DSR Counseling

Donor families are unique, and the challenges of forming and redefining family as you make new biological connections can seem overwhelming. As you maneuver through this uncharted territory, it's important to understand the issues, take advantage of the available resources, and ask for help if you need it.

Phone Consult with Wendy

Wendy is available for phone consult sessions when a licensed therapist might not be necessary. She has experience in speaking with many parents, prospective parents, donors, and donor offspring.

Free 1st Phone Consult/Counseling Session for DSR Members*
If you're a DSR member, contact Wendy if you are interested in a free phone consult. If you are satisfied with your phone consult, we request a small tax-deductible donation to the DSR.
*Non-members pay $100 for a consult/counseling session.

May 2020 interview with Wendy: Fruitful Fertility Video Podcast: The Scoop on Using Donors

Donor Family Issues

Over the years, we have heard some disturbing accounts of DSR parents, donors, and offspring being counseled by therapists who do not seem at all well-versed or experienced in the importance of early disclosure, the intricacies of donor families, or the potential complications (and joys) of connecting with donors or half-sibling families.

Here are just a few of the issues that Wendy can chat with you about:

I just found out that I am donor-conceived ... help!

My adult donor-conceived child just found via DNA testing that she is donor-conceived ... how do I best support her?

Maneuvering through the issues of disclosure, a child’s right to know, and when and how to tell.

How to move forward in connecting with a half-sibling’s family (or many families).

Coping with donor family members who have different comfort levels and desires to connect.

Non-biological parents who may be feeling uncomfortable with their children reaching out to biological relatives.

Helping to make the distinction between privacy and secrecy in the families we connect with.

Couples or single moms deciding to use donor insemination and wondering about open or anonymous donors.

For donor-conceived people — how to cope when you have a burning desire to know your genetic/ancestral history.

Donors — how to move forward with connecting when your family members may not know of your donations or may not approve of your reaching out to your genetic offspring (and how to manage when there are many of them).

Parents/donors/offspring coming together from different socio-economic/political/sexual orientation/religious backgrounds who need assistance in moving forward in the most healthy way possible.

Recommendations

FAQs

Following are some frequently asked questions, with answers that may help guide you through what can be an exciting, but sometimes confusing, journey.

For donor-conceived persons, parents of the donor-conceived, and donors themselves, making these connections is uncharted territory. Please know that these questions have been asked by many members, and as we fine-tune the questions, hopefully we can all figure out some answers together here on the DSR. (We have partnered with Liz Margolies, a licensed psychotherapist, to answer some of these questions.)

(Note: For questions about how to use the DSR site, please consult the Site Help page.)

Why Should I Tell My Child They Are Donor-Conceived?

Some parents are reluctant to tell their children that they were conceived with the aid of donor gametes (eggs or sperm). They view this information as "private" or "confidential." According to the research, married couples are more likely to feel this way than either single women or lesbians who use donor sperm. In some cases, heterosexual couples have not shared the information with any close friends or family.

Parents who believe their children deserve to know their genetic origins tend to frame the issue in terms of "honesty" versus "secrecy." They value openness in the family and believe that secrets are dangerous and uncontrollable. For example, in cases where there are some other people who do know the circumstances of a child’s conception, there is always the risk of unplanned disclosure by someone besides the parent.

Children need to be told about the circumstances of their conception for two primary reasons: They have a right to know their genetic origins, and it is damaging to family relationships when important information is withheld or revealed too late. It can damage trust between family members.

Some children who had not yet been told that they were donor-conceived reported that they already felt different within their families, based on either physical characteristics or personality. They lacked facts to substantiate their strong feelings. Even without being told, children often pick up hidden clues from the family. In the studies that have been completed with donor-conceived children, many reported a powerful sense that some valuable information was being withheld from them.

The ability for parents to find half-siblings through the DSR raises new issues about disclosure. Parents who have always told their children that they were donor-conceived have to now decide when and how to tell their children about the new relatives that have been found.

"It is wise to disclose what cannot be concealed."
—Johann Friedrich Von Schiller

"Secrets are like landmines, you know. They can go off at any time, but until they go off you’re sort of treading around them."
—Barry Stevens, Donor-Conceived Person

When Is The Best Time To Tell My Child That They Are Donor-Conceived?

