Egg donation - how to talk to your children
Are you a parent to a miracle, donor egg baby? Or perhaps you are in the middle of your egg donation journey? This webinar is definitely for you if you are expanding your family through assisted reproduction technology.
EggDonationFriends’ motto is SHARING IS CARING. Today we have the pleasure to share with you our unique webinar with Carmen Martinez Jover, a fertility coach, author, artist, and international lecturer – “How to tell your children that they were conceived via egg donation.”
Should you tell your kids how they were conceived? At what age is it best to do it? How to introduce your children to the topic of IVF, egg and sperm donation? EggDonationFriends have teamed up with Carmen Martinez Jover to bring you guidance, advice, and support to help you have that important talk with your children.
Telling children how they were conceived
Telling children they were conceived using an egg donor can leave parents feeling anxious and overwhelmed; when is the best time to tell them and is there a correct way? In this webinar, Carmen Martinez Jover, fertility coach, author, artist and international speaker, explores the questions frequently raised, by parents, and shares suggestions, based on her own personal experiences, of how to introduce children to the beautiful concept of their miraculous beginning.
Trying to have a child is typically portrayed as something which is easy to do. However, for many it can be a long and arduous journey. Couples start off by trying the natural way and, if no pregnancy transpires, end up on the path of IVF, which, unfortunately, doesn’t always provide the positive outcome longed for.
It’s upsetting and heart-breaking when couples realise that something so perceivably simple, as a sperm meeting an egg and continuing to grow, refuses to happen, even with the aid of medical science.
Whilst the use of donated eggs can provide an increased chance of pregnancy the choice isn’t always an easy one to make. Selecting a donor may be linked to a sense of grief, surrounding a woman’s own fertility, and can create additional stress and sorrow, as well as feelings of excitement and hope; it’s easy to see why infertility is often described as an emotional roller coaster.
Carmen herself was unable to conceive and, as egg donation wasn’t an option when she was trying for her family, she adopted.
Alongside the physical journey, Carmen also describes infertility as an inner journey too; one which forces individuals to learn more about themselves in order to become the parents they were meant to be. Research has shown that the parents of medically conceived children create an extremely positive and caring upbringing.
For couples who get that positive pregnancy test result, following donor egg IVF, it will often feel like a dream come true. Holding a baby, who has been so difficult to have, is an immensely happy moment. Carmen explains it’s therefore perfectly understandable that new parents won’t necessarily want to spend their time thinking about how to discuss the intricacies of egg donation with their miracle child. After everything they have gone through, to reach this moment, parents don’t want to take away any joy or, further down the line, upset their child’s happiness, self-esteem and confidence.
These days, modern families regularly come in many differing forms having been created in a whole range of ways. IVF and/or ICSI are more common than ever and, if it’s not an egg donation conception, couples or single mothers could just as easily have used a sperm donor, or even a donated embryo.
Carmen advises that parents should feel proud of how their family was formed and proud of their journey to conception.
In order to be more relaxed when talking about donor conception, she believes that couples need to focus on fully accepting the situation themselves; if parents are wholly comfortable with the way they conceived, then the child will be too. For anyone struggling with this aspect then external support and help is readily available.
From her own experience, Carmen found that it also helped to properly look at other families. When she did, she discovered that even biologically conceived offspring do not always look like their parents or share the same interests, hobbies, likes or dislikes.
She was able to find great peace in understanding that those things all cease to matter in the end, choosing to remember that the ‘how’ wasn’t important, but the fact she had become a mother was.
As knowledge in assisted reproduction has increased, so too has research into cells and genes. Epigenetics is a new type of science which is challenging the way scientists think about the body’s heritable phenotype changes. Phenotypes are the observable characteristics of an individual and epigenetics studies changes which are caused by a modification of gene expression, rather than the alteration of the genetic code itself. Put simply, whilst an individual’s DNA sequencing cannot be altered, it is now recognised that the environment, and more specifically an individual’s perception of the environment, can affect cellular and physiological phenotypic traits. Based on these studies, Carmen states that the most important thing parents need to understand is that, rather than how a child was conceived, it is the actions of the parents which will eventually form the child’s own beliefs and behaviours. For further reading, she suggests; The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton.
