Telling Your Child

Same-sex couples will have to address the issue of 'telling' often much earlier than their heterosexual counterparts, because of the family composition and the absence of a female partner. Talking about the surrogate is often much easier than sharing information about the egg donor, but both elements will require continuous discussion as your children's cognitive and emotional development unfolds.

Our Telling and Talking booklets cover all age groups and family types.


Reasons to tell

Telling children about their origins by donor conception –

  • As a same-sex couple, you will have to explain to your child how they came into the world without a female partner.
  • Puts honesty at the heart of family relationships and does not leave children guessing about their origins.
  • Is respectful of donor conceived children/people as individuals in their own right.
  • Allows donor conceived people to make choices about their lives.
  • Allows donor conceived children to learn about aspects of their history, and to integrate the knowledge as they grow up.
  • Means that significant differences between a child and parent (in looks, talents etc.) can be easily explained.  
  • Means that a true medical history (or lack of it) can be given to doctors, making diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions more accurate.  
  • Does not mean that children will reject their non-genetic parent.

Is there a ‘right’ age to start telling?

The goal of early ‘telling’ is that a child should grow up ‘never knowing a time when they didn’t know’ about their origins by donor conception.  In practical terms this means starting the process of sharing information with your child from under the age of five.  Some people like to start talking with their baby – chatting about the donor while changing a nappy is popular.  Others like to settle down and enjoy ordinary family life first and then introduce one of the Our Story books from around 18 months or two years.  As a same-sex couple you are likely to have to start talking at this stage, as questions about the absence of a mother are likely to begin, either from your child or from others.

What is worth taking into account in deciding when to begin the story is that the earlier you start the easier it is likely to be for you both.  It gives you a chance to practice the language 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 for some reason it has not been possible to start early, then ‘telling’ is possible at any age.  It simply takes more preparation and has to be undertaken as an event rather than a process. 

What can help in knowing when to tell (and how to do it at any age) –

  • The Telling and Talking booklets, 0-7, 8-11, 12-16, 17+ and 12+ Continuing the conversation, are designed to support and guide parents in starting and continuing to be open at any age.
  • The Our Story books for children conceived by egg donation, sperm donation, and also double or embryo donation, as well as surrogacy, are wonderful starting points for sharing information with children.
  • Join DCN to talk with other parents about when they ‘told’ their children.
  • Come on a Telling and Talking workshop.
  • Read the recommended books in the DCN Library for stories of when parents around the world have shared information with their children.

What language should we use?

Parents often worry that starting to share information with a very young child means that they will have to start talking about sex and reproduction in a way that is inappropriate for such a small person.  Using the ‘building block’ approach where information is built up in very small chunks over time means that language can remain simple and sex and reproduction does not need to be addressed until a child is ready to take this on board.

What can help with the language and timing of telling –

  • The Telling and Talking booklet, 0-7 gives examples of language you can use with any baby or child in this age group.
  • The American Fertility Association has produced a very good booklet on openness and ‘telling’ for parents of children conceived by egg donation.
  • The Our Story books for children, contain language that parents often find valuable to use.

What sort of reaction should we expect?

What matters most to young children is that they have a loving and secure relationship with their parents.  This is what helps them feel good about themselves.  They do not care about genetic connections so when you talk with them about ‘Daddies had to get an egg from a kind lady' and 'Another kind lady carried you in her tummy', your child’s response may be indifference, to ask if they can have sausages for tea or to ask what a seed looks like (as part of the story you will be sharing the putting together of seed and eggs). Each of these and anything else is a completely normal response.

Telling early will not remove the need for continued sharing over the years, and your child's questions are likely to get less and less superficial. 

Talking about how all families are different and sometimes parents need some help to make a baby can be valuable in setting the scene for sharing your story.

What can help with understanding reactions at different ages –

  • The Telling and Talking booklets, 0-7, 8-11, 12-16 and 17+ are designed to support and guide parents in starting and continuing to be open at any age and to give insight into different reactions at these stages of development.

What happens if and when our child starts sharing what we are telling them with others?

Young children rarely talk about donor conception to others, not because it worries them, but because it is of no interest at all.  Even when children are older they often find that other children change the subject because they know nothing about it.  This can be quite frustrating for a donor conceived child who thinks DC is cool and wants to talk about it!

Older children who are comfortable with their origins are well able to correct others when they make wrong assumptions – that a child is adopted, doesn’t have a mother/father or is an orphan.  They may well mention in biology or personal and social education classes that they are donor conceived and this is mostly received simply as factual information.

Confident children whose parents have been open with them from the beginning are well able to combat the rare attempts at teasing or bullying based on their DC origins.

Sharing information with primary school teachers can be valuable so that they can support and back-up a child who talks about their beginnings in class.  At secondary school stage the information is the childs’ to share, or not, as they choose.

What can help with supporting children telling others –

  • The Telling and Talking booklets, 0-7, 8-11, 12-16 and 17+ are designed to support and guide parents in starting and continuing to be open at any age and give examples of situations where children have told others and handled their responses.
  • DC Network has a Primary Schools pack which can help you talk to the class teacher or staff about your child's origins and scaffold the sharing of their story at school.

How do you Tell when you have children with different beginnings?

In DC Network we have many families where not all the children are donor conceived.  Sometimes there are adopted children or step-children from a partner’s previous relationship.  An increasing number of families have one child conceived without help at all or using IVF with the couple’s own eggs and sperm, and then need egg donation to have second or subsequent child.

Difference in itself can be perceived by parents as a problem, but children are only likely to find it so if parents are anxious, stress differences, and treat children unequally.  Of course treating children equally does not necessarily mean treating them the same, as each child should be responded to according to their different needs.

What can help in families where children have different beginnings?

  • Read the booklet Mixed Blessings: Building a family with and without donor help.  This was written especially for you.
  • There are sections in Telling and Talking 0 – 7 and 8 – 11 about sharing information when there is difference in the family.