It is never too early to begin telling your child the circumstances of their conception and birth. Small children love to hear the story of their beginnings and often ask to have it repeated. Don’t worry about having the right language or perfect terminology. The way you tell this story should reflect the way you always speak in your house, with the same tone, length, and level of seriousness. When the story of the donor-conception is told from the beginning of your child’s life, the information becomes embedded in the relationship between your child and you. It is shared, and it is a non-event — compared to the experience of disclosing the information for the first time at a later date.

"One of the first things that a child learns in a healthy family is trust."
—Mr. Fred Rogers

It may at first seem odd to be talking about issues of fertility to a young child, but remember that children only absorb the parts of the story that are meaningful to them at their current age. They simply disregard the information that is too advanced for them. When told about their donors, young children tend to ask very practical questions and usually show little emotional response.

The story should grow with your child, increasing in detail as they are able to understand more. In response, the questions your child asks will also change as your child develops. Children vary greatly in how important this information feels to them. Some children show little interest for years and then have a period of time where they are thinking about the donor or possible half-siblings all the time. There is not one way that all children respond, and even the same child reacts differently over time. So, even if your child does not bring up the subject, you should do so from time to time, reminding them that this will always be an open topic for discussion between you.

Oftentimes, telling is not the end of the story. Many donor children are very interested in learning about the other "half of themselves" and may have a strong desire to connect with their genetic relatives. Please be careful not to minimize this desire for connection, as your child could end up feeling resentful or guilty if they have these curiosities that you ignore, minimize, or negate. To you, the donor might just be a "piece of genetic material," but to your child, it is one half of their genetics and their ancestry.

Advice from two DSR moms about telling:

"I am a Single Mother by Choice, and I started this conversation with my kids when they were in the crib, so I wouldn't get tongue tied when they asked. I would often tell them their story, something along the lines of, "You were born out of love. Some kids are born from the love of a man and a woman, but you were born directly from the love I felt for you. I always wanted to have you, but I wasn't married, so I went to the doctor and the doctor put mommy's cell with the cell of a man who is your genetic dad (term we use, since we are pretty medical/scientific in my family). So you were born just like every other kid in the world, from the cell of a man and the cell of a woman, and you have a genetic dad but he is not part of your family. You family is mommy, your brother, grandma and grandpa, and we all love you very much." My 6-year-old twins are very used to this story. I also have a picture of the donor in their room, with their pictures next to it. If I show it to one of my sons he will say that's his Daddy (I neither encourage nor discourage that word)." 
—Lynette

"I am a single mom by choice and my daughter is 8. She has always known she has a donor, not a dad. Don't worry about having a "good approach" ... just talk. Be real. Be honest. If the conversation starts to go in directions you think your child is too young for, simply let them know that they are too young to know some things right now, but they will know more as they grow older and you will be right there with them. Let your child know they are not the only child to come from a mom and a donor — there are lots of others. And make sure to emphasize that even though your family is different from most, it is the same "where it counts" — in love."
—Marcia

I Want To Tell My Child That They Are Donor-Conceived, But My Spouse Doesn't Want Me To. What Should I Do?

It is very difficult to feel torn between the needs of different members of your family. You love them both and want to do what is best for each of them, even when those needs seem to be at odds. Up until this point, your family has "protected the privacy" of the donor and "maintained the secret" from your child. The difference in opinion you and your spouse now have can be a source of conflict in your marriage.

In some families, spouses place a different importance on the facts of conception. However, most women who have not disclosed have done so in order to protect their husbands. Male infertility brings with it a social stigma and, in many cases, shame. Fathers often fear that their children will feel differently about them once they learn that there is no genetic connection between them. Speak with your husband lovingly and respectfully about his feelings and concerns. We also recommend that your husband take a good look at whether or not he has sufficiently dealt with the grief of not being able to give your child a genetic connection. Many men do not adequately process through this grief before their child is born, and then have difficulty not passing this along, in some way, to their children. When this grief is not verbalized, validated, and fully processed by both parents, every member of the family can suffer.

