Tell Me About It

My parents should have told me I have a different genetic mother

Tell Me About It: I’m curious to meet the egg donor, and I wonder if I have siblings

PROBLEM: My mother has recently completed treatment for cancer and is, thankfully, now in the early stages of remission. She was unwell for a long period of time and her business affairs fell into disarray. At the time I was on a short break from college, and as her daughter and only child, I agreed with my parents that I would help out with some administrative work.

Deep within her filing cabinets I found some formal-looking papers written in a foreign language that were signed just under 20 years ago. Initially, I paid little heed to them but once I completed my task, I decided that I should probably pay more attention to them in case they were either important or still relevant.

Once I figured out which language they were written in, I used an app to start translating the opening paragraphs. I quickly discovered that these documents were not business related but originated in a fertility clinic. On further exploration I found that my parents had signed forms permitting a doctor to transfer a donated egg to my mother. The dates on the document corresponded with the time that I was conceived.

During this period, I was already feeling vulnerable as it was unclear whether my mother would survive her treatment and I was concerned for my father who was clearly struggling. This all happened around six months ago and now I am very angry.

Of course, I am glad that they had me, but they should have told me that I had a different genetic mother. People often talk about suspecting that they are different from their parents or other family members but I never had that experience. I have the same skin tone and eye colour as my mum, but once I completed the translation of the form from the fertility clinic, I found that these were also the characteristics of the egg donor. I raised the issue with my father and he confirmed that my conclusions were correct, however, he told me that we had been through enough and not to bother my mother about it as she is still fragile. He didn’t wish to discuss it further or explain why they never told me.

I have done some research into the fertility clinic and the country where I was conceived and it is likely that the donation was not anonymous. While I would be curious to meet the woman who donated the egg, I would be really keen to find out if she has any of her own children. I have no siblings, so would be eager to have the opportunity to find out if I had any brothers or sisters.

But I am worried that this would be detrimental to my mother’s health.

ADVICE: You say that your mother is in remission, so there is still an opportunity for you to talk to her and this is something you should see as an opportunity rather than as a cause of hurt.

That you are angry is understandable and perhaps this is something you might deal with before the conversation so that your fear of adding to your mother’s ill health is less likely. The person you have the right to talk to, and who is best placed to help in this situation, is your father and even though he is reluctant to open up about this he owes it to his only child to do so. He is clearly very protective of your mother and this may be his way of showing love for her. If you manage to have a real conversation with your father, it will allow you a much more nuanced engagement with your mother, and if you explain this to him it might soften his resolve to keep the past buried.

The main reason for silence is usually fear and it appears that your parents feared the consequences of you finding out about the circumstances of your birth and now you are continuing the tradition of fear by not broaching the sensitive topic with your parents. It is a strange way of showing love and perhaps now is the time to challenge this.

Can you begin the conversation by going straight to the fear part – tell your parents (together or alone) that no matter what the outcome, you will still love them and will always be their daughter – but you must be sure that this is true before you say it.

This is not breaking confidences but it is breaking a family ritual of silence

Your anger is due to the feeling of injustice, that an essential fact of your existence has been kept from you and the main way of dissipating this anger is finding out more and understanding all the aspects of the situation. The only two people who can help you with this are your parents. Your mother is clearly loved by you and I am assuming that this love is mutual, so place some trust in this and begin talking about what has happened.

This will not be just one conversation and you can tell her that you and she can take your time and that all your questions and all her worries can be teased out over time. You are the person who has to start these conversations and it will be very important that you have your own support during this time – do you have a trusted close friend or relative who might be a sounding board for you and can you ask them to simply be there with you throughout this process?

This is not breaking confidences but it is breaking a family ritual of silence and it might help both your parents to know that talking and getting support is what makes us stronger and your family will be more united as a result.