices of those conceived through egg donation, most likely because it’s more recent and less common than sperm donation, but I am very grateful to two egg donor conceived ladies who have very kindly taken the time to share their experiences with us. I asked my Instagram followers what they would like to know and, with so many questions received, I’ve condensed them down into key themes.  Last week I shared the experience of Chloe* and today I’m sharing the thoughts and feelings of Martha*, a UK born egg donor conceived individual.

As I did before, I want to acknowledge that some of the experiences and viewpoints in this Q&A series might not be easy for us as parents to hear, especially where elements of their conception have ultimately caused distress to them as individuals. As a parent who used an anonymous donor, I found Martha’s story difficult to read and I know some of you will do too. I think it’s important to remember that this doesn’t mean our children will feel the same, but I believe that listening to these views is a big part of preparing ourselves as parents for how our child might feel in the future, whilst also holding onto the perspective that (as Martha acknowledges herself) there can be such a wide spectrum of responses. Martha’s story gives us a particular insight into the impact that donor anonymity has had on her throughout her teenage years, after learning about her conception at the age of 12.

I want to say thank you to Martha for so bravely opening up about something that has clearly been very difficult for her, whilst using her experience to educate us as parents.

How did you find out that you are donor conceived?

When my parents divorced (I think I was about 12 years old at the time), I received a letter from my Dad informing me that both my twin brother and I were egg donor conceived. Apparently my Mum had never wanted me to know so I would not otherwise have been told.

2. How did it make you feel?

It was a shock. My Mum is an amazing person and up until that point in my life I pretty much thought that she had no flaws whatsoever. So, when I found out that I was egg DC and that my Mum had wanted to keep such an important thing about myself secret from me forever purely because doing so made her feel more comfortable, it was especially upsetting, because that action did not tally at all with the sort of person who I thought that she was.

However, I also felt very sad for what my Mum must have gone through. The first thing that I did after finding out was to go and give my Mum a hug and tell her that I loved her. And, as time went on and I processed my feelings, I did come to understand and accept why she had acted as she did.

There was also, from the moment that I found out that I was DC, the strong feeling that I had to find out who my genetic mother is. This feeling still persists over 10 years later and I have struggled a lot with the fact that my parents used an anonymous donor.

3. How would you have preferred to find out?

I would have preferred for there never to have been one pivotal moment of ‘finding out’, but just to have been raised always knowing that this was the case. My aunt and uncle used a traditional surrogate (i.e. with the surrogate’s own eggs) to have my cousin, who has always known about her conception and been in touch with her biological mother and siblings throughout her life. This dynamic seems to have worked a lot better for all involved.

4. Did you feel any differently growing up?

I am not sure whether this question is asking whether, when growing up, I felt differently than I do now about being DC or if, growing up, I felt different from other people because I was DC. So, I’ll answer both.

Growing up, after I found out that I was DC, I felt pretty much the same way as I do now. The most important thing to me then was to discover the identity of my donor parent. That has not changed.

As for whether being DC made me feel any different from other people: not really. I definitely felt jealous that my friends all knew exactly who both of their biological parents were. Also, it did prompt me to be especially observant of how my friends resembled their mothers. I would often look at myself and try to figure out how my genetic mother might look.

5. Often parents can worry about who to tell, how do you feel about it being your story / a family story and would you prefer to control who knows about your conception?

I personally think it’s better if everyone in the family knows. Then it just seems normal to the child and not like some big secret which they have to choose to tell or not tell everyone else.

6. How did/do you feel towards your parents? Have your opinions evolved over time?

My Mum is the person that I am closest to in the world, I love her a lot. My opinions/feelings towards her have not changed. I have not seen my Dad since my parents divorced ten years ago, but that has nothing to do with the fact that I am DC.

7. Do you feel closer to your Dad as your genetic parent?

I haven’t seen my Dad since my parents divorced about ten years ago so no, I am not closer to him. I have a really close relationship with my Mum and genetics don’t come into that.

Even before I discovered that I was egg donor conceived, I noticed that personality-wise I was completely unlike my Mum and much more like my Dad. Regardless of whether genetics have anything to do with that, I wouldn’t say that our differences have caused problems in my relationship with my Mum. I think I was always closer to her than my Dad actually, even before my parents divorced.

8. Do you feel like your mum is your mum?

Yes, definitely. She may not be my genetic mother, but she’s 100% my Mum.

9. Do you wish to find the donor / genetic parent? If so, what do you hope for in finding them? Would you like to meet them?

Yes! This is the main (to be honest probably only) issue that I have with being donor conceived. I have no idea who my genetic mother is and that’s a question that I feel a deep need to answer before I die, just for my own sense of identity if for nothing else. I need to know where half of me comes from.

