Archive for December, 2009

How should we explain ART to our kids?

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

So, you’ve been through the infertility rollercoaster and it finally worked. How on earth do you explain to a child that they were born from IUI, IVF, donor sperm, donor eggs, surrogacy, or some other form of ART (assisted reproductive technology)?

I started thinking about this after reading a friend’s blog post, which I’ll just paste here because I thought it was right on the money (hope you don’t mind, PJ!):

“The impetus for this post was this article – The Stork Didn’t Bring You, But We Had Help from the New York Times. It’s a very nice article discussing the realities of helping children to understand where they’ve come from when any sort of assisted reproductive techniques are utilized. The article is specifically about surrogacy, but is relevant to all forms of assisted reproduction.

I was adopted and my parents did an excellent job of explaining how I came to be their daughter. Here are some important guiding principles:

* Answer questions honestly. Children have questions about where they came from and parents need to answer their questions honestly (as honestly as possible considering the age and understanding of the child). Children will eventually recognize if they have been misled and the hurt feelings can be profound.

* Start when the child is young. Start discussing it when the child is very young – perhaps the age of two or three. This allows the child to always be aware of their story even if they don’t completely understand it. Details can be filled in later. The difficulty in waiting until a child is old enough to understand is that it will come as a surprise and there may be hurt feelings as a result.

* Use a storybook. Using a storybook is a wonderful approach because it is something tangible that a child can treasure. My parents had a sweet storybook that they read to me frequently – it was one of my favorites – about a family who wanted children and couldn’t have one of their own. Well, you know the rest of the story. It made me feel very special because my parents chose me out of all the other babies.

* Emphasize the positive. Any child coming to a family via either adoption or some sort of ART will at times feel a bit strange or different. By emphasizing the positive, parents ensure that their children will always feel special and loved. In my case, my parents emphasized that they chose me out of all the other babies. Any child born via any form of ART is special because of all the difficulties that their parents went through in order to have them.”

We have one child conceived via IUI and twins from IVF. I ordered an Aussie book called The Baby Doctor (about IVF) and have read it to our eldest. She’s 5. The poppets are not even 2 yet, so I am going to leave it until they have the ability to take at least some of this in, maybe by about 2 1/2 or 3. There are some great books out there for the donor sperm and donor egg scenarios, also surrogacy, adoption, etc.

From all I’ve read, and based on the reaction of my own 5-year-old, little kids can get their heads around pretty much anything and there is NO question that they still love their parents to bits. The ONLY serious danger is withholding the information because at some stage later in life they are going to need something like a biological history maybe to look at the risk of something inherited or whatever, it IS going to come out at some stage. And at any age older than little kid stage, it is going to be a “news”, a shock perhaps, maybe even like a betrayal. OMG, I just shudder to think of them finding out in the teenage years and it turning into a major issue. afraid

With our eldest, I told her about our struggle with infertility. I told her it was like we knew she was out there somewhere, we already loved her, but we couldn’t find her, so kept looking and looking and we still couldn’t find her anywhere, so we asked a dr to help, and finally we found out we were having a baby – we had found her! We were so happy. And the same kind of thing with her little sisters, just more high-tech.

Her reaction wasn’t “OMG how unnatural” or anything a closed-minded adult might think. It was more like wow, you wanted me THAT much that you kept searching and searching until you found me? It made her feel even more loved, if anything. The one negative reaction from her was this huge realisation of Oh no, what if you hadn’t come searching for me? I just reassured her that we were NEVER going to give up because we knew she was out there somewhere; we loved her so much; we would have had to try other ways to find her, but we eventually would have.

Kids at age 3 or 4 can easily comprehend the idea that their parents wanted a baby soooooo much, but it didn’t happen easily and then they found out that something wasn’t working properly, so they had to get some help from the doctor and/or get some spare parts from someone else. But emphasising that what they did have was the MOST important bit, which was an unwavering love and an important place reserved for the child who did arrive in the family.

For me, the counsellor in the NY Times article summed it up perfectly:

“What kids want to know is that they’re in the family they were meant to be in — that they belong to their mom and dad.” love2

IMPORTANT UPDATE (24/6/10): I’ve recently stumbled across this fantastic website for kiwi “IVF-lings”, kids conceived via IVF. It provides them a resource to find out about how they came into the world, and even to ask questions of doctors and embryologists. How cool is that?

Any particular books you’d recommend for explaining ART to kids? Please post a comment below! Here are some that I (and others) have found: