Many clients are undecided or concerned about when and how to tell their child that he or she was conceived or born through a gestational carrier or gamete donation. Most research seems to indicate that children cope best with the information under the following circumstances:
- The parents address their own comfort levels with the circumstances of their child’s conception or birth and prepare themselves and each other for the discussion. If possible, the intended parents tell the children together.
- The child is told early in his/her life (many psychologists recommend 3-5 years old).
- Parents use accurate and positive language (eggs, sperm, etc) rather than euphemisms, and they add additional information as it becomes developmentally appropriate to do so (for example “tummy” is used for a 3-year old, and later replaced with “uterus” as the child gains a better understanding of biology/reproduction).
- The information is relayed to the child in an age-appropriate way, though with the acceptance that the child may still not fully understand (a 3-year old does not need to hear the intricacies of IVF technology, but may be able to comprehend that mommy and daddy were missing a part they needed to make a baby, so they got a helper).
- Information about the child’s birth and conception is discussed with the child early and often so that it becomes normal. Books can be a useful tool to help the child understand, accept, and start to acknowledge their unique conception or birth. See here for a link to a great list of books. http://www.creatingafamily.org/infertility/suggestedbooks.html/childrenconceived.html
- The child’s questions and concerns are addressed openly and with compassion, and the child is encouraged to ask additional questions as he/she gets older.
Legally, it is also important to address the issue of disclosure in the donor or gestational carrier contract. Many intended parents wish to control who is permitted to discuss these topics with the child, and who is empowered to decide when those discussions take place. Some intended parents choose not to tell their child this information, or to wait until the child is an adult before disclosing it. It is important for the intended parents and the donor and/or gestational carrier to have these discussions prior to drafting the contracts and then to ensure that the contract clarifies who, when, and under what circumstances the child may be told about his/her genetic origins or birth. This provision should be in all donor and gestational carrier contracts, regardless (or perhaps especially) if the donor or gestational carrier is a friend or family member with whom the child will have ongoing contact.
For donors who do not intend to have ongoing contact with the child, it is also important to clarify when and under what circumstances the donor may be contacted (for genetic or medical information only if the child is sick, for any reason but only after the child turns 18, never, etc). For donors who are willing to be contacted, the contract should allocate responsibility to keep the intended parents advised of contact information for him/her and to communicate changes in contact information as they occur (sometimes donors commit to providing addresses (and changes to addresses) directly to the intended parents, sometimes to the attorney for the intended parents, and some clients even elect to exchange driver’s license numbers or other identifying information with the donor so that he/she can be located if one of the specified circumstances occurs). It is also important to many donors that the intended parents contact them and provide genetic or medical information about the child if it is deemed that the child suffers from a genetic condition that the donor may have been unaware he or she was carrying.
There a number of helpful articles on how to talk to your children about a gestational carrier or gamete donation, and it is important to be thoughtful about how to handle this issue before the contracts are even signed.
Download a bibliography of books for both adults and children regarding a gestational carrier and talking about surrogacy.
For women who are intending to be gestational carriers, here is a great article on how to talk to your children about your pregnancy.
(This article is not intended as medical, psychological, or legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Each family and agreement is unique, so you should hire a competent attorney to advise you specifically about your particular case.)