For many intended parents, surrogacy is impossible without a sperm or egg donor. Whether their own gametes are unsuitable for the IVF process, they’re single or part of a same-sex couple that can’t create an embryo on their own, intended parents commonly turn to egg or sperm donations to create a viable embryo for implantation.
While the process of finding a sperm or egg donor can be relatively straightforward with the help of a fertility clinic, many intended parents wonder what it will be like to raise a child conceived from a donor egg or sperm. How will they tell their child about their biological father or mother? How will they protect their child’s best interests and answer questions they may not have answers to? What if their child wants to find their donor parent someday?
Raising a donor-conceived child can seem challenging, but fortunately, there are many tools available to parents today for ensuring a donor-conceived child is raised with a healthy knowledge of their biological history.
Anonymous vs. Identified Donors
Raising a donor-conceived child is heavily dependent upon the kind of donor used: an anonymous or identified one.
It’s typically much easier to use an anonymous donor through a gamete bank than it is to use an identified one — but, as an intended parent, you should seriously consider the challenges of an anonymous donor before moving forward with that choice.
As a donor-conceived child grows up, they will (like all children) be curious about where they came from. However, if they were conceived via an anonymous donation, they won’t have any answers to these questions. That’s why it’s highly recommended that intended parents select an identified donor, as that will at least give them some information they can provide to their child about their donor parent.
As the shift from anonymity to identity preservation continues to grow, it will likely become easier to find identified donors. But, for the time being, it’s important to take those extra steps to find an identified donor if you’re using a sperm or egg donor for your surrogacy process.
How to Raise a Donor-Conceived Child
No matter what kind of donor you use, there are certain steps you can take to preserve the identity of your donor-conceived child and create a healthy conversation about their biological history.
- Normalize Their Conception Story
Just like you should talk to your child about their surrogacy journey from the moment they’re born, you should also take steps to explain their biological roots to them from as young an age as possible. While you don’t need to get into the minute details of sexual reproduction, you can use terms like “sperm” and “egg” to help your child properly understand their biological history. As a parent, you will have your own preferences about how to explain this to your child, but many children can understand that “a nice man/woman gave their mommy/daddy an egg/sperm so that your parent(s) could have a baby.”
The more that you normalize their conception and show that you are proud of their story, the more your child will internalize that identity and mirror your own feelings. Each child will be different, but the more open you are about how they were born, the more comfortable they will be with their story.
The Donor Conception Network offers booklets and information to help intended parents talk about the conception of their children, no matter the age.
- Be Prepared for Conflicting Feelings.
After your donor-conceived child is born, it’s completely natural for you to need time to adjust to your new reality. As your child grows up, you may find yourself looking for inherited traits that won’t appear, or being surprised at traits that appear from their gamete donor. Take the time to mourn the loss of a genetically related child, and embrace these differences in your donor-conceived child. Regardless of your lack of genetic connection, remember that your child is still yours — and you’ll feel the same kind of love that any parent feels for their child.
- Use the Donor Sibling Registry.
When your child has questions about their biological parent and other genetic relatives, one of the most useful tools available to you is the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR). The organization helps connect hundreds of donor-conceived children with their genetic relatives and any half-siblings they may have.
As an intended parent, you can sign your child up in the DSR as soon as they’re born (adult donor-conceived children can also sign themselves up). By filling out information about the day of the donation, the facility that was used and the donor’s ID number (if known), the system will connect you to potential half-siblings and genetic relatives. They can then be contacted through or outside of the DSR.
Not only does the DSR give an opportunity for an open relationship with genetic relatives (or not, depending on your preferences), it also gives donor-conceived children up-to-date family medical information that could be life-saving.
- Be Open About Your Child’s Conception Story.
Many young donor-conceived children are excited about what makes them special, and they may share their story with friends and family, even strangers. Don’t discourage this behavior, but make sure that people like teachers, coaches and other role models for your child know this about them beforehand. That way, if a teacher is talking about genetic traits in your child’s classroom, they can be inclusive of your child’s conception — without being surprised at the information when your child first brings it up.
Surrogacy and conception via gamete donation are still new topics to many, so embrace the opportunity to educate others about your child’s history. Be prepared with answers to questions like “Who do you think he/she looks like?” or “Where is their biological father/mother?” and make sure your child knows how to answer these kind of questions, too.
- Accept Your Child’s Desires.
Every child is different, so their feelings toward their donor parent as they grow up will likely change and may not be what you anticipate. No matter whether they are excited about their biological history or content to let it be, accept their decision. Don’t push your child into a path they don’t want to take. If they want to try to find their donor parent later in life, support them; if they would rather not know, don’t try to change their mind.
In many ways, raising a donor-conceived child will be no different from raising a biologically related child. But, when your child is conceived via a donor gamete, there will be some unique challenges to prepare for.
As you prepare to raise your donor-conceived child, don’t be afraid to ask for help — speak to your fertility clinic and your surrogacy professional for resources. There are many communities online like the Donor Conception Network that offer advice from other intended parents like you through every step of the gamete donation process.
Remember, the way your child is conceived is something to be proud of — and, by raising them with a full knowledge of their genetic history, you can make sure that it’s an identity that they’re proud of as well.
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