Free 1st Phone Consult/Counseling Session for DSR Members*
As we are all maneuvering through uncharted territory, we believe that good counseling can have an important place in the “re-defining” of family that often times catches us by surprise.
*Non-members pay $100 for a consult/counseling session.
Over the years, we have heard some disturbing accounts of DSR parents, donors and offspring being counseled by therapists who do not seem at all well-versed or experienced in the importance of early disclosure, or the intricacies, or the potential complications (and joys), of connecting with half sibling families or donors.
When we first made the choice to use an egg donor, it never occurred to me to keep it private on any level. Then we met with the clinic social worker, who instructed us that we shouldn't even tell our son til he is 3-4yo. And that we needed to tell him it was his "secret." She was adamant to think of it as his story to tell and not our right to share. So that had me 2nd guessing my instincts.
Just a few of the issues that we hear about on a regular basis:
- Maneuvering through the issues of disclosure, a child’s right to know, and when and how to tell
- Couples or single moms deciding to use donor insemination and wondering about open or anonymous donors
- How to move forward in connecting with a half-sibling’s family (or many families)
- Donors- how to move forward with connecting when your family members may not know of your donations or may not approve of your reaching out to your genetic offspring (and how to deal when there are many of them)
- Non-biological parents who may be feeling uncomfortable with their children reaching out to biological relatives
- Parents/donors/offspring coming together from different socio-economic/political/sexual orientation/religious backgrounds who need assistance in moving forward in the most healthy way possible
- For donor-conceived people- how to cope when you have a burning desire to know your genetic/ancestral history
- Helping to make the distinction between privacy and secrecy in the families we connect with.
The issues and challenges of forming and re-defining family are just limitless
Wendy is available for phone consult sessions when a licensed therapist might not be necessary. She has experience in speaking with many prospective parents, donors, parents and donor offspring.
If you're a DSR member, contact Wendy if you are interested in a free phone consult. If you are satisfied with your phone consult, we request a small tax-deductible donation for the DSR.
Over the years, we have heard some disturbing accounts of DSR parents, donors and offspring being counseled by therapists who do not seem at all well-versed or experienced in the importance of early disclosure, or the intricacies, or the potential complications (and joys), of connecting with half sibling families or donors.
We used an egg donor and had a gorgeous baby girl who is now 9 months old. We struggled with how best to tell her about her origins. We wanted to be sure our approach would empower her and leave no unanswered questions. We scheduled a call with Wendy who was able to advise us on how to proceed and we are so glad we did. She exudes knowledge about the issue and was able to support her advice with logical incisive arguments. She is clearly a leader in the field and her experience has allowed her to think outside the box and break the constraints of classical thinking about this issue. We recommend her to anyone considering egg or sperm donation before and after the process.
It was a sincere pleasure speaking with you over the phone earlier this week. It was calming speaking with you, a mom who conceived by way of anonymous donor insemination. I am a single woman who is now coming to grips with the current reality that the wedding and then the house with the white picket fence and then, if possible, offspring, may not happen in this order. As a little girl growing up, all I ever dreamed of was of having this. Your kind words and empathetic gift of listening helped me to process this possible choice mom journey a little more smoothly. You were able to help me understand that I am not a crazy woman, and that I am human, with longing for what the majority of woman want, to be loved and to love. I have the utmost respect for you and your son, paving the way for others who desire to be loved and give love, unconditionally, to connect. You related to me, what I was feeling, and you totally get it, and for that I thank you tremendously.
Thank you SO much for your support and wisdom and humor about all this. I am just so incredibly grateful DSR and you exist. What a gift to the world! And to me in particular :)
If you are a parent of a donor conceived person, a donor conceived person, a donor, or someone who loves someone affected by donor conception, and you have questions, need some advice, or would just like a great listening ear from someone who totally “gets it”, pick up the phone, and call Wendy! As parents of a young donor conceived child, we were unsure how to navigate our child’s early questions and comments. We felt helpless and had no idea where to turn. We were unable to find any therapists in our area with any familiarity of the issues involved in raising a donor conceived child. When a friend suggested we call Wendy, our initial feeling was one of doubt…. Surely someone as important to this area as Wendy Kramer doesn’t have time to talk to us! But, we eventually emailed Wendy and then picked up the phone. We have done so on several occasions since. Each time we have talked to her, we have found Wendy to be approachable, warm and such a joy to talk to. Based on her own experience, and the experiences of countless others, she has incredible insight into the dynamics of all of the parties. She seems to have such good insight into what is likely to work and not work. Her approach to issues is ethical and heart warming. We can’t say enough about how we have come to value her thoughts and advice. She’s an amazing resource!
