Traditionally, adoption has been perceived as a single event rather than a lifelong process. However, adoption affects experiences throughout life for everyone involved: the adoptive family, the birth family, and especially the child. While openness is now encouraged in adoption, it was largely kept a secret many years ago, with the thought that was best for all parties involved. It was looked at as an “out” of a shameful situation:
- The infertile adoptive parents finally have children to love and raise.
- The child was saved from a life where they were labeled illegitimate.
- The birth mothers were relieved for their parenting duties and avoided being ostracized as an unwed, single mother.
To everyone, this seemed like a win/win situation. But the “secret” impacted every aspect of these individuals’ lives. As a result, it enhanced the feelings of shame and guilt.
A reform movement began in the 1970s, with adoptees beginning to search for their birth parents. They had many questions that could not be answered by their adoptive family. This was no easy task: Since the 1930s, adoption records were sealed, meaning adoptive parents, the child, and the birth mother were not privy to contact information or updates. Their search for answers showed how important the biological connection was; how essential it was to the formation of the identity. Open adoption has since become the norm of traditional adoption.
Like adoptees many years ago, those born via donor conception are now facing a similar situation. Donor conception (those born from egg, sperm, or embryo donation) was largely kept a secret until recently. Some individuals even today are finding out via DNA tests that they were conceived with donor genetics. Donor conception individuals have taught us why honesty is important and about their need for access to medical and social history.
Some families may wish to still conceal the origins of their new baby. Sadly, it’s very easy to do this in embryo adoption, since the adoptive mother gave birth to the child. But this creates a fake identity for the child from the very beginning of their lives, which can harm their emotional growth and sense of self-identity when they find out the truth. And the truth will come out.
Now, we’re not saying you must divulge your child’s adoption story and origin history to everyone you meet on the street. But it must not be a secret from the child themselves.
It is okay to be private about your child’s origins, but making it secret can be harmful.
Secrecy indicates something is hidden or concealed; there is a big mystery surrounding your child. Secrecy creates an emotional dead zone—the children (and others close to you) know something is off, but they can never pinpoint exactly what it is. Secrecy with your child creates shame. They end up feeling afraid and angry. They may become obsessive about secrets, judgmental, inflexible, which will follow them to adulthood.
Privacy indicates something is personal or separate. The information is known by others, but only the people who need to know or with whom you would like to share. This is a chosen process that is based on knowledge—the knowledge that your child needs to know. Families who treat their child’s origins with privacy instead of secrecy are not afraid of who their child is genetically, rather they are taking responsibility for helping their child grow into a healthy self-identity. As parents, you are your child’s advocate.
How does one prepare for this approach of parenting? First, you must grieve the loss of your genetic child. Without processing grief, there is more temptation to conceal the origins of the baby and pass them off as genetically your own. Children must be valued for who they are, not who you WISH them to be. After accepting this fact, parents will be able to accept the genetic differences in the child and the connection they have to their genetic family. You will then be able to share the knowledge with your children without any hesitation.