I have DNA tested on all of the commercial DNA testing sites but have not had any matches high enough to enable me to find her. I will not stop looking until I do find her, but it is extremely upsetting and frustrating that it has to be this way.

If I do ever find the donor, I will be respectful of her wishes when it comes to how much contact we have. Although I would love to meet her at least once, I realise that she may not be comfortable with this. At the very least I would like to know who she is and what she looks like, a bit about her family history, her personality, whether she has any children, why she chose to donate.

I think it’s important to note here that I am not looking for a mother-daughter relationship with this woman. I already have a Mum! I am not sure that I would even want any sort of ongoing relationship, but I desperately need to know who she is and I would love to have certain bits of information about her.

10. Are your parents supportive of you seeking out the egg donor?

My Mum used to hate the idea that I wanted to find my genetic mother. I found that hard because I wanted someone to talk to about my feelings, but whenever I tried to talk to her, she would either get angry and it would lead to an argument or she would give me the silent treatment. This went on for most of the past decade. I don’t know what changed, but over the past few months she has become supportive of the fact that I am looking and will have a proper conversation with me about it and say encouraging things. I am so grateful for this!

11. If your donor is anonymous, do you resent your parents for that choice?

My parents used an anonymous donor. I really struggle with that and am doing everything that I can to try and find out who she is, but I don’t resent my parents for this. When I was conceived, all donor conception in the UK was anonymous so they didn’t have a choice. If I resent anybody, it’s whoever was responsible for the laws surrounding donor anonymity in the UK at the time that I was conceived.

After I found out that I was egg donor conceived and that the donor was anonymous, for some time I felt very out of touch with my identity and myself, which I believe partly lead to me struggling with an eating disorder throughout my teenage years. Of course there were other factors which contributed to my mental health but I feel that if I had been able to learn who my genetic mother was, I wouldn’t have struggled with the identity issues. This is why believe it is so important that we have access to information about where half of our DNA comes from.

It’s worth bearing in mind that not all anonymously conceived DC people do struggle. Many DC people don’t have the same amount of curiosity as others do. My brother isn’t so interested in who our genetic mother is and has been mostly ok and that’s fine. But just because some DC people are ok with not knowing who their donor parent is, I don’t think that licenses us to remove the right of all DC people to know. It’s like saying ok some women don’t want to vote, so let’s not give any of them the right to do it!

12. Have you looked for and found any half siblings?

The HFEA has told me that I do not have any DC siblings. The donor had no children at the time of donation but I do not know whether she has since had children of her own or not. I would guess that probably she has. I am on all of the commercial DNA testing sites looking for the donor and have not found any half siblings but I’d be happy to find any.

13. Would you like your parents to support you with this?

Yes. My Mum’s support in my search means so much to me. It helps me to feel that I am not doing anything wrong or that I should be guilty about, and in general it’s just nice to have the people closest to you be supportive of the things which matter most to you.

14. Have you ever experienced comments about you looking like / not looking like your mum? How did it make you feel?

I look absolutely nothing like my Mum and I remember as a child feeling a bit confused about this, but so far as I can remember nobody has ever remarked on it although plenty of people have said that I look like my Dad.

15. Have you ever had any bad experiences / comments from friends and family who knows?

I don’t talk about this with family or friends because when it comes to donor conceived people wanting to find their donor parent, people can be extremely judgmental and lacking in empathy. So no, I have not personally had any bad experiences/comments from family and friends.

16. What advice would you give to recipient parents?

I understand that it must be really hard to be going through fertility problems, sometimes it can be forgotten that when you’re desperate for a child of course anonymity isn’t necessarily going to be the first thing on your mind, but my number one piece of advice would be not to use an anonymous donor. Known from birth would be a best case scenario (I personally desperately wanted to know who my genetic mother was long before I turned 18), but I know that that isn’t always possible or realistic. Open ID at 18 is in my opinion also a positive thing, certainly much better than forever anonymous.

Although I would always encourage parents to try and go for a known/open ID route if possible, I realise that sometimes that isn’t possible e.g. for financial reasons people may have to go abroad for fertility treatment where it is all completely anonymous. I think what would be great would be if fully anonymous donation was banned everywhere, but that’s on the fertility industry, not recipient parents, or perhaps rather it’s the responsibility of governments in different countries to sort out the issue with anonymity and bring in more appropriate regulations with respect to that.

