When Should You Tell Your Child His Birth Story?
A dilemma for some after assisted reproductive technology or adoption
You know deep down, though, the ethical responsibility to tell your child the truth depends on you. It’s a human, fundamental right for people to know their genetic background. It’s critical not only from the standpoint of having access to their genetic history for health reasons, but for their emotional well-being as a person.
If thinking about sitting down with your child for a talk causes you to squirm, keep in mind that the social stigmas associated with adoption, surrogacy, and donor births have come a long way since July 25, 1978, when the first “test-tube baby” Louise Brown was born in the United Kingdom. Short of cloning (although for $200,000 or more, you can wait in line for that, too), few reproductive feats shock people these days. We’ve grown accustomed to hearing about reproductive marvels on a daily basis, from sextuplets being born to 67-year-old women giving birth to twins. Whether due to the advanced technologies or the increased volume, creatively conceived babies are more socially accepted than ever before.
Fortunately, these miracle births are celebrated as joyous occasions. For as judgmental as some people can be, there’s something about a real, live baby in the flesh that tends to unify others and melt even the hardest of hearts.
Think Long Term
If you’re having trouble mustering up enough confidence to break the news to your child that he’s not biologically related to you, consider the worst-case scenario of failing at this task. At age 17, he’ll find out from some random aunt or friend’s parent that he was adopted, freak out, and run away from home in search of his birth parents. He’ll vow never to speak with you again. You’ve shattered his self-confidence, caused him to doubt his identity, and made him feel ashamed of who he is—all by not telling him the truth.
OK, that sounds more like the plot of a Lifetime channel movie. But doesn’t this forecast sound a lot worse than you being slightly uncomfortable at the kitchen table for about, say, 11 minutes, when your child is four years old?
Think about how you would want to receive the news that you know you need to deliver. What do you want to hear? Maybe your message includes that your child was surrounded by so many loving people who wanted him to be born (you and your spouse, the doctor, and the donors), and everyone worked together as a team to make sure that happened. If you met one or both of the birth parents, tell your child so, and say something positive about each one.
Once you get going and speak from your heart, you’ll most likely find that the truth is pretty easy to tell. Most importantly, your child will know without a doubt that you’re on his side, and will always be a trusted person in his life.
You can be trusted for the truth.
Excerpted with permission from The Belated Baby: A Guide to Parenting After Infertility by Jill S. Browning and Kelly James-Enger, published by Cumberland House, ©2008.
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