When Not to Tell Children About Their Birth Roots

Keeping your children’s birth roots a secret – especially if they stem from infertility treatments – is generally a bad idea. However, there are specific times when it’s better not to tell them about their birth roots and the fertility treatments involved.

“Honesty is good for families,” writes Diane Ehrensaft in Mommies, Daddies, Donors, Surrogates: Answering Tough Questions and Building Strong Families. “Children may intuit things about their origins even if they’re not told. Nevertheless, under special circumstances three critical factors may tip the scales toward not telling.”

Click on Mommies, Daddies, Donors, Surrogates for so much info about coping with infertility treatments, and read on for Ehrensaft’s thoughts on when not to tell children about their birth roots or origins in fertility treatments.

When Not to Tell Children About Their Birth Roots

My husband likes this part of Ehrensaft’s book, because he’s been wondering all along how to tell our (future) children that their birth roots involve in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments. He’s not insisting we keep it a secret – but he has lots of valid questions about how and when to tell the kids.

Our fertility counselor advised us to tell children about their birth roots (such as in vitro fertilization or other infertility treatments) as early as possible. She said that keeping it a secret makes infertility seem like a bad thing – and it’s not something to be ashamed of.

In Mommies, Daddies, Donors, Surrogates, Ehrensaft advises readers to put the best interests of the child above your own desires or plans. Here are three reasons not to tell kids about their birth roots.

1. If children are vulnerable or fragile. “Pretend for a moment that Marcy’s son Andrew has developmental problems, such as mild mental retardation or a disorder like autism or Asperger’s syndrome,” writes Ehrensaft. “Or let’s imagine that he suffered a significant mental trauma, leaving him indefinitely weakened, vulnerable, and anxious.” In a case like this, telling children about their birth roots could cause more harm than good.

2. If the parent-child bond will be threatened. Ehrensaft gave the example of a father being recently wheel-chair bound with limited speech capability. It can be difficult for kids to adjust to seeing a parent like this – and thus now is probably not the best time to tell them about their birth roots.

Ehrensaft stresses that full disclosure is almost always better. Only in very specialized circumstances, such as illness of a parent or fragility of a child, should the information be kept secret.

3. If the children’s psychological well-being will be threatened. If your religion condemns fertility treatments or other ways of getting pregnant (other than natural methods of conceiving a child), then it may not be wise to share the children’s birth roots. If your extended family would disinherit or cut off your children, then it may not be wise to talk about your children’s birth roots. “Parents in hostile environments may want to hide their children from the facts of their birth to save them from an environment not ready to receive them or intent on doing harm to them,” writes Ehrensaft.

Ehrensaft also stresses that children who do not know about their birth roots do as well in their cognitive development, social functioning, emotional growth, and parent-child relationships as kids born the old-fashioned way.

What do you think about telling children about their birth roots – whether it involves infertility treatments, surrogate motherhood, adoption, or other unusual methods of conceiving?  And just as important: when do you tell your kids?

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