Some dads are also fearful that their kids might look at them differently and that their parenting might come under much more scrutiny. They worry that they may not be perfect parents, and if their kids know that there isn't a genetic bond, that they will view them as less of a parent. It's important for these men to know that all of us worry about our parenting at some point! Until these issues are addressed sufficiently, your husband is less likely to change his mind about disclosure.

Parents will also need to put aside their own feelings of guilt. If parents are feeling guilty about holding "the secret," they may be incapable of dropping their defenses to be in an open emotional state to honor and acknowledge their child's pain.

The two of you have to weigh your husband's strong feelings against the potential problems you will encounter from withholding the information from your child. Should you decide to ever tell them they are donor-conceived or should they find out through someone else, there is a great likelihood that they will be angry at having the information withheld until now. This feeling will be directed toward both parents, not just the father. Your ongoing conversations with your husband must focus on your child’s needs as well.

In lesbian families where donor sperm was used to conceive, the non-biological mother may also feel insecure about her lack of genetic connection to her child. While the facts surrounding the child’s conception are more likely to be shared in that family arrangement, the non-biological mother may, like the heterosexual father, be resistant to searching for a donor who might threaten her role in the two-parent structure.

After telling, some parents may feel the need to minimize the genetic connection between their child and the donor. If a child grows up in a family where half of their genetic, ancestral, and medical background is minimized or negated, they can feel a lot of guilt if and when they do become curious. Parents need to be very careful not to put their own biases onto children and allow them to process and define these connections for themselves as they mature.

Is It Too Late To Tell Our Child? We Haven't Told Them Yet.

It is never too late to be honest with your child.

If you have waited this long, we recommend that you now allow yourself ample time to carefully consider what you will say. It is a good idea to get professional help in preparing for the disclosure and determining how best to phrase your ideas in language that is tailored to your child’s current age and developmental stage. We are always available to help you through this process.

The talk you have with your child should have several components. First, you need to convey the facts you want your child to know about the circumstance of their conception. This part may include some science about sperm and egg, and almost always stresses how much you wanted a child like them. Second, you may want to explain why you did not tell them previously. Did you believe it was best for the family? Were you protecting their father? Third, it is a good idea to let them know why you chose to tell them now. Do they now seem old enough to know? Did you change your mind about disclosure? Is there something about to happen in the near future that makes this telling essential now? Finally, allow room for your child to express their feelings about this news. They will probably have many contradictory feelings, and it can be extremely hard to hear them all.

Remember, disclosure is not a one-time act. The meaning of the news will change over time for your child. The first few weeks will bring many changes and then, as your child makes important transitional steps in their life, they will keep reassessing the meaning of being donor-conceived. The only thing you can count on remaining constant is your willingness to be there with them and listen to their feelings as they express them.

See this blog post by Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP: The Cost of Secrets: Understanding the Impact on Self and Others

Secrets are costly. Often motivated by fear, an illusion of protecting self or others, or a blatant attempt to hurt or manipulate another, they have been demonstrated to burden us and take their toll cognitively, physically, and emotionally. Essentially they preoccupy us, compromise our health, and jeopardize our relationships. Although we often keep secrets to prevent the loss of love, respect, and connection, too often that is just what they cost.

My Child Just Found Out They Are Donor-Conceived. How Can I Best Support Them?

The new disclosure has multi-layered meanings for your child. They will likely experience complicated and even contradictory feelings as they try to assimilate the new information. Give them plenty of time and a willingness to hear what they have to say. Expect confusing feelings at first, and don’t mistake today’s expression for the long-lasting impact of disclosure. Certainly, how you handle this next phase will have an enormous impact on the duration and outcome of the disclosure in your family.

First, your child needs to adjust to the fact that they were living under false assumptions about their biological origins. Everything they understood about their genetic continuity has to be rewritten. This is not easy work for your child. The best way you can help them through this is by allowing them to feel their entire range of feelings, including anger, confusion, liberation, and shock. Offering some information about how you came to choose donor insemination will help them as they struggle to rewrite their past.

