Mila and I finally had the opportunity to read our new book Happy Together Childrens Book – a story about egg donation, kindly gifted to my girls. I actually started talking to her occasionally as a baby, holding her in my arms in the middle of the night. For me this was such an important time – it helped me to gain confidence and recognise my emotions, whilst it still being a one-way conversation. It helped me become more comfortable in saying out-loud that we needed help to get them and they were so very wanted.
Even though I’d practiced to help myself become more comfortable, honestly, I still had some anxiety about reading this book with Mila. When the book arrived I sobbed as I read it, it so simply and beautifully talks through what was a hellish journey with the most beautiful ending. I worried that the same thing would happen when I started to read it with Mila.
We settled down in her bed, her head in the usual spot resting on my chest as I read her story… this being one of two stories because she negotiates a ‘deal’ every night! She listened intently and instantly picked up on Mummy bear looking ‘sad’. She then showed her sheer delight upon realising that the baby bear was ‘Mila’ as well as the picture on the wall being the words from ‘our song’ – You Are My Sunshine. Her next question was “where’s Eska and Lena?!”…which got me thinking, we could really do with a twin version!
In true Mila style, her comment at the end had me in stitches in relation to a picture of Mummy and Daddy bear riding in tandem pulling a trailer with Mila bear in the back. In a dramatic voice she said…”Mummy, what if a naughty dragon came and breathed fire on the rope? It would break and then Mummy and Daddy would ride away without Mila!” She’d decided to add her own extra drama to the story which made me realise that all would be ok – to her it wasn’t huge news, it was simply a story – one of love…and don’t all great love stories include a fire-breathing dragon?!
How did I feel?
I coped better than I thought when actually reading the story – just feeling the weight of her head on my chest gave me such comfort – our happy ending was right there in front of me and this book actually celebrates how special her life is. I did feel emotional and definitely got a little ‘hot under the collar’ when I came to the page about the donor, unsure about her reaction, but she simply absorbed it and happily awaited the next page. It’s a story we’ll revisit many times and I know I’ll feel more comfortable each time I read it – I’ll probably be able to recite it by the time Eska & Lena reach Mila’s age!
If you’d like to learn more about this book, click here, Julie has written a number of versions for egg, donation, embryo adoption, sperm donation, IVF and a two Mum sperm donation story.
Love, Becky x
Since I wrote this post, I started to see how Mila was absorbing some of the information and so shared another post on the same topic…
It’s incredible how quickly Mila (who is only 3 and a half) is picking up parts of the story of how she came to be. Only last night we were together in her bed after storytime when it just felt right to talk about it again. Recently she’s become obsessed with saying “when I was in your tummy” and stuffing soft toys up her top, even sometimes getting a little confused in saying “Mummy, when you were in my tummy…”! I reminded her about Mummy being poorly and us needing to see a Dr to have a baby when she suddenly interrupted and said, “there was an egg, and what was it Daddy gave?”. Without me even saying it she’d remembered the part about the egg, something I couldn’t believe, but it goes to show that she is starting to absorb the information. It’s becoming her ‘normal’ and will be the only thing she’s ever known. I explained again that a special lady gave the egg, mixed with Daddy’s seed, which was put in Mummy’s tummy for me to grow her. With this I always take pride in telling her how much she is loved and how very special she is, which I can see she loves to hear. I recently spoke about the first time telling Mila with Jana Rupnow for her Three Makes Baby podcast – click here to listen. I talk about my feelings and honest fears in confronting this hugely emotional and sensitive topic. I can honestly say that talking with Mila is getting so much easier, and much more natural each time, with fewer lumps in my throat too, especially as she starts to fill in the gaps herself.
As Eska and Lena become old enough to understand more I can already envisage Mila playing a part in telling them too. I’m sure as she learns more she’ll love talking about how they were frozen (where there’s sure to be a link to Elsa thrown in) and how the same special lady gave eggs to help make all three of them.
Telling isn’t easy, it’s hard to confront deep emotions, pain and fears that you’d hope to leave in the past, but I’ve no doubt that it’s the right thing to do at this early age, both for them and for me – it’s therapeutic, healing, whilst being a great builder of bonds and trust.