Carmen also recommends that all parents of donor conceived children read the works of Susan Golombok. Susan is a Professor of Psychology and a leading authority on the effects of non-traditional families and children’s development. She has been researching for the past four decades and has concluded that donor conceived families are absolutely no different to any others out there.
So when should parents tell their children they were conceived with the help of a donor, and do they really need to know?
Research, in this field, shows that children whose parents begin to talk to them about their donor conception, at an early age, appear to integrate this information more naturally into their developing sense of identity. Being told from a younger age ensures it simply becomes a normal and fully accepted part of who they are. It was reported that children told about their genetic history, for the first time during their adolescence or adulthood, were more likely to endure psychological distress.
As much as it might feel incredibly tough to tell a child they were conceived using a donor, Carmen warns against non-disclosure and secrecy. She advises there’s always a risk of accidental disclosure and it is infinitely better for children to hear this information from their parents, rather than mistakenly being told by someone else.
Nowadays, there are a wide range of resources available for helping to explain donor conception to youngsters, and Carmen enjoys using storytelling as a tool. In most families books are shared, nightly, between parents and their children, so why not read bedtime stories around donor conception? Reading together not only helps any children to understand how their family was created, it also helps mothers and fathers find the confidence needed to discuss the topic more freely and with ease.
There are numerous books, aimed at pre-school children, and beyond, to teach them about donor conception. Carmen, herself, has also written many, some which can be personalised with parents’ and children’s names, making the story even more unique and relatable.
At the end of the day, Carmen explains, children are children and ask only children’s questions.
Parents are definitely not required to initially give a full scientific explanation, including all the facts and data at once! She suggests starting slowly and gently, making sure the child is not overloaded with too much information. Parents should always aim to keep it simple and relaxed; whilst it may have been a complicated journey to their conception, children don’t need an explanation to match. Finally, Carmen advises all parents to follow their hearts, lead conversations with love and always remain proud of how their family was, so miraculously, created.
Questions and Answers from the event
How to explain to a child of six years old that he or she was conceived through donation? I mean, how simple should it be?
When a child’s already six, I would start by reading a story. I have personalised some books so you could put the names to them. Just tell them that mummy and daddy wanted you so much but it was really difficult for us to have you. So we went for some treatment. Then, we got an egg donor and that’s how you came about. So, just say it how it was. The book can help you so you can start reading it beforehand and say, ‘Well, this is what happened to us.’ You can see how he or she responds to it and this can give you the basis to go into how you’re feeling about this.
Do we really tell others that our child is a result of donation?
Yes, if you want to. If your child has to know. If it’s a family thing, you can share it with whoever you want to share it with. You don’t have to go, ‘Oh, by the way, my child here is from a donation.’ It’s a family thing. You don’t have to go around telling everyone. There are some people who do and some people who don’t. I think that has to do with how you are, the country you’re living in, your culture. I’m Mexican and here in Mexico it’s very closed. People don’t tend to share things like that; sometimes they don’t even tell their mother.
How to talk to your IVF/donor egg child if you’re a single mum and have no partner?
I also have a story of a squirrel. In the story it talks about a woman who wants to be a mother and wants to meet someone but couldn’t so decided to find a sperm donor. It’s a very sweet story as well so that’s what I would use. That’s the way the family came about. There’ll always be a male figure somewhere. But, how many families, if you come to think of it—especially over here in Latin America—were brought up by women. The man has left and the women bring up the child. There isn’t that father figure and you’re going to be mum and dad and that’s the way it is and I’m just happy and proud to have a child. If you feel a bit uncomfortable about not having that partner and that not having a partner will hurt your child, you need to work on it first and when you’re fine, your child will be fine.
When we tell our child about donation, shall we ask him or her to keep it a secret?
