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I am 38 and have always wanted to have children. But despite a number of relationships I haven’t found “Mr. Right” much less “Mr. Good Fatherhood Potential”. So I’m thinking about using donor sperm to have a child. Surprisingly my family and friends are on board with this, but the question keeps coming up “What will you tell your child about his or her ‘father’?” Can you advise me as to what to say to my child about the donor, and when?

Written by our mental health expert, Dr. Karen Kranz, Registered Psychologist. 

You have said that you have not met the person with whom you want to partner and parent. However, you still very much want to parent a child that is biologically related to you and you have chosen to conceive this child with the help of donated sperm. I trust you have given yourself enough time to grieve the loss of not having a child within a loving relationship. It is important to give yourself time to grieve this loss because it is necessary to make peace with what has not happened (i.e., not meeting Mr. Right) and because it is important that you feel confident and comfortable conceiving your child with the help of a donor.

I imagine that you have considered what a child needs in order to grow up to be a healthy, happy, contributing member of society. I am assuming you have decided that you, and your network of friends and family, can provide your child with everything s/he needs to develop into a healthy adult. You are choosing to conceive a child who does not have a father. Your child’s family will be comprised of a mother, a donor, and the friends and family members that make up your inner circle. There is no missing daddy. You and your child and the important people in your lives will be your child’s family.

In terms of the disclosure issue, there are generally two approaches: telling a child from a very young age, or waiting until the child is a bit older (e.g., age 7+) and begins to ask questions. Parents often describe feeling anxious about disclosure, and research has shown that the longer parents wait to disclose, the more anxious they feel about disclosing. In terms of healthy development early disclosure is recommended, so that the child’s donor origins are woven within the fabric of his or her life – in this way, the use of a donor isn’t something to be ashamed of, or surprised about – it is just “what is”.

When it comes to telling your child about his/her conception, the starting place is to teach your child who is in her/his family (e.g., you have a momma, a grandma, an aunty, a donor, and you do not have a father). You may choose to create a birth story that describes, with age appropriate language, how s/he came to be. Perhaps you will start talking to your child when s/he is 3 or 4 years old and asks where babies come from. It is best to start young with your child, and important to convey to your child your confidence in your decision to conceive with the help of a donor.

Don’t worry about “getting it right” the first time – talking with your child about his/her conception will be an ongoing process as s/he develops and matures. Regularly checking in with your child and answering questions honestly will help ensure the lines of communication remain open. It’s important that you don’t feel alone in this experience. There are a number of resources (see below) that can help you find the language to talk to your child, at different stages of development, about being conceived with the help of a donor. You may find that you want to consult with a counsellor who works in this area once the disclosure issue is no longer a “hypothetical” but a reality.

Resources

Montuschi, Olivia. Telling and Talking. Donor Conception Network. Learn more here, here, here and here.

Baxter, Nicola. Our Story. Donor Conception Network. Learn more here and here.

Clay, George Anne. Why don’t I have a daddy? A story of donor conception. Authorhouse. Learn more here.

Parr, Todd. The Family Book. Megan Tingley Books. Learn more here.

Paul, Julia, editor. How I Began. The Story of Donor Insemination. By N.S.W. Infertility Social Workers Group. Learn more here.

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