IVF, Donor eggs and extended family

We were given the news that my wife’s sister had just successfully given birth. The sister in law ( not catholic) had told us that conception was by IVF, however, not that donor eggs or sperm had been used.
We suspected it had been, for a number of reasons, but as well, a “feeling” that we weren’t getting full disclosure, and we have now found out from my mother in law that it was indeed the case that a donor egg had been used.

My wife is very upset - firstly being very freaked out at the idea of a relative carrying a child with whom the mother had no blood relationship, but equally at being lied to - the presentation of the child as a blood relative. Her sister did not tell us that donor material had been used, and there seems to be a general attitude amongst the donor-material community that family do not necessarily have a right to know ( and in some cases that the child doesn’t) whether or not they are related to it. The assumption is that they don’t need to know, and that this deception is perfectly fine and a “right” of the donee “parents”.

I understand the church’s teaching on assisted pregnancy - both the fact that it was IVF and that donor material was used, make this wrong.
I can also see this as wrong from a number of other perspectives. I believe children should where possible be raised by their genetic parents in a marriage. Sometimes people make mistakes, and a situation occurs where a child has to be adopted ( I was one of them). And that is perfectly fine. Given the circumstances, adoption is the best solution in those cases. However, with donor eggs, the intention from the beginning is to raise a child apart from its genetic parents, and that intention must surely be wrong. Added to which not telling the child of its parents and half-siblings, and preventing it from finding out, to me feels like a violation of a basic right. I know from experience the particular feeling of separateness one experiences through not knowing any blood relatives, and experienced it most of my life, despite having a very good upbringing from my adoptive parents, who I love and continue to have an excellent filial relationship with.

I have not been able to find anything more generally on the internet about extended family members and Donor-material children, and dealing with these kind of issues,
However, my wife feels that she is unable to send flowers, congratulations etc to the mother because that would be tacit approval of what she has done.

At the same time there is a blameless child who is going to be raised to think of us as Uncle and Aunt. And that too is a consideration.
However, we don’t know if the parents are planning to tell the child about their parenthood. We both strongly believe it is their right to know as soon as they are old enough. Otherwise they are living a lie all their life.

I would be interested in hearing from anyone in a similar position, or anyone who has a view on how to handle this. Also if anyone knows of any forums or sites for people in this particular situation.

I think at this point you simply deal with what is, not with what you’d like it to be.

So, the child has arrived and you should be aunt and uncle without reservation and without regard to how the child arrived.

You can certainly have legitimate differences of opinions on whether or not giving congratulations or sending flowers is “tacit approval.” I believe the Church’s guidance would be to treat them charitably. You can consult your priest for guidance.

Your sister-in-law has good reason to fear for her immortal soul. IVF is a completely selfish act, although she undoubtedly acted in ignorance if she’s not Catholic. For her, all you can do is pray and hope she repents. That can happen. We used fertility treatments when I was agnostic and welcomed beautiful twin girls into the world. When God called me back to faith, and then, miracle of miracles, into the Catholic church, it was hard to accept at first that these children were conceived in sin. But I came to accept the wisdom of the Church’s position, and confessed it willingly.

Otherwise, it’s none of your business. Forgive and forget. It is not a sin against you, so there is especially no reason to hold onto it.

The child is innocent and should be accepted whole-heartedly with love. There is no reason for you to treat him/her any differently from any other child welcomed into your family. Be the best aunt and uncle you can be. Whether and how the child learns of it’s origins is up to the parents. That is really none of your business, especially if you would contemplate taking any actions without knowledge or approval of the parents. You may be overempathizing with the child due to your own background. The child comes from God and is loved by Him, just like you. That is all the child really needs to know.

You may prefer to send a present that is 100% for the child - clothing, toy, a swing, etc. - rather than flowers if you would rather not recognize the motherhood part of the equation.

