Privacy, Shame and Secrets–Part VI: Patty’s Babies

Patty was pregnant with her second when she and Peter sought counseling for marital tension. During their couples’ work, they revealed that both pregnancies had required in vitro assistance.

The issue of secrets came up with a double-whammy.  Part I was the revelation that the parents had no intention of ever telling their children that Peter was not the “biological Dad.”  Anonymous donor sperm had done the trick for the infertile couple.

A few months later, a tearful Mom revealed Part II.   She was not the “biological Mom,” either.  This deal was so painful to her that both parents had hidden the information from me, even after revealing Part I.  Her feeling of failure, and thus, her shame, had kept this hidden from me, but more importantly, from her children.

The essential question concerning the opening of a secret is: who owns the secret?

In this case, the information “belongs” to the children.

It is much more comfortable, natural, and soothing to a child to avoid the ‘moment of revelation,’ the ‘shock and awe,’ as I referred to Ludwig’s discovery of his father’s secret. It is better for them to simply always know. Of course they will have questions later-and it might get pretty hairy as their understanding of the birds and the bees increases–but it is far superior for them to grow up with the knowledge of their parenthood, than to have to face it one day in a moment that is shocking and discomfiting, and that yields the sense that their ‘parents’ have lied to them.

Second is perhaps more mundane, but it does matter. Think of all the times you’ve filled out those endless intake forms at the doctor’s–does your father have: diabetes, high blood pressure, history of cancer, two heads, etc. You know how it is. Children have the right to their own medical history.  Imagine a girl undergoing intense breast cancer surveillance because her mother has the disease, or a boy experiencing a similar heart disease investigation.  Yet, neither of the presenting parents has any genetic effect.

As Patty worked  to analyze why she had kept this information so entrenched as a secret. And, sure enough, Patty seemed–at some subconscious level, of course–fearful that if she told the children that she wasn’t their ‘real mom,’ they might not love her as much. For Patty, the egg donor seemed to have a claim that her 9 months of pregnancy, and many more months and years of mothering failed to erase.  Only in talking it through was she able to let ago of that fear.


**As with all characters in my blog posts, there is no real Patty and Peter, whose names have been changed to protect their privacy.  They are teaching characters, composed of bits and pieces from real life humans plus details from my imagination which make the story more interesting and, hopefully, instructive.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

Leave a Reply