We can also recommend a licensed counselor. Payment would be negotiated directly with Susan.
Susan Frankel, MFT is a psychotherapist as well as a mother of a young woman born from donor insemination. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC23930) in private practice. She also serves as the Adult Track Trainer and Clinical Supervisor for the TALK Line Family Support Center in San Francisco. She has extensive professional experience with donor children and their families. Her consultations are designed to assist families in making well informed decisions. firstname.lastname@example.org
Following are some frequently asked questions, with answers that may be able to help guide you through what can be an exciting, but sometimes confusing, journey. Here are some sample letters to guide you through acquiring your donor information from a sperm bank or clinic.
For donor conceived persons, parents of the donor-conceived, and donors themselves, making these connections is uncharted territory. Please know that these questions have been asked by many members, and as we fine-tune the questions, hopefully we can all figure out some answers together here on the DSR. (I have partnered with Liz Margolies, a licensed psychotherapist, to answer some of these questions.)
Watch the 2014 video webinar we did for the Family Equality Council! Wendy talks about the DSR, who were and why we do what we do, what we have learned over the years, moving the industry forward in a more ethical and responsible manner, and how to create healthy and happy families.
BOOK FOR DONOR FAMILIES! In 2013 we published a book for donor families. It covers everything from disclosure, donor offspring's curiosities, connecting with donors and half-siblings, to redefining these new relationships. Order Here!
BOOK FOR DONOR KIDS! in 2018 we published a book for young donor-conceived children. You can mail a check to PO Box 1571, Nederland CO 80466, and I will sell you one directly ($17.00 includes shipping) if you can't order here on Amazon's page.
Please consult the Site Help section if you have questions about how to use the site.
We Just Made A Match With A Half-Sibling/Donor. What Do We Do Now?
First, take a deep breath. This moment is likely to bring up feelings you had not anticipated when you first registered on the website, and, therefore, you may no longer be sure about what you want to do next. Try to have no expectations of yourself for action. Allow yourself or your child enough time to figure out what you are seeking at this point. Are you interested in a simple exchange of information? Are there questions you want to ask? Is your desire to be "known" to the donor? Do you hope to meet in person? My best advice is to follow the old carpenter’s adage: "Measure twice, cut once."
It is perfectly normal to feel ambivalent, meaning that you may experience two simultaneous and contradictory feelings. The strong desire to find a half-sibling or donor can exist alongside the equally intense fear of the unknown changes this can bring about in yourself, your child or your family structure. After having hoped that a match would be found, you may now have a strong urge to back out. The same holds true for the donor or half-sibling who came forward.
If you decide to move ahead with contact, go slowly. Email is a good way to begin. You can offer some information about yourself and see what kind of response you receive. If you ask questions, frame them gently, allowing for the other person’s ambivalence about contact and exposure. Allow yourself time after each exchange to assess your comfort level and that of the half-sibling, parent or donor. This is a process, and sometimes patience is needed. Donors are often especially cautious because of the possibility of multiple offspring. I recommend permitting donors to take the lead in determining the speed and depth of the communication.
NOTE: When you match with your donor on the DSR, we recommend asking a few pieces of information from the donor profile that have not been posted, that only he would know.
And some more advice on contacting your donor:
All you can do is reach out to him, preferably in writing, so that you don't put him on the spot. Tell him that you would like to gradually initiate a relationship; you don't expect him to turn his life upside down, you simply want to ease into some communication, if he's amenable. Be thoughtful in your note: Let him know how you feel, what you need and why this is so important to you. Make it very clear also about the things you are not looking for, i.e. money, great demands on his time, disruption of his family, etc.