It’s hard to give advice when one is not in the same situation, BUT:

-at this moment it would be very cold not to send flowers and cards (or any other way of celebrating together) to celebrate the birth of this child. I know someone whose son was conceived out of wedlock (the parents were married before he was born, though). Do you think it would give them a proper sense of Christian love if those close to them - and especially those who are Christians and therefore are called to love others in very special way - withheld their congratulations and sharing in the joy for fear of “giving the false impression”?

  • Save the conversation about the morality of the process for a later date.

The birth of a child is always a joyous occasion, something to be cherished and celebrated, no matter the circumstances of its conception.

I think talking to a priest is the best way to go. Since the child will be raised by a nonbiological mother as her own, direct your attention toward the baby.


The sin has been committed. Now, she is pregnant and is joyfully expecting a child. Share in her joy! A child is always worthy of celebration- even under worse circumstances. You must love the child and treat him as a you would any other niece or nephew. Participate in the celebrations. Dote on the child- it is an Uncle’s prerogative!

That said, I am not sure that I agree that putting off the conversation about the sinful nature of the conception is good advice. Talk to a priest, of course. But, life is uncertain. How long would you wait with an unconfessed mortal sin on your soul? The couple should confess their sin, and they ought to be told that. IMO, the sooner the better- though not necessarily by you. But only once. After that, drop the issue entirely unless they bring it up.

What was a selfish decision is now a child. The decision must be confessed, but the child must be loved. That means welcoming the child. Send the flowers! Buy the gifts! A child is born and though the circumstance of the child’s conception was sinful, the child is a gift. Many children are conceived in sinful ways- they are no less worthy of the welcome. Send the flowers. Send the congratulations. Rejoice with the parents, because they are parents. God makes good come from evil all the time.

I too was very concerned by the fact that a sibling conceived children in this manner. my heart broke. But then I remember that even when we do things that aren’t according to the will of God, HE is still the author of Life. I realize that there are many things that could have prevented the pregnancy, or kept this “proceedure” from working. But it did. Therefore I can only trust that it is God’s will that these children were conceived. If the Author of Life would not have wanted them here- they wouldn’t be.

I believe this because to often couples in the “right” situation can’t conceive no matter what they do. And to often, people who aren’t expecting to concieve and even try to prevent it do. God is in control of life.
So I rejoice not in how it happened, but that God has decided to Bless my family with two new children and I pray He makes me worthy to accept the responsibility of being an aunt and sharing the faith with these nephews.

I hope your family can find peace and rejoice in the gift you’ve been given.

I frequently tell people God doesn’t always stop bad things from happening, but if we let Him, He will always make something good out of a bad situation.
I keep you in my prayers and please pray for me.

Thanks to everybody for the replies.
My wife spoke to the priest. Here is what he said.
Firstly, he acknowledged the hurt that it had caused on many different levels. That they have displaced the pain they were feeling over their own infertility onto the next generation - creating a wound in the children in order to relieve their own suffering.
Secondly, that what they were doing was akin to the temptation of Adam and Eve, who didn’t trust God, but wanted to taste of the fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil - put themselves on a par with God as it were. That the same has applied here, and that evil is definitely at work.
Thirdly, the deceit. My sister in law had not told us about the donor eggs that were used, or told other extended family, and apparently had no intention to. Its only because my wife suspected it that her mother told her. In terms of the effect on us, that is at least equally as hurtful as the act itself, and the deception is yet another indicator of evil at work.
He also said that my sister in law was deluding herself into believing that she was the mother. She is not the true mother. Everyone in the world has two parents. The man and the woman who provided the genes. It is that simple.

He went on to say that one hears these kind of stories from people at local level all the time, but that this hurt is never acknowledged. That the fertility industry sell donor conception as a way of building families, but the truth is that it fractures them and causes major disruption more often than not. That the mainstream media never cover the perspective of hurt family members, either from a simple human emotional sense or from a religious, in this case a Christian sense. That we are portrayed as bigoted and backwards, so our feelings “don’t count”. And that the true consequences of donor conception are never therefore brought to public attention.