As you know, we’ll always be open with the girls about their conception – they’ll never know any different. It’s only now that Mila is three and a complete chatterbox, that we can actually talk about it in a two-way conversation. One of my favourite things to do is to have time for an uninterrupted chat with her – she just amazes me every day. I thought now was a good time to start weaving in some information about how she came to be, obviously including how special she is and how she was very much wanted. I also think it’s a good time for me to practice talking openly with her about something that is so important but so emotional too – I want to make sure I build my own confidence.
So a few days ago Mila and I were deep in conversation in one of her favourite places to chat – whilst on the toilet! She was talking to me about rainbows and asked where they came from. I gave her the standard answer about the sun and the rain, then I told her that she herself was actually a very special rainbow for us. As curious as ever, Mila asked a question that I must hear at least 100 times a day – “Why Mummy?”. So I explained that we tried to have her for a very long time, Mummy was poorly and needed some help to have a baby. I explained that we went to see a doctor, where a very kind lady gave us some eggs that were mixed with Daddy’s ‘seed’ (I wasn’t sure what word to use here, but seed felt more appropriate than sperm!). I told her that this made an embryo which was put inside Mummy’s tummy for Mummy to grow Mila. She smiled and took me by surprise with her first question… “But where’s the kind lady?” Well, honestly, that threw me. I found a lump in my throat. Flooding back, came my old friends ‘grief’ and ‘fear’. I knew at some stage she would ask about our donor, and I will always answer truthfully, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t still have moments of pain. In that moment I felt deeply the loss of our genetic connection. I craved being able to have a Mother / Daughter relationship with no complications or difficult conversations to have.
But I know that isn’t our reality, I accept that and I accept that at times it may be difficult for me, and maybe for them in the future too – but I owe it to the girls to tell them everything. It doesn’t mean they will love me any less, and if anything, I hope it will create an even stronger relationship – built on trust and honesty.
I wanted to share this moment to show that, even if you still find it difficult – that’s ok. I might seem like I have it all together but I don’t always, it’s a learning curve and something I need to build my confidence in particularly when talking about it with those most important to me. I can talk to most people about this topic in a completely calm manner, but it seems it becomes a different emotional challenge when speaking with my girls. I so badly want to get it right, which is why facing my fears and building my confidence is so important. Fear and grief doesn’t mean you can’t still be open with your child, we just need to recognise it and if needed seek some help. It’s so important to ensure our children grow up with the right message, security and never feeling like they’ve been left in the dark.
I plan to be very open with Mila, Eska and Lena about how they were conceived using an egg donor. We don’t share genetics but despite this, we are still very similar in so many ways – all because of epigenetics, nurture over nature and simply through sharing nearly every waking minute with one another.
So, whilst being open might feel scary – almost like a bond is being broken with the truth – what you are actually doing is building an even greater bond with trust, honesty and understanding.
What I’m also finding is that you will probably start to realise, with delight, even more similarities than you otherwise might not have even noticed. I smile every time I hear myself in Mila – especially her overuse of the word “actually”, just like me! The way we share a knowing look and sideways glance as we both share the same sense of humour, knowing what will make each other smile. Even tiny physical similarities, Mila is delighted that we both share a freckle in the same place on our left foot – “just like Mummy’s” she says and it is her way of remembering left and right!
I share this to show that being open and telling your child about their donor conception doesn’t have to be daunting. You can build your own stories and narratives with the truth, giving them a sense of belonging and allowing it to be the only thing they have ever known. That’s not to say that I don’t have worries, I know there are more challenging years ahead as they grow and ask questions, but I hope that by laying a foundation of shared characteristics (that aren’t necessarily genetic) it will help make those conversations easier and so much more natural.
