When I decided to use donor sperm and egg to conceive my child, I never anticipated the way in which the donor origins conversation would played out with my son.
I did my research about how to talk to my child about his donor origins. I wasn’t nervous or anxious about broaching the topic with him. I believed that I should expose my child early and often to the idea that he had been conceived via donor sperm and egg.
I bought a selection of books and readily told him the story of his conception. Emphasizing how much I wanted a baby, I explained that I needed a seed from a man and a seed from a woman, labeling them donors. And explained that the seeds were combined and put into my body so that I could grow him.
Since he was born, I’ve readily pointed out as many different family structures to my child as possible–our friends with two moms, our friends with only a mommy, friends with two daddies etc. I am so thankful to live in a progressive area where I can readily point out different families.
It was all very lovely and I was feeling confident until one day he started saying, “I have a daddy,” over and over again. He has a huge smile on his face and doesn’t act concerned. But the phrase was on instant repeat, sometimes probably 100 times a day. I was confounded by how to respond.
And so, many times a day, or sometimes many times in an hour, I’d have to say to my son, “no, sorry, you don’t have a daddy. You have a donor.” It broke my heart to have to be so blunt. I’d practiced saying, “we are a mommy and baby family,” and other nice sayings. But here I was needing to bluntly say, “sorry, you don’t have a dad.” This went on for a few months.
I want to keep the lines of communication open so I change it up a bit sometimes by asking him what he means? I don’t want to quash an imaginary friend or shut down the conversation by indicating that he’s wrong.
I should add that he doesn’t seem upset or concerned when he says this. Nor does he seem upset when I correct him. And, from what I know, he is probably just trying to explore my reaction. He’s seen other kids at school who have daddies and he’s curious about why and how they exist for some kids.
I had to notify his care givers that he was obsessed with this saying and gave them the language I had been using. I lent my son’s daycare my favorite books about various family structures so they could foster the conversation among all the kids.
It felt particularly heartbreaking because my son clearly loves men. He gravitates to them and lights up when we come across men at the park or in social encounters. I can see that he would love to have that male bond and connection. When I was contemplating single motherhood, I wasn’t too worried about the absence of a father. I agreed with the research that suggests that one stable loving parent is the most important factor in raising a healthy child. I believed I’d help him find male role models. I never had brothers and wasn’t particularly close to either of my parents so I didn’t feel too worried. But I certainly did not factor in his obvious bond and attraction to men. It’s just reaffirmed my commitment to find great male role models and play dates with friends and their dads.
My main take away on this matter is that I need to remain calm. This is a wonderful opportunity to practice my own somatic and mind/body practices to keep myself calm. Young children are intimately tied into their caregiver’s nervous systems. They are taking their cues from how we react but those cues are more than verbal. Our emotional and visceral cues are way more important to them.
I feel my body lurch internally every time I hear my son say, “I have a daddy.” And my guts do a few somersaults each time I respond, “sorry honey, you have a donor.” And, I assume he senses that. It’s possible that the reason he repeats it so often is that he’s trying to make sense of my response. No doubt, he’s trying to map this strange territory in some way.
I’ve been trying to remember to take a deep breath and allow myself to melt and relax internally on the outbreath. I tune into my contacts with the ground and support they provide. In this way I ground myself before I answer his questions.
Just one more example of how motherhood and the donor journey is always surprising. Every time I get comfortable there’s something unexpected. I look forward to seeing how this conversation evolves for us over time.
I’d love to hear about how the donor conversation is going for you. What has surprised you most? How do you deal with your reactions and emotions surrounding the topic? Shoot me an email or comment below on this piece.
And, be sure to download my FREE guide all about how to start the donor conversation with your child, complete with tips for when and how to have the conversation and a comprehensive reading list of books on every type of family configuration. It’s also great for sharing with teachers and family so they understand the basic concepts as well.
In case we haven’t met, I’m Sarah Kowalski, Single Mother by Choice, Fertility Doula, Life Coach and author. I am a go to guide for women who are contemplating single motherhood, seeking help with fertility or raising donor-conceived children. I inspire them to reconsider what it means to be a mother so they can embrace their unique path to motherhood and get down to being a badass mama. Join my mailing list below for regular articles and updates.