Separate Infertility From Your Child’s Donor Story


Donor conception is used by people who are single, queer couples, and people with a medical issue or infertility. For those in the last group, using donor conception can be particularly difficult. Often grief, loss, and a history of failed treatments are all part of their experience. As a result, disclosure to family, and friends, and the way they envision their lives with their children can be fraught with emotions. The recipients of gamete donation need to contend with a new world of issues, and it will be important for them to not bring their feelings about those issues into their parenting experience.


Infertility is painful. It can be an assault to our relationships, career, and sense of self. Men are also affected, but unexplained infertility often feels more personal for women. Women often feel that their bodies are made to reproduce. Getting pregnant is the one thing that many women feel they can rely upon. Job opportunities and other life experiences may or may not fulfill our dreams but the dream of becoming a parent is something that we feel should just happen naturally. When it doesn’t, it can feel shocking.

Women have reminders every month that their bodies are made to make a baby and often spend their young adult life trying not to get pregnant. When pregnancy is not achieved, sadness and even depression can ensue. Fertility treatments and a loss of control can worsen the pain.

Sadness about the loss of a genetic connection to the child

Fortunately, modern medicine has made it possible for almost anyone to have a child. That’s the good news. The news that can be more difficult to stomach is that the genetic connection to a child may no longer be feasible. Accepting this fact can be very painful for some people.

Reactions are as individual as the person. Yet, even for a woman who clearly understands that her desire to be a mother overrides the desire for a genetic connection to a child, coming to terms with the reality that she has lost a genetic connection to future children can feel hurtful. Like most grief reactions, it takes time to absorb the loss and grow accustomed to a new reality.

Disclosure fears

Many people who use donor gametes to have a child struggle with worries about disclosure. They worry about how their child will feel about being conceived with the assistance of donor sperm or donor eggs. They worry about how their children will fare in the world when others are aware of their children’s origins. They also wonder if their child’s understanding of their origins will cause them to love their parents less. Additionally, there are worries that the child will feel “less than “ or not be able to “handle” the complexities of their donor information.

All of these feelings are understandable. However, they are typically all surmountable. Although we don’t have as many decades of research in the gamete donation community as we have in the adoption community, and although adoption is different from gamete donation in many ways, we know that in both groups, disclosure early and often helps the children and their relationships with their parents. As this understanding becomes more of the zeitgeist of our society, it is likely children and their parents will not have the same level of difficulties that have been endured by many people who learned of their origins later in life, or accidentally.

However, even with this understanding, parents are often fearful about disclosing to their children.

One of the reasons this is so difficult is because parents-to-be are not parents yet. They have not experienced the gradual bonding that happens between parent and child during caretaking. They are not accustomed to feeling that the child is their child, and the child sees them as their parent. Once the parents begin to bond with the child, life can more easily change. The parent is less likely to feel threatened by a lack of genetic connection.

If, for example, we think about a young child in school who comes home raving about the ice cream he had in school that day and begs the parent for the same ice cream for his birthday party, the parents will move heaven and earth to find that ice cream. Similarly, when a child asks why they have dimples but no one else in the family has dimples, the parent will want to answer that question for their child. The parent and child have bonded. Before the child is born, it can be difficult to imagine that bond and that feeling of security in the role of parent.

Ideally, if parents-to-be can understand that it is important to embrace the way their child came into the world, they will have more time to practice their child’s disclosure story. Practicing that story, getting the kinks out, having the tears, and stumbling over the words, can be of enormous help in preparing for the day when the baby comes.

In the workshops I have run for donor-conceived children and their families, I typically see parents who are devoted to providing the best life possible for their children. That includes helping their children understand their story and it necessitates the parent doing the work to get used to the idea that their future family will be one created with donor conception.

For some parents-to-be, this assimilation comes fairly easily, and for others, it can be excruciating and can take a long time. That is okay. It is a difficult journey for many. However, parents need to realize their grief belongs to them, and not to their children. They need to work through their loss and practice their narrative so they can be more comfortable with their story and available to their child so they can love them entirely, not just the parts that are connected to them.