Increasing fertility issues and alternate family structures are making people opt for methods of reproduction other than natural conception. Thanks to the advancement of science, it is not uncommon for aspiring parents, including single parents and same-sex couples, to conceive via assisted reproductive technologies like IVF (in vitro fertilisation) or even surrogacy.
Parents are generally advised to explain to their children how they were conceived or brought into the family in an age-appropriate way. In case of adoption, for instance, it is recommended that the child is informed that he or she was adopted. But in case of IVF or surrogacy, where the question of the child’s roots or past is not involved, is it still necessary to inform them about how they were conceived?
Children, given their curious nature, start asking several questions as they grow older, among them being how and where they came from. And the reasons they should know about it are manifold. Niharika Mehta, psychologist, Hiranandani Hospital Vashi told Express Parenting that in terms of medical history, it is useful to make the child aware of their biological composition, what their genetic makeup is like. “After the child has grown up and become an independent adult, it is better for them to know where they have come from so that it is easier to trace their medical history,” she advised.
Children should hear about their birth from their parents first, before someone accidentally tells them. A revelation by relatives or peers could be misplaced and come as a shock to the child. To know that their parents hid the truth about their conception can only lead to a sense of distrust in the parent-child relationship, while building a negative view of the issue.
While more and more individuals are opting for alternate methods of having a child, it continues to be a hush-hush affair, perhaps from a sense of shame or inadequacy for using donate sperm or another woman’s womb. Initiating a conversation with the child about the same can happen only after the parents themselves are able to address the stigma associated with IVF or surrogacy and move past it, believes Dr Debmita Dutta, parenting consultant and founder, What Parents Ask. A lot goes into these procedures–not just time and money but it involves emotional, mental and physical exhaustion too. “Instead of feeling shame, parents should take pride in all they went through to have their child,” Dr Dutta expressed.
How to talk to your child about IVF/ surrogacy
Talking to a child about where they came from is an ongoing process. Parents need to begin talking on the subject from a very young age. “When you keep repeating the story, both you and your child will become more comfortable with the issue,” Dr Dutta explained. It will also encourage them to accept IVF or surrogacy as something that is perfectly normal.
“In addition to explaining how babies are made, parents can also talk about the various types of family structures today,” Dr Dutta advised. She suggested this could be done by introducing the child to books on IVF or surrogacy, through simple diagrams or stories. They need not know about the procedures in detail at that age although they might find all the details by themselves over time. These techniques would work best when the child is young. By the time they reach their preteens or teenage, they are already grappling with their sense of identity so breaking the news to them at this age is definitely not feasible.
The way a child looks–in terms of their resemblance with the parents–is also an important aspect of their identity development. “As the child grows, there could be questions about looks. For instance, in the case of surrogacy, there might be a slight difference in terms of looks. So, it is quite possible that the child may have difficulty with identity development. So, it is always a better option to let the child know how they became a part of their existing family,” said Mehta.
Apart from telling children how they were born, the parents should reaffirm their love for their child. The child should know that after all, you are family. “When the truth is broken, the emotional component has to be highlighted as well. It has to be done very carefully and tactfully because if the child is very young, they may be sensitive and interpret the situation in a negative manner,” Mehta said.
Children are not really bothered about where they came from as long as they are connected to the family very deeply. What they need from parents is an unbiased, open conversation about the issue, Dr Dutta concluded.
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