Most parents will have an answer prepared for when their children first ask them: ‘where do babies come from?’
Having the chat about “the birds and the bees” can be difficult enough without having to work out how you’re going to balance the concept of using protection to prevent unwanted pregnancies with the reality that getting pregnant isn’t always that easy.
But to mark Fertility Awareness Week HuffPost UK has spoken to parents who have undergone IVF, about why they believe it is important to share their fertility struggles with their children, rather than just sweeping it under the carpet.
“Fertility issues will be more a part of our children’s lives than they ever were in ours.””
Helen Davies, 43, says she will “never hide the truth” from any of her children
Helen struggled with secondary infertility after the birth of her nine-year-old son, Zac, and went through four rounds of IVF to conceive her twins, Anya and Xavi, now four.
“Children need to be children, but when the time is right and the opportunity arises, I will certainly be telling them the truth,” she said.
The mother-of-three believes that the primary reason parents should be open with their children is because the younger generation are even more likely to have to try IVF.
“Fertility issues and IVF, as well as any other more innovations currently being worked on, will be more a part of our children’s lives than they ever were in ours,” she said. “It is only growing in popularity and necessity.”
As a result, she believes it is important to get rid of ideas that there should be shame attached to not being able to conceive naturally, both for parents and for children born as a result.
“It’s important we normalise the treatment, treat it like any other medical intervention for a medical condition and remove any stigmas attached to it,” she said.
“I don’t want my children stigmatised in any way and I owe it to them to speak up and educate people about this treatment.”
Helen believes that the right time to tell your children about fertility treatment is when they are “emotionally ready”. Her children all already have some understanding of conception and pregnancy struggles.
Her eldest son was always inquisitive about why he didn’t have any siblings, and was present when she was writing her blog about her IVF treatment and her book ‘More Love to Give’, so he began to gain an understanding “partially by osmosis”.
Helen believes there are “absolutely no” valid reasons why parents might not want to share their IVF journey with their child.
“In fact, this can only be detrimental to the child as such secrets never stay secret forever, and not being honest will only reinforce a feeling of stigma that is unnecessary and could be quite damaging,” she adds.
“This is no different to telling them about sex and natural conception. In fact that conversation will be a hell of a lot easier for me with the twins than the actual natural conception conversation because I’m dreading that.”
“It is part of who my son is."”
Caro Townsend, 36, who lives in Sussex with her husband and two-year-old son Sam, went through IVF after they had tried for a baby for two years without luck.
The couple say they have always known they will share their IVF journey with their toddler when he is older.
“To me it’s part of who my son is,” Caro said.
“This little boy was created out of love, science and sheer determination, he was formed in a petri dish, frozen, thawed and all before he was even a cell of six days old.
“I believe that all children are little miracles but children born out of fertility treatment are truly miraculous.”
Caro wants her son to “grow up feeling proud” that he was so wanted by his parents.
“At least as a teenager he’ll never have to be mortified that we actually had sex to get him,” she joked.
The couple have always openly spoken about the topic of IVF in the company of their son.
Caro wishes that fertility treatment was part of sex education for all children, as this would help to lessen the stigma attached to it.
“We should be in awe of the science behind it and we should not make it a taboo subject,” she said.
The mother-of-one says that she can see that some parents might not be so willing to open up, because they might have been secretive about the whole process.
“There are some couples who choose not to tell anyone they need fertility treatment to conceive and therefore telling a child they’re a “test tube” baby could be a huge deal,” she explained.
“There’s possibly also an element of not wanting to look back and remember the awful time that was infertility and IVF so perhaps some parents just want to focus on the future.
“ I’m proud of what we did. I’m in awe of what my child went through before he was born, but to me it doesn’t matter at all how anyone is conceived. Just because my son was IVF doesn’t mean I love him more than a mother who conceived naturally.”
“Well, why not tell them?"”
David Murray-Hundley, 43 and his wife Katrina, 39, who live in Oxfordshire, have been married since 2008 and now have two daughters together.
Their eldest daughter, Harriet, three, was conceived through IVF after they spent nearly four years trying to get pregnant. While their second child, five-month-old Georgina, was conceived naturally.
The parents have already decided that they will be telling their daughters about Harriet being an IVF baby, although David hastens to add it is not something “in the Google calendar” just yet.
And indeed, they feel so casual about it, that it might just come out by accident.
Quite simply, David believes there is no reason not to tell them.
“Why not tell them? It is about them and I don’t think there is any shame,” he said.
“Frankly I don’t think they will care when they are older and if anything we already joke with people that during IVF, they didn’t put as much of mummy into the mix, as my eldest is a daddy’s girl and is basically me.”
David feels strongly about not withholding this information from his children because he believes doing so would perpetuate a culture of stigma and silence around something that is already very difficult.
“IVF is really tough and I think in the UK we love to throw it under the carpet when actually we should be explaining and supporting, helping,” he said.
He believes the main reason many people keep quiet is because that is how they treated the whole process.
“This is probably because they were quiet about their IVF in the first place, but it was just the process that helped. Their child will probably shrug it off,” he said.
David could be forgiven for not wanting to create a marker of differentiation between their naturally-conceived baby and IVF-daughter.
But he says they don’t worry that the girls will see themselves as different to each other.
“If they do, then of course we will deal with it,” he explained. “But at the end of the day, love and feeling secure far outdoes any insecurity around stuff like this.”
And for parents who are worried about the conversation he advises toughening up:
“I expect far tougher conversations than about how she ended up on the planet,” he said.
“I’m a parent and would be kidding myself otherwise.”
How To Speak To Your Children About IVF
Susan Seenan, chief executive of charity Fertility Network UK offers the following advice:
It’s important when speaking with children about their reproductive origins to keep it simple and not make a big deal about it.
The only difference between a child conceived naturally and a child conceived using assisted reproduction techniques is in how the egg and sperm come together – the nudge at the start.
So don’t overcomplicate things: start early with a brief sentence about “we needed a bit of extra help to make you”.
Then as they get older expand this to include additional information – such as: a bit of extra help from doctors.
Then when you think they’re ready you can explain the extra help was about bringing sperm and egg together.