So onto what to do about it. He said that it is important to keep inside our integrity here - more important than “keeping up appearances”. It is important that my sister in law understands the damage and hurt she has caused. Someone like her, with a secular-modernist-“liberal” ( in fact anything but) worldview, will not believe that any other point of view than hers is valid and will take offence at any expression of disapproval. However, this must be faced. My wife needs to express to her sister that she didn’t approve, in as calm and rational a way as possible, but being clear about the effects the action has had.
If the sister then tells us that we are being hurtful, we point out in return that her actions have hurt us, and that it is a consequence of what she has done. It may possibly lead to a rift in relations, she may call us bigots, but if that is the case, so be it. Stressing again - the modern secular world view does need to understand the consequences of its actions, and going along with it for the sake of “keeping things nice” is not the answer here. Its tough love.
They do live five hours drive from us by the way so we don’t see them very frequently anyway and they are not living in the same local community.

Being clear also that we do not wish to live the lie of being called “Uncle” and “Aunt”, which doesn’t preclude us from having a relationship with the child, but allows us to have a clean and honest one, in integrity, and not be part of any further lies.
Probably the best time to speak to her isn’t in the immediate aftermath of the birth, in the physical recovery period, but once the dust has settled a bit. In the mean time, not sending congratulations and gifts is the right thing to do, because it sends the message
that we are not in accord with her and will not collude in the deception.

We can still keep a relationship with the child, ( if they’ll let us). When the child is of that age when they start to rebel and these identity issues come out as they may well - typically in the teens - that will be the time to reach out to my sister in law and say - this is why we disapproved - but to reach out in a way that is offering help, not one that is simply pointing the finger.

The secular-modernist- humanist - individualist world believes that it can do anything, with no “overt” harm and it cannot see the wickedness in a lot of what it does do. The area of donor conception is a classic example of this. The ray of hope is that people on the receiving end of this will quite possibly find and choose catholicism because they will understand how the moral framework makes sense - it is pragmatic as well as being God’s Will.

My sister in Law has already told us that she won’t baptise the child or encourage it in any faith, but will let it make up its own mind when it is old enough. She has already had rows with caltholic relatives on her busband’s side because of that. She hasn’t declared to us that she is an atheist, but in addition to the above she does scorn the church, religions generally and that position on spiritual ( lack of) guidance smacks very much to me of the Richard Dawkins school of thought.

This is a situation of conscience and integrity if necessary trumping “good relations”, and our priest confirmed it.

I think this is a huge mistake and can only hurt the child– who is innocent in every way. The child is legally their child, therefore it is appropriate that you be called Aunt and Uncle just as if the child were adopted. Family relationships are not *solely *based on blood kinship.

I think it would be a great evil to reject the child and refuse to allow him/her to call you aunt and uncle. I believe this would emotionally scar the child and it is cruel.

I think the above carries it beyond “intergrity” and into self-righteous cruelty that can serve no purpose.

It’s one thing to tell the sister you are disappointed, hurt, and disapproving. It is quite another to make the child an outcast in the only family it has.

1ke - I disagree with you on every assumption that you make.

unless this couple is someone for whom you have responsibility for their spiritual welfare, such as your child, I don’t see why you need “full disclosure” or indeed, any information whatever on how this child came to exist. That the parents were guilty of egregious lack of common civil courtesy in sharing any of these details is beside the point. We simply ignore what is too much info and NOYB.

If any other child in your extended family happened to be conceived in any other way that implied a sinful act on the part of either parent, would that child also be ostracized or otherwise penalized, excluded, singled out, in that family?

If this were strictly true, you should also not consider adoptive parents as parents.
It all hinges on the relevant meaning of “parent”. If by parent we mean genetic origin, then of course they are not the parents, and they already know that. They are using the term in the sense of those persons who rear the child; and in this sense they certainly are the parents, and this is of course what they mean.

This is a situation of conscience and integrity if necessary trumping “good relations”, and our priest confirmed it.