Before you send the letter, it's critical that you adjust your expectations so that you aren't setting yourself up for failure. You are opening a door, but that doesn't mean that he or she will come through it. As difficult as it may be, you have to remember that he/she may not be in a position to react in a way that may satisfy you. There could be any number of reasons that he/she is not prepared to connect at this point in time. At the very least, you will have opened up the possibility of communication, be it immediately or when the donor feels ready.
What Can I Expect From My Contact With The Other Families I Meet?
I think you can count on finding another family who is also experiencing deep feelings, but just as the circumstance surrounding each child’s conception are unique, so are the variations in family structure and reactions to the match. Try to be open to who the new family is and what they are looking for now. If you can’t be, perhaps this is not the time to make contact.
Many of the donor-conceived children have lesbian parents. While the actual numbers are not known, these families are more likely to share the facts of their conception with their children and are, therefore, well represented among the members of the DSR. Similarly, many single mothers by choice are interested in expanding their families through the DSR. For some heterosexual families, this may be their first exposure to different kinds of families, adding an extra stress to the anxiety and excitement of making a match. It is OK to be nervous or unsure about the terms or language that the other family uses. But, heterosexual families that are not open to contacting lesbian, gay or single-parent families, due to religious or other values, may want to think about that before making a match.
In addition to family structure, there is a large range of expectations among DSR families. Some are interested solely in information sharing with the parents of their child’s half-sibling. Other families desire a limited exchange of photos and email, but not face-to-face contact. And some families are hoping to develop an ongoing relationship that will become a friendship or resemble extended family. It is best to be clear about the level of connection you are seeking when you make a match, and try to express that early on to the family of your match. Understand, too, that comfort and expectations often change over time.
When Is The Best Time To Tell My Child That She Is Donor-Conceived?
It is never too early to begin telling your child the circumstances of her conception and birth. Small children love to hear the story of their beginnings and often ask to have it repeated. Don’t worry about having the right language or perfect terminology. The way you tell this story should reflect the way you always speak in your house, with the same tone, length and level of seriousness. When the story of the donor-conception is told from the beginning of your child’s life, the information becomes embedded in the relationship between your child and you. It is shared and it is a non-event, compared to the experience of disclosing the information for the first time at a later date.
It may at first seem odd to be talking about issues of fertility to a young child, but remember that children only absorb the parts of the story that are meaningful to them at their current age. They simply disregard the information that is too advanced for them. When told about their donors, young children tend to ask very practical questions and usually show little emotional response.
The story should grow with your child, increasing in detail as she is able to understand more. In response, the questions you are asked will also change as your child develops. Children vary greatly in how important this information feels to them. Some children show little interest for years and then have a period of time where they are thinking about the donor or possible half siblings all the time. There is not one way that all children respond and even the same child reacts differently over time. So, even if your child does not bring the subject up, you should do so from time-to-time, reminding her that this will always be an open topic for discussion between you.
Oftentimes, telling is not the end of the story. Many donor children are very interested in learning about the other "half of themselves" and may have a strong desire to connect with their genetic relatives. Please be careful not to minimize this desire for connection, as your child could end up feeling resentful or guilty if they have these curiosities that you ignore, minimize or negate. To you, the donor might just be a "piece of genetic material," but to your child, it is one half of their genetics and their ancestry.
Advice from 2 DSR moms about telling:
I am a Single Mother by Choice, and I started this conversation with my kids when they were in the crib, so I wouldn't get tongue tied when they asked. I would often tell them their story, something along the lines of, "You were born out of love. Some kids are born from the love of a man and a woman but you were born directly from the love I felt for you. I always wanted to have you but I wasn't married, so I went to the doctor and the doctor put mommy's cell with the cell of a man who is your genetic dad (term we use, since we are pretty medical/scientific in my family). So you were born just like every other kid in the world, from the cell of a man and the cell of a woman and you have a genetic dad but he is not part of your family. You family is mommy, your brother, grandma and grandpa, and we all love you very much." My 6yr old twins are very used to this story. I also have a picture of the donor in their room, with their pictures next to it. If I show it to one of my sons he will say that's his Daddy (I neither encourage or discourage that word).
