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Excerpted from Your Future Family: The Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction by Kim Bergman, Ph.D.
Have questions about parenting or surrogacy? Tune into our Facebook Live chat with Dr. Bergman Wednesday, May 22, at 2:15 p.m. Pacific time.
From the time you first think about creating your family, you are also creating your family story. And it's important to think about how you will tell that story to your child, your family, acquaintances, and even strangers.
It might help to know that you are not alone.
Telling Your Child the Truth
I believe very strongly that you should tell your child the truth about how he or she came into the world. And the earlier you do this, the better. That way, there is no shame surrounding the topic and you weave your family's truth into the fabric of your child's life, making it an integral and beautiful part of who he or she is.
The key is to be honest and to keep it simple. I also suggest that you tell the story as often as you can. Do it the same way you talk to your infant all the time, even though the baby can't understand what you're saying. All they hear at that point is, "I love you and I'm doting on you." But when they do begin to understand language, one of the first things they'll hear is how much you wanted them.
You can tell your child that he or she began as a wish. That you wanted them so much you got help from other people to have them. That it takes a part from a man, a part from a woman, and then a place for the baby to grow, and sometimes we need to get some of those things from other people. Remind your child that a whole bunch of love and planning went into building your family. Then, as your child gets older, you can add age-appropriate language and more specific and accurate biological information. The key is to tell the story proudly, repeat it often, and add details as your child gets older and more able to understand.
This does not, however, mean that you need to share every detail of your child's conception and birth with everyone you encounter. You don't. But you do need to tell your child the truth right from the start. You need to let your child know that you really wanted a baby and you had to jump through all sorts of hoops to make it happen, so that's what you did and you're glad you did it. When the truth is embraced and celebrated, your child will feel wanted and special and loved.
When my oldest daughter, Abby, started kindergarten, there was an incident on the playground. This was in 2001, and she was the only kid in school with two mommies. We got a call from her teacher, who told us that some kids had circled around Abby, wanting to know about her dad. "You have to have a dad. Where is your dad? Who is your dad? What do you mean you don't have a dad? All kids have a dad." Apparently, Abby puffed out her chest and yelled proudly, "I don't have a dad. Everybody does not have a dad." The teacher said she thought Abby handled it just fine and there was nothing we needed to do or worry about. She just wanted to let us know. And that was the end of that. From then on, the kids understood our family makeup and accepted it -- because the acceptance started with Abby.
The takeaway from this incident is that Abby stood up for herself because she knew her story and she loved it, so she felt empowered to defend it. What you make normal for your kids will be normal for your kids.
It's natural for children to look to their parents to understand why they look the way they do. Should you decide to build a family through third-party assisted reproduction, you need to consider what you'll tell your child about their genetic makeup. This is true for all types of families. So let me be absolutely, perfectly, 100 percent clear about this: Making up stories and keeping secrets about your child's conception and birth is a very, very bad idea.
Kim Bergman, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and co-owner and senior partner of Growing Generations, one of the oldest and largest surrogacy and egg donor agencies in the world. She serves on the corporate board of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and is an emeritus board member for the Family Equality Council.
Reprinted with permission from Red Wheel/Weiser LLC. Your Future Family by Kim Bergman, Ph.D., is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 423-7087.