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She worries her child, conceived with a donor egg, will face discrimination from family

August 3, 2018

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I am pregnant with a child conceived with a donor egg and my husband’s sperm. I also have a young son. It has been a long, complicated and painful process of secondary infertility, and I was lucky to find an excellent therapist who helped immensely.

Now that I am finally pregnant, I am trying to figure out how, when and whether to disclose. I believe the child has the right to know his or her genetic heritage. Secrecy is not healthy. On the other hand, we have close family members who will treat this child differently than his or her brother and other relatives.

These family members have a proven record of unequal and inequitable treatment that is very hurtful. This is not your garden-variety, slightly-different-treatment-of-kids-despite-the-best-intentions scenario, but something deep and toxic. It’s a problem on both sides of the family. I do not want to provide any more ammunition to this dysfunctional dynamic.

I’ve waited so long for this child, and want him or her to be loved unconditionally. I also want to protect my son from witnessing this behavior -- and participating involuntarily, by being the favored child.

My husband and I have established firm boundaries around this family dynamic and I’m proud of that, because it wasn’t easy. This pregnancy adds a new layer of complexity, though, and I’m not sure what to do.

Do I tell the child, but ask him or her not to discuss with anyone? That feels burdensome and shameful. Do I wait until the grandparents all die? That could take another decade or more.

Please don’t tell me people will rise to the occasion. They will not.

-- To Tell or Not to Tell

Saying that never crossed my mind. Anyone who “will treat this child differently” strikes me as a lost cause for ever growing a heart. Or morals. Or decency.

Not that it can’t happen; a child’s emotional health just can’t depend on it.

Anyway.

This could solve itself thanks to fortuitous timing. A young child will have no use for this information; an older child can receive it when she or he is ready to decide independently what to do with it, which presumably will be many years from now, when you have (I hope) very different standing with the offending relatives.

One criterion for “ready” can be enough maturity for your child to decide him- or herself whether and when to tell other relatives. This isn’t happening in a vacuum; your kids will develop their own opinions of your two families, likely picking up the toxicity in the air, and might not have enough affection for them come conception-reveal time to care whether it changes how each is seen.

I don’t get accused of optimism often, so here’s another scenario, just in case. Tell your child early. As in, when old enough to converse but too young to remember the conversation. Incorporate it as a fact of life.

No “don’t tell” admonitions, because those are awful and, yes, shamey.

Then see whether the news ever wafts your families’ way.

Then see whether any of them acts on it through unequal treatment.

If they do, then stop granting them access to your family. Completely. Say why.

And, hey -- congratulations!

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