I too am a single mom by choice and my daughter is also 8. She has always known she has a donor, not a dad. Don't worry about having "a good approach." Your daughter just gave you one. Now it's time to cuddle up on and just talk. Be real. Be honest. If the conversation starts to go in directions you think she is too young for, simply let her know that some things she is too young to know right now, but she will know more as she grows older and you will be right there with her. Let her know she's not the only child to come from a mom and a donor - there are lots of others. And make sure to emphasize that even though your family is different from most, it is the same "where it counts" - in love.
Why Should I Tell My Child He Is Donor-Conceived?
It is wise to disclose what cannot be concealed
Secrets are like landmines you know. They can go off at any time, but until they go off you’re sort of treading around them.
Some parents are reluctant to tell their children that they were conceived with the aid of donor gametes (eggs or sperm). They view this information as "private" or "confidential." According to the research, married couples are more likely to feel this way than either single women or lesbians who use donor sperm. In some cases, heterosexual couples have not shared the information with any close friends or family.
Parents who believe their children deserve to know their genetic origins tend to frame the issue in terms of "honesty" versus "secrecy." They value openness in the family and believe that secrets are dangerous and uncontrollable. For example, in cases where there are some other people who do know the circumstances of a child’s conception, there is always the risk of unplanned disclosure by someone besides the parent.
I believe that children need to be told about the circumstances of their conception for two primary reasons: they have a right to know their genetic origins, and it is damaging to family relationships when important information is both withheld and/or revealed too late. It can damage trust between family members.
Some children who had not yet been told that they were donor-conceived reported that they already felt different within their families, based on either physical characteristics or personality. They lacked facts to substantiate their strong feelings. Even without being told, children often pick up hidden clues from the family. In the studies that have been completed with donor-conceived children, many reported a powerful sense that some valuable information was being withheld from them.
The ability for parents to find half-siblings through this registry raises new issues about disclosure. Parents who have always told their children that they were donor-conceived have to now decide when and how to tell their children about the new relatives that have been found.
Is It Too Late To Tell Our Child? We Haven't Told Her Yet.
It is never too late to be honest with your child.
If you have waited this long, I recommend that you now allow yourself ample time to carefully consider what you will say. It is a good idea to get professional help in preparing for the disclosure and determining how best to phrase your ideas in language that is tailored to your child’s current age and developmental stage. We are always available to help you through this process.
The talk you have with your daughter should have several components. First, you need to convey the facts you want your child to know about the circumstance of her conception. This part may include some science about sperm and egg, and almost always stresses how much you wanted a child like her. Second, you may want to explain why you did not tell her previously. Did you believe it was best for the family? Were you protecting her father? Third, it is a good idea to let her know why you chose to tell her this now. Does she now seem old enough to know? Did you change your mind about disclosure? Is there something about to happen in the near future that makes this telling essential now? Finally, allow room for your child to express her feelings about this news. She will probably have many contradictory feelings and it can be extremely hard to hear them all.
Remember, disclosure is not a one-time act. The meaning of the news will change over time for your child. The first few weeks will bring many changes and then, as she makes important transitional steps in her life, she will keep reassessing the meaning of being donor-conceived. The only thing you can count on remaining constant is your willingness to be there with her and listen to her feelings as she expresses them.
Secrets are costly. Often motivated by fear, an illusion of protecting self or other or a blatant attempt to hurt or manipulate another, they have been demonstrated to burden us and take their toll cognitively, physically, and emotionally. Essentially they preoccupy us, compromise our health and jeopardize our relationships. Whereas we often keep secrets to prevent the loss of love, respect and connection, too often that is just what they cost.
My Child Just Found Out He Is Donor-Conceived. How Can I Best Support Him?
