When Should You Tell Your Child His Birth Story?

A dilemma for some after assisted reproductive technology or adoption

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Millions of couples struggle with infertility. Most don’t realize that when they finally achieve their goal of having a baby— whether through birth or adoption—the echoes of their infertility will continue to affect them as parents. In this excerpt from The Belated Baby: A Guide to Parenting After Infertility, the authors explore the question of how much to reveal about your baby’s origins.

When is the “right” age to tell your child the truth about his birth? It would be nice if someone would invent a handy “psychologically approved timetable,” magnetized for the fridge, to guide parents through this all-important task.

Unfortunately, there’s no magical age when it’s the right time to share the details of your child’s birth with him. Each family’s truth is as unique as its members; there’s no formula to apply to all situations.

One thing that is a common denominator in all situations is a child’s age and ability to comprehend an explanation. A two-year-old isn’t able to grasp the technical details of her birth; a happy, high-level mention of infertility or adoption may be all that’s needed at this age. As your child grows, however, so will the questions and complexities. A five-year-old might be fascinated with the story and ask more questions than you’d care to answer. As long as you keep the conversation from becoming too technical or in any way negative, you’re on the right track.

You’ll probably find that as you steadily repeat your message throughout the years, more and more age-appropriate details will surface. While you might feel uncomfortable divulging how IVF is different from having babies the “regular” way to your four-year-old, for example, your teen is more than ready to engage in this conversation. (Maybe youstill won’t be ready, but nevertheless, it’s the right time!)

Right from the Start

Just as a “regular” parent talks to her kid about how she craved pickles during pregnancy, non-biological parents have just as many (or more!) stories up their sleeves to share. Let’s face it: Any story that you tell your child that involves him and how he came to be will be fascinating to him. Maybe the birth mother went into labor in the middle of the night and you drove seven hours straight to the hospital and almost ran out of gas—making it just in time as he was making his grand entrance into the world.

In telling (and endlessly retelling) his unique story to your child, the truth simply becomes part of your family’s lore. There’ll be no need for a dramatic huddle to reveal the big news after your seven-year-old blows out the candles on his birthday cake. If you incorporate the stories of how your family was created into your daily life and throughout the years, your child will understand and be proud of his background—and be well-adjusted and happy.

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