That’s up to you as well. It’s very difficult for children to keep secrets. Would I keep it a secret? No, I wouldn’t. Again, it has to do with the culture, where you are. This is a family thing. Maybe avoid using the word ‘secret’. Let’s just keep it for us. It’s just between us, but don’t use the word ‘secret’. This is our information. No, I wouldn’t tell them to keep it secret. If one day they want to share this with a friend, they might feel guilty of that they’re betraying you because they’re sharing it with someone they love.
What risks do we run if we do not tell our child about egg donation?
If we look into the studies, there’s a risk of accidental disclosure. Did you ever tell anybody? Somewhere along the line, you must have told someone. This person isn’t necessarily going to go and tell everybody but there could be an accidental disclosure. If that were to happen, it would be very painful for them and if it happened in their teens, it would be very difficult indeed. However, if you don’t want to share, you don’t have to. I’m just saying what I feel. Also, with a story, at least they know that egg donation exists. Then if you tell them, ‘Oh, by the way, our family has gone this way,’ (I’m saying this with a bit of humour) at least they know it exists and as you read it to them, this will take you by the hand and then they will know or you’ll feel that it’s right to tell them.
How to decide whether to say it or not? What are the pros and cons about telling or not?
Again, I recommend Susan Golombok’s book that includes studies on the pros and cons of telling or not. I believe in sharing and my only fear is that they accidentally find out. If there isn’t that possibility, if you’ve never told anybody and you decide not to say, that’s fine. You never know, maybe you’re child will grow up and end up having an egg donation too. It’s normal nowadays with all these advances. 30 years ago adoption was a taboo. No one would tell their child that they were adopted. Everyone knew except the adopted child. That’s obvious; it’s not like egg donation. Now society is completely different and it’s very common to talk about this. 30 years ago, especially in Latin countries, if you lived with your boyfriend, it was a family scandal. Nowadays, you live with your boyfriend before you get married. It’s different. Society takes time. Now, in 2018, whether we say something or not, it’s like adoption years ago. But in a few years, it’s going to be so common. It’s going to be like adoption as if you were talking about it nowadays. Society takes time and this is the reality. Many children are conceived via IVF in modern families and it’s common. As the years go by it will be even more common. But now there’s a change. The first egg donation child was 30 something. This is why I think that you’re the pioneers for this and later on, it’s going to be so common.
How many times should we tell the child the story?
I would read it constantly. I was teaching her to read with it. There are times when I’ll read it again even if you don’t want to read it again, but your child will ask you to read it again. So, that’s quite personal, really. I’ll always have it around without giving the book the force of ‘that’s a book about egg donation’. No! It’s a fun book. It’s a book that makes mummy and daddy or mummy and mummy—however your family is formed—or just mummy laugh, and they love things that make mummy laugh so each time you get the book and they know you’re going to laugh they’re going to want you to read that book so you give the book this other meaning as well. So, as many times as you want.
If the child wants to meet the genetic mother, what shall we do?
Some children do want to meet them and some don’t. You will know your child so you will know how to manage this and talk to them. Normally it’s like a curiosity but you are the mother. And this is what you must remember: you are the mother. So, if it’s a curiosity about meeting the person, remember you are the mother. They’re not trying to find out who their mother is. No. You’re the mother. They have grown up with you and this is what’s important so you have to feel confident. I remember my biggest fear was precisely this: what happens if my daughter wants to meet the biological mother? So, after studying this I realised that it’s a curiosity. They want some information or just to see what they look like. As adults, we have information as adults. With children it’s more simple; they’re not analysing it from an adult’s point of view but from a child’s. They just want to meet her. But it’s difficult.
How to react if the child comes to the conclusion and tells us we’re not the mother?
