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My partner and I haven’t had children. What will the donor linking process mean for us?

For donors and partners who have not had children, applications from donor offspring may prompt uncomfortable emotions. For those unable to have children, painful feelings of loss and grief about not being able to be a parent may resurface. However, some people may view a connection with donor offspring as an opportunity to develop a positive new relationship.

For donors and partners who plan to have children but have not yet done so, it may be challenging for the partner to know that any future child they have will not be the first or only child genetically related to their partner.

I’ve found out that I’m donor-conceived through DNA testing. What should I do next?

You can find out more information on discovering you are donor- conceived through DNA testing here.

VARTA has professional and supportive staff who can talk with you about your experience and feelings. VARTA staff can also connect you with support groups and help you decide whether there is anything you might like to do with this new information, either immediately or in future. You can find our contact details here.

Do you have examples of what to tell young children?

Below are some examples of what you might say when telling your child their story of coming to be. It is important to use your own words and to adapt it to your child as they develop and begin to be able to understand more complex information. Remember that telling is a process, not a one-off event - what is most important is how you say it, not what you say.

Donor sperm or donor egg (heterosexual parents)

We wanted to have you for so long. We couldn't make you on our own. We needed some help. All babies start from an egg from a woman and sperm from a man and you did too. We went to the doctor and the doctor said that a part of Mum's/Dad's body did not work and we needed some eggs/sperm. A donor offered to give us some of their eggs/sperm to make you. A donor is someone who gives something to someone else to help them (just like a blood, kidney or charity donor). We went to the hospital and the doctor put the eggs/sperm inside Mum and you started to grow. Mum's tummy grew bigger and bigger until you were ready to be born. We will always be your parents. We will always love you and be grateful to our donor for helping us to have you.

Donor sperm (same-sex mothers)

We really wanted to have you and become a family so we went to the doctor who said there was a way for two Mums to have babies. All babies start from a part from the man (sperm) and a part from the woman (egg). We had that egg but we needed some sperm. Your donor, [donor's name] helped us so that we could have you. The doctor put the sperm that [donor's name] gave us inside me and you started to grow. My tummy got bigger and bigger. Mumma was there the whole time and talked to you inside my tummy every day so you knew her voice. Finally you were ready to be born. Mumma and I were so happy to meet you at last. We will always love you and be your parents. [Donor's name] was so happy to have helped us and we are grateful that he helped us make you.

Donor embryo

Mum (and Dad) tried and tried to make you. Sometimes mummies (and daddies) need help from another man and woman (donors) to start a baby. The donors gave us/me a tiny embryo which is the beginning of a baby. It is made from a part from the woman (egg) and a part from the man (sperm). Everyone in the world starts from an embryo and you did too. The embryo was put inside Mum and you kept growing there until you were born.

Double donation (donor egg and donor sperm)

Mum (and Dad) tried and tried to make you. Sometimes mummies (and daddies) need help from another man and woman (donors) to start a baby. A woman gave us/me an egg and a man gave us/me some sperm. This was put inside me and the sperm and egg joined and started to grow... into you! My tummy grew bigger and bigger until you were ready to be born. We are so grateful to our donors who helped us to start you.

Donor egg and surrogacy (same-sex fathers)

Dad and I wanted to have you for so long. To make a baby you need a part from the man (sperm) and a part from the woman (egg) and then you need to put these parts together inside a woman for the baby to grow. We were so lucky that two special women helped us to have you. [Donor's name] gave her egg, and then [Surrogate's name] grew you inside her. We are so proud of you and so happy to be a family at last.

Surrogacy (heterosexual parents)

Mum and Dad tried and tried to have you. To make a baby you need a part from the woman (egg) and a part from the man (sperm) and a safe place for the baby to grow inside a woman (uterus) before it is born. Mum had the eggs and Dad had the sperm but mum's uterus was broken and a baby couldn't grow there. [Surrogate's name] offered to grow you in her uterus for us. The doctor put Mum's egg and Dad's sperm together and they joined to become an embryo. Everyone in the world starts to grow from an embryo. The embryo was then put inside [Surrogate's name]'s uterus and you kept growing there until you were ready to be born. We held [Surrogate's name] hand as she pushed you out and then Mum held you while Dad cut the cord and you were finally ours at last. We are so grateful to [Surrogate's name] for helping us make you. She will always have a special place in our hearts. We will always love you and be your Mum and Dad.

What are some typical questions my child may have about the donor or surrogate?

Children, and especially teenagers, often question:

  • Who am I?
  • Where did I come from?
  • Do I have anything in common with my donor or surrogate?
  • For those who do not already know their donor or surrogate: would I like them?
  • Why did they (the donor/surrogate) want to help make me?