But the dilemma has never been about integrity and “good relations”. It is how best to fulfill Christian integrity. By showing how offended you are or by showing and confirming your love for them and, when appropriate, talking seriously about it?

Just think: what is the course of action that is more likely to bring them to Christ?

Anyway, your choice, just make sure you don’t let a mere desire to show your high moral standards to trump your love your neighbor, both your relatives and their baby.

If you think the higher good for them will come from condemning the action right away, do that. If you think it will come being more lovable, do that.

Replying to the responses in general:

You have all made your own assumptions here based on what I’ve said, and because what you assume doesn’t concur with your own views of “what is best for the child” have chosen to point out what you believe is wrong in our approach as you assume it to be, including various accusations, either direct, or veiled via " if you are…" kind of statements. self-righteous, Ostracized, penalized, excluded, “reject the child”, “mere desire to show your high moral standards”, “cruel”.
To me it doesn’t add anything really, but seems to indicate a lack of understanding of the issues, all round. And a selective reading of what I actually wrote.

In the first post I said that the child is blameless and that is a consideration. In the second post, I said that we plan to have a relationship with the child. I thought that the fact that the child needs love and support was self-evident, and in a forum like this I believed that didnt need to be fully spelled out. I now see that for the people replying, at least, it does need to be spelled out.

The child will be told by my sister in law that it was a result of a donor egg. As soon as it is old enough to understand the concepts, it will understand that my wife and I are not its true, genetic uncle and aunt. We will ask not to be addressed as uncle and Aunt. Actually, my natural niece and nephew via my own sister don’t call us that either, nor do I address my own uncle as “uncle”. That in itself does not cause “emotional scarring”.

The point here is to have a relationship with the child, but not to be party to any deception. We are strongly of the opinion that that is what is “in the best interests of the child” and the most loving and Christian choice.

Most people we speak to, it seems, don’t understand the issues faced by adoptees and donor conceived children - children raised apart from their genetic family. The only people we find that do, are the adoptees/donor conceived themselves, and some, but by no means all, of people who have worked with them, or have worked in drug, alcohol and mental health services. Of the latter category, those that do “get it”, are the ones who take the trouble to listen, to unpick the reasons behind why something is doing somebody’s head in, or drove them to drink or use - and the effect it had on them. I am an adoptee, my wife works in drug and alcohol services, and our priest is a very experienced priest who takes the trouble to listen, and I suspect has come across these kind of issues a lot.
For example, adoptees are three times more likely to be found in mental health services, and drug and alcohol services, than the general population.
Men are eight times more likely to sexually abuse children they are not genetically related to in the same family environment.

I am not saying that all these things necessarily will happen in the case being discussed, but it is evidence that being raised apart from one’s genetic family has a tendency to lead to problems.

What this boils down to is that raising a child away from its genetic parent in a kind, loving environment, and doing what can be done to make it feel included is not the same as raising your own genetic child. And pretending that it is, is one of the worst mistakes adoptive/donor recipient families can make. That DOES NOT mean ostracizing. But it does mean acknowledging the truth, and the child’s identity. I would be absolutely horrified if my adoptive extended family had been deceived into believing that I was of the same genetic line. It would be like they did not know me, they did not know why I am the only person among my 30 first cousins who cannot draw, why I am apparently the brown eyed child of two blue eyed parents… ( I was adopted too young to know my eye colour).

The key difference, is between providing a loving and safe family environment, and pretending that it is exactly the same as raising genetic children. It isn’t.

Pretending that it is the same as genetic heritage too much is actually harmful to the child, it denies them something about their identity that they own, that is unique to them. As an adoptee, again, a lot of people, the ones who dont get it, then get the wrong end of the stick when you express this, and say you are being selfish, and denying all the excellent parenting you’ve had from your adoptive parents over the years… a guilt trip. No, it is not denying that. Acknowledging one is not denying the other.

