Talking to Kids about IVF

Archived Q&A and Reviews



How much do you tell your child about IVF?

May 2007

While I am still in the very, very cautious stage here at 19 weeks of pregnancy from a frozen embryo transfer (I think; more on that in a second), today I thought I'd start a journal about this journey. I had designed a page with the month of the transfer and the day pinpointed with an arrow - the actual day had a bullseye (this goes back to the doctor saying ''bullseye!'' when he put the embryos in me). I went to show my husband what I'd done and he said something like, ''Do we tell the child about this? How much do we tell? I mean, we're not even sure that it was the IVF that 'worked.''' Well, fair enough. There is a CHANCE that this pregnancy happened naturally since the doctors encourage you to try nature's way right around the same time as the transfer to boost your chances. But my thoughts are, it's likely that it happened through IVF. We didn't have success for 4 years before IVF (''diagnosed'' with the very non-diagnostic ''unspecified infertility,'' for both of us).

In general, I don't think we should keep secrets. We as a couple have had enough questions about the fertility on his side of the family this whole time (why did his great aunt not have kids? why did his aunt not have kids? why were the children in his family spaced so far apart -5 years each kid -when the parents weren't trying to space them apart that far? only because i'm in communication with his brother's wife do I know that THEY had fertility troubles and IVF didn't work when trying for a 2nd child). Anyway, I feel it's certainly healthy to (eventually) tell a child some of this, and not obfuscate the truth, if only so he/she knows a bit of our medical history for his/her knowledge down the road.

So I guess the question is twofold: Is starting a journal with the ''bullseye'' a bad idea, since we're not 100 percent SURE that that was the date? Should I just ''start the story'' with the first 7 week ultrasound we have? This is, by the way, more a journal for me, or me and my husband, at this point, and only for the child much later. All I know is that for ME, my journey started on that bullseye date. All the doctrors appts started then, all the worry, all the scheduling of tests...that was dday as far as I'm concerned. I had also planned to specify in the journal that it was PROBABLY a frozen embryo transfer that did the trick...and allude to the other possibility - as I do when I tell close friends about ''what finally worked.''

And secondly: How much do you tell a child about IVF, when should you, or should you at all? I looked in the archives and all I could find was advice on telling a child about egg donation. Sign me as, --Cautious, yet wanting to put things down now, in writing, so I don't forget

For adoption ''lifebooks'' I read a recommendation that you start with meeting the child or arriving in the country, and not focus that much on previous infertility or parents' adoption journey. (I am hopefully nearing the end of an adoption process that has been quite long). So, I guess you have to decide if it's a sort of diary for you, or a lifebook for your child. As oral stories, my bio son has been pretty happy with just going back to ultrasounds and how wiggly he was in utero. It's nice you are keeping a record. anonymous

I think it's wonderful that you are keeping an online journal about your experience whether it came directly from the IVF transfer or not. Why stress about it? A lot of times people feel peculiar telling their children about their IVF experience because of egg donation or sperm donation (or in my case both of those) but you have the easy route. Your child is all yours genetically and just had a little help getting where he/she needed to be to grow. I talk to my son about how the doctor's helped me to become a mommy whenever he expresses interest. Until much later children are usually more interested in just having been in your belly than how they got there. Enjoy it either way, it's all worth it in the end. Happy IVF mom

I'm confused that you think you may have become pregnant 'naturally' while undergoing IVF treatment. With IVF, your ovulation is completely controlled and eggs are retrieved from your ovaries, embryos develop, and then one/some/many are placed back in your uterus. When I had IVF, we were never told to 'try' since there were no eggs sitting around waiting to be fertilized. I could misunderstand the process, but if you became pregnant shortly after an IVF treatment, you got pregnant through IVF.

That said, IVF has been around for a generation now, so I think you can tell your child as much as s/he is ready for when s/he is ready. It's not unusual to have gotten pregnant through IVF, especially here. Been there too

OK, now, I don't mean to be unsupportive here but ... this is not a joke, do I have it right?

IVF is no longer a big deal. Nobody talks about it, nobody cares. People are doing the WIERDEST things to get children nowadays that IVF is practically up there with the missionary position - honest.

Besides, as you say, you don't know.

It's going to be a really long time before you are telling your kid-to-be about the birds and bees. Don't sweat it.

Did you hear the one about the celebrity woman who used a donor egg that she inseminated with her brother's sperm so that her daughter would be a blood relative? barnacled vet of the infertility wars

Oh come on.... There is no single right answer in parenting. And thank goodness... The choices we make as parents should reflect our individual values... and therefore pass on those values to our children. So, really, only you can answer your own question.

And clearly this is an important issue to you. However, for perspective... if I were you... I don't think I would want to make the method of conception such an important defining element of my child's life. CKCCKC

Congratulations! Go with your instinct that your child was conceived on your 'bullseye' date - I think you would know better than anyone since it is your body! Plus after 4 years of trying with no success (sorry, I know how that feels - I went through it, too) I think it would be highly coincidental that you just happened to conceive 'naturally' right around the time you had IVF. Right now those details are so important to you, but once your baby is born, you'll probably find it doesn't matter so much. But since you are journalling now, which is a beautiful ides, I say start with the bullseye date! You are the one making the journal. It is when the journey started for you so I think that is what is most important. Your husband is not the one taking the time and thought to put together such a journal.