The new disclosure has multi-layered meanings for your child. He will likely experience complicated and even contradictory feelings as he tries to assimilate the new information. Give him plenty of time and a willingness to hear what he has to say. Expect confusing feelings at first and don’t mistake today’s expression for the long-lasting impact of disclosure. Certainly, how you handle this next phase will have an enormous impact on the duration and outcome of the disclosure in your family.
First, your child needs to adjust to the fact that he was living under false assumptions about his biological origins. Everything he understood about his genetic continuity has to be rewritten. This is not easy work for your child. The best way you can help him through this is by allowing him to feel his entire range of feelings, including anger, confusion, liberation and shock. Offering some information about how you came to choose donor insemination will help him as he struggles to rewrite his past.
Second, your son must make sense of the fact that this information was kept from him for so long. He is likely to focus his feelings about this onto you. He may feel deceived, mistrustful of you, extremely angry and accusatory. In a family with a mother and a father, you can expect that a child will have altered feelings about BOTH parents. Again, you can best help him through this by a combination of explaining why you originally decided not to tell him about his genetic origins and, more importantly, allowing him to express these feelings without becoming defensive or distant.
This could undoubtedly be a hard storm, but the key to weathering it is to stay connected, remain open to what your child needs to say or ask and, ultimately, show him through your consistent behavior that your are the same mother and father who have always loved him and always will. Many donor offspring back off from moving forward with the conversation because they fear it will hurt their non-biological parent too much. Make sure he knows that this conversation is safe and that you are open to discussing these issues whenever and however your child wishes. Be aware that the pain they are feeling might be hard for them to articulate. Most importantly, your child needs the freedom to express all of their conflicting emotions without any fear of judgement. Staying connected is not limited to talking. If your child won’t speak about the subject, be open to alternative forms of contact that he may prefer, like email.
Honor and support any desires they have to search out their biological family. Even though you may have a very close relationship with your child, they may wish to to learn about and meet their unknown genetic relatives. This doesn't mean that you will be any less their parent, it only means that they desire to connect with others with whom they share genetic ties. There can be great satisfaction for them to see some of their physical characteristics, personality attributes and academic and artistic interests reflected in others.
I Want To Tell My Child That She Is Donor-Conceived, But My Husband/Wife Doesn't Want Me To. What Should I Do?
It is very difficult to feel torn between the needs of different members of your family. You love them both and want to do what is best for each of them, even when those needs seem to be at odds. Up until this point, your family has "protected the privacy" of the donor and "maintained the secret" from your child. The difference in opinion you and your husband now have can be a source of conflict in your marriage.
In some families, spouses place a different importance on the facts of conception. Most women, however, have not disclosed in order to protect their husbands. Male infertility brings with it a social stigma and, in many cases, shame. Fathers often fear that their children will feel differently about them once they learn that there is no genetic connection between them. I recommend that you speak with your husband lovingly and respectfully about his feelings and concerns. I also recommend that your husband take a good look at whether or not he has sufficiently dealt with the grief of not being able to give your child a genetic connection. Many men do not adequately process through this grief before their child is born, and then have difficulty not passing this along, in some way, to their children. When this grief is not verbalized, validated and fully processed by both parents, every member of the family can suffer.
Some dads are also fearful that their kids might look at them differently and that their parenting might come under much more scrutiny. They worry that they maybe have not been perfect parents, and if their kids knew that there wasn't a genetic bond, that they will view them as less of a parent. It's important for these men to know that all of us worry about our parenting at some point! Until these issues are addressed sufficiently, your husband is less likely to change his mind about disclosure.
Parents will also need to put aside their own feelings of guilt. If parents are feeling guilty about holding "the secret," they may be incapable of dropping their defenses to be in an open emotional state to honor and acknowledge their child's pain.
The two of you have to weigh his strong feelings against the potential problems you will encounter from withholding the information from your daughter. Should you decide to ever tell her she is donor-conceived or should she find out through someone else, there is a great likelihood that she will be angry at having the information withheld until now. This feeling will be directed towards both parents, not just her father. Your ongoing conversations with your husband must foccus on your child’s needs as well.