With children, it’s common that they have tantrums. Whether or not you’re child is from egg donation, adoption or naturally conceived, they will suddenly tell you that they hate you and wish you weren’t their mother. It’s normal that a child under certain circumstances gets angry. But here, you are the mother so if they come and tell you, ‘You’re not my mother!’ of course you’re the mother. Where were you born? You were born in my tummy. Who fed you? All those cells that you have were from my food, my blood and my love. And you loved and you nurtured your child. That child is yours. So you were the mother. So when the child says, ‘I hate you!’ you’re the mother no matter what phase they’re going through or whatever the tantrum, you must know: you are the mother. There’s no doubt about it. You nurtured your child. You are the mother. So, you have to feel that you’re the mother and say, ‘You know what, I’m sorry but I’m your mum!’
If the child wants to meet the biological mother and the egg donation was anonymous, how to cope with it?
That’s a good question. The truth. ‘You know, if I had the information, I would love to give it to you. But I don’t have it. There was a really lovely lady and I’m so grateful to her because thanks to her you and I are together. This wonderful lady, whoever she is and wherever she is in the world, let’s just send her blessings and imagine she’s somewhere and thank her for letting you be here today and send her your love.’ Manage things naturally. Keep it simple. Stick to the truth — she’s anonymous and you don’t have the information.
Is it best to have siblings from the same donor? Would that help the child somehow?
I think it doesn’t matter because you’re the mother and you’re going to bring up your children so it doesn’t have anything to do with it. When you look at a mother and she has 3 or 5 children, each child is different. It doesn’t have to do with the egg, but with the child’s character. A child is born with temperament but the character is formed so it doesn’t really matter, from my point of view. I don’t attach that much importance to the genes. My daughter doesn’t have a single gene of mine, but it’s impossible for her to be more than my daughter than anyone else and if she had been born for me it would have been her just the same. So I would say it doesn’t matter.
Other reasons to tell: readily available DNA tests, accurate medical records for your child…
If in your family, you or your mother had cancer or there were people with certain illnesses that were repetitive or common, why are you going to have your child suffer from something that that child will never have? However, information from the DNA and what Bruce Lipton says, what happens with DNA is that either they’re activated or not. So you might have that in your DNA and it might be activated or not. And it’s activated or not according to your perception of the environment. That’s what he said in his book. So, having this information is good in the sense that they won’t be suffering from things that they don’t have but at the same time I insist that the most important things are the first 7 years and the perception of the environment and how you bring them up and how you teach them—this will be essential for the rest of their lives. My daughter’s biological mother is from a state up north and they have a very particular accent. I remember my daughter was very young and we had gone up to Monterrey. We were there for a week and my daughter started speaking with this accent and I thought it must be because of her genes. But the truth is that I do the same thing if I’m with an Argentinian, I start speaking Spanish like an Argentinian. Maybe if you’re with an American or someone from Australian, you start to adapt things. Really, it’s the environment. Everything that happens to your child comes from you and how you bring them up.
I feel sometimes but not often that to have a child through donation might not be the right thing because we may bring a child into the world that can’t meet his or her genetic root. How can I cope with this?
How important is the genetic root? We’re talking about a cell. Your child will have your social customs, your beliefs. Of course, they develop their own as they grow older. My daughter is 19 now. But what I’m saying is that we worry too much about certain things. What happens if she never worries about the genetic root and you do not have the opportunity to be a mother? This is really interesting because first of all, it’s about how you feel. So, when you work on yourself, you realise that it doesn’t matter. For me, everything is love and from your heart. The love of your child, this bond you have between you is not because it’s genetic or not genetic or from the roots. It’s love. If you were suddenly to have a niece who comes and stays with you… Normally, when it’s taken us some time to have a child, we normally have a nephew somewhere or a niece or a neighbour with a child whom we can love. We don’t mind if they have different genetic roots; we just love. And I believe in love. I always say: listen to your heart. I know it’s a bit awkward, but your heart guides you. Whatever you’re worried about whether the child doesn’t know the genetic roots, you can work on it. I’m ok with it. I believe that I can give a child much more than the issue of genetic roots. I can give a child the opportunity to grow, to be creative, to be someone, to be happy and I have so much to give this child to be a successful person in life. I want to share. I want to teach that person. I want that person to be so happy. There’s so much more than the genetic part. When you first start facing egg donation, that’s when we put the big percentage of everything. But the truth is that when you have a child, there are so many other things like the child isn’t eating properly so how do I make the child eat properly so I’ll make the egg look like a happy face. I feel there’s so much emphasis on the genetic part when in fact there’s so much more than that when you have your child.
