Tell your children they are donor-conceived says Cassandra

“Now that I think back,” says Cassandra, “my mother did have a sick look on her face when I spat into that tube.”

Cassandra was always interested in genealogy and family history, but doing a DNA test was too expensive. One day she discovered that genealogy company, 23andMe, were offering a free test to people that experience depression, a condition that 35yo Cassandra has suffered since her teenage years.

Opening her DNA Test Results…

When Cassandra opened her DNA results in September 2017, they were unexpected, showing she was 49% Ashkenazi Jewish, seemingly from her paternal side, and without a trace of British ancestry from her dad. Neither of these details reconciled with her current understanding of the family’s genetic makeup, and left her reeling. A phone call to 23andMe confirmed they had not mixed up her sample.

Something did not add up.

Her second revelation was that she had a half-sister, and Cassandra was pretty sure her mother was not the type to have an affair.

After confronting her mother the next day with her DNA test results, Cassandra discovered that the truth of her conception involved a father with fertility issues, an unknown medical doctor and a high-speed drive down the highway with a collection cup.

Cassandra goes on to say, “I didn’t realise how much I miss the idea that two people were involved together in my conception; that there was some kind of relationship there.” She notes that discovering the truth was a surreal moment. “Finding out this secret, and feeling like my existence was something shameful, that my parents jeopardised my physical and mental health for years… It was devastating.”

Cassandra conveys that she had a great upbringing – not perfect – but happy. “My mother is the most loving mother anyone could imagine; she is the epitome of motherhood. My Dad has some issues but is a good man, and I know he loved us no less because we were not biologically his.”

Nevertheless, she explains, “It is the most inconceivably disturbing adjustment to go through.”

A Diagnosis of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (C-PTSD)

Unfortunately, as a result of finding out about her donor conception so late in life, Cassandra now has a condition called Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (C-PTSD). C-PTSD is a more severe and long-term condition than PTSD and can affect the ability to control emotions, as well as form relationships. C-PTSD can also disrupt the development of a person’s identity and for Cassandra, has created trust issues.1

Despite her C-PTSD diagnosis, Cassandra reveals that she is okay and loves her life. “I am very accepting of my story, proud to be who I am, and grateful for what I do have. Finding out I was donor-conceived”, she explains, “was truly, in so many ways, the best thing to ever happen to me. Because it is my truth.”

Yet, that does not take away from the hard work of processing the last 35 years in a new light.

Cassandra explains that the two biggest words that come to mind are dignity and humanity. “Those are things that we [donor-conceived people who have not been told about their conception] have all been robbed of, and I’m striving to get them back. What we deserve,” says Cassandra, “is the right to know, the right to our own bodies, and the information about who we are.”

Meeting Her Biological Father and Half-Siblings

Cassandra has since met her biological father and some half-siblings. “I’ve never had such a beautifully traumatic experience in my life as meeting a man who smiles the way I do, who is so much of me. He told me things from the deepest places of my soul,” says Cassandra, “just because he knows that. He knows.”

While 35 years ago, parents were counselled to keep donor conception a secret, research clearly indicates that today, we must tell our children they are donor-conceived. Sadly, for reasons that include shame, fear of rejection, cultural and personal beliefs, and the notion that non-disclosure somehow protects their child, some people choose to withhold the details of their conception from their donor-conceived children.

Cassandra is very clear that this is not an acceptable option. “I would never want to take the remote chance that my child might experience this kind of upheaval. Where your entire system of beliefs crumble, your trust, your sense of identity; they are all shattered…”

Cassandra also experienced other weird phenomena growing up. “I had strange physical symptoms and sensations, triggers all over the place. Now I have flashbacks from childhood that remind me something was off the whole time.”

Love is Not a Guarantee

Importantly, many donor-conceived adults explain that just because they were desperately wanted and loved as a child, this is not a guarantee they won’t experience trauma and grief about their conception. And as a highly sensitive person, Cassandra acknowledges that whether she was told at age five or thirty-five, she still would have wanted to know who her biological father was.

“It would have been hard for me no matter what, but it would not be Complex-PTSD. The rest of my life on hold, while I work through the trauma. This is serious.

Please,” urges Cassandra, “tell your children they are donor-conceived.”

When is the Right Time to Tell Your Children They Are Donor-Conceived?

So when is the right time to tell your children they are donor-conceived? The Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) advises that the earlier you tell, the more straightforward and stress-free it is for you and your child. And just as importantly, that telling is not just a once-off event, but an evolving story based on age-appropriate language and your child’s reaction.

And no matter what age your child is, it’s never too late to tell.2

Getting Help 

For a list of help and support options about how and when to tell your child about their donor-conceived status, go to Health Law Central. Seek counselling with an appropriately qualified counsellor, if needed.

And if your donor-conceived child (or adult) needs assistance to help them through issues you can’t manage, there are many excellent resources available including the Australian Donor Conception Network as a starting point.

Join in the Conversation on Facebook, or View More Tips on Instagram

Have you had an experience you’d like to share?

Join the conversation HERE on Donor Conceived and Beyond’s Facebook Page


See more great tips HERE on Donor Conceived and Beyond’s Instagram page.

Donor-conceived adult CassandraCassandra Adams is a full-time mother and advocate. Since discovering she was donor-conceived at age 35 through a DNA test, she has been working on awareness of issues surrounding donor conception and the Non-Parental Event experience.3 Her focus has included parent education, legislative changes in her state in the USA, writing, performing, and other creative outlets, all while dealing with the difficulties of trauma recovery and exploring her new Jewish heritage.

Please, Tell Your Children They Are Donor-Conceived
  1. ‘Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)’, Health Direct, (Feb. 2017), <>, accessed 18 March 2019.
  2. Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA), Victoria, Resources, Time to Tell, <https://>, accessed 18 March 2019.
  3. Note: A non-parental event is where a parent is presumed to be an individual’s parent, but is not, in fact, the biological parent. The presumption may be on the part of the individual, the parents, or a health professional. Non-parental events can occur in the case of gamete (sperm, egg or embryo) donation, medical mix-ups with gametes, adoption, non-consensual sex or where a person has intercourse with multiple partners in close succession.

You May Also Like