Third-party reproduction was born in secrecy. In the 1800s, using
simple techniques learned from animal husbandry, small-town doctors
were able to help their male patients become fathers through artificial
insemination. Nobody needed to know that a sperm donor was involved,
the doctors reasoned, and patients were cautioned never to reveal
the secret to anyone – especially not the child.
Today this philosophy is criticized. Many professionals believe
that secrets can strain family relationships and cause psychological
harm to children. They argue that being open with children about
their genetic origins lessens any sense of negativity or shame,
and protects kids from finding out accidentally later on in life.
Although research is still preliminary, openness does not appear
to hurt children. Some studies have shown that children told about
the means of their conception are well-adjusted. Others indicate
that early disclosure may have positive effect on parent/child relationships,
while secrecy may lead to mistrust, frustration, or hostility towards
the family. In its 2004 report, the American Society of Reproductive
Medicine supported disclosure, encouraging parents to tell their
offspring about the use of donor sperm or egg in their conception.
Gary Gilbert, a dentist, had testicular cancer as a young
man, which left him infertile. He and his wife later had
twins with the help of a sperm donor. Doctors advised them
at the time never to tell the children about their origins,
but keeping the secret eventually became too much for Gary
to bear. He revealed the truth to his children Andrew and
Emily when they turned 21.
Lily Johnson, 14, and her brother Chase, 10, always knew
they’d been carried by a surrogate mother, using the
surrogate’s egg and their father’s sperm. Their
mother, Fay, began telling them the story of their births
from the time they were very young. As you’ll hear,
their experiences were quite different from those of the
Himberg, Jim Ballantine and Fanny Ballantine-Himberg: The Ballantine-Himberg family was profiled in the documentary
film Daddy & Papa. They faced a different set of challenges.
Fanny was 13 years old when we spoke with them.
parents put off discussing ART with their children for fear
of hurting them, or of creating confusion. If you have never
told your teen about his or her origins, and would like
to, the task is tricky but doable. Finding out later in
life can feel like a betrayal to kids, and parents need
to be prepared for their reactions. As Dr. Elaine Gordon
explains, it may help to have professional counseling before
you make the disclosure. (See How
to Find Help for information on how to find a qualified
counselor near you.)
felt I was relieving myself of the biggest load I had carried my
entire life. I felt that because I wanted them to know—and
I wanted them to know before I wasn't here to tell them myself." — Gary Gilbert
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