Carol attended the ASRM conference in Denver, CO this past October and she brought back literature about how to build a Healthy Family from the perspective of the Mental Health Advisory Council. I found nothing new which was very reassuring as I have always counseled our Couples to be open and honest with their child regarding their origin. The adoption literature and research is a good model which has been proven time and time again. I will discuss this and also the negative effects of secrecy to help give you a balance of the two.
Throughout the psychological literature especially in adoption but also including abuse, the largest problem placed on children is one of keeping a secret or being part of a secret. Whether the secret is kept from them or whether the child is asked to keep the secret such as in abuse, it has been demonstrated to be negative and create psychopathology in adult life if not earlier. Often children feel a sense of shame which comes out of being a “secret.” Secrets are often perceived as negative or shameful by others and of course by the person who has a secret. For example, addiction is usually a secret and hence very shameful to the person, family & friends. Shame when experienced by individuals, both children & adults, over time may manifest behaviorally as shyness, isolation, acting out behaviors such as self-destructive behaviors (e.g. drugs & alcohol). In fact, most of these self-defeating behaviors function twofold: one to keep you from seeing or dealing with the real secret and two, perpetuating a deep sense of shamefulness due to the behaviors. The destructive behaviors keep the secret from view while the shame becomes a feeling tone identified as a sense of self or who I am. In children, these feelings of shame become confusing and often lead to a lack of building a solid identity which affects all aspects of functioning from academics to interpersonal relationships. It is very complex and intricate. All of these maladaptive behaviors may develop into a vicious cycle. The potency of secrets and shame are indeed destructive to the very fabric of well-being, being well adjusted and living a life full of potential.
Indeed, children are resilient and they do not make judgments about the world or others in a negative fashion until they are fully socialized. Socialization occurs by late childhood or early adolescence. As a psychologist, after many decades of clinical observations, it is never one thing that leads to psychopathology or maladaptive behaviors but rather the ongoing, repetitive pattern of events that creates those issues and destructive or maladaptive behaviors for people. We seem to be concerned about how or when to tell a child about surrogacy as part of their life. I think often it is our own dynamics that we feel or struggle with that contributes toward deferring the decision to share with the child their birth history. In counseling parents about telling their child their birth history, I ask them to become conscious and reflect on their own thoughts and feelings which they may be attributing to the child. This can be a fruitful way of opening the doors to communicating with the child effectively. Projection of parental fears to tell the truth may hinder the child’s development and healthy progress in life.
We do not want to set a pattern of deception or secrecy about being a surrogate child so why not tell them from the beginning? The child needs to be communicated about their birth heritage from the beginning of life to avoid the negative emotions of shame. I believe part of the dilemma for parents is how to tell a one year old, two year old or should we wait until they are ten years old? It must be imbedded within the child’s context of their language and cognitive abilities. Hence, communication about birth heritage starts at the beginning of life. This may be translated verbally or by reading children’s books at bedtime or other times. These kinds of communications actually propel the truth to the child and normalize the entire process of their birth history as opposed to fostering a secret or something that is uncomfortable to discuss for others as well as the child.
I hope this has given our parents some guidelines to begin to consider even before your baby is here and reflect on this issue from the beginning of the pregnancy. It is up to us to help our children live up to their potential and embrace that a loving Surrogate Mother brought them into the lives of their families. This is truly a gift to be shared and appreciated rather than a secret to be hidden from view. The truth is frequently healing and freeing for the entire family unit.
I wish all of you a happy, healthy and joyful holiday season. May it be filled with many blessings for all of you! Happy New Year 2011!!!
As Always With Warm Regards, Dr. Radojevic “Dr. Rad”