Second, your child must make sense of the fact that this information was kept from them for so long. They are likely to focus their feelings about this onto you. They may feel deceived, mistrustful of you, extremely angry, and accusatory. In a family with a mother and a father, you can expect that a child will have altered feelings about BOTH parents. Again, you can best help them through this by a combination of explaining why you originally decided not to tell them about their genetic origins and, more importantly, allowing them to express these feelings without becoming defensive or distant.

This could undoubtedly be a hard storm, but the key to weathering it is to stay connected, remain open to what your child needs to say or ask, and, ultimately, show them through your consistent behavior that you are the same mother and father who have always loved them and always will. Many donor offspring back off from moving forward with the conversation because they fear it will hurt their non-biological parent too much. Make sure they know that this conversation is safe and that you are open to discussing these issues whenever and however your child wishes. Be aware that the pain they are feeling might be hard for them to articulate. Most importantly, your child needs the freedom to express all of their conflicting emotions without any fear of judgment. Staying connected is not limited to talking. If your child won’t speak about the subject, be open to alternative forms of contact that they may prefer, such as email.

Honor and support any desires they have to search out their biological family. Even though you may have a very close relationship with your child, they may wish to learn about and meet their unknown genetic relatives. This doesn't mean that you will be any less their parent, it only means that they desire to connect with others with whom they share genetic ties. There can be great satisfaction for them to see some of their physical characteristics, personality attributes, and academic and artistic interests reflected in others.

We Just Made A Match With A Half-Sibling/Donor. What Do We Do Now?

First, take a deep breath. This moment is likely to bring up feelings you had not anticipated when you first registered on the website, and, therefore, you may no longer be sure about what you want to do next. Try to have no expectations of yourself for action. Allow yourself or your child enough time to figure out what you are seeking at this point. Are you interested in a simple exchange of information? Are there questions you want to ask? Is your desire to be "known" to the donor or half-siblings? Do you hope to meet in person? My best advice is to follow the old carpenter’s adage: "Measure twice, cut once."

It is perfectly normal to feel ambivalent, meaning that you may experience two simultaneous and contradictory feelings. The strong desire to find a half-sibling or donor can exist alongside the equally intense fear of the unknown changes this experience can bring about in yourself, your child, or your family structure. After having hoped that a match would be found, you may now have a strong urge to back out. The same holds true for the donor or half-sibling who came forward.

If you decide to move ahead with contact, go slowly. Email is a good way to begin. You can offer some information about yourself and see what kind of response you receive. If you ask questions, frame them gently, allowing for the other person’s ambivalence about contact and exposure. Allow yourself time after each exchange to assess your comfort level and that of the half-sibling, parent, or donor. This is a process, and sometimes patience is needed. Donors are often especially cautious because of the possibility of multiple offspring. We recommend permitting donors to take the lead in determining the speed and depth of the communication.

NOTE: When you match with your donor on the DSR, we recommend asking a few pieces of information from the donor profile that have not been posted, that only they would know.

Here is some additional advice on contacting your donor:

All you can do is reach out to them, preferably in writing, so that you don't put them on the spot. Tell them that you would like to gradually initiate a relationship; you don't expect them to turn their life upside down, you simply want to ease into some communication, if they are amenable. Be thoughtful in your note: Let them know how you feel, what you need, and why this is so important to you. Make it very clear also about the things you are not looking for; i.e., money, great demands on their time, disruption of their family, etc.

Before you send the letter, it's critical that you adjust your expectations so that you aren't setting yourself up for failure. You are opening a door, but that doesn't mean your donor will come through it. As difficult as it may be, you have to remember that they may not be in a position to react in a way that may satisfy you. There could be any number of reasons that your donor is not prepared to connect at this point in time. At the very least, you will have opened up the possibility of communication, be it immediately or when the donor feels ready.

What Can I Expect From My Contact With The Other Families I Meet?

You can count on finding another family who is also experiencing deep feelings, but just as the circumstances surrounding each child’s conception are unique, so are the variations in family structure and reactions to the match. Try to be open to who the new family is and what they are looking for now. If you can’t be, perhaps this is not the time to make contact.