Where can we get more information about the books—what languages they are available in and where to buy them?
My books are available from Amazon or from my website. I have them in several languages but the book has to be in the child’s language. I normally have them in English, Spanish and French. I have a few in Italian and one in Dutch. Ask me and I’ll publish it in the language you want because for me it’s so important the book is in your native language. There are many books in English. Just Google: stories for sharing. When you google it, you’ll find many books. More people are publishing all the time because what happens is that you suddenly have your child and you come through this very long journey, this roller-coaster and suddenly you have your baby and you don’t want to share it. I had so many problems, I was worried about so many things. I was just so happy. So, there are so many books out there now. With my books, this personalised one that helps work on it in a dissociated way, at the moment those are just in English. However, just write to me and I’ll put it in another language because that’s what I want—for people to be able to have this tool that helped me made for them. So, read it first and then then it takes time. She always knew and then it was easy to talk to her. It wasn’t like I sat and talked to her like this. It happened naturally. Suddenly, she’d come up with something in the park. So, if you want any particular language, just write to me and I’d be delighted to do it for you. Maybe we could translate it.
Shall we encourage the child to share with his/her friends that he/she was conceived through donation?
I think that as long as you’re open at home, and it’s not like you’re encouraging the child to go and tell people but if it’s natural and you can talk about it openly then the child can easily go and share if they want to or if they don’t want to share. I just want to share this experience with my daughter. She had a very best friend. I was always checking things because I was so afraid. I didn’t know how she was going to manage this because I was so open about it. I was working with people. Everybody knew what I was doing so everyone knew that she was adopted but I didn’t know how she was going to share it at school. Her best friend’s mum was having a baby. So the best friend was saying, ‘My mum’s having a baby,’ and, ‘The baby’s in my mum’s tummy,’ and then my daughter said, ‘I wasn’t born in my mummy’s tummy!’ ‘Why? What do you mean you weren’t born in her tummy?’ So, she explained how she was adopted and my daughter’s friend was so upset that she went to her mum and dad and asked, ‘Why was I born in your tummy? I wanted to be born like Nicole! I just want to be like her!’ Children are children—they want to be like their best friends. So, the best friend has this toy, they want this toy. Children are very innocent, so as long as you’re fine, they’ll be fine.
Is it more difficult to bring up a child from donation or adoption than it is for a genetic child?
It’s exactly the same. When you read Susan Golombok’s research, it’s the same. It’s the same if it’s donation, adoption, 2 dads, 2 mums, single mum. I believe that your family environment is what is important. And the love and the caring. You can have families where what goes on at home is very tense, very difficult, and this will have an effect on the child because they don’t get along or they get divorced or whatever. So, each family has different things and it’s important to work on them. But, I would say that there’s no difference. As parents, we worry more about things, or we check that they’re ok and for me what was really important was that at home the word ‘adoption’ was used as ‘adoption’. It was normal. It wasn’t something that we whispered about. I’m really happy that I’m a mum and I became a mum by adoption. I perhaps wish that I had known about egg donation but I didn’t know about it then so my reality is what it is and I’m so happy that I have my daughter.
I think we as parents are afraid that someone (let’s say society) could hurt or bully our child because of the way it has been conceived. How to cope with this and our own worries?