Very often, I hear recipient parents assume that the main source of negative feelings from donor conceived people is that the details of their conception was kept a secret from them and that, if they are up front and honest with their children from the start, using an anonymous donor won’t be a problem. In my personal experience, this is not the case. What I have struggled with most is actually the fact that my donor parent is anonymous, not the fact that the truth was kept from me for 12 years. Being honest from the start is definitely important but that doesn’t mean that the issue of anonymity is not important at all. Being honest won’t ‘cancel out’ a child’s desire to know their genetic origins. Donor conceived people who have always known that they were donor conceived can still be very upset about the fact that their donor parent is anonymous.

Another misconception that I frequently hear goes along the following lines “It doesn’t matter if you use an anonymous donor, because commercial DNA testing means that no donors can ever be truly anonymous anymore.” Whilst a lot of DC people have been able to find their donor parent using commercial DNA tests, it is not a guaranteed thing. I personally am on all of the commercial DNA testing sites and have had numerous people who are very experienced in tracking biological family via DNA try to help me, but with no luck. My matches are just far too low. Commercial DNA testing is very new still and who knows how popular it might be in ten years time. It might take a long time but it’s very likely that eventually someone close enough will test so that if your daughters wanted to they could find the donor via DNA sites. I hope that happens in my case anyway!

I think especially since you (Becky) are so supportive of your children, there’s every chance that your daughters will not be upset by it. It’s such a spectrum. I just think it’s important for people to have the right to find the donor but at the same time there are people, like my twin brother, who aren’t so interested in it.

17. Do you feel like your parents understand how you feel about being donor conceived?

Since I am not in contact with my Dad, I will answer with regards to my Mum. I don’t think that she fully understands how I feel when it comes to my desire to identify the donor, but she is trying and I appreciate that.

18. Is there anything you wish they would understand more?

I would of course love my Mum to understand completely why I want to find the donor. But, in general, I think it is really hard for someone who is not in this situation to understand how it feels. Before I discovered that I was DC, I was definitely guilty of not understanding why adopted people would want to know who their biological parents were, or why my aunt felt it so important for my cousin to know her biological mother (my cousin was conceived using a traditional surrogate with the surrogate’s own eggs).

So, I appreciate that since my Mum lacks the first hand experience that I now have, she’s  not going to be able to grasp precisely why or how it is important to me to find the donor. Given that, I don’t think it would be fair of me to expect more of her.

19. What have you found to be the most difficult part of being donor conceived?

The fact that the donor is anonymous. Actually, that’s pretty much the only part of being DC which I struggle with. I will not get closure until I find out where half of myself comes from, but the searching and the uncertainty of when or if I will get the answers that I so desperately want and need is emotionally exhausting.

20. What have you found to be the best part of being donor conceived?

I suppose the fact that I exist at all! And also the fact that I got to have my Mum as my mother.

*The name Martha has been used to protect anonymity.

If you want to learn more about the support, connection and resources on offer through my platform Paths to Parenthub do follow the link below. There are already many recorded resources to support you on your donor conception journey, including conversations with experts about talking to our children, examining our common fears and chats with other recipient parents and donor conceived individuals themselves. There’s also a private community, away from social media, for members to join and connect with each other for support. I would love to welcome you there! www.pathstoparenthub.com

Q&A with Chloe, an egg donor conceived adult

Q&A with Chloe, an egg donor conceived adult

Today I’m starting to share experiences from those who are donor conceived themselves, a vital perspective for us to understand and learn from as parents through donor conception.

I’ve found it much more difficult to find the voices of those conceived through egg donation, most likely because it’s more recent and less common than sperm donation, but I am very grateful to two egg donor conceived ladies who have very kindly taken the time to share their experiences with us. I asked my Instagram followers what they would like to know and, with so many questions received, I’ve condensed them down into key themes.  Today I’m sharing the experience of Chloe* who is from the UK and egg donor conceived, something she only discovered in the past year.

I want to acknowledge that some of the experiences and viewpoints in the Q&A series might not be easy for us to hear as parents, especially where elements of their conception have ultimately caused distress to them as individuals. I believe that listening to these views is a big part of preparing ourselves as parents for how our child might feel in the future. It’s important for us to open ourselves up to hearing about and understanding more around genetic curiosity and the potential impact around their identity. At the same time I believe you will also find comfort in their words, particularly as some speak about their relationships with their parents, even despite late discoveries. Chloe’s story gives us so many things to learn from and shows the importance of support, the impact of secrets and shame, being open to listening to their feelings and not dismissing them because they cause us pain. I’m so thankful to Chloe for using her experience to educate us as parents, whilst also showing such empathy too, even though it can’t be easy an easy topic to open up about.

How did you find out that you are donor conceived?