Many donor-conceived children have gay or lesbian parents. While the actual numbers are not known, these families are more likely to share the facts of their conception with their children and are, therefore, well-represented among the members of the DSR. Similarly, many single mothers by choice are interested in expanding their families through the DSR. For some heterosexual families, this may be their first exposure to different kinds of families, adding an extra layer of stress to the anxiety and excitement of making a match. It is OK to be nervous or unsure about the terms or language that the other family uses. However, heterosexual families that are not open to contacting lesbian, gay, or single-parent families, due to religious or other values, may want to think about that before making a match.

In addition to family structure, there is a large range of expectations among DSR families. Some are interested solely in information sharing with the parents of their child’s half-siblings. Other families desire a limited exchange of photos and email, but not face-to-face contact. And some families are hoping to develop an ongoing relationship that will become a friendship or resemble extended family. It is best to be clear about the level of connection you are seeking when you make a match, and try to express that early on to the family of your match. Understand, too, that comfort and expectations often change over time.

My Child Is Planning On Contacting Their Donor. How Can I Assist Them As They Prepare For This?

We need to be very careful when our donor children are curious and plan on reaching out to their donors. Children have the tendency to idolize their donors and think of them as perfect people. Donors are just regular people. If you make someone out to be perfect, you are guaranteed to be disappointed. People can get hurt when they have unrealistic expectations — our hopes must be realistic when connecting with donors.

When reaching out, you can tell the donor that your door is open and that you hope to get to know each other so that you can build a friendship/relationship. Be very sensitive to their needs and boundaries as they might be unsure about what you actually want from them. You will need to respect their life and their right to put up some boundaries.

Because they have not been adequately educated on the reasons that donor children wish to connect, some donors might be fearful. They may even turn away because they feel inadequate and think they won't be good enough for the kids. And there might be other reasons why donors might not be open to contact — they may not have told their families that they donated, and sperm donors might be embarrassed that they were donors.

Remember that prior to contact, your donor most likely had no idea that you existed and they may now be doing all that they can mentally and emotionally to adjust. For donors, it's not like there is the bond created when you hold an infant in your arms, and watch the first baby steps or have been through ups and downs together. There might not be an immediate social, psychological, emotional, or behavioral bond. You might have to grow into it and build it.

After meeting, there can be a "pain of adjustment" (thanks, Dr. Phil!) because everyone has different lives and different agendas. The challenge is to acknowledge where everyone is at emotionally, and respect their limitations and boundaries. These connections work best when we come with few expectations and an open heart as to how the other person is supposed to behave. Meeting a donor (or a half-sibling) is a major event, but the relationship is a process that needs time and patience to unfold. It's good to start out at a place where everyone is comfortable and then build from there. Take it slow and expect bumps in the road. Be patient and let it unfold naturally. It's a marathon, not a sprint!

Sometimes people pull back after a connection. Communication is cut off, which leaves people wondering what they did wrong. Sometimes people pull back to re-group. And sometimes it's because they feel like they need more control in the situation. Again, patience is needed.

It seems that the people who are best able to move forward in a connection are those who are able to be honest with each other right from the start about their fears and hesitations, instead of pulling back without warning or explanation.

For older donor offspring, it's important to prepare yourself for any response, and to not take it personally if a donor doesn't reply, or isn't willing to be in touch. A donor's "no" is no reflection on you, only on their personal perspective and current situation. You should be very clear in your initial contact letter/email that even if the donor isn't ready right now, that they can reach out to you at a later time. Feelings and circumstances can change over time.

Tips for Parents of Donor-Conceived Adults

The following tips are for parents of donor-conceived adults — either parents who are about to tell their child the truth of their conception, or parents whose child recently found out on their own (typically through a DNA test). We also have tips for donor-conceived adults who just found out; see the "Tips for Donor-Conceived Adults" below.

8 Tips for Parents of Donor-Conceived Adults Who Are About to Tell

The following tips are for parents who are about to tell their adult child that they are donor-conceived. Also available as a downloadable PDF.

