When my 7-year-old daughter first asked me about her parentage, I froze in front of the kitchen board.
“If you’re Italian and Swedish and dad Italian and Polish,” she asked, dropping her floral backpack to the floor, “does that mean I’m part Swedish, part Polish and part Italian?”
“Well, not quite…” I gestured for her to pick up her backpack and tried to think on my feet.
Obviously it was time to explain some complicated things.
My daughter was conceived using an egg donor. I carried her to term but she inherited all her genes from my husband and the donor. Any similarities we share are a result of our upbringing rather than our nature.
Having grown up in a family that kept secrets about my birth, I made it my goal to be open with my daughter. My husband and I had brought it up to tell her that we had been trying to have a child for a while and needed help. But telling the full story turned out to be more difficult than I expected.
“Are we French?” She asked excitedly (we had read that)Madeline” reading books together before bed). “I hope we are French. I love the Eiffel Tower. And croissants.”
Above was a DNA kit in an unopened box. We had planned to test our daughter and let her know the results when the time was right. That time just hadn’t come yet.
I quickly researched and found A current study on third-party reproduction. The results showed that families achieve better outcomes when parents tell their children about their conception at an early age, ideally as early as seven years old. The longer we waited, the more nervous I got. If we don’t do it soon, I feared it could cause lasting damage to our family.
i should know When I was my daughter’s age, I believed I was the biological daughter of my loving mother and father who said they had been trying to have children for more than ten years until I finally arrived. But I always had the feeling that something was wrong. There were no pictures of my pregnant mother or stories about my birth. No one in the family had my crooked smile or my blue-green eyes. I overheard a few whispered conversations about adoption, but whenever I asked my parents, they refused.
When an older cousin confirmed that I was adopted, I was in my early 40s and both my parents had passed away. This midlife discovery left me with confused feelings and no way to process them with the two people I loved and trusted the most.
It’s possible that my parents thought they were saving me from the stigma, or that they feared I was abandoning them instead of my birth family. I’m sure her years of fertility issues played a part.
I didn’t agree with my parents’ decision, but my path to having a child of my own softened my resentment. When I finally brought home a healthy baby, I rocked him on our porch swing and felt an overwhelming need to protect him from every danger in the universe.
I also experienced something I didn’t expect – a sense of shame, as if I had betrayed nature. At 44, maybe I shouldn’t have been a new mom, and by extension, this beautiful baby wasn’t really mine. For the first few months I wore it wrapped to my chest to mom and baby coffee dates and felt like an imposter, somehow less “real” than the other moms. I feared I would lack the instincts that come naturally to others or that the baby would realize something was different. I wondered if my parents felt the same way.
My husband and I both agreed that we wanted our daughter’s identity to be something that she believed she had always known. We didn’t want her to have a serious argument when she hits her teens, or for her to stumble upon the truth after learning about genetics in school. Above all, we didn’t want the information to come from anyone but us.
Until now I had told myself that it was too early to explain conception through a donor to a child who was too young to understand how a baby is made. But the truth is, I had mixed feelings. I feared that once my daughter learned the truth, she would feel separated from me or withdraw from me. As long as we lived in a bubble of secrecy, we belonged to each other and nobody else.
As soon as she started asking about her parentage, I bought a book called ““You started out as a wish” by Kim Bergman, about the different ways children are conceived. My husband and I had planned that we would all read it together, but my daughter forestalled that by picking the book up from a box of Amazon purchases after school.
My whole body tensed as she started reading aloud and asking questions: “So all children are made of sperm, an egg, a womb…”
The timing wasn’t perfect, but I had to interject.
“Remember we told you that mom had trouble getting pregnant at first?” I said matter-of-factly. “Well, an anonymous donor gave us an egg so we can have you.”
We talked a little longer about the different types of families we knew, including those with two fathers or two mothers, and even how children can grow up in someone other than their mother. After a while, I could see the recognition in her warm brown eyes, which were a different color and shape from my own.
“So I’m related to someone else,” she said.
“Yes,” I said, holding my breath.
“Okay,” she said, skipping away. Then she turned around, her face thoughtful.
I thought about the ethnicity column in the donor application.
“Actually, I think it’s you Are a little French.”
“Yes!” She raised her fist in the air.
My shoulders relaxed. I could breathe again. At present.
The next day, she came home from school and said proudly, “I told all my friends I have a donor. Everyone thinks it’s cool. Lizzy asked if that means I have two mothers.”
Ouch. My heart clenched as I explained, “You have a mother and you have a donor.”
“Oh right,” she said. “Can I have some M&Ms?”
I know this is just the beginning of these conversations and will no doubt get harder as the years go by. We need to address what it means to have limited information about family health history, as I did as an adoptive child. We must be prepared for her to ask questions about her donor and any half-siblings that may exist. Who knows what other questions she will have or what emotions she will experience over time.
I didn’t have the opportunity to do that with my own parents. They chose to hide the truth, whether out of shame or an overwhelming need to protect me. While I groped in the dark, we all lived in the same bubble of secrecy that I shared with my daughter.
But now I know that living a lie is painful. I can only imagine how hard it was for my parents to do this for decades. There was always a risk that I would reveal the truth – with enormous consequences. This fear must have become all the more noticeable with age.
Probably my family’s life would It would have been more complicated if I had known as a child that I was adopted. And for my family, things might get more complicated from now on. Telling the truth isn’t always the easiest option. But I had the right to know who I was, just like my daughter. And that way, we can handle any complications that arise together, without secrecy or shame.
Have a compelling personal story you’d like to see published on HuffPost? Find out here what we are looking for and send us a pitch.