I was just curious one day about the statistics around a woman my mothers age (50 years old at my birth.) having a baby. I’d always known I was an IVF baby and I knew that it must have been a very low chance of me being here so I wanted to know what kind of low chance it was. Well I was met with an impossibly low number – unless, an article said, my mother used donor eggs. So I read more and more and it just seemed that it was impossible I could be alive and healthy through my mother’s own eggs. I didn’t speak to anyone about it for a few days as I tried to digest every article I could find on pregnancy stats for older women. I eventually confronted my mum who burst out in tears and told me everything.

How did it make you feel?

As you can guess it was a big shock. I was in denial at first as I thought why on earth I hadn’t been told yet. I have a great relationship with my parents and I never ever thought they’d be the type to keep any secrets from me. Let alone one this huge.

It took me a few days to pluck up the courage to confront my parents. I was worried if I accused them of using an egg donor they might get very upset and I didn’t want to be the cause of that. I was so worried that I may open a can of worms and I was scared of the impact it could have on our relationship.

But this journey has been a rollercoaster of emotions and I’ve changed my line of thought many times and I’m sure I will have my ups and downs for a long time to come – I am glad I confronted them as I think now I deserved to know the truth and even if it was to upset my parents it’s worth having everything out in the open so that we can all heal and move on.

How would you have preferred to find out?

I really wish I had just always known. Finding out as an adult has been hard. I’ve looked back on my childhood and realised that some points I really could have done with knowing the truth so that I could have felt normal and not weird or different. It wouldn’t have been a shock and I wouldn’t feel like my parents were ashamed of it. As if they weren’t ashamed of using a donor then what was the reason behind keeping it a secret. Secrets always come out and finding out on my own has been hard.

I often wonder would they ever have come clean – this thought hurts me because I never thought my parents would lie to me or keep secrets. It has made me so sad as I’ve lost a lot of trust now and I hope to rebuild it all back but it will take time.

Did you feel any differently growing up?

Yes, however I’d like to mention I’ve had a very happy upbringing but certain things never made sense to me which caused me to feel different and disconnected to my family – I just never knew WHY.

I only wish I had known from a very young age as I feel it would have answered a lot of questions I had of myself and I would have been more confident have a higher self esteem. One example – there’s a certain body feature all my family have except me. I noticed from a very young age and often felt weird and hated the way I looked because I felt I SHOULD look like my mum, my siblings, my grandparents. But yet I was so different. I tried to change how I looked so much, I would cry because I couldn’t understand why I was so ugly. I felt ugly because I looked different and couldn’t understand why.

If I had known that I inherited genes from someone else, if I had a photo of my donor, It would have explained why and I wouldn’t have hated the way I looked so much. I would have realised that the people I was comparing myself to all my childhood wasn’t actually the people I got my features from. It would have given me the answer and I could have moved on and thought that I’m normal because I’m not physically different to my genetic family. I could have been at peace with who I was much earlier in life.

I have so much relief now for knowing – it’s like everything finally makes sense!

Often parents can worry about who to tell, how do you feel about it being your story vs a family story and would you prefer to control who knows about your conception?

To me, I would have wanted my family to know. The people who love me. That way they would understand if I ever felt different and could have helped and reassured me. Also because I had comments made about my looks and it would hurt because it was only pointing out that I was different. If they knew they could have avoided any mistakes being said.

I also think close friends should have known too. Someone outside the family I could have spoken to. At the end of the day it’s nothing to be ashamed about and I think keeping it from friends and family makes it seem shameful. Like it’s a secret and shouldn’t be spoken about. Personally I wouldn’t go out your way to tell people who aren’t close to the child/ family unless there’s a valid reason they should know, for example a school teacher or care giver.

If your donor is anonymous, do you resent your parents for that choice?

I don’t resent my parents because they didn’t have a choice back then. As far as they were aware anonymous was the only option. They hadn’t been given suitable information about the lasting effects of using an anonymous donor. How can I be angry at them for that. They honestly didn’t know any better at the time.

I think if they were to have known the lasting implications that an anonymous donor could have on a future child then I most likely would have been angry. As they would have taken the opportunity of knowing my donor away on purpose for their own reasons, without considering my feelings. As an unborn child I had no voice.

In an ideal world I’d have loved to have had a donor I knew from very young who was happy to be a part of my life and always be there to answer any questions. Otherwise it’s like my scenario now where knowing my donor (and any half siblings) is completely out of my hands. A decision has been made for me without my consent. A decision has been made before I was even alive that will impact me for the rest of my life (unless I get lucky with DNA testing but that’s never guaranteed). But like I say, I’m not mad at my parents for picking an anonymous donor as they didn’t ever think I’d want to know my donor and no one told them of the implications it may have in the future.