1. When is the best time to tell? Now.

This is not your secret to carry. There will never be a “perfect” time, so the sooner, the better. Make sure you’ve done the psychological work necessary to be emotionally capable to have this conversation, e.g., counseling or soul searching on your own. Take some deep breaths, and try to relax. Many people have walked this path before you, and they have all survived!

2. Tell a little about your story and how you came to use a donor.

You’re setting the tone. Try to keep the conversation light, and use some humor if you can. You need to be as grounded and as level-headed as possible for this conversation because it lays the groundwork for all future conversations.

3. Explain very honestly why you haven’t told before now.

Don’t be defensive, and don’t use your story as an excuse. “We forgot about it” isn’t a good excuse, either. Your child wants to hear the emotion behind why you didn’t tell. What were you or your spouse afraid of? This can help your child process through their own emotions, which might include anger, sadness, confusion, or even relief.

4. Let your child know that you made the best decisions you could with the information you had at the time.

Explain what you were told by your doctor, including anything you know about the donor. Tell your child how it has felt to carry this information as a secret. Tell them what you’ve recently come to learn about the importance of honesty. Tell them who else knows.

5. Most Important: Apologize. Own it.

This was their information to know, and you kept it from them. Keep apologizing. This can allow them to move freely through their emotions without getting stuck in anger. Do not ask them to keep the “secret,” because secrecy implies shame. The shame of infertility should not be passed along to your child as the shame of donor conception.

6. Be ready to continue the conversation.

This is not a one-time conversation. It’s very important that your child knows that this is a welcomed, ongoing conversation and that you will be there by their side as they process this new information, tell family and friends, and incorporate it into their identity. Gently broach the topic regularly if your child doesn’t, so they know you’re there to help them understand what this new information means to them and their life.

7. Telling is just the first step.

Make sure your child knows that any curiosities they have about their half-siblings and/or their unknown biological parent, their ancestry, and their medical history are normal and to be expected. If you are not fully comfortable with this, it’s important that you understand why, so that you can continue to evolve in this area. Be honest as you communicate to your child about it.

8. If your child is curious...

If your child desires to know more about their origins, offer to walk side by side with them to find the information and genetic relatives they feel it’s important to know about. Make sure they understand that their curiosity is not a betrayal to you in any way. This is especially important for the non-biological parent. It’s important for your child to know that many people have also walked this path before them. You can point them to the Donor Sibling Registry for support.

8 Tips for Parents of Donor-Conceived Adults Who Just Found Out on Their Own

The following tips are for parents whose adult child just discovered on their own that they are donor-conceived. Also available as a downloadable PDF.

1. Apologize. Own it.

This was your child’s information to know, and you kept it from them. Keep apologizing. This can allow them to move freely through their emotions without getting stuck in anger. Do not ask them to keep the “secret,” because secrecy implies shame. The shame of infertility should not be passed along to your child as the shame of donor conception.

2. Tell a little about your story and how you came to use a donor.

Try to keep the conversation light, and use some humor if you can. You need to be as grounded and as level-headed as possible as you lay the groundwork for every future conversation.

3. Explain very honestly why you didn’t tell.

Don’t be defensive, and don’t use your story as an excuse. “We forgot about it” isn’t a good excuse, either. Your child wants to hear the emotion behind why you didn’t tell. What were you or your spouse afraid of? This can help your child process through their own emotions, which might include anger, sadness, confusion, or even relief.

4. Let your child know that you made the best decisions you could with the information you had at the time.

Explain what you were told by your doctor, including anything you know about the donor. Tell your child how it has felt to carry this information as a secret. Tell them what you’ve recently come to learn about the importance of honesty. Tell them who else knows.

5. Be ready to continue the conversation.

This is not a one-time conversation. It’s very important that your child knows that this is a welcomed, ongoing conversation and that you will be there by their side as they process this new information, tell family and friends, and incorporate it into their identity.

6. Make sure your child knows that any curiosities they have about their unknown donor family are normal and to be expected.

Make sure your child knows that you honor and support their desire to know their unknown genetic relatives. If you are not fully comfortable with this, it’s important that you understand why, so that you can continue to evolve in this area. Be honest as you communicate to your child about it.

