By Corey Whelan
For many of us, the story of how we came to be is a much-loved tale, told often by those who tuck us in at night. Even if they don’t know it, the parents of children born through surrogacy may have the easiest task of all parents when it comes to fashioning this beloved story.
Children born with the help of a surrogate are much wanted, much fought for, and much loved. These are the perfect elements to weave through a child’s birth story. Yet, for some parents, the telling of this particular tale often feels challenging.
As parents, your surrogacy journey may have been filled with legal or medical complexities, but your child’s birth story does not need to be. If “Once upon a time” is as far as you’ve been able to get, these tips for creating the perfect birth story for your perfect baby will help.
You will start talking, singing, and reading to your baby pretty much from your very first “Hi.” Many therapists recommend folding the word “surrogacy,” and the details about your child’s origins into these earliest communications. This serves several purposes:
Telling your baby’s birth story as soon as they are born gives you, as the parent, practice time. You may need time to find the right words, and to get comfortable telling this amazing story yourself. Looking into your newborn’s eyes and talking it through can be your dress rehearsal (over and over again). The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable your child will be. It may help to remember that you do not need to normalize or rationalize your surrogacy experience in any way. Surrogacy is already a normal way to have a baby. It may not be the most common way, but it is far from atypical.
Telling your child’s story from birth eliminates the possibility that they will find out by accident later on. This can help to alleviate a lot of strain on the entire family, and an entire community of people, who would have otherwise been enrolled in keeping this information secret.
It also removes the emotional weight, confusion, or distress your child may feel if they hear their birth story for the first time at a later age. It’s very important that the truth never comes as a shock. By talking about it right away, the surrogacy experience will become a rock-solid part of the foundation upon which much of your child’s identity will be formed.
Even if it was never your intention to make your child’s birth story a secret, they may experience it as something shameful if it is not part of their earliest memories. This would be true of anything that the child perceived to be held back as a secret, such as finding out suddenly that they were adopted. Multiple research studies equate family secrets with feelings of shame not only in children, but also in their parents. Embracing the truth is healthy. It also serves to empower your child, who owns this story in a singular way.
Use Age-Appropriate Language
The fairy-tale version you use when your little one is small will not serve them when they become preteens or teens. As your child grows and matures, their birth story will need to evolve as well. What should never change is the iron-clad message that your child was so wanted that you went to great lengths to make sure they were born into your family.
Early on, let them know that making a baby takes certain parts, and that you needed to get those parts from other people. As your child gets older, you can add in layers of biology, chemistry, genetics, and more of the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of the process. Bear in mind that every child’s maturity level is different. What works for the eight-year-old down the street may not work for your child.
Encourage your child to ask questions. The questions they’ll ask over time will help you to continually shift and craft this tale in age-appropriate ways.
Advocate for your Child
It is up to you, and later on to your child, to determine what is appropriate to share with others. Early on, consider writing your child’s story down, and sharing it in your child’s classroom. You can also bring children’s books about surrogacy to school to share with the other children. Whether you bring the story into the classroom or not, it is important that you share it with your child’s educators, pediatrician, and other professionals whose job it is, along with you, to always advocate for your child.
Own the Beauty of This Process! You Deserve to!
Kids are not born with a preconceived idea of what a family looks like. They accept as normal, and correct, what they have — as long as those feelings are mirrored by their parents. Build a strong foundation and, as a family, you can handle anything. Even if your child asks you uncomfortable questions (and they will), you’ll work it out, as long as you remember that it all lays a solid foundation of support.
Really recognizing and understanding that you’ve chosen to make a child in this way is a beautiful option, and shouldn’t be secretive, is the first step to crafting the right creation story for your child. Own the beauty of this process, and you will find the words to tell your child their birth story with enthusiasm and love. Just remember that there is more than one amazing way to become a family. Surrogacy is merely one of those ways.
Children’s Books About Surrogacy
The Kangaroo Pouch: A Story About Surrogacy for Young Children, by Sarah Phillips Pellet (good for ages two-to-eight)
The Very Kind Koala: A Surrogacy Story for Children, by Kimberly Kluger-Bell (good for age three and up)
Why I’m So Special: A Book About Surrogacy with Two Daddies, by Carla Lewis-Long (good for all ages)
Bergman, K. Telephone interview. (April, 2017).
Boynton, T. Family secrets. The Lancet, (September 2015). http://thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0…
Golombok, S., et al. Children born through reproductive donation: A longitudinal study of psychological adjustment. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, (November 2012). http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jcpp.12
Golombok, S., et al. Parenting and the adjustment of children born to gay fathers through surrogacy. (January 2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28111745
About the Author: Corey Whelan has been a patient advocate in the field of infertility for over 25 years. She is currently the Director of Family Resource Development for Family Equality Council.