I am honoured to be sharing a guest blog post, written for @DefiningMum by the amazing @JanaRupnowLPC, a licensed professional counsellor specialising in fertility and family building. In the timely theme of “back-to-school”, Jana provides some advice for supporting our children to cope with unexpected questions that may innocently arise in the school environment. It’s an important stage of development for our children, a stage where we aren’t able to physically be by their side, to protect them and answer on their behalf. It’s actually the stage where they start to own their story and how they tell it, so it’s important that we are prepared & able to support them in dealing with questions.
I’m grateful to Jana for speaking about this, it’s a stage I’ve thought about and one that isn’t too far away given that Mila will be starting school next year! A question I’m often asked, which I’m sure Mila will be asked, is “where does she get her beautiful curls from?”. It’s a distinguishing feature about Mila that I love, and one that I’m almost certain she gets from our donor. Neither Matt or I have hair that curls so beautifully like Mila’s (I’m actually incredibly jealous!) but it’s something we always celebrate and tell her how special and unique her curls are. I want to make sure that, if she’s asked a question about her appearance being different to mine, she is equipped to answer in a way that she feels comfortable. Jana will follow up to this blog post with some specific ways in which I can help her cope with unexpected questions.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Is it something you’ve considered or experienced? Before having my girls I hadn’t allowed myself to think this far ahead, I now believe that it’s an incredibly important period in building the foundations for our children to start owning and telling their story. I want them to be able to do this comfortably and without fear – to equip them with the tools to manage conversations with others who may be ignorant, misinformed or simply curious. Read below for part one and look out for part two, coming soon!…
Back-to-School: How to Help Your Kids Cope with Unexpected Questions from Classmates
School is officially back in full swing and my daughter is starting a new high school this year. For the first time, it hasn’t crossed my mind that she will have to answer questions about her family. For the first time, she’s going to school with a friend who was also adopted from China, and attending a diverse School for the Arts in a large city. It’s a new experience for us. Since kindergarten my daughter has attended private, parochial schools. She was the minority race and the only kid adopted from China so she had answered all kinds of questions from classmates over the years.
“What happened to your real parents?”
“Did your mom die?”
“Where are you from?”
“Is THAT your mom?”
“That’s your brother!?”
My daughter’s first experience with a question from her peers was as early as pre-school. She came home happy from school that day. While I was helping her get ready for bed, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and it triggered a memory from that day. She stretched the outer corner of her eyes and said, “Joshua told me my eyes look like this today! I want them to look like yours.” I told her how beautiful I thought her eyes were even though they were different than mine. Then I went on to ask her how it made her feel to try to decipher the intention of the comment. “Did it make you feel bad, honey?”, I asked. “Kinda”, she said. “Oh honey, I’m sorry that made you feel bad. You have beautiful almond-shaped eyes and Joshua was probably noticing them since they are different from his.”
Most pre-school children are simply curious and ask innocent questions to understand the world and people around them. Simple answers usually are enough. However, sometimes there is a clever and mischievous youngster in the class who learns to push other’s buttons early.
If your family differences are less conspicuous at first, your child may not have to deal with classmate questions until after preschool. As children move into middle childhood, social comparisons begin and kids may need to develop more sophisticated ways to respond to questions from peers.
“Where did you get your blue eyes?”
“You don’t look like your mom at all!”
“Is that your REAL dad?”
Children need help understanding how to respond to their friends in constructive ways that maintain healthy boundaries. They also need help addressing inappropriate and mean comments they may encounter. And you may too. In my book, Three Makes Baby, I offer five ways to teach your kids to handle social situations. They all begin with the letter D and I use game analogies to help you remember to use them in a moment that catches you off guard. Hopefully, this will empower you and your child to handle any uncomfortable situation that comes up.
When peer questions or comments upset your child, you’ll want to know how to comfort them. As a parent, it’s best to be prepared early. If you are struggling to find the right words, you’re not alone. It helps for families to have conversations at home in advance so a child feels comfortable talking about their family story. I offer simple phrases you can share with your child in my book, Three Makes Baby. You can get a copy of the book on Amazon.com, Target.com or BarnesandNoble.com.