In lesbian families where donor sperm was used to conceive, the non-biological mother may also feel insecure about her lack of genetic connection to her child. While the facts surrounding the child’s conception are more likely to be shared in that family arrangement, the non-biological mother may, like the heterosexual father, be resistant to searching for a donor who might threaten her role in the two-parent structure.
After telling, some parents may feel the need to minimize the genetic connection between their child and the donor. If a child grows up in a family where half of their genetic, ancestral and medical backgrounds are minimized or negated, they can feel a lot of guilt if and when they do become curious. Parents need to be very careful not to put their own biases onto children and allow them to process and define these connections for themselves as they mature.
My Child Is Planning On Contacting Her Donor. How Can I Assist Her As She Prepares For This?
I think we need to be very careful when our donor children are curious and plan on reaching out to their donors. Children have the tendency to idolize their donors and think of them as perfect people. Donors are just regular people. If you make someone out to be perfect, you are guaranteed to be disappointed. People can get hurt when they have unrealistic expectations – our hopes must be realistic when connecting with donors.
When reaching out, you can tell the donor that your door is open and that you hope to get to know each other so that you can build a friendship/relationship. Be very sensitive to his needs and boundaries as he might be unsure about what you actually want from him. You will need to respect his life and his right to put up some boundaries.
Because they have not been adequately educated on the reasons that donor children wish to connect, some donors might be fearful. They may even turn away because they feel inadequate and think they won't be good enough for the kids. And there might be other reasons why donors might not be open to contact - they may not have told their families that they donated, and they might be ashamed that they were sperm donors.
Remember that prior to contact, your donor most likely had no idea that you existed and he may now be doing all that he can mentally, and emotionally, to adjust. For donors, it's not like there is the bond created when you hold an infant in your arms, and watch the first baby steps or have been through ups and downs together. There might not be an immediate social, psychological, emotional, or behavioral bond. You might have to grow into to it and build it.
After meeting there can be a "pain of adjustment" (thanks, Dr. Phil!) as everyone has different lives and different agendas. The challenge is to acknowledge where they are at emotionally, and respect their limitations and boundaries. These connections work best when we come with few expectations and an open heart as to how the other person is supposed to behave. Meeting a donor (or a half-sibling) is a major event, but the relationship is a process that needs time and patience to unfold. It's good to start out at a place where everyone is comfortable and then build from there. Take it slow and expect bumps in the road. Be patient and let it unfold naturally. It's a marathon, not a sprint!
Sometimes people pull back after a connection. Communication is cut off and leaves people wondering what they did wrong. Sometimes people pull back to re-group. And sometimes it's because they feel like they need more control in the situation. Again, patience is needed.
It seems that the people who are best able to move forward in a connection are those who are able to be honest with each other right from the start about their fears and hesitations, instead of pulling back without warning or explanation.
For older donor offspring, it's important to prepare yourself for any response, and to not take it personally if a donor doesn't reply, or isn't willing to be in touch. A donor's "no" is no reflection on you, only on his/her perspective and current situation. You should be very clear in your initial contact letter/email that even if the donor isn't ready right now, that he/she can reach out to you at a later time. Feelings and circumstances can change over time.
Some questions to help get to know someone:
- Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
- Would you like to be famous? In what way?
- Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
- What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
- When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
- If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
- Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
- Name three things you and this person appear to have in common.
- For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
- If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
- Take four minutes and tell this person your life story in as much detail as possible.
- If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
- If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?
- Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- What do you value most in a friendship?
- What is your most treasured memory?
- What is your most terrible memory?
- If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
- How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s?
- Share an embarrassing moment in your life.
- When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
- What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
- If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
- Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?
Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why?
A family that is lying to a child about parentage is, by definition, not stable. The truth is always out there, only one internet search or blood test away from being exposed. Like adultery, like the closet, this lie is toxic to families.
…it is not okay to lie to a child about who his parents are for 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years. Infertility treatment exists because genes matter. People sue each other because genes matter. People take their own children home from the hospital because genes matter. Love matters too. But genetics mattered to our parents and they matter to us. Stop lying about it.
-Susan Kane Donor-Conceived adult and mother to donor-conceived child