Telling your toddler they are donor conceived

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash: Aaron Burden)

I was changing Rosie’s new baby brother’s nappy on the change table and as I open his nappy, Rosie climbs on the chair next to us, points, laughs and says “Jack, hahahahha!” then does a super quick grab for his tackle.

“Rosie, leave Jack’s penis alone!” I squeal.

She looks up at me with her big adorable 2-year old eyes, grins and shouts: “JACK… PENIS!!!!” then she pauses, points to her own bits and pieces and says, “Rosie penis?”

“No, Rosie, vagina.” I say.

“Ahhhh. Rosie. Gina.” She says proudly and hops off the chair and goes back to tearing all of the baby wipes out of the packet.

Here I was thinking I’ve got plenty of time for birds, bees & donors, but it seems not.

Now, although Adam and I had never discussed what we were going to name “said” pieces, as it turns out, the correct anatomical names work perfectly for us as a family. But what I did find interesting (and a little scary) was how unprepared I was for the discussion. I thought it would be a good year or two before we would be having these discussions. Which then made me think, if I was unprepared for the penis/vagina discussion, then I am seriously unprepared for the language I will use to tell her about being donor conceived.

It’s not like Adam and I hadn’t talked about it. We had. We had decided that we want Rosie, Jack and Maggie to never remember being sat down and told of how they were created. We want it to be something that they always knew. We want them to feel normal; not special, not a gift (way too much pressure) but just normal kids that were created in a different way. We also want them to feel informed, proud and aware that there are lots of different types of families that are created in lots of different ways, and their way is just one of many. But we had never had a crack at saying the actual words. So we did and a year later, here’s what we learned…

Feeling anxious is completely normal.

I had serious butterflies when I first tried saying the words. “What if I upset her?” “What if I confuse her?” Rosie didn’t care one bit. And once I had started I felt so much better. By the end of the first go, I was really proud of myself for feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

It’s okay to make mistakes.

Rosie didn’t mind one bit that I made a few mistakes, she just loved being told about herself.

Part way through our first go at telling Rosie her story, which started with something like “Hey Rosie, do you want to hear the story about how you were created?” Adam and I stopped for a discussion about whether to use the word “sperm” or not. After a short debate we settled with “a bit from a man and a bit from a woman.” Rosie just sat happily and waited eagerly for us to continue.

Find opportunities to tell the story again. And again. And again.

Practice makes perfect and all that. A really good tip I read was to look for opportunities to repeat the story. For example a bed-time story about babies could lead to… “look Rosie, a baby giraffe, let me tell you the story about when you were a little baby…” Or a trip to the doctor… “Ooh Rosie, look a doctor, remember the story about how you were created? Mummy and daddy needed help from a doctor…” Or spotting a pregnant lady in the street…“Ooh, Rosie, look at that lady with a baby in her tummy. You used to be a baby in my tummy. Shall I tell you the story about how you were made?”

We also made a decision to tell Rosie the story at least once a month. Rosie is now 3 and the term “egg-donor” (along with penis and vagina) are part of her world.

There are some really great books on being donor conceived. Our two favourites are Mummy was your tummy big? and Sometimes it takes three to make a baby.  Plus we have shown her the video we made documenting her journey to meet us.

If you need help with starting the conversation, check out the Donor Conception Network’s amazing resource called Telling & Talking 0-7 years. They share this beautiful perspective…

“The truth is that very little comes as a shock to children if it is shared as part of a loving family relationship and in ways that are suitable for their stage of development. Small children do not understand the implications in the same way adults do. The donor conception story, told at an early age, becomes part of their normal world. And fear of rejection? Young children love the people who care for them every day – why would they reject loved parents for someone they don’t know.”

Why indeed.

Much love x

1 Comment

  1. 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 ‘Mummy not having enough eggs so she needed some help from a kind lady’ or ‘Daddy’s sperm not being able to swim fast enough to reach Mummy’s egg’, your child’s response may be indifference, to ask if they can have sausages for tea or to ask what a sperm looks like (most will think they know an egg when they see one).   Each of these and anything else is a completely normal response. Children of eight or over have much greater understanding than those under this age.  How they receive the news about being donor conceived is likely to depend as much on how you feel about it and go about telling them as on their own personality and general way of dealing with things.  If they understand immediately – and not all children do make this link at first – that the information means that they do not have a ‘blood’ connection to one or other parent (or both) then there may be an element of shock.  Some children are interested in the science involved in donor conception and particularly IVF.  The older they are the more likely it is that they will be angry at not having been told this information earlier.  Some children are sad for a while that they are not connected by genes and blood to a much loved parent.  This can also happen in middle childhood as part of the process of integration in children who have been told from a very young age.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: