"Where Did I Come From?"
Kids delight in hearing the story of their birth, but the telling can fluster a parent who has traveled the high-tech route to pregnancy.
Making the project easier are two helpful guidebooks: The Long Awaited Stork: A Guide to Parenting After Infertility, by therapist Ellen Glazer (Jossey-Bass); and Flight of the Stork: What Children Think (and When) About Sex and Family Building, by family psychologist Anne Bernstein (Perspectives Press).
IN THE BEGINNING
Around age 3 or 4, according to Bernstein, kids become curious about where they came from. Their questions are a natural opportunity to broach the subject, but parents need to be careful not to overwhelm their children with technical details. "When conception involves the mother's egg and father's sperm, I see no need to tell the child how that egg and sperm got together," says Bernstein. "After all, if your child was conceived in bed, you wouldn't discuss sexual positions."
Kids born through sperm or egg donation need more information. Bernstein gives this example of what a parent might say:
"Babies grow in the mother's uterus. To start the baby, a woman's egg and a man's sperm must join together. But sometimes, when a woman and a man try to start a baby, a baby doesn't grow. There are lots of reasons why that can happen. Sometimes, the father's sperm/mother's egg isn't strong or healthy. If the man and woman really want to grow a baby, they may get sperm/eggs from a man/woman who wants to help."
Some kids may need reassurance that the donor was not a parent who rejected them:
Child: "Why didn't the man/ woman who gave the sperm/eggs want to be my daddy/mommy?"
Parent: "This person didn't know you. He/she gave his sperm/ egg because he/she wanted to help, not because he/she was ready to be a daddy/mommy."
"The concepts take time for children to assimilate," says Bernstein. "Encourage questions, and let them know you're open to their concerns without making them feel like they're different."