I never was able to get pregnant, even with IVF but am SO proud and happy to say that I am a mom via surrogacy - so that means, we had a traditional surrogate - her egg and my husband's sperm. Our beautiful son is already 3 years old and ever since before he was born I have wondered about what to tell him and when. We feel the way that you do - that we want him to know the truth, whenever it is appropriate and he is able to understand. His story is a little more complicated than yours (I assume your child is biologically related to you and your husband). I found a good book called Mommys, Daddies, Donors and Surrogates that talks about the issues of raising a child conceived via egg/sperm donation, IVF, and surrogacy. I've read every article I can find online and so far it seems there is just no hard and fast rule to tell or not, and when or what to tell. When you get to that point you will feel when the time is right and what to say. I found a great website for some children's books that tell the story of the how the baby came to be (those conceived through assisted reproduction). It's called X, Y and Me. I bought the one about surrogacy and it is so cute yet I have still hesitated to read it with my son yet. There are a lot of opinions, options, resources, but unfortunately no one right way to approach this. It has to be what feels right for you and your child when the time comes.

What I would encourage you to do for now, is focus on the fact that you are about to have a baby, regardless of when the conception date was or the fact that the baby was conceived via IVF. The fact is, it's a joyous time and such a blessing however and whenever it worked. You will have plenty of time later to think about what to tell the child and when. Just focus on the fact that - hurray! after all these years of trying, you are finally pregnant! Enjoy every precious moment! Best wishes!

Tell 10-y-o about IVF? What about younger sibs?

April 2006

Our children were conceived through IVF after we discovered that my husband was infertile. At the time, he was very distressed about it and did not want to announce it to the world, although he agreed that the children needed to know as they got older. (It didn't seem to make much sense to tell a 2 year old who couldn't grasp the concept.) Now our oldest is 10 and youngest is 4 and we feel like we need to talk to at least our oldest.

One issue I have is the prospect of telling the oldest, who clearly can understand more about the issue, and not telling the middle and younger. We don't intend to present this as some family secret we've been hiding, but rather an issue that that our oldest can understand now that he is at a certain age. But do we tell our other children at an age we didn't think it was timely to tell our oldest? Or do we just choose 10 as a the magic age and tell them in a stair-stepped fashion?

One benefit of the situation is that my husband was raised by a man who was not his biological father and has a very close relationship with his father, the man who raised him (he never knew his biological father who died when he was a baby).

Has anyone else had this experience? I'd love to have some feedback and advice on how to approach this with our children. Sign me: Need some guidance

I''m curious to read the advise you get. One thing we have done (my children are 6 &4)so far is just to let the kids know we had helpers. They were at different times very interested and they know the doctor and the office staff who did the IVF. Our conversations aren't that deep, we just wanted to start the dialog early so it wouldn't be shocking later. Best of luck to you and the rest of us! just my thoughts

Hi! Of what benefit is it for your child to know now? I think you're opening yourself up for all sorts of problems if you discuss this now. Your husband is the father and talking about IVF is just not necessary and undermines his relationship with the child(ren). And, because you have younger children, don't kid yourself into thinking that the older one won't eventually distort the information and use it against the younger ones and tell them that they are adopted or not wanted or a scientific freaky creation, etc. Kids do that all the time when they're mad at their siblings. It will happen to you too!

But, the really important question to answer before you do anything is ''what is the benefit to my kid to know?''

I say wait until they are all adults.

Good luck! Evaluate the point

I know your story is a bit different, but here's ours, for what it's worth. We have two IVF kids (ages 8 and 5) because of my husband's spinal cord injury. There is no discomfort in our family about their status, perhaps because it was the only way to have them in the first place. The pictures of them as 4 and 8 celled embryos are in the photo album along with the rest of the baby pictures. Although neither child knows the whole story of how ''regular'' people have babies, we have told them that you need a sperm from a man and an egg from a woman and because of their father's injury, we needed help from doctors to make that happen.

In your situation, I could imagine telling all of your kids, but tailoring the extent of the explanation to what's appropriate for their ages. I think if you tell only your oldest child, he might feel burdened by the knowledge and feel like it's keeping a secret. Your younger children might end up hurt that they didn't find out until later. Lucy

My two kids (7 and 5) are IVF kids (twins, in fact). We started telling them about it when they were really small - two-ish. Not so much of a ''sit down, there's something you need to know,'' but as soon as the where-do-babies-come-from questions began (yes - they were asking at 2). We explained about the sperms and the egg and how for most people they meet inside the mom's body, but for some people, like us, they were mixed in a little dish in a laboratory and the embryos were put back in. They don't seem to have any problem with these explanations. (They also don't have any problems with their sort-of-brother - the son of friends who we gave extra embryos to, and who looks just like our kids.)

I think any opportunity presented by their own questions is a good time to tell them. Good luck. (And congratulations on having family!) science-project mom

I think you should tell the 10 year old but don't make any attempt to hide it from the younger ones. That way it will be out their vaguely in their consciousness and you might not have to really explain it all in one day to the 2 younger ones. It obviously goes well with the regular birds and bees talk...the sperm meets the eggs in many ways, these days! Good luck!

I don't know why you feel the need to tell a young child everything about the pregnancy. If the egg and sperm are that of the parenting parents, then why bother? Will you tell them about your epidural? Sit them down about the amount of time in labor? Having said that, when they are teenagers or older I DO think you might need to tell them, because the infertility may be hereditary. Anon

I was unsure from your post if you did IVF with your husband's sperm or with donor sperm. If it was with your husbands sperm, it is no big deal - so many women around here get pregnant with assistance from medications, IUI, IVF. If your kids ever ask, tell them, but I don't see any reason to bring it up. If it was with donor sperm, I do believe you should tell your kids. There's no time like the present! Again, there are lots of kids in this area who were created via donor sperm or donor eggs. But I think your kids have the right to know about that -- the earlier the better. There are some children's books that might be a good way to bring up the subject. There is a list of books on the Sperm Bank of California's website, or you can do a Google search. anonymous