About the Author
Jana M. Rupnow, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor, and author of Three Makes Baby-How to Parent Your Donor Conceived Child. Jana specializes in fertility and family building. She works internationally with couples, parents, donors, agencies, and endocrinologists. Jana also helps parents learn to communicate with their children about donor conception and serves as a liaison for communication between donor-conceived or adoptive families and genetic or birth parents. To work directly with Jana, request an appointment on www.janarupnow.com.
I’m Sarah, a 46 year old mum to a 6 year old son, conceived in northern Cyprus by anonymous egg donation. When my husband and I initially embarked on the donor conception part of our journey, we were adamant that we would not tell our child how he had been conceived. However, as soon as I got pregnant and the dream of having a child became a reality, my thoughts began to change. We’d told my parents, my brother and my husband’s sister. My friends who I’d met online from infertility forums (one of whom is his Godmother) also knew. How could I keep something from our child, when people who it didn’t even effect knew? I really hadn’t thought it through! As my pregnancy progressed it was clearer in my mind that we would tell our child as much information as we could about his conception and about the wonderful woman who gave us the cell which enabled us to give him life.
As soon as he was born, I felt an instant bond. I knew that this little boy in my arms was MY baby. My very talented friend had made me a book with photographs, telling his story from conception to birth. She included photos of us in Cyprus along with quotes that she’d secretly taken off a secret group I’d set up to keep my ‘infertility friends’ updated. They’d held my hand through 6 cycles of clomid, 4 IUIs, 3 own egg IVFs and I needed their love and support now, more than ever! This book, with its photos and actual words spoken by me, has been an invaluable tool in telling him from a very young age.
We’ve read it at bedtime. We’ve talked about how Mummy was poorly and didn’t have any seeds to make a baby. How the doctor found Mummy and Daddy a very kind lady who said that we could have one of her seeds. How they mixed her seed with Daddy’s seed and how it started to grow into a baby. How the doctor put that tiny, microscopic baby into Mummy’s tummy and how he grew and grew. How I felt him kick me for the very first time, how he used to wriggle in my tummy keeping me awake at night – which he finds highly amusing!
As I said, he’s now six years old and enjoys reading his special book. He came with his Dad to pick me up from Becky’s baby shower. He was only 3, but he knew then that Becky was having an extra special baby just like him. When he met Mila, he knew he was going to meet that special baby. To this day, when we talk about it, he’ll say ‘Mila’s extra special, just like me isn’t she mummy?’ In the summer I’m hoping we’ll have chance to meet up with Becky, Mila, Eska and Lena. I think it helps him to know that there are other children who were conceived in the same way that he was.
We were recently laid in bed having a cuddle and the subject came up. He said ‘Mummy, which bits of me are like Daddy and which bits of me are like you if I didn’t come from your seed?’
We talked about how his hair and his face are just like Daddy’s and how him and Daddy both love Lego, Mr Bean and fixing things. Then we moved onto me. We both like chocolate, Harry Potter and cuddling. We both have a birthmark in exactly the same place. We both sit with our 2ndtoe tucked under our big toe because its comfy??? We both get cross in the same way but neither of us sulk like Daddy 😉
That was enough for him! I find that complete honesty in a way he can understand, is the only way to be. I never ignore his questions but just answer them in the best way I know how. His ‘special lady’ does come up in conversation, but not often. He’s more excited about how special he is and how he’s made Daddy and I so very happy.
My son and I have the most incredible relationship. He’s definitely a Mummy’s boy. He is my world and I could not love him more if he were genetically mine. I remember saying to Becky before she had Mila, how insignificant genes were and how they really don’t matter. Then I remember meeting her after she’d had Mila. I just looked at her and said ‘they really don’t matter do they?’ She looked at me with tears in her eyes and simply said ‘No, they don’t’. No more words were needed to know that here were two women, who could not be more in love with these two children.
I know that as he gets older he’ll understand more about how he was conceived. All I can do is answer every question he asks me with complete honesty. It took three people to give him life and I am forever grateful to our donor. But without my husband and I, that cell would have gone to waste as part of a normal, monthly cycle. We gave that cell life and the little boy who is that life is the most incredible person I have ever met. I am truly blessed.