I’m very very disappointed in the industry for not proving enough support and information regarding long term effects of using an anonymous donor – I feel they failed my parents and I. I know my mum never meant to hurt me and I know if they could do it all over again they would have done it so differently. The most important thing to me NOW is that they understand how I feel and are supportive of all decisions I am making now. They have apologised even though I have not asked for an apology. This means the world to me!️

Of course I believe that anonymous donors should be avoided where possible, but I understand that it’s not always that easy, especially due to finances. It’s unfortunately a money-making industry and it seems so cruel to stop someone from being a parent just down to money. Everyone deserves to be a parent but for some it’s an incredibly tough road.

I know some parents who have already used an anonymous donor who may be very scared or worried about their children being ‘angry’ or ‘upset’ over the decision, and they may well be one day, but I’d like to reassure you that they will understand that you made all your decisions at the time with so much love. For example, I’m upset but this is not directed at my parents at all – especially now that they are fully supportive in my search and are even helping me look! I’m so grateful for that.

Personally I believe that as long as you’re open and honest about everything from the start and you can support them if they want to search it’s more than likely going to be fine! And please remember, if they do ever want to look for their biological family/ donor, this will not take anything away from you as their parent or make them love you any less. They will just be so grateful that they have their lovely parents to hold their hand every step of their journey. No one will replace you.

How did/do you feel towards your parents?

I’ve had many feelings, disappointment has been a big one for the reason that I was never told. That after many years of feeling different (my parents knowing that these feelings had a direct result of having a different genetic parent) didn’t explain why I was feeling the way I did and tell me the truth.

But I think this was down to their own fears. My mum has expressed fears that I wouldn’t love her anymore or wouldn’t think of her as my mum. This was an extremely wrong fear.

Never be afraid that your child won’t love you or won’t think of you as their mother. She has wiped my tears, hugged me tight, made me laugh, danced around the kitchen late at night, been on holidays together, had this incredible mother/ daughter bond. That bond will never be broken. And it won’t break with your children either. We are smart enough to know that we inherit genes from one ‘mother’ and love, care, warmth, fondness from our other.

I personally think I have two mothers. But they are VERY different. One I will have a place in my heart for always and forever and one I thank for giving me life and health. I respect both but of course my mum is my mum. Doesn’t matter if I got my hair or eye colour from someone else. But I just wish I had known from the beginning.

The trust I will rebuild with them over time. But this blip in our relationship could have been avoided with total honesty from the start.

Have your opinions evolved over time?

100%. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve had a therapist help me through it all which has been great and I’ve had to courage to be completely honest with my parents to keep them updated too with how I am feeling.

I’m so grateful that they are open and understanding of my feelings. Even if my feelings are sometimes of pain and disappointment. And I too, am there for them. It’s not been easier for any of us, it seems keeping the secret for so long hasn’t helped anybody and we are all hurting in different ways (my parents feel a lot of guilt) but we are helping each other through – as a family.

Do you feel closer to your dad as your genetic parent?

I have always been closer to my mum and this hasn’t changed – we are best friends.

Do you feel like your mum is your mum?

Absolutely!! The thought of her not being my mum has never entered my mind. I may not have got my hair or eye colour from her but I’ve certainly got my whit, kindness and fun loving personality from her. We’re two peas in a pod. Regardless if we don’t share DNA.

Do you wish to find the donor / genetic parent?

I do wish to find my donor. I am looking for answers as to who I am and why. It’s hard to look in the mirror and not know where certain features come from or why I don’t tan well like my parents, or why I can put on a stone in weight by just looking at a piece of cake when my parents can go to an all you can eat buffet and come out looking like swimwear models. Haha!

I am looking for validity in who I am so I can move on. I also want to know the story behind why my donor donated her eggs. What was the reason. I would also like to thank her for what she did.

I think a main reason as well is to be acknowledged that I exist and that we have a big connection through DNA, even though we are strangers. I would love her to know I am alive, I am well and I am happy.

I am not sure at this moment in time if I would like to meet her. I don’t know what kind of relationship I would want yet because I don’t know who she is. I wouldn’t want to force any feelings or have a fake relationship. I would play it by ear.

In a perfect world she would be very kind and open to learning about me and I would love to have an ongoing relationship where I can update her with big life events and catch up every few months but my biggest fear is rejection. I would be so upset if she didn’t want talk or acknowledge me.

Are your parents supportive of you seeking out the egg donor?

They are 100% supportive in my search. This has meant the world to me. I think if they were to have been against my feelings or my intention of searching I would have felt a huge disconnection and would have been extremely hurt. Your parents are the ones you go to in need, they are the ones who love you unconditionally and they are the ones to support you in every way.

