DEAR ASK A THERAPIST: I am about to use an embryo created with an egg donated in Peru and my partner’s sperm. We have no information about the donor, and I will never have access to that information, meaning if I get pregnant my child will not be able to know the donor. How damaging can that be in the future for my child? — INTENDED PARENT

DEAR INTENDED PARENT: Thank you for posing this really important question. You are not alone; many people find themselves in situations in which they have become parents in ways that cause concern for their children.

It sounds like you chose this donor from Peru and are now having doubts. And it sounds like you’re having doubts because you’ve been learning that it’s a normal and natural need to know the people we are genetically connected to, or at least to know who they are so we can put together a whole and healthy genetic identity. So, the question you’re asking is how the difficulty or inability to connect with the genetic mother of your child might affect your future child.

Not all people who are donor conceived feel the same way about how they came to be. But we do know that somewhere along the line, most people who don’t grow up with a genetic parent have curiosity about who that person is. Many adoptees and donor conceived people will use current technology to try to learn who the absent genetic parent is and perhaps connect.

It is harder to do this when the gamete provider is not located in the U.S., simply because most people who have tested on DNA sites are in the U.S. It is possible that by the time your child is older, this might be an option, but we can’t know that now.  It sounds like you’ve already created these embryos and plan to transfer them, so the question is: How can you best help your child with whatever they need, given the choices you’ve made?

Because we don’t know and can’t predict how your child will end up feeling about their conception story, it can be helpful to focus on things within your control that we believe reduce possible harm in donor conception. 

Examples of elements that are within parental control include, but are not limited to,

  • Whether a donor is known or unknown;
  • Willingness on the parents’ part to acknowledge and work through their own difficult feelings and reactions related to donor conception;
  • When and how parents disclose the use of a donor to their children;
  • Levels of transparency and openness in the family following initial disclosure;
  • Willingness to discuss and validate feelings and reactions related to donor conception, even the feelings that cause us great discomfort;
  • Parental receptivity to outreach and known genetic kin throughout childhood; and
  • Taking accountability for your decisions. 

First, grieve the loss of the genetic child you thought you would have and make sure your own psychological work is done before having a child that will be different from this original plan. We do our work so our children can then do theirs without our issues interfering.

Second, we know that the earlier you start sharing your family building story with your child, the better. There are many great resources available to help you do that, and the recommendation is to start practicing your story while you’re pregnant, then continue to weave the information into your family tapestry.

Third, mirror your child’s language about how they are understanding the relationships throughout their development. Donor/mother/genetic mother/donor mother . . . however they are thinking about the people they are genetically related to should never be corrected. They’re putting together an understanding of all those connections, and any language they use should be theirs to use without worrying about how you feel about it.

Fourth, let your child know that if they have a need to try to connect to donor siblings or to other genetic family members, even if they are in another country, you will do everything in your power to help them.

Fifth, if your concerns are great enough and you have the resources, consider a different path in gamete donation, such as collaborating with an egg donor in the U.S. that you can know from the start.

And finally, reach out if or when you need help. There are many mental health professionals who specialize in helping families like yours and organizations like ours to support you. 

Wishing you the best in your journey to create a healthy family.

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