This is a very good question. So, children are bullied at school for whatever reason: because they’re wearing glasses, or they’re short, or whatever. What you do is bring up your child to be confident so if someone comes up and says, ‘You’re from egg donation!’ or ‘You’re adopted!’ then the response is: ‘So what? It’s normal. For me, it’s normal’ So you have to feel confident and bring your child confidence because it’s normal and maybe that person is a bit old-fashioned and out-of-date. You bring your child to be so confident and happy that this is the way your family is. Some children are always going to be bullied for one reason or another. I do a lot of therapy and I work with lots of children who had lots of issues when they were young. It’s not only because of how you were conceived. It’s normal that children and babies are like this and as they grow older, you teach them and work with them. So, when this happens, you reassure them. You tell them how lucky they are, how lucky your family is and if they ask about something else. You tell them as well. As things happen, you work on it but the most important thing is that the word ‘egg donation’, ‘adoption’, ‘single mum’ is associated with ‘Wow! I’m so happy! We went through so much and we’re just so happy to be in such an amazing family as we are.’
We do have lots of fear. We need to work on our fear. The child doesn’t have our fears. So we work on our fears or else we pass them on to them.
My friend did an egg donation outside the UK, in Europe where the law protects the donor and keeps them anonymous. She decided not to tell her child that he was IVF or egg donated until she was 18. That seemed fine. The child was old enough to understand by then and had felt loved and was confident enough to accept her mum’s choices. What is your experience of this way? I think at school we have enough problems with feeling different than to go knowing that we weren’t conceived like others.
Nowadays, many people are conceived with these modern methods and it’s becoming more and more common. It’s really lovely that in this case, because of the relationship they had, when she was 18 she told her and it was fine. Each family situation is different, but in general terms when you tell a child in their teens or adulthood they normally find it very difficult and feel that they’ve been lied to. ‘Why didn’t you tell me? What was wrong with it?’ But I understand that at school they go through different things but I think that this is part of our life journey. We always go through different things. You went through different things to become a mother or father. So, I think life is that. There’s an obstacle. We face it. We go on. There’s an obstacle. We face it. We go on and we grow and we learn. It’s very difficult to have a path for your child where nothing will happen. He won’t fall. No, it’s part of each individual’s journey and you’re there with them to help them as they go along.
If you decide not to tell them, it’s also ok. Whatever you decide is fine.
Thank you for the information about the books. It would be great if you could publish them in Polish. I’m sure many mums and dads from Poland would be happy to read them.
Actually, somebody some time ago asked me for Polish so if you want to write to me, I’ll send it to you and if you want to translate it for me then I’ll send you the first book published. So, if you could give her my email or website address, which is www.carmenmartinezjover.com. I’m about to bring it out in Russian. Whatever you ask me for. If it’s just one book, then I don’t mind; I just want the book to be in the language of the child. I do this on my own. There’s no editorial, no backup, no nothing. It’s just my passion, using this technique to help other people.
It’s not normal, though, is it? Most kids are conceived the ‘normal’ way.
There’s one book that I have, which was the fourth one I showed you. It’s called Recipes of How Babies Are Made and because of this concept of 30 years ago when adoption was a taboo, living with your boyfriend was a taboo, but 30 years later society is open to this, I thought, ‘How can you shorten the time society takes to open up to these modern families?’ So, I wrote that book on just heterosexual ones and I’m doing another one on all of the modern families. I thought, ‘How can we shorten the time society takes to open up to all these families?’ So, I thought you and the child. I did this book on recipes. The same as you make a cake, you would have certain ingredients to make a baby. There’s the ‘normal’ way, which is classical, and then you’ve got the egg donation, sperm donation, and at the end of that book I say, ‘Everyone around you was born using one of those recipes and we’re all the same’. Many more children are born naturally. However, more and more children are being born with different techniques for many reasons. Before, women would get pregnant when they were very young. Now, society changes. Things change. Life is completely changing. The earth, the family, what you eat, many things are changing. So, for me, these families are normal. It’s a family. There are also families of different religions. You’ve got families with different languages, from different countries. We’ve got families in many different ways. It’s just as simple as that.
Can you publish your book in German, Norwegian and Croatian?
Yes, just write to me and I’ll send you a book in your language. I’d love to do that. Just make sure your spelling is right because I’m not going to be able to proofread it.
It’s such an important topic. Thank you very much for the support you give. This is really great. I think a lot of the worries that occupy us as parents are not necessarily problems that the child has. I find your approach very helpful. Thank you!
Thank you very much.