They are being the best parents by supporting me because even though they may finds some things difficult they understand this is my journey and their love for me is more important than anything else. I am so grateful for this.

Have you looked for and found any half siblings?

I am looking and praying. I grew up with my mother’s previous children who I always thought were my half siblings. I was always so grateful that although they weren’t my full siblings they were my half. And to know now that we aren’t genetic siblings at all has been one of the main things I’ve found hard. But of course my love for them hasn’t changed in the slightest.

But I think because I feel I have lost a connection I would LOVE to gain some new ones. I’d love to have someone to share this journey with who understands it like me. I’ve always wanted a sibling my age and the thought that there might be some out there is very exciting to me.

Would you like your parents to support you with this?

I would love my parents to support me with this and thankfully they do support me searching for half siblings.

Have you ever experienced comments about you looking like / not looking like your mum?

All my life I’ve had comments about how I don’t look like my mother. These hurt a lot because I could see it too but never understood why I was different. I felt weird and this gave me very low self esteem. But I know for the physical likeness we don’t have we more than make up for it in emotional likeness – I just think the truth would have avoided a lot of pain I felt when I was young.

Have you ever had any bad experiences / comments from friends and family who knows?

I have always had comments made about how ‘different’ I am from family. I am not upset about these comments because no one in my family knew I was donor conceived. Not even my grandparents. They obviously didn’t mean to upset me but if they had known I’m sure these comments wouldn’t have been said or they’d have a better awareness of my feelings.

What advice would you give to recipient parents?

Personally, just be honest from the start. Don’t make it seem like there’s a shameful secret. They will always come out and sometimes not in the best ways. Children are so clever, they have such big hearts and if you teach them that is okay to have 3 parents, one being someone who helped give them life, they will understand that.

Respect that the donor is a big part of your child’s life. Make it normal. Don’t have the big ‘sit down we have something to tell you’ just make it normal like telling them who their cousins and aunties are.

And don’t worry. Your children won’t ever think you’re not their mummy. You are, you are the ones who rock them to sleep at night, who hug them when they cry, who looks after them when they’re ill. Who plays games with, cooks with, spends precious time together. Having a donor won’t take ANYTHING away from you as a parent.

But the donor is someone to acknowledge as they may not understand why they look different or have a different trait of some kind. Explain to them that actually they’re not weird, or different – that although you don’t have mummies skin colour, or eye colour you have mummies strength, loving personality and humour.

Don’t be ashamed either. Having to use a donor doesn’t make you less than any other parent. It shows how strong you are and how much love you have to give.

Remember as well that your child’s feelings may change with time. So I would say as a donor conceived person to not expect any certain types of feelings your child may have. Be aware they may change from time to time just like our feelings change about everything else in life. We have phases where we feel more vulnerable or more curious about things. Just embrace your child’s feelings and go through them together. What’s so amazing if you have each other and the bond and love you have for each other will overcome anything.

Also, as I sure any you would anyway, just make sure they know they can talk to you anytime about their conception.

And if you do ever get upset over a question or it’s a bit hard to hear, don’t show that you’re upset as it may make it seem like their conception is upsetting to you as their parent and therefore they may want to protect you and not bring it up again – please know that I don’t mean this in a hurtful way – your feelings are valid. It’s just I felt this way with my parents and since I’ve told them they have urged me not to keep any of my feelings from them even if it’s a bit painful for them. I often think I shouldn’t talk about it but it then means I can’t heal or move on and it’s then a catch 22. I don’t want to upset them but they don’t want me to be upset with any part of my conception story.

But please remember that your feelings are so important and any hurt or pain you feel around your child’s conception is normal and should be embraced. The journey of a recipient parent can’t be easy and I give you all my love and best wishes. I hope my comments make sense and are not meant to hurt anyone. I just feel as a donor conceived individual I feel I should share my feelings as I wish someone had done that for me before I was born.

Do you feel like your parents understand how you feel about being donor conceived?

Yes they do and this is because I’ve felt I can be 100% honest with them and it’s helped me heal a lot. And in turn my happiness and my healing has massively healed my parents too. It’s taken some time (several months) but we’re getting there.

What have you found to be the most difficult part of being donor conceived?

The truth being kept from me for so long and the fact I have an anonymous donor. My parents and I are working on our issues together and we’re making great progress with each other. I know that we will get back to where we were at some point but I feel I need time to heal from being kept in the dark about such important information about myself.

Regarding the anonymity of my donor, I have strong feelings about this but no negative feelings are directed to my parents as they didn’t realise the impact of the decision at the time. Now they do.

