Photo/Illutration“Okaasan no Tamago” (Mother’s egg), a set of story picture cards made by Hana Oda, begins with this cover page. (Provided by Hana Oda)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Using picture books, hand-drawn cards and simple honesty, an increasing number of parents are explaining the facts to children born through donor sperm and eggs.

While it was previously thought unadvisable to tell the children the truth, the importance of their right to know their origin of birth is spreading around Japan.

Hana Oda (not her real name), who had a daughter through artificial insemination with donated sperm, discussed her experiences at a study session last December in Kanagawa Prefecture attended by around 40 people.

“My doctor advised me against telling anyone, but having to lie became a burden for me,” Oda said.

The session was organized by Sumairu Oya no Kai (“Smile” association of parents), a group of people who have gone through artificial insemination by donor (AID) therapy.

The group provides information to those in need, such as couples considering taking the treatment.

Oda said she told her daughter nine years ago, when she was 13, that she was born through AID.

“OK, I got it,” Oda quoted her daughter as replying.

“I was worried that the news could enrage my daughter, so that was quite a relief,” she said.

Oda said the disclosure has never affected her relationship with her daughter, who now attends university.

A man, who said he was found with azoospermia about a decade ago, talked about what he and his wife went through before they had a son through AID.

“My son is soon turning 3,” the man said. “I think the time is approaching to tell him.”

A picture book or other means are often used to explain to children of infertility treatment about how they were born.

During her talks, Oda presented a set of home-made picture cards that can be used to tell the truth to children. The story is titled “Okaasan no Tamago” (Mother’s egg).

In the story, 5-year-old Mitchan, who was born through artificial insemination with donor sperm, tells an old man in her neighborhood that she was an egg.

She tells the man how her parents wished the egg would grow into a baby, but it couldn’t because her father had no seeds. A kind man gave the parents a baby seed as a present.

“Warmed together with care, the egg grew bigger, and that’s how I was born,” Mitchan says.

“The telling process is now better understood, and the practice itself is also spreading, albeit gradually,” said Kiyomi Shimizu, a professor of nursing with Josai International University, who heads the secretariat for the group. “I want parents to tell their children with pride and confidence that they turned to AID to meet a new member of their family.”

More than 10,000 children have been born in Japan through AID since it was first practiced in 1948. Figures of the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology (JSOG) show that AID was used on 1,029 individuals and resulted in 86 births in 2015.

“People still want to receive AID, and they are actually growing in number,” said an official with Keio University Hospital, which accounts for about half of all AID treatments in Japan.

One reason for the increasing disclosure is the growing view that such children may face serious problems if they learn the truth in adulthood.

“You are shocked and angered because your parents had never told you, and you are caught by a sense that everything you used to believe in has suddenly come apart,” said Sachiko Ishizuka, 38, who leads the Donor Insemination Offspring Group, a self-help group of individuals born through AID.

Ishizuka was 23 when her mother told her the truth after her father had been found with a serious hereditary disease.

“My life had been built on a lie,” she said she thought at the time.

“A parent-child relationship of trust is maintained if the child is told about the truth at an early age,” Ishizuka said. “That also allows the child to have a positive self-image.”

But disclosure can only go so far.

JSOG, for example, allows artificial insemination to be practiced on condition that the sperm donor remains anonymous.

That means children of AID cannot access donor information even if they have been told about how they were born.

Many countries, particularly in Europe, have legal provisions ensuring children’s right to know their biological origin, including access to donor information.

In Japan, a health ministry committee report in 2003 stated the need for a legal system on donor-assisted reproductive therapies, including children’s right to know their birth origin. However, a law based on those recommendations has yet to be drafted.

The Japanese Institution for Standardizing Assisted Reproductive Technology (JISART), an incorporated association with a secretariat in Osaka, has guidelines for in vitro fertilization (IVF) using donor sperm or eggs. The guidelines guarantee children’s right to know their birth origin and obligates parents who receive IVF to tell their children about how they were born.

JISART organizes around 30 medical institutions that specialize in infertility treatments.

The association is also seeking cooperation from donors. It obtains their approval after telling them, among other things, that children born of IVF will be allowed to request the donor’s personal information once they are 15 or older. The name, contact addresses and other information pertaining to the donor will be kept at the medical institution involved for 80 years.

Forty-seven children have been born from donor eggs and sperm at JISART member medical institutions since 2008.

Keiko Ueno, a certified clinical psychologist who heads JISARTS’s “follow-up subcommittee,” has been providing support to those children and their parents.

She said some of the parents have been using picture books and other means to tell their children about how they were born. But others have yet to enter the process for fear of possible reactions from others.

Some parents fail to return questionnaire forms that JISART regularly sends them. Others have fallen out of contact with JISART, Ueno added.

“We wish to provide as much help as we can, but there is a limit to what we could do on the level of a private group,” she said.

“The government should develop a legal system, not the least for the sake of the children to be born,” said Kiyoko Kinjo, a former professor of life ethics with Ryukoku University Law School, who sits on JISART’s ethics committee.

[Photo captions]

(1) “Okaasan no Tamago” (Mother’s egg), a set of story picture cards made by Hana Oda, begins with this cover page. (Provided by Hana Oda)

(2) A scene showing a doctor talking to Mitchan’s parents (Provided by Hana Oda)