7. If your child is curious...

If your child desires to know more about their ancestry, medical background, and close genetic relatives, offer to walk side by side with them to find the information and people they feel it’s important to know about. It’s crucial that they don’t think of their curiosity as a betrayal to you in any way. This is especially important for the non-biological parent. It’s important for your child to know that many people have walked this path before them. You can point them to the Donor Sibling Registry for support.

8. Keep the conversation going. Keep apologizing for not telling your child sooner and for them having to find out in such a shocking manner.

Take some deep breaths, and try to relax. Many people have walked this path before you, and they have all survived! Feel good about the fact that your family will now have a basis in truth. Gently broach the topic regularly if your child doesn’t, so they know you’re there to continue to help them understand what this new information means to them and their life.

Tips for Donor-Conceived Adults

The following tips are for donor-conceived adults who just learned the truth of their conception. We also have tips for parents of donor-conceived adults; see the "Tips for Parents of Donor-Conceived Adults" above.

8 Tips for Donor-Conceived Adults Who Just Found Out

These tips are for donor-conceived adults who just found out, either because their parents finally told them or because they discovered the truth on their own. Also available as a downloadable PDF.

1. Talk to your parents.

Take some deep breaths, and try to relax. Many people have walked this path before you, and although the road can get a bit bumpy for a little while, they have all survived. Secrecy implies shame, and you have nothing to be ashamed of, so do not let the “secret” persist. Set aside time as soon as possible to discuss the situation with your parents. Talk with other close family members and friends who can provide good support.

2. Ask questions.

Ask your parents why they used a donor and what the experience was like for them. Ask them why they kept the secret. Most parents don’t tell because they’re afraid of how the truth will affect the family. Often, the non-biological parent is afraid of being looked at as not the “real” parent. You can assure your non-bio mom or dad that this news changes nothing in your relationship. Your parents will always be your parents. This knowledge doesn’t change that fact or diminish your love for the parents who loved and raised you.

3. Explain very honestly how this news has affected you.

Tell your parents what you are feeling. You might be experiencing a wide variety of emotions, including anger, sadness, confusion, or even relief. Understand and explain that your feelings are valid and to be expected — and that working through these emotions might take some time. Have patience with yourself. If you’re upset, don’t feel guilty. This was your information to have, and it was kept from you.

4. Listen.

Your parents may have made the best decisions they could with the information they had at the time. Many parents were advised to lie to everyone, including their children. Find out what they know about the donor or any half-siblings. Gathering information about the other half of your genetic identity and relatives may help you better understand yourself. Many offspring report feeling a sense of relief as they reassemble the puzzle of their physical, emotional, & intellectual selves.

5. Be willing to forgive.

You may never fully understand or agree with your parents’ reasons for keeping this information from you. However, staying angry doesn’t help you move forward. Empathy and compassion will be extremely helpful in repairing any damaged relationships. Work through your emotions, with the help of a therapist if necessary. Understand that forgiveness is the only path to true healing. It’s important for your parents to know that you can forgive them for not telling you the truth, even if this might take some time.

6. Continue the conversation.

This is not a one-time conversation. Let your parents know that you will ask them to continue the conversation as you process this new information, tell family and friends, and incorporate it into your identity. Invite your parents to walk beside you as you explore your genetic roots and figure out what it means to you and your life to be donor-conceived. There is great opportunity for a stronger family bond if you can keep the lines of communication open. Let your parents love and support you.

7. Accept your new reality.

Feel good about the fact that your family will now have a basis in truth. Understand that any curiosities you have about your half-siblings and/or your unknown biological parent, your ancestry, and your medical history are normal and to be expected. It’s an innate human desire to want to know where we come from. You can’t change the past, but you can control how you move forward. This is your story to own and share as you see fit.

8. If you are curious...

If you do desire to know more about your donor family, give yourself permission to search for the information and the genetic relatives you’re curious about. Your curiosity is not a betrayal to your parents, particularly your non-biological parent, in any way. Adding new family members or ancestral information doesn’t take away from or diminish the importance of your family of origin. Let your parents know how important it is for you to have their support as you look to discover more about your ancestry, your medical background, and your genetic relatives. Join the Donor Sibling Registry for connection and support.

