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Talk to your child about their origins

If your child or children were conceived as a result of assisted conception, telling them about their origins can feel like a challenging topic to discuss. However, if done honestly and at the right time, the subject need not be a difficult one to broach.

When should I talk to my child about their origins?

Evidence from the experience of donor-conceived people and those who’ve been adopted has shown it’s best to talk to your children about their origins in early childhood.

Finding out suddenly in later life can be emotionally damaging to donor-conceived people and their families. This, coupled with a donor-conceived person’s legal right to find out about their genetic origins, means that it’s advisable to be open with your children from an early age.

However, if circumstance or choice have led you to tell your child later in life, this can still be done well with the right preparation and guidance. Contact the Donor Conception Network for support and advice on how to do this.

You may want to get professional support before talking to your child

Can I find out any information about my child’s donor and donor-conceived genetic siblings?

Yes, if your children were conceived after 1 August 1991 following treatment at a licensed clinic, you can apply to us for some information about their donor and any donor-conceived genetic siblings. You won’t, however, be able to find out any information that would identify them.

Finding out about your child's donor or donor-conceived siblings

Apply for information

What if I don’t want to tell my child about their origins?

The decision of whether to talk to your child about their origins is completely up to you. However, family secrets can undermine trust and lead to conflict and stress. They can also suggest to donor-conceived children that their parents are ashamed of how they were conceived.

If you’re comfortable and open with your child about their origins, and you handle the topic sensitively, there’s no reason why they should feel different to any other child. If donation has been part of the family story for as long as your child can remember, their genetic origins needn’t be an issue.

Some donor-conceived children will want to know more about their donor whilst others might not be that interested so follow your child’s lead. It may be that your child has questions months, or even years later.

What can my child find out about their donor or donor-conceived genetic siblings?

What they can find out about their donor depends mainly on when they were conceived.

Most children conceived after 1 April 2005 can find out the name, date of birth and last known address of their donor when they turn 18. Most children conceived before this time (but after 1 August 1991) can’t find out any identifying information although they can access non-identifying information from the age of 16, such as their donor’s year of birth and occupation.

What they can find out about their donor-conceived genetic siblings is the same for both those who were conceived before and after 1 April 2005.

Finding out about your donor and genetic siblings

When donor-conceived children turn 18 they can join our voluntary contact register, Donor Sibling Link, where they can exchange contact details with any donor-conceived genetic siblings they have who have also joined.

Donor Sibling Link allows genetic siblings to make contact with each other

Is it possible for my child’s donor to be anonymous even if they were conceived after 31 March 2005?

We made a decision that anonymous donations made before 1 April 2005 could still be allowed for use in treatment up until 31 March 2006, after which they could not be used in treatment except in certain exceptional circumstances. These include:

  • where a family wished to create a sibling for their existing child(ren) using the same donor
  • where any stored embryos were created using sperm/eggs from an anonymous donor together with the sperm/eggs of a recipient.

In this case the embryo could still be transferred to the recipient after 31 March 2006.

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Is it possible for my child’s donor to be identifiable even if they were conceived before 1 April 2005?

When the law on donor anonymity was changed in 2005, we also made it possible for anonymous donors to remove their anonymity by re-registering as an identifiable donor.

Understandably, many donors want to help the people conceived from their donation to discover as much about their origins as possible. This means that from time to time a donor will re-register, meaning any children conceived from their donation can then access identifying information about them at 18. If you apply to us for information about your donor, we can confirm whether or not they have re-registered as an identifiable donor.  

Where can I go for more support or information?

The Donor Conception Network (DCN) has produced a series of booklets called ‘Telling and Talking’. These aim to prepare and support parents of donor-conceived people to tell their children about their origins.

The booklets can be ordered online or downloaded for a cost from the website

You may want to access professional support services such as counselling to discuss the best methods for talking about donor conception with your child.

There are a number of organisations set up to offer counselling services and advice:

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Review date: 24 June 2021

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