DEAR ASK A THERAPIST: I want to have conversations with our two-year-old daughter who was donor-egg conceived and surrogate carried, but I do not know how to start. We will always be open and honest with her. She knows she grew in my heart and not my belly but of course does not understand that yet. Do you have suggestions to help in this situation? — RECIPIENT PARENT

DEAR RECIPIENT PARENT: It is wonderful to hear that you are committed to open and honest communication with your daughter about her unique origins. Starting these conversations early is a positive step towards building a strong foundation of trust and understanding. 

At two years old, children are still grasping the world around them through simple concepts, so it is important to approach this topic in an age-appropriate manner. Here are some strategies to consider: 

  1. Use Simple Language and Analogies: While “she grew in your heart” is a beautiful feeling to have, this may confuse her in the future. It’s best to start with simple and true language about what she will come to understand as her story. For example, it takes sperm, an egg, and a place to grow for a baby to be born. You can elaborate on where the egg came from and who carried her, adding age-appropriate details as she gets older. This way you can practice telling while she is too young to understand, and she won’t remember a time she didn’t know her story.
  2. Incorporate Storytelling: Consider reading children’s books that explore themes of donor conception, surrogacy, and diverse family structures. You can also create a personalized story that reflects her unique story. 
  3. Create a Comfortable Routine: Engage your daughter in conversation during activities you already share, like bedtime or playtime. This normalizes the dialogue and integrates it into her daily life. Make up a fun rhyme, song, or game to bring the narrative to life in a concrete way. Talk to your child when you’re rocking them to sleep, dressing them, or giving them a bath. Three Makes Baby–How to Parent Your Donor Conceived Child by Jana Rupnow, LPC, has more ideas and suggestions.
  4. Be Open to Questions: As your daughter grows, her curiosity will likely increase. Encourage questions and answer them honestly but simply, according to her level of understanding. 
  5. Seek Professional Guidance if Needed: If you find yourself struggling with this topic, don’t hesitate to seek professional support. Therapists who specialize in family dynamics and child development can provide tailored strategies for your family. 
  6. Embrace the Journey: This is not a one-time conversation but rather a continuous dialogue that will evolve as your child matures. Be patient with both yourself and her, recognizing that understanding will develop over time. 

    Remember, children often perceive the emotions and comfort level of their caregivers. Approaching these conversations with warmth, openness, and confidence will likely foster a positive experience for both of you. Your love and intention to be open with her are the most important elements in this dialogue, and they will guide you as you navigate these beautiful and complex conversations.

This post was updated March 3, 2024, to use current recommended language in the first bullet point.

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