Being open with family, friends and others

Is openness right for me?

Openness about donor conception is now widely accepted by counsellors, psychologists and those with expertise in the welfare of families as being important for the long-term well-being of children and happy, healthy relationships in families. 

In the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, Parliament recognised the importance of donor conceived children being told about their origins.  It now requires that fertility clinics encourage potential parents to tell their children about donor conception at an early age and to inform them of ways of doing so.

Putting honesty at the heart of family relationships sounds like a good thing, but many couples wonder if this is something they can manage, both for themselves and with their wider family and community.  Some people hope that they might be able to share the information with their child whilst at the same time not telling anyone else.  This strategy, however, risks giving a negative message to a child that donor conception is something to be hidden or ashamed of. Telling your child does mean that some other people do need to know.  See the next sections for Who, How and When.

Some people believe that as they live in small, probably rural, communities, that sharing information with others is not possible as they would become the focus of local gossip.  Many DCN members who live in communities like these have discovered that sharing information with confidence in a matter of fact way removes the stimulus for gossip and that, indeed, many people simply forget after a while.  Those who ask others to ‘keep their secret’ are much more likely to find themselves the object of school-gate chatter.

For solo mums it is generally hard to hide the fact that donor sperm was used. As there is no obvious father figure people (and the child) will probably naturally ask questions. Many single women see choosing to have a child with a sperm donor as a responsible and positive choice for building a family. For these reasons it is often easier to be open about having used sperm donation.  Some women may feel more reticence and apprehension revealing they used donor eggs/embryos because it is not immediately obvious. They may be understandably tempted to keep it a secret because it seems more possible to do so.  This may be more likely if they have had treatment abroad and have little or no information to give their child about the donors.

This approach is usually motivated by kindness and a wish to support and protect themselves and their child.  Sadly, however, the secrecy that results often leaves the women with feelings of failure and inadequacy and a lack of opportunities to mourn, integrate the loss of using their own eggs into their sense of who they are. Being open from the start can also help in terms of getting support if issues do come up.

What can help in thinking through openness –

  • Reading accounts by donor conceived children and adults about the differences between living in families where openness was normal or not practiced.  These can be found on this site, in books in our Library and on other web sites.
  • Read the first Telling and Talking booklet which sets out reasons for being open, the limited circumstances when openness may not be in the best interests of children and ways of sharing information with those who do need to know.

Who needs to know what and when?

Those people who are close to you, both family and friends, can be valuable confidantes and supporters at all stages of the donor conception process.  Informing the important people in your life sooner rather than later, perhaps before conception or during pregnancy, means that they will have time to learn  about donor conception issues before a child is born and that they are likely to feel privileged to be trusted with this very personal information.  Leaving ‘telling’ until later can cause resentment and sadness in family members and friends who had assumed they were close to you and that you would trust them.

Others who will need to know in due course are doctors and teachers.  The first so that medical conditions can be accurately diagnosed and treated and the latter so that they can be sensitive supporters if and when a child decides to speak about being donor conceived at school.

Whereas heterosexual couples can often avoid direct questions about who the parents of the child is, for single women it may be impossible to avoid the question of 'who's the father' even coming from strangers or acquaintances. How you answer is very much dependent on what you feel comfortable with, but the simple truth that you made the positive decision to become a mum on your own using a donor may be the easiest way of clarifying and ending the conversation.

What can help with deciding who needs to know and when –

  • Read the Telling and Talking booklets for guidance and personal experiences on sharing information with others.
  • In Personal Stories read the contributions by the panel on this topic at a recent DCN National Conference.  We always have small groups on Telling Friends and Family at our conferences.
  • Join DCN and talk with others about the ways they have approached talking with family and friends.