Donor children aged 0-2
At this age, it’s a good idea to tell your child about the situation gradually. Tell him or her in small snippets while your child is playing or while you’re spending some downtime together.
“You can draw the situation or read one of the many good children’s books on the topic. Picture books showing how children come into the world are also a good option. At this age, your child won’t fully comprehend what you’re telling them, but fragments of your story will settle into their minds and over time, form the basis of their understanding.
Donor children aged 2-5
During this time, your child will develop enough language and cognitive skills for you to tell them more about the donor. You can also start to explain to them why you decided to get help to have children.
“Books, images and puzzles will enable the child to start asking questions and think aloud, so you can have an open conversation. Typically, children this age won’t maintain conversation for long, so it’s a good idea to return to the subject once in a while. Again, you should initiate the conversation and not wait for your child to bring it up.”
At this age, children will also start getting questions about their family from their friends. Questions or statements about how you can have two mothers or that the child doesn’t have a father will pop up. It’s natural for children this age to be curious about each other and wonder about things that are different from themselves.
Henriette explains: “It’s normal for kids this age to start making sense of what they experience. For instance, by saying that ‘Hannah’s dad is dead.’ This makes sense to a small child because he or she distinguishes between something being present or something being absent. If it’s absent, it must be because it’s dead.”
Henriette recommends that you explain to your child that his or her dad isn’t dead. Instead, tell your child that he’s a sperm donor (“a man who has provided sperm”). That way, your child has answers at the ready when friends ask questions. It gives the child a sense of security that he can answer the question himself: “I don’t have a daddy. My mum used a donor who gave her some sperm cells, so she could have me”.
Donor children aged 5-9
When children reach this age level, their way of thinking starts to mature. The child will start asking questions of her own and connect pieces of information provided to her.
It’s common that children from the age of 6 or 7 are interested in matters relating to life and death. For instance, the origin of life on earth, where we come from and perhaps the history of the family. That means lots of openings for new conversations about the topic of being donor-conceived. Including themes like what does mum know about my donor?, can I meet my donor?, do I have half-siblings? and so on. Again, Henriette Cranil recommends that you, the adult, initiate the conversation. But most likely, a lot of the questions will come from the child – provided that the topic of donor-assisted conception has been openly discussed in the past.
Children this age pick up impressions from all over: television, social media and so on. These sources of information will provide ample opportunity for conversation. Perhaps it’s an interview with a donor explaining his thought process before deciding to donate or an adult donor child telling her story. You’ll be able to gradually tell your child more and more about the topic. And in turn, this will lead to more questions from your child.
Pre-teen donor children (9-13 years of age)
Most pre-teens have a well-developed capability of abstract thinking. This means that they’re able to ask nuanced questions, draw logical conclusions and imagine situations that are not based on personal experience.
At the beginning of this age level, children go from asking “what questions” – what are egg and sperm cells? What is a donor? What does it mean to be donor-conceived? – to an interest in correlations. That means, questions starting with “why” or “how”. Why did mum choose to use a sperm donor? Why don’t I have a dad? How does a medical professional perform inseminations?
“As a parent, you need to welcome these new types of questions. Also, know that your child will reflect more deeply on the topic: how do I feel about being donor-conceived? How do I feel about being compared to a traditional family?”, Henriette says.
The role of the adult continues to be that of supporting the child in all reflections. You need to be open and curious about positive as well as potentially critical thoughts that the child is having. This openness and willingness to listen to the full breadth of what your child is thinking should be sustained through adolescence.
Henriette summarises: an adult donor child should possess all information about their biological heritage and the considerations driving the choices to have him or her.