ART - Talking to Children About Assisted Reproductive Technology

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Audio Transcript from “Talking to Pre-Teens and Teens About ART

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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PATRICIA MENDELL, LCSW: I think parents are so worried that their child's going to reject them that that's what they hear first: they hear the rejection. They don't really understand that it really is about the parenting issue.

What everybody's worried about is adolescence. The question of when the kid becomes really angry at you and wants to slam you for probably being a parent.

So if you want them to complete their homework, and you're on their case, on their case, on their case, then they might say something about, "Well, I'm going to go find my egg donor and live with her and get rid of you, because you're not my real mother." And the reality is, when I tell people that ahead of time, they all freeze up. Oh my goodness! What are we going to do? And it's not about the egg donor. It's about, "Get off my back. You're putting too much pressure on me. I don't really like it. And so therefore I'm going to get you where it hurts." I have to kind of tell people: divide up what it's all about. What you need to say to say to a kid is, "Look, I know you're really angry at me because I'm on your homework. And if you have questions about the egg donor, why don't we spend some time sitting down and really talking about it. But right now I want to finish your homework. And then at another point in time—you want an hour? Two hours? Tomorrow? You want to talk about the egg donor, I'll be happy to talk about it. And we'll talk about what your questions are. But I think you're just really mad at me." And usually when you kind of divide it up that way, they then go off to, "Yeah, but get off my back about the homework."

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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HILARY HANAFIN, PH.D.: What I see in the next stage, especially preadolescence, is much more the "what if." The typical kid at that stage—many of them will start to daydream about what if I become a major league baseball player? What if I could be a pop singer like the 12-year-olds on the radio who are famous now?

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 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? There's variables that they truly can make up or imagine in addition to all the typical questions kids have.

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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REBECCA: When I was younger, I always told myself that when I turn 18 I'll be old and mature and I'll be ready to meet her. I'll show up on her doorstep, and she'll open the door, and she'll recognize me immediately, and she'll pull me into this tight embrace and all the fantasies about finding your long-lost mother, and things like that. But I'm 18 now, and I have no idea what I would even say to her. I have no idea what I would even do. I don't know what she would do.

When I was younger, I had all these fantasies about being in touch with her. She would always think of me as the daughter she never got to raise. And she would have this deep emotional attachment to me. And she never made much of an effort to keep in contact with us. That really hurt me when I was younger. And I thought she doesn't care about me. I'm not really worth her time and attention.

She sent a letter to my parents when I was in fourth grade. And I like freaked out. I read the letter like 20 times. It was a very general letter. This is what's going on in my life right now. This is how old my kids are. This is what they're doing. This is what I'm doing for a profession. She sort of switched jobs a lot. You know, just a very general letter. But when you're in fourth grade, that's all you really need. So I wrote her a letter myself, and she never wrote back. I was just devastated.

She sent me a letter when I was in my junior year of high school. She sent a letter to me and a letter to my mom. Again, I was sort of expecting this more heartfelt deeper letter than what she sent. It was very much below what I would have expected. It was, again, a very general letter. The life that she described in that letter was so different than the life that I lived. And I just sort of realized I don't even know what I would say to her.

I felt very separated from her when I read that letter. I think that sort of made me really think of myself as Michael and Jean Gitlin's daughter, like 100 percent.


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