Fertility Experts share their views: Introducing Anthony Ryb

For traditional mums and dads to be, there is an abundance of guidance, literature, and how-tos available on the ups and downs of parenthood.  

For non-traditional families, however, there is arguably more to talk about, but fewer resources to help them do it. Speaking to young children about their conception can be less than straightforward. Families created through donors and surrogacy have an additional task: teaching their little ones to understand their family dynamic, and how to speak to their peers about it.

The evidence shows that talking does help. Donor-conceived children are more likely to categorise their experience as positive if they’re informed before the age of 3. 

And thankfully, understanding of the process is growing. There are more and more professionals to help non-traditional families cope and thrive. Anthony Ryb is one such person.  

As an Integrative Counsellor and Psychotherapist, and the regional co-ordinate for BICA London, Anthony is an expert in dealing with fertility, trauma, and bereavement.

First and foremost, Anthony recommends seeking tailored advice for your unique situation. Each family is completely unique, and there is no ‘one size fits all’ framework for approaching these conversations. But there are some key home truths that may be useful and heartening for many non-traditional families. We spoke to Anthony for his perspective on speaking to donor- and surrogate-conceived children. 

Anthony, what is it that you do exactly, and what’s your official title?
I’m a fertility counsellor working privately and within a number of fertility clinics plus donor banks. My full title is Bereavement, Fertility, Trauma and Brief Intervention Therapist Adv Dip CP, MNCS (Snr Acc), AMBICA.

What’s your connection to donor assisted conception?
My background in the field goes back around 10 years. The last 5 of which have been more integrated within clinic settings and supporting people prior to making the choice to use a donor. 

I also support people during the fertility process, and sometimes many years afterwards when contacted with the question of ‘how do I tell my child they are donor conceived?’. I also have experience supporting donors and surrogates as well as parents.
What are your thoughts on telling children about their donor conception? 
It would appear that where possible and appropriate, telling from a young age can be very helpful.

How early do you recommend parents tell their children? 
I would advise that parents should be reading the story books (as part of their book collection) from aged 1 or 2, more for the purpose of desensitising you to telling the story. In addition, be talking about families, values, sharing, giving (donating), and when the child is of suitable age (4 to 7ish) you can provide their story to them. 

I would reinforce here that this isn’t a ‘one size fits all’, as children all develop at different stages, and process emotions differently. 

What are the most important things to consider when telling your child? 
Them! Know your child and how appropriate the timing is.

Does it make a difference for either parents or children if they’re telling about a donor egg or a donor sperm? 
Your own gender can impact how much easier or more difficult ‘telling’ might be. For example, a woman who used both donor eggs and sperm may find it easier to talk about a sperm donor rather than the egg donor. A heterosexual couple who used donor sperm it may be easier for the mother to tell than the father.

What if they’re a same sex couple or heterosexual? 
This depends on what donor/s were required.

What’s your preferred way to do this?
Books and talking. Art and creative media can be helpful too.

In your experience, how have you found attitudes towards telling donor-conceived children about their story? 
Mixed. Some people say they intend to be very open about it. Some are honest and explain they do not intend to tell the child. 

My experience is that people can say whatever they want and can change their minds. So those who intend to be open may end up not being so, and those who made a vow never to tell could end up disclosing. Within the UK, because of the laws of anonymity, I believe this is changing Intended Parents views around telling for the better.

What is your advice for parents who are nervous about explaining to their children how they were conceived? 
Talk to others who have done it, Join the DC Network or another group, speak with friends, and seek counselling. It’s important to check in with yourself. Ask yourself why you’re nervous, and what are your fears?

In this article and in previous ones, we’ve touched upon the importance and value of storytelling in communicating sensitive information to children. 

Physical books children can hold and touch can be a huge creative aid to this. If you feel ready to talk to your children, start with the Magic of You. These are beautifully bound, completely personalised books that tell the story of how they came to be.

Remember too that help is out there. As mentioned in this Q&A, there isn’t a one size fits all approach and while children may develop emotionally at different rates, we too come from different places. What some might find easy, others will find hard. If this resonates with you, consider reaching out to individuals like Anthony who can offer specialised counselling and support.