It feels like we’re approaching a significant change in childhood stages as Mila starts school in just a few weeks time. As I’m sure most parents are, I’m particularly apprehensive and emotional about it all, although I’m trying to hide my emotions as best I can so that she doesn’t pick up on it. On the flip side, I know she is so ready for it and I’m excited about seeing her develop even more – my baby is really growing up! I write about this on my blog today because it has brought back memories and has given me the opportunity to make decisions about disclosure.
Very early in our journey I remember listening to a mum speak at a fertility clinic donor conception information evening, as a parent to an older boy (conceived using a sperm donor) she talked about how each year she would write to all of his teachers at school to tell them about his conception, just in case it came up. At the time I was horrified at the thought, something that seemed to me to be completely over the top. In my eyes it appeared to make a ‘big deal’ out of his conception, which made me think about how defining that might have been for him as a teenage boy. This was back when I was uninformed, at least a year before we even made our decision, at a time where I was all-consumed by my own fears about this route to parenthood. Announcing it to the world outside of family seemed terrifying and while this lady spoke, all I kept thinking to myself was “why should it even matter how they were conceived if they have a loving family?”.
Nowadays, I’m much more comfortable with openness and believe it is important for us as a family. That being said, when it comes to telling people outside of our close network about our use of a donor to conceive I’m keen to get the message right. In doing this I’m often torn between my firm belief that it isn’t really a ‘big deal’, not wanting it to define them in any way, but balanced with the knowledge that it is still important. My overarching desire is for people to be in the know, so that if our girls bring up the subject they aren’t met with blank faces or unwanted reactions (as much as is possible, knowing that we can’t control every situation).
I faced my first dilemma of this kind as I completed Mila’s school enrolment forms recently. A question box, with limited room for explanation, asked “is there anything we should know about? (i.e. adoption, family circumstances etc.)”. I hovered over it but for some reason decided to leave it blank. The limited space to explain something so personal, important, and core to us just didn’t seem appropriate. Maybe there were some of my old fears resurfacing in some way, but as the week went on it played on my mind and, given everything I know now, it didn’t feel right not saying anything at all. I decided to contact Mila’s new teacher and have a conversation – a much easier way to convey such a personal story and how I’d like the information to be handled. As comfortable as I now am speaking about our use of an egg donor, I still felt nervous as I waited for her call – unsure of what the reaction might be, but also desperately wanting to strike the right balance between not making a ‘big deal’ out of it, whilst at the same time emphasising the importance. I needn’t have worried because she responded in the perfect way (it turned out she’s had her own IVF journey too which helps) and I was able to come away feeling totally at ease that if Mila starts to talk about “mummy’s broken eggs”, “the donor” or even “Miss Eggy Special”, she won’t be met with a blank face, but instead encouragement, discussion about how different families are built and acceptance of what is such a special, unique and beautiful story of how she came to be.
I share this to show how your emotions can change significantly over time, especially once your child is with you. I believe I have a responsibility to put myself outside of my comfort zone in times like this, enabling openness and acceptance for our girls as they grow in a world where what will always be their ‘normal’, isn’t necessarily something other people are aware of. One thing I am becoming more comfortable with is how to strike that balance between openness, being realistic about why sharing their story is important, but doing so in a sensitive, conversational approach, without it ‘labelling’ or ‘defining’ them in any way. It’s an important part of who they are, but it’s not all that they are.
I can safely say I won’t be sending out numerous written letters at the start of each term, but instead I’m going to keep the conversations going – if anything it will help towards continuing to normalise and raise awareness about this route to parenthood.