ART - Talking to Children About Assisted Reproductive Technology

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Talking to Pre-Teens and Teens About Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)

Adolescents are trying to make sense of the world and find their place in it. To establish the independence they’ll need to function as adults, they need to question and define their identities. They may wonder about the donor and what motivated him or her to participate in their birth. They may feel a sense of loss, sadness, or anger over not knowing the donor. They may worry about inheriting the problems that caused their parents’ infertility, and want more about what happened. Parents can help their teenage and preteen children recognize that such mixed feelings are normal, and answer teens’ questions as fully as possible.

It’s also normal for adolescents to get rebellious and angry at their parents, and kids born through ART have extra weapons they can use. At 11 or 12, they may resent that they weren’t conceived like everyone else. Even though it’s hard to hear, parents need to let kids express their angry or negative feelings. Sometimes it helps to have a light touch.

Parents should expect that an adolescent who is, for example, asked to give up seeing friends so that she can babysit a younger brother, may feel quite angry. A child who was born through ART (like a child who was adopted or who is a stepchild) may lash out by saying something like, "I don't have to listen to you—you're not my real mother!" While such comments can be painful to hear, they're simply an expression of the child's temporary anger, and not a rejection of your relationship.

At times like this, using some lighthearted humor and accepting the child's intense emotions are more effective tools than arguing about your relationship. Keep telling yourself that this type of rebelliousness is normal and healthy for teens.

Patricia Mendell, LCSW

Patricia Mendell, LCSW, a social worker and psychotherapist in New York City who specializes issues related to infertility, describes how parents can do this.

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Hilary Hanafin, Ph.D.

Adolescence is also a time for fantasizing: What if my life were different? What if my parents got divorced? What if my donor dad was a movie star? Hilary Hanafin, Ph.D., the chief psychologist at the Center for Surrogate Parenting in Los Angeles, says that unlike adopted kids, who might easily have ended up with other parents, children of ART would not have been conceived unless their mom and dad had planned it. But like all kids, they wonder what life would have been like under other circumstances.

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Rebecca , now 18, describes the fantasies she'd had throughout her childhood and adolescence about the woman who had given birth to her.

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"I think with ART children it's possible that woven into that is the additional "What if?" What if my surrogate mom was different? What if my egg donor is really a famous musician and no one told me? What if the reason I'm the shortest kid in the class is because my sperm donor was short and no one told them?"
Hilary Hanafin, Ph.D.


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