If children have not already met their donor/surrogate, they may wonder what they are like. This is normal and healthy and does not undermine your role as their parents in any way. You may be curious too. Answer questions as honestly as you can. While it is important to talk about your donor or surrogate with high regard, do not overdo it either - your child may then have unrealistic expectations of their donor or surrogate. Share with your child the information you have available. Support them in applying to the donor conception registers (if in Victoria) or your treating clinic to find out more information.

What types of things might others ask me and how should I respond?

There are a number of scenarios and questions that you may be asked. How you respond is a personal choice. You can find a number of common scenarios below:

  • It is common for people to comment on resemblance or ask about your pregnancy. This may feel awkward for you. If someone tells the non-biological parent their child looks like them, you can just smile, or say thank you - you do not have to explain anything more.
  • If someone starts up a conversation with a non-biological parent about pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding, you may choose to correct their assumptions - or you may choose not to if that person is a stranger.
  • Some parents feel that conversations with others provide a good opportunity to educate people about your family, which can, in turn, have positive outcomes for your children. Talking to people can dispel myths, correct inaccuracies, or just make people feel more at ease with you and your family.
  • You may feel that the process of conceiving a child is personal and private and nobody else’s business. You may sometimes need to be very direct with people and explain that certain information is private, off-limits, or belongs to your child.

I’ve decided to tell my support network. What type of questions should I expect?

People may be curious about whether you used a known or anonymous donor; whether you conceived at home or using a clinic; in Australia or overseas.

In same-sex families, questions may also be asked of how you decided which partner would carry your child or provide sperm. Gay Dads may choose not to reveal who is the biological father of their child born through surrogacy and lesbian Mums may not wish to share information about who the biological mother is.

People may ask questions that appear judgmental or homophobic, but which might just be clumsy, ignorant or not thought through. It can be helpful to give people the benefit of the doubt sometimes.

What is a family storybook and why should I create one?

A family storybook is an opportunity to document the story of your child's journey into this world. It can take many forms, limited only by your time and creativity - including a digital journal, a scrapbook, a children's book, a film, or even a memory box.

Regardless of the medium you choose, your family storybook can include images and mementos collected from your fertility treatment, the pregnancy, and any information you have about your family, your child and your donor or surrogate. These items can include: a positive pregnancy test, scan images, donor profile or photos of the surrogate or donor if you know them already, an ID bracelet, or a lock of hair.

You and your child can add to it over the years, including new cards, photos, or letters from the donor or surrogate.

A family storybook is a communication and documentation tool that helps to:

  • Give a child conceived with the help of a donor or surrogate a piece of their history to enable them to tell their story from a place of security, pride and strength. It builds the child’s sense of identity, self-esteem and self-worth.
  • Broaden the perspectives of parents who have used a donor or surrogate so they can be proud of the way they created their family.
  • Promote good relations between parents, their children, and their family’s story.
  • Retain memories of your journey to becoming a family.
  • Enable the child to share their story with others.

How many people have donated eggs, sperm or embryos in Victoria?

In 2019-20, there were more than 4,000 donors on the Central Register.

What happens to my DNA sample?

Most DTC testing companies send your DNA sample to laboratories based overseas, even if the postal address was originally within Australia. This makes it difficult to determine if the companies’ laboratories are under the same quality control standards as Australian NATA-accredited laboratories which are highly regulated with strict policies for analysis, interpretation and storage of samples.

Read the privacy policy of DTC testing companies to ensure you’re aware of their policies and procedures for storing your data and/or DNA sample.

  • Most DTC DNA testing companies retain your DNA sample (you may choose to opt-out if the option is given) and your genetic information until you decide to delete your account.
  • In some cases, you may need to specifically request to have your DNA sample destroyed when you delete your personal data.
  • Some DTC DNA testing companies may share your genetic information with third-party companies or parent companies.

What questions should I think about before getting testing?

Here are some questions to think about before testing or if you’ve done a test:

  • What do you want to achieve out of this process?
  • Do you have somebody to support you in an independent, neutral way?
  • Have you applied for records that might help you, such as information from VARTA’s donor conception registers?
  • Are you aware of all the possible outcomes and have you thought about how you might react to these?
  • How will you respond to unexpected contact from a genetic relative?

I’m anxious. Is this normal?

Yes, it is common to have doubts, be anxious or nervous. Many of the anxieties experienced reduce or completely disappear over time. Discuss any concerns you have with your partner, close friends or family, known donor or your counsellor.

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