How I told my parents I knew I was donor-conceived
By Amber* (not her real name)
For Christmas, I treated myself to an Ancestry.com DNA test because I wanted to see if there was any interesting lineage in my history. Was I from Vikings? Or Scottish, maybe? I did the test and thought nothing of it. Long story short, I was contacted by someone who let me know I was donor-conceived after he had found out via a DNA test that he was donor-conceived.
I had no idea about this at the time, and it seemed unreal. It wasn’t until I met with a VARTA counsellor who confirmed things that it all fell into place. At 29 years old, I was learning for the first time that not only was I donor-conceived, but that I was one of 21. But the biggest challenge was yet to come: how do I tell my parents that I know?
After months of soul searching, chats with VARTA counsellors, and the help of a fabulous psychologist with experience in this area, I decided to write my parents a letter. I wanted to let them know a lot of things without them having to respond to me straight away. I didn’t want what I had to say to be interrupted or change directions because an in-person conversation about this would be loaded with emotion on all sides. So, here is a list of things I thought about when planning, and ultimately having, this conversation for the first time.
Points to include in my letter
- My first message was my overall feelings – ‘I love you both’.
- The second message was quick and clear – ‘I know I’m donor conceived’. I wanted to rip off the band aid because I knew they would panic until they understood what was going on.
- How I found out, why I was looking, and the fact that my Ancestry.com profile was private so others couldn’t find out by accident too.
- That I had had it confirmed from an undisputable source. (Some parents may panic and try to deny it).
- Acknowledgement of the potential reasons for them not telling me to date.
- My expectations for them telling my brother.
- Closing with the first message again. That I love them, that I still consider them my parents, and that we are still a family.
- Timing. I chose to send the letter to my parents when they were off work for a few days, giving them time together at home to process and freely discuss things without having to go anywhere or ‘push it aside’. I also checked that my brother was at work and wouldn’t be home for a couple of hours after I sent the letter.
- Choice of language. Language can make a big difference to how the letter is interpreted, and the first conversations about it, moving forward. I referred to the donor as ‘the donor’, not as ‘real dad’ – as this is very emotionally charged and can make the rest of the conversation quite difficult.
- I sent the letter to both parents. The stress of this conversation could make some parents incredibly uncomfortable and defensive. If you tell one parent and not the other, they may ask you not to tell the other parent at all. This puts you in a really uncomfortable situation. I sent it to both my parents at the same time to avoid any tricky situations like this.
- At the end of the letter, I made it clear that I would let them bring it up when they were ready. I said I was happy to talk with them and not talk to others about it until they were ready.
If you’re unsure where to start, a de-identified copy of my letter follows. It won’t suit everyone, and I really encourage you to remove and add things for your needs rather than use it as-is. Hopefully it helps you feel as prepared as possible to have the conversation with your family, and still feel as safe and secure as ever.
Hi Mum and Dad,
The first and most important thing for me to say is that I love you both so much.
To be frank, I know that I was conceived through fertility support services, which involved the help of a donor. While reading this may be a shock, please know that this doesn't change anything for me, and I still completely love you both as my Mum and Dad. I am so grateful to you both for getting support, because I wouldn't be here if you didn't, and neither would my daughter.
I found out through Ancestry.com accidentally. I did a DNA test kit as a way to find out where our family's ancestors were from. I was wanting to see if we were Vikings, or German, or something like that. There, I saw that I was apparently closely related to someone that I couldn't place. It was something that I couldn't make heads or tails of, and I didn't pursue it at all. He contacted me via Ancestry.com with some questions, and said that he was conceived with fertility services and a sperm donor and he thought I may have been too. Just so you know, I have since made my online family tree profile totally private and anonymous.
I went to the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Technology Authority (VARTA) to make sure it wasn't an online mistake. There, I spoke with a fantastic counsellor named Emily. She was very helpful and professional. Part of her job is to help families talk about this information, and support people in situations like this one. She has given me her direct contact details for you both to contact her when you're ready, if you like. She was helpful for me, and I really encourage you to call her for a chat. [Emily’s details here]. She doesn’t work full time, so if you can't reach her, another experienced counsellor is [back up counsellor’s name and contact phone number here]. And this is the link to their information for parents of donor-conceived people if you're interested. I think it would be really helpful for you if you contact VARTA before we chat about it, because they are such a great resource and support families like ours.
I understand that you were most likely advised by the medical staff at the time not to tell us about this, which may have been a difficult and lonely road for you both. While I would have liked to know this about myself, particularly before getting pregnant, I can completely understand why I wasn't told. In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't know when I was a teenager, I doubt I would have understood that information at that time.
I haven't said anything to [my brother] about this, and I don't plan to for now. I'll leave that to you both, but know that I'm happy to help in this regard if you like, and share my own experience with him. VARTA can support him too, like they did for me. I think it's important that he knows this information about himself, and I don't think it should be too far into the future. The VARTA staff can help you find the best way for you to discuss this with him if you like; that's their job.
It was never my plan to send this message and leave it so long before seeing you both in person again, but coronavirus has tied my hands here. I want to keep calling you everyday to share the beautiful changes and growth that [my daughter] shows me everyday. I want things to remain how they are, because you're my parents and her grandparents, and especially because we still can't see each other in person for a few months. Telling you via letter, with no face to face time, wasn't my plan, but I really want to get this out into the open between us. It's important for me and my mental health that I am open with you both. I want you both to feel proud of yourselves for doing what you did to have us.
Let me reiterate that you are my parents, and I love you both. I am deeply grateful for the path and efforts you took to have us. Moving forward, I hope we can have an open conversation about it when you're ready, sometime in the next few months. Please feel free to take all the time you need to discuss this, and we can talk about it when you're ready. Whenever that is, I'm here and eager to talk to you both, so I'll leave it to you to raise it. I understand that it was a complex decision for you both at the time, but nothing has changed for me - you are my parents and I love you both.
[My daughter] and I are going for a walk now while the sun is out. I'll give you a call as usual today or tomorrow for [my daughter’s] play and dinner. She's so close to crawling on her hands and knees now, and I think she's almost got clapping sorted too.
I love you,