Adoptees/ donor recipients typically spend a lot of time wondering about their biological families. Looking in the mirror at physical features, wondering where they came from, abilities and traits. Walking around the town seeing people and wondering if they are related. Its an existence that nobody else quite understands.
Again, some people put guilt trips on us for having such thoughts.

However excellent a job a pair of adopters or donor-recipients do of the parenting role, they are not the parents of the child. Meaning, the child will always have some awareness, it may manifest as a yearning, or it may be a total desire not to know ( the minority), or anything inbetween. It is harmful to the child to deny them this, and harmful to tell them that their genetic parenthood is irrelevant. Telling them that is really setting the scene for trouble.

continued in next post…

My own adoptive mother fully understands that the genetic family can never be 100% replaced by an adoptive one. Much of it can, but not all. That difference, yearning, however it shows itself will always exist. The fact that she understands that has been a very positive factor in our relationship, and when I finally met my biological mother, she was very supportive, pleased, and not at all threatened. Our relationship did not change as a result of my meeting my biological mother either.
Other peoples’ experiences are not so good. You can get some undertanding of the issues donor-conceived children face as adults, here: anonymousus.org/stories/index.php?cid=2

*Choosing *to put a child through this pain is undoubtedly an evil act, on the part of donors, the fertility industry and recipient childbearers, as is choosing not to tell family members affected. Not telling them makes them unwitting contributors to the harm.
The tragedy is that so many people do not understand how much harm is caused to the child by simply creating the situation, and then, what needs to be done to mitigate it.
And extended family members absolutely need to know about it, in order to be able to support the situation appropriately.

So, on the case in hand, as stated in the last post, we intend to have a relationship with the child. We will not do anything clumsily well-intended to violate its sense of identity, as being part of something separate from the family ( *as well as *being raised by it. *Not *excluded, ostracised… but with the difference acknowledged and respected) If/when it turns round at fourteen and screams “You’re not my mother”… we want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The biggest problem a lot of adoptees and donor-conceived face is being truly heard.

So to answer one of the questions, showing the child that we realise and fully understand what it is going through is what we believe is most likely to engender positive regard for the Christian faith,

We will also tell - at the appropriate moment - my sister in law that we are uncomfortable with the choice she made, why we would never have made that decision ourselves and that it may be a good idea for her to learn more about the kind of consequences that are likely to result, and to share some of my experience as an adoptee. There isnt any point in describing it to her in terms of good and evil, because it is just not her world view at the moment. So self righteousness and moral superiority just doesnt come into it. With somebody like that you have to appeal to pragmatism and consequences to show why something is wrong. I don’t see at the moment her becoming religious in any way, but who knows?

I will also report back to this forum in fifteen years time on how it went. And again in 25 years.

Absolutely and will do. Please also pray for us. It is very painful isn’t it, in a surprising way. I am not sure that I can agree it is necessarily God’s will though - as you say God does allow bad things to happen, and we have free will… As it were God then allows children to be born in all kinds of appalling circumstances. There is evil at large in the world. That is part of our challenge.

I hope too that we can find peace with this, but that needs to include the child being at peace with it, and all that implies.

I explained further in a post above. I include adoptees in that statement. a Legal parent is not necessarily a parent. I know what “they” mean by parent, but I don’t like the broadening of its use to include “those who do the parenting”. The reason, is that it is then a word that can cover up a mess and hides what is happening. There are particular issues with non-genetic families which the word “parent” can hide.

I don’t hold myself responsible for their spiritual welfare, but I will step in when I see evil being done to others, and do what I can to stop it. " The only thing required for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing".
I explained in another post why the whole family need to know about a donor conception.

It isn’t about being conceived by a sinful act. I was conceived by a sinful act myself. The sinful act of the parents and the problems consequent for the child are dealt with separately. It is about knowing the situation so you can act appropriately, to try to stop further wrongdoing, and for the child’s own good, because, unlike what the fertility industry would have you believe, not being genetically related does make a difference whether you want it to or not.

I responded to your assumption that I was ostracizing the child in another post.

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