10/01/2012 12:12 EDT | Updated 11/30/2012 05:12 EST

Not a Biological Parent? How to Tell Your Child

As an infertility counsellor, I see a lot of clients who are using third-party family building strategies. This includes using sperm or egg donation and/or a gestational carrier.

For some, the decision to use donor egg or sperm is a no-brainer: they want children, they cannot use their own gametes, so they use someone else's. For these individuals the desire to parent is so strong, that they are unconcerned with the lack of biological tie that they themselves, or their partner, will have with the child.

This is not new, of course, since the same can be said for people who adopt. For others, however, coming to grips with having a child using someone else's gametes is a difficult decision, one that requires a lot of soul searching and contemplation. One of the many concerns these individuals have about family building using these methods is what they will tell their child.

As has become accepted practice with adoption, counsellors like myself who work in the area always recommend to Intended Parents (IPs) that they disclose the details of the child's conception to the child (rather than keep it secret), and that they do so as soon as possible.

When to do so depends on the child, but is generally appropriate when the child starts asking about where babies come from. This question can begin as early as age two!

Once the child asks where babies come from, I recommend that parents first give the basic information, in age appropriate terms, about sperm and egg. Then, in the case of egg/sperm donation, they say something like: "In our case, mommy's eggs (or daddy's sperm) were broken, so a nice man/woman (or Uncle Jon/cousin Sarah, etc. if it was a known donor) gave us some so we could have you!"

For same-sex couples (or a single woman), the conversation might include something like:

"There were no men in our family, so we went to a doctor who helped us get sperm from a nice man..."

When a child hears this story right from the beginning, he or she will accept it. It will simply be his/her birth story. The important part for the child will be knowing how badly he or she was wanted and how thrilled his/her parents were when they conceived.

What I have come to believe is that all children, even those conceived "the old fashioned way," should be aware of all the ways a family can be formed. In our house, I make a point of discussing family diversity with my two daughters. They understand that some kids have two mommies, some have two daddies, some kids look like their parents, and others do not. Some kids live with only one parent, and some kids have two full sets of parents. I think this is an important part of helping kids develop tolerance, open-mindedness and acceptance of differences.

If you are thinking that this is just going to complicate what already feels like a stressful task: discussing reproduction and sex with your children, fear not! There are now some great books for kids of all ages that discuss the wide variety of family forms that are now commonplace.

The one my kids have is called "It's Not the Stork" by Robie H. Harris. Reading about these issues to your child from an age-appropriate book, rather than sitting your child down for a formal, awkward face-to-face discussion can make the whole process much more comfortable. No one should feel ashamed of how they were conceived and educating our youth about the many ways families are formed and babies are made will help foster greater understanding and acceptance for family diversity.