10 Tips for Contacting a Donor for the First Time

Contacting your donor for the first time can be an exciting yet scary experience. You might be nervous about making a good first impression, or you might be worried about scaring them away.

Here’s some advice for contacting your donor for the first time:

1. Be gentle and respectful.

This can be a scary situation for donors who haven’t yet been contacted, or who haven’t told their families they donated, or who have family members who are against contact. You want to get your foot in the door as gently as possible.

2. Reassure them so they know you will allow them to set the boundaries.

It can be very important for the donor to know they’re in control of the situation.

3. Let them know that you don’t want to disrupt their family in any way.

You just want to give them the opportunity to know you. This should be an invitation, not a demand.

4. Let them know that you don’t want anything from them — not time or money or another parent, just the chance to know more about where you come from.

For starters, explain the importance of knowing about your ancestry and medical background.

5. You can also let them know what type of relationship you’d be open to.

A friendship? A more familial relationship? Tell them why you think this connection could be fulfilling for both of you.

6. Appeal to the donor’s heartstrings.

Tell them about you (or your kids); it’s helpful to make yourself more than just an idea — an actual human being, and one to be proud of.

7. Send photos.

Again, this appeals to the donor’s emotions. Seeing similarities with the children they helped to create can be profound for a donor who wasn’t sure about contact.

8. Know that if a donor doesn’t reply or says “no,” it isn’t because of who you are.

It’s likely because of their family situation, their lack of emotional bandwidth, or a lack of understanding about what connecting might mean for them and their family. Their hesitation might also be about their own health issues, fear of not being “good enough,” etc.

9. Have patience.

Sometimes a donor needs some time to work things out with their family members. If you get no reply, try again in a few weeks/months. If they say no, let them know you’re always available if they change their mind. Give them space to hopefully work it out and come around.

10. Keep the focus on yourself (or your kids), even if you know about other half-siblings.

Consider sharing that news in upcoming correspondence.

Getting to Know Your New Family Member(s)

Here are some questions that can help you get to know a new biological family member:

1
Given the choice of anyone (living or dead), whom would you want as a dinner guest?

2
Would you like to be famous? In what way?

3
What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

4
When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

5
If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

6
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

7
If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

8
If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future, or anything else, what would you want to know?

9
Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

10
What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

11
What do you value most in a friendship?

12
What is your most treasured memory?

13
Share an embarrassing moment in your life.

14
When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

Other Resources

Huffington Post Articles

Sample Letters

Here are some sample letters to guide you through acquiring your donor information from a sperm bank or clinic, as well as a sample letter to your donor to request medical updates.

Video Webinar

Watch the 2014 video webinar we did for the Family Equality Council! Wendy talks about the DSR, who we are and why we do what we do, what we have learned over the years, moving the industry forward in a more ethical and responsible manner, and how to create healthy and happy families.

Books

WENDY KRAMER'S MEMOIR! In January 2020 we published Wendy's memoir: Donor Family Matters: My Story of Raising a Profoundly Gifted Donor-Conceived Child, Redefining Family, and Building the Donor Sibling Registry. This is the story of Wendy Kramer and her donor-conceived child, Ryan, who eventually found his biological father and 19 half-siblings. Wendy and Ryan created the Donor Sibling Registry, the world’s largest platform for mutual-consent contact of sperm, egg, and embryo donors, donor-conceived children and adults, and their parents. Order on Barnes & Noble or Amazon!

BOOK FOR DONOR KIDS! In 2018 we published a book for young donor-conceived children: Your Family: A Donor Kid's Story. This book goes beyond the simple question of "Where did I come from?" to address donors and half-siblings. Order on Amazon, or mail a check for $17 (which includes shipping) to PO Box 1571, Nederland CO, 80466.

BOOK FOR DONOR FAMILIES! In 2013 we published a book for donor families: Finding Our Families: A First-of-Its-Kind Book for Donor-Conceived People and Their Families. It covers everything from disclosure, to donor offsprings' curiosities, to connecting with donors and half-siblings, to redefining these new relationships. Order on Amazon!