What Not to Say to a New Parent
Having just had a baby, I would like to reflect on a phenomenon I am currently experiencing and have seen a million times. Well-meaning visitors always feel like they need to comment on a newborn’s appearance. The usual “he looks so alert,” “what a head of hair!” and “that dimple!” will always get me to nod and smile. But I have to admit I do not like when I am asked “so who does he look like?” While he is pretty much a carbon copy of his older brothers, and visitors don’t need to strain to figure out who he resembles, I find it uncomfortable being asked this question.
The reason I am very sensitive to this question is that I am well aware of the struggles that many other couples endure to have families, whether it be to have biological children or adopted. It is now estimated that the use of assisted reproductive technologies account for about 1.5% of all infants born in the United States. That is a lot! And that includes the use of in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which can either be performed using both parents’ gametes (sperm and egg) or using a gamete donor (or partial gamete donors, as used for the recently born three parent baby).
There are many reasons a couple might decide to undergo IVF. The two most common reasons I see as a prenatal genetic counselor are for fertility issues and for when either or both parents is a genetic diseases carrier. While some couples with a genetic disease in the family opt to undergo IVF with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis using their own gametes, I often see couples who choose use IVF to conceive a baby using a donor egg or sperm that has undergone genetic testing and does not carry the genetic mutation of concern. So this means half the genetic material of a baby born using a donor gamete will come from social/genetic parent 1 and the other half will come from the donor/genetic parent 2 who will not be the social parent. The baby will not be genetically related to the other social parent at all. This process is one of the most exciting parts in medicine to me since it can help couples circumvent the pain and suffering involved in having a child with a genetic disease of which both (or in some instances one) parents are known carriers.
While the use of IVF for any indication has become widespread in the US and some couples who undergo this procedure are very public about it, many still are not. We need to remember that some wish to remain private about reproductive issues and do not like people talking about this aspect of their lives.
How or when a couple has children is nobody’s business but their own.
So next time you think about commenting on a baby’s appearance, please take a second to think. Maybe this baby doesn’t look like other family members because it is not a full biological relative. And maybe there’s a medical reason it took a long time for a couple to have had a child. What may seem like an innocent remark may actually bring up feelings of pain for a parent.
Wishing all of our readers a happy and healthy new year!