My anger is focused on the clinic and industry itself although now thankfully I have seen the UK take a great step forward and making donors known at age 18. I wish I had the choice of knowing my donor. I feel like the industry not only let me down but let my parents down.

I’m not sure how it is now in the industry but I know for a fact they didn’t give enough support to new recipient parents at the time. They didn’t think of the implications an anonymous donor may have on the child.

I’m not saying every donor conceived person will want to know who their donor is, but I believe whole heartedly that they should be given the opportunity and the chance to know them if they wish. I am hurt that a clinic has taken the opportunity out of my hands, more so they have made this decision before I even had a voice. Not considering how I MAY feel one day. I didn’t sign any contracts, I didn’t make any decisions yet I am the one suffering now because of it.

I now have to live with the fact that I may never find out where half my DNA comes from but I will keep searching and I pray that I am acknowledged and accepted by my genetic family and can have any questions answered and understand exactly who I am.

What have you found to be the best part of being donor conceived?

The best part of finding out has been the fact that I understand now more of who I am and why I am the way I am. Why I look the way I do and when, at times, I felt like an outsider when I was young. I can make sense of certain features and why I don’t look like my family. I’m learning to love myself for who I truly am and my uniqueness. And the fact that I’ve met so many lovely people along the way, from Donors to Donor conceived people to Recipient Parents.

*The name Chloe has been used to protect anonymity.

If you want to learn more about the support, connection and resources on offer through my platform Paths to Parenthub do follow the link below. There are already many recorded resources to support you on your donor conception journey, including conversations with experts about talking to our children, examining our common fears and chats with other recipient parents and donor conceived individuals themselves. There’s also a private community, away from social media, for members to join and connect with each other for support. I would love to welcome you there! www.pathstoparenthub.com

Allie’s Story: What I wish I’d known about using a known egg donor

Allie’s Story: What I wish I’d known about using a known egg donor

What I wish I’d known about using a known egg donor

Looking back, the darkest part of our whole infertility ‘journey’* was not when I received my diagnosis of premature ovarian failure. Nor was it when I only grew a single egg during our first IVF cycle, which subsequently failed. Nor was it when the following two cycles also failed.

Don’t get me wrong — each of these events left me completely devastated. Each time, I crawled into bed and cried for days. We just hadn’t reached peak devastation. That was still to come.

And it did come, ultimately in the form of our fertility clinic informing us that we would not be allowed to use the anonymous egg bank due to our foreign citizenship. That’s when any hope I was clinging onto was ripped away. Grappling with the decision to move to donor eggs was hard enough on its own, but it was infinitely harder when there weren’t even any donor eggs to speak of. That was peak devastation.

My husband and I had already had many conversations about trying to find a friend or family member to donate eggs, but there were so many unknowns. How would we even begin to ask someone for their eggs? Would anyone we know fit the donor criteria in the first place? And if we did find someone who was willing and able to donate their genes, would they also be willing to drop everything and fly to the Europe**, where we had recently moved and where we were lucky that our health insurance largely covered the incredibly costly procedure?

Finally, even if — by some miracle — we found someone who was willing to do all this for us, I still had some lingering concerns about using a known donor in general. Namely, would it complicate things in the future? Would we feel like we were ‘sharing’ our kid with a third person? If the (hypothetical) baby ended up being the spitting image of this (hypothetical) friend, would it be a constant sad reminder of my broken eggs and lack of genetic connection with my child?

Confronting my fears

As with most hard things in life, the best way out is through. In this case, that meant sitting myself down and having a long, hard look at where these concerns were really coming from in the first place. Once I was brave enough to do this self-reflection, I quickly discovered the source of the concerns: Fear and insecurity.

I wasn’t afraid that using a known donor would affect my feelings for the child: I knew I would love any baby that was ours just the same. Rather, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be seen as the ‘full’ mother by our mutual friends and, maybe eventually, by the child too. If I then followed this thought to its ‘logical’ conclusion — and if I was brutally honest with myself — a small part of me was afraid that the baby won’t love me as much as they otherwise would.

This fear isn’t restricted to known donors, of course. I’ve seen many women that are using anonymous donors express this fear in one form or another. However, it’s clearly much harder to ignore when the donor has a name and a face, and may even pop by the house for a visit.

Only when I was able to articulate the deep-rooted fear underlying my concerns could I recognized how ridiculous it sounded. Of COURSE the baby would still love me the same amount. Of COURSE I would be their one-and-only mother. It just meant that there would be no huge secret around where the other half of their genetics came from. And I realized this could actually be a benefit for the adult our baby would eventually grow into.

