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Saturday 23 June 2018

Dear Mary: I'm terrified of telling my kids about our fertility treatments

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Mary O’Conor

I'm writing because of a dilemma I have that I can't discuss with anyone except my husband, and I can write this anonymously to you.

After years of infertility and miscarriages, my husband and I finally made the massive decision to conceive through donor eggs. We have had two children this way, whom I gave birth to. Shortly after that I became unexpectedly pregnant naturally against all medical odds and our third child was born. We said at the time of receiving the fertility treatments that we wouldn't tell anyone outside of our marriage about the origins of our first two children, including them. We have many reasons for this, including how they would be perceived by others all their lives, bullying at school, possible lesser treatment by their grandparents on my side (not being biological grandchildren), and the fact that, because we used an anonymous donor abroad, they can never trace their biological mother should they ever wish to, due to the law in the donor's country.

Myself and my husband have agreed that if they ever ask direct question about their biological origins - as they may suspect when they are older - then we will tell them the truth, but not before then. However, my husband has also said he is prepared to tell them, so the decision is really mine. I feel he doesn't have anything like as much to lose as I have in this situation. I am terrified my children will turn against me and hate me. I can't bear the thought of that happening.

We are also worried about how our first two children would perceive our third child, and whether they would feel there is a bias from me towards my biological child. I know this is not the case, as I love them all so much, and we also truly believe that our third child would not have been born if the first two had not, as something must have shifted mentally, and physically, to overcome my inability to conceive.

When I look at my older two children's little faces every day, I feel that I am lying by omission and the whole thing has become quite all-consuming. I have no peace from the matter but I honestly believe that telling them the truth would be a form of life sentence for them, but I know that if they find out accidentally, that would be devastating also. There is no winning in this situation.

I understand that a large number of people in Ireland have conceived in this manner and certainly suspect some of my own acquaintances have done so given their circumstances, but no one is talking about it. People seem to be generally living in secrecy, as we are.

I am looking for some guidance, and I feel you will tell me we need to tell our three children the truth. But I cannot explain how monumentally difficult this would be for me, for all the reasons stated.

AWhat a wonderfully honest and caring letter. All your children are lucky to have you as their mother - your love for them all comes shining through.

I understand how hard you must be finding all of this - secrets are always difficult. This particular secret has not been shared with anybody, so you have not been able to gauge people's reactions. Because of this, you are thinking of the worst possible scenario if and when the secret gets out. However, you would probably find that what you expect to happen would not happen at all. For instance, the children's maternal grandparents will more than likely continue to feel blessed that you have provided them with three grandchildren and will love them all equally, as indeed you and your husband do.

You sought help with the problem of infertility, and had great success. You even had the bonus of a third child. Unfortunately, we hear too many stories where there was an unsuccessful outcome and therefore no pregnancy, or many miscarriages, and don't hear enough of the good news stories. Perhaps you are correct in your assumption that people are keeping their fertility problems secret - although I personally know of some children who were conceived through donor eggs so not everybody keeps it to themselves.

Your children's happiness is what is of paramount importance, so try to imagine what would happen if they were to find out the truth in adulthood - for instance through some sort of DNA test for something as simple as investigating their ancestry. Or it may be that their medical records would need to be accessed and you would be forced to be upfront and let them know that you don't have all of their medical information. They would then realise that you had lied to them by omission, and might begin to wonder if you had lied to them about anything else as well. Whereas if they know from an early age that you and your husband had some help in conceiving them because you so much wanted to have babies, then it becomes a fact of life and something that they don't give an awful lot of thought to. We live in scientifically and technologically progressive times and your children will more than likely be quite accepting of the fact that technology played a part in their conceptions. In fact, your children are a great example of achieving the same result using slightly different means for two of them.

You seem to be feeling guilty for having sought help in conceiving your children and you shouldn't be. You and your husband have shown great love by going through all the extra rigours of fertility treatment in order to have a family. The more loved and cherished your children feel, the more secure they will be, and therefore the less likely they will be to question, or indeed feel critical about, the way things were done in order to have them.

Donor Conception Network (www.dcnetwork.org) which supports families through donor conception is a mainly UK-based website, but should prove to be very useful for you in seeing what people in a similar situation to you have said and done.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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