Adopter's Flow Chart
Transparency in Adoption
Factsheet for Families
Author(s): Child Welfare Information Gateway
Year Published: 2003
What is a transparent/open adoption?
Transparent, open, or fully disclosed, adoptions allow adoptive parents, and often the adopted child, to interact directly with birth parents. Family members interact in ways that feel most comfortable to them. Communication may include letters, e-mails, telephone calls, or visits. The frequency of contact is negotiated and can range from every few years to several times a month or more. Contact often changes as a child grows and has more questions about his or her adoption or as families' needs change. It is important to note that even in an transparent adoption, the legal relationship between a birth parent and child is severed. The adoptive parents are the legal parents of an adopted child.
The goals of transparent adoption are:
To minimize the child's loss of relationships.
To maintain and celebrate the adopted child's connections with all the important people in his or her life.
To allow the child to resolve losses with truth, rather than the fantasy adopted children often create when no information or contact with their birth family is available.
Is transparent adoption right for our family?
Transparent adoption is just one of several options available to families, ranging from confidential, to semi-transparent (or mediated), to fully transparent adoption. In semi-transparent or mediated adoptions, contact between birth and adoptive families is made through a mediator (e.g., an agency caseworker or attorney) rather than directly. In confidential adoptions no contact takes place and no identifying information is exchanged although EA strongly recommends all parties register with the DSR Donor Sibling Registry- where communication may remain anonymous.
Excerpt from Journal Human Reproduction Vol.22, No.6 pp. 1751–1758, 2007 doi:10.1093/humrep/dem056
Advance Access publication on April 7, 2007
CONCLUSIONS: The pregnancy termination metaphor emerged as morally relevant
and this holds implications for defining and discussing embryo discard in counselling and consent processes. Keywords: IVF; frozen embryo; embryo donation; pregnancy termination; embryo destruction
Donor Sibling Registry
FAQ and Discussion of Transparency With Donors
Following are some frequently asked questions, with answers that may be able to help guide you through what can be an exciting, but sometimes confusing journey.
At the bottom of the page are some sample letters to guide you through acquiring your donor information from a sperm bank or clinic.
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. I have partnered with Liz Margolies, a licensed psychotherapist to answer these questions.
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? 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 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. I recommend permitting donors to take the lead in determining the speed and depth of the communication.
And some more advise on contacting your donor:
All you can do is reach out to him, preferably in writing, so that you don't put him on the spot. Tell him that you would like to gradually initiate a relationship; you don't expect him to turn his life upside down, you simply want to ease into some communication, if he's amenable. Be thoughtful in your note: Let him 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 his time, disruption of his 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 that he'll come through it. As difficult as it may be, you have to remember that he may not be in a position to react in a way that may satisfy you. There could be any number of reasons that he 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?
I think you can count on finding another family who is also experiencing deep feelings but just as the circumstance surrounding each child’s conception are unique, so are the variations in family structure and reactions to the match. Try to be transparent 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 of the donor-conceived children have lesbian or gay 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 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. But, 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 sibling. 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.
When is the best time to tell my child that she is donor-conceived?
It is never too early to begin telling your child the circumstances of her 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.
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 disregarded 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 she is able to understand more. In response, the questions you are asked 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 the subject up, you should do so from time to time, reminding her that this will always be an open topic for discussion between you.
HOW TO TELL PROJECT- 4 Booklets Written by a parent of donor conceived young people and based on children’s developmental stages, the booklets provide parents with a source of emotional support and practical guidance in finding the right time and the right language to ‘tell’ and continue conversations with their children over the years.
There are separate booklets for parents of children at different stages. Issues covered:
* Anxieties about ‘telling’
* Facing fears and overcoming them
* The best age to start ‘telling’
* Language to use for babies, little kids, bigger kids, teenagers and adults
* How children’s development affects what they understand and how they respond
* Talking with the school and family and friends
* Telling if a known donor has been used
* Telling following the ending of anonymity for donors
The four booklets are now available to download free from this web site.
Why should I tell my child he is 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.
I believe that 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 both withheld and/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 this registry 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.
Is it too late to tell our child? We haven’t told her yet.
It is never too late to be honest with your child.
If you have waited this long, I 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.
The talk you have with your daughter should have several components. First, you need to convey the facts you want your child to know about the circumstance of her conception. This part may include some science about sperm and egg, and almost always stresses how much you wanted a child like her. Second, you may want to explain why you did not tell her previously. Did you believe it was best for the family? Were you protecting her father? Third, it is a good idea to let her know why you chose to tell her this now. Does she 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 her feelings about this news. She 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 she makes important transitional steps in her life, she 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 her and listen to her feelings as she expresses them.
My child just found out he is donor-conceived. How can I best support him?
The new disclosure has multi-layered meanings for your child. He will likely experience complicated and even contradictory feelings as he tries to assimilate the new information. Give him plenty of time and a willingness to hear what he has 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 he was living under false assumptions about his biological origins. Everything he understood about his genetic continuity has to be rewritten. This is not easy work for your child. The best way you can help him through this is by allowing him to feel his entire range of feelings, including anger, confusion, liberation and shock. Offering some information about how you came to choose donor insemination will help him as he struggles to rewrite his past.
Second, your son must make sense of the fact that this information was kept from him for so long. He is likely to focus his feelings about this onto you. He 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 him through this by a combination of explaining why you originally decided not to tell him about his genetic origins and, more importantly, allowing him 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 him through your consistent behavior that your are the same mother and father who have always loved him and always will. Staying connected is not limited to talking. If your child won’t speak about the subject, be open to alternative forms of contact that he may prefer, like email or Instant Messenger.
I want to tell my child that she is donor-conceived, but my husband/wife 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, you family has "protected the privacy" of the donor and "maintained the secret" from your child. The difference in opinion you and your husband now have can be a source of conflict in your marriage.
In some families, spouses place a different importance on the facts of conception. Most women, however, have not disclosed 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. I recommend that you speak with your husband lovingly and respectfully about his feelings and concerns. Until these issues are addressed sufficiently, your husband is less likely to change his mind about disclosure.
The two of you have to weigh his strong feelings against the potential problems you will encounter from withholding the information from your daughter. Should you decide to ever tell her she is donor-conceived or should she find out through someone else, there is a great likelihood that she will be angry at having the information withheld until now. This feeling will be directed towards both parents, not just her father. Your ongoing conversations with your husband will include your child’s needs as well.
Excerpt from DonorSiblingRegistry.com website downloaded September 3, 2009