What I wish I’d known

Those of you who read my blog or follow me on Instagram know how our story unfolded next: An old friend from high school, Marie, volunteered to donate her eggs and flew out over her summer teaching break for the DEIVF cycle. Our fresh embryo transfer failed, as did our frozen transfer after that, but we eventually got lucky on our third (‘poor quality’!) transfer. I had an amazing pregnancy, giving birth to our perfect daughter at 41 weeks and 5 days pregnant. And after some scary (unrelated) health complications — because real life isn’t a Hallmark movie — she is now a very healthy and happy toddler.

Sitting here and watching her sleep on the baby monitor, I wish I’d known that my fears were unfounded. Using a known donor didn’t complicate anything — we are a family like any other family. Our egg donor is still a good friend who I text randomly about high school gossip, and our respective families are just as thrilled as we are that everything worked out.

I wish I’d known that using a known donor doesn’t feel at all like ‘sharing’ my daughter. More than that, I wish I’d known that I’d enjoy having another person with whom to share my adoration. I’m not threatened by my daughter’s connection to our egg donor, and I actually love that she has an extra special ‘Auntie’ in her life*** who thinks she’s as special as I do. At the end of the day, it’s one more person in the world who wants the best for my child, and what parent wouldn’t want that?

I wish I’d known that using a known donor would make my husband and I feel less alone during what is an incredibly isolating experience. Even when we didn’t know if it would work, having someone fly across an ocean to donate their genetics gave my husband and I renewed energy. Our private battle became a team effort, and after feeling alone in our struggles for so long, that support was invaluable.

Most importantly, I wish I’d known that using a known donor doesn’t make me feel like less of a mother. Yes there are times when I notice a hint of our donor’s features in my daughter’s sweet face, and yes, it has occasionally made me sad for the genetic connection we’re missing. However, most of the time, it just makes me feel ridiculously proud and grateful that I get to call her my daughter. More than anything, I hope that when she gets older and starts realizing that she doesn’t look like mommy, that she finds the answers she needs with her Aunt Marie. And I hope these answers make her realize how mommy and daddy moved heaven and earth just to have her.

xx Allie (aka @thebunlessoven)

* I hate the word ‘journey’ here because it conjures an image of a leisurely hike through a meadow, with an occasional stream crossing or maybe some light bouldering. If you’d have asked me after our 5th failed transfer, I’d have instead described our ‘journey’ more like that documentary where the guy has a horrific canyoneering accident, gets pinned behind a boulder for five days, and ends up sawing his own arm off. I think you get the picture.

** We are from the US but live in the Netherlands and did our DEIVF cycle in Belgium, because — according to my husband — I like to make everything ‘as complicated as possible’.

*** We talk openly with our daughter about her conception story. However, since there’s no honorific to indicate ‘woman who donated her genes to make the embryo that went in mommy’s tummy’, we stick with the next closest title: ‘Aunt’.

Announcing a new partnership

Announcing a new partnership

Paths to Parenthub & DefiningMum are collaborating with Apricity and Altrui

When I first launched my virtual donor conception support platform Paths to Parenthub I said that I wanted emotional support to be recognised as an essential part of the donor conception journey, not just an optional extra. I particularly wanted fertility clinics to recognise this and for donor conception not to be seen solely as a ‘practical’ process, but one that is often complex and requires deep emotional consideration, not just for us as patients now but to prepare us to best support our future children too.

That’s why I’m delighted to announce Paths to Parenthub’s first clinic partnership with Apricity and Altrui, to offer another layer of emotional support to their patients on this journey in addition to the practical support they are providing in helping then to grow their family. Apricity and Altrui are sister companies. Apricity is the fertility treatment arm of Altrui, and Altrui – with a pregnancy rate of 79% (the highest in the UK) – is the egg donation arm of Apricity. With this partnership, throughout 2021 they will be giving all of their egg donor recipients the opportunity to access Paths to Parenthub with a free 3 month membership.

After collaborating with Apricity and Altrui on a series of informative webinars in 2020 I’m delighted to be working with them again. I love their ethos and genuine aim to provide a smooth, warm and supportive journey for their patients. I’m going to be joined for an Instalive on my DefiningMum instagram account this Thursday 11th March at 7pm by Altrui’s Lead, Jane Holman, where we’ll chat about the importance of emotional support as well as a little bit more about how they work.

For so long now I’ve wanted to provide a space filled with information, support and connection opportunities for all different stages of the journey. Less than 6 months since launching, I feel proud that Paths to Parenthub has also been recognised and valued at a clinic level, so that patients will have the opportunity to feel more supported, informed and connected whilst embarking on their path to parenthood.

You can read more about our partnership and what Altrui offer through the following links:

If anyone ever has any questions about the information and support that is available through DefiningMum and Paths to Parenthub please just let me know!
Becky x