QUESTION: My husband and I have been married
for 8 years and we just had twins. I got pregnant through artificial
insemination from donor-donated sperm. We experienced infertility for
2 years until we got pregnant. It was a very rough time in our marriage.
We both decided it would be best if we never
told the kids about this. He would be the father that hugged them
when they skinned their knee, or cried on his shoulder when they didn't
have a date for the school dance, so he was to be their "father" in
every other way except biologically.
The only problem I'm having with this, I've
told the people that know not to say that the kids look like my husband
etc. and I'm afraid that somebody will slip one day. I've already
thought my answer could be "Well, your father had a low sperm count
so I had to be artificially inseminated so that we could conceive."
Anyway, my question is this...what do most
people do? Do they tell the kids or not? Have you heard of adult children
finding out? Will they notice when no one tells they they look like
Daddy? As time goes on, will this feeling that I'm lying lessen?
I just don't want to live in constant fear
that somebody will slip. What do you think? My husband told me (with
tears in his eyes) that he never wanted our kids to know.
The weight of carrying this family secret is already
taking it's toll. You have already lost one friend over it and suffer
constant underlying anxiety which will affect the atmosphere of your
family. This fundamental tension will be felt by your children. You
and your husband are maintaining a secret at great cost. Before committing
your future to a web of lies, consider your reasons for avoiding the
truth and the consequences of further betrayal.
Your husband may be suffering from feelings of inadequacy
stemming from his infertility. You are right to point out that he
will be the only father his children will ever know. Because "fathering"
is a social and familial role, your husband's love for his children
will serve to secure his relationship in their eyes and in yours.
Biology does not create quality father-child relationships, responsible
nurturing does. Let your husband know that you understand his feelings
and that you can certainly agree to boundaries around this particularly
sensitive family history. But do not make the mistake of overprotecting
him by creating lies to allow him to avoid resolving his own personal
Recommend to your husband that he seek individual
counseling to more thoroughly explore the complexity of his feelings.
You may also make use of marital therapy to assist in finding your
way towards establishing boundaries regarding this information and
how to handle it with people outside the family as well as age appropriate
discussions with your children.
Keeping facts about your children's biological origins
a secret to them may prove highly unrealistic over time. Failing to
release needed medical information could even prove deadly in some
critical, albeit unusual future scenarios. Adolescence itself will
prove confusing at some level, as your children's quest for identity
takes precedent in their evolving development. The effects on them
psychologically and medically could prove more traumatic than facing
and resolving your husband's emotional pain surrounding the fact of
his sterility. The distress you are signing up for could range from
mild to severe, depending on other aspects of your family life and
your children's personalities as they develop. Why would you agree
to so complicate your family's future?
Loving your mate sometimes involves seeing clearly
when he cannot. Your situation is a highly emotional one and your
decisions are some of the most difficult you will ever experience
together. Do not let your love for your husband cloud your own ability
to see clear and present danger. Sometimes loving our partners involves
healthy and compassionate confrontation.
Seek consultation with other parents who have also
conceived in this manner. It is my clinical experience (in California)
that most parents do tell their children the truth about their origins.
No extensive data is available on what most parents do, and it no
doubt varies with locale, education and a variety of other factors.
A recent preliminary finding on the subject of egg donors has indicated
a trend towards openness in California, where parents are more likely
to know the donor, and less disclosure on the East coast where egg
donor is more likely to be anonymous.
Perhaps sharing with parents who have faced similar
struggles with adoption and alternative conception will prove enlightening
to you and your spouse. Gain insight from sharing with parents who
have faced and embraced non-biological parenthood. In 1980, experts
on the National Council on Adoption reached a consensus that adopted
children should be told of their origins. The controversy around this
issue for donor egg or insemination is still in its infancy, but is
likely to take the same course with time. Consider that a child who
is conceived by alternative reproductive methods has still been carried
in Mommy's body, with Daddy listening to the heartbeat prenatally.
This affords even more of a biological connection than adoption. Yet,
most adoptive parents cope with revealing the truth to their children.
When parents do tell their children the truth about
donor egg or sperm origins, Carole Lieber Wilkins, a psychologist
in Los Angeles and author of a pamphlet "Talking to Your Children
About Their Conception: It's Easier Than You Think", suggests that
you begin telling your children the truth from birth. Dr. Wilkins
says, "Parents need to practice doing this when children are nonverbal,
so they can get accustomed to the sound of words that are very awkward
and uncomfortable to use like 'donor' or 'infertility'." Invite your
husband to join you in dealing with the complexity of this parenting
issue. Set a course for coping with adversity instead of "running
away" from problems.
You will both benefit from letting go of the past
pain of infertility, and refocusing on the true miracle of your children's
birth. Given your biological pregnancy and delivery of your twins,
there is much beauty, power and love that is held in the true story
of your children's origins. All children love to hear the journey
parents went through to have them. Whether it be driving through the
proverbial "snowstorm" to be born or finding the necessary combination
to bring their bright little souls into their rightful place in your
family, your children will bask in the glow of being "wanted" and
the efforts you went through to bring them into your lives.
There is no doubt that these are children who truly
"belong" to you. Do not rob them or yourselves of the very special
miracle of love that has brought you together as a family!
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