Dear Prudence

Help! We Think There Was a Mix-Up at Our IVF Clinic.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

Person silhouetted with a DNA test and code within them
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by fotoquique/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Unsplash.

Q. DNA testing concerns: My oldest son was born using IVF, and our second son was conceived naturally. Subsequently, there were some irregularities at the clinic we used, which was sued for problems with the wrong sperm and eggs being used for clients. My partner and I, for a variety of reasons, have suspected that our son might not be the result of our sperm and eggs. We discussed it and decided not to do anything to pursue these concerns, because we love our son dearly and didn’t think learning that he might not be ours would be helpful. My partner even went so far as to say he thought it might affect his ability to feel the same way about our son if he found out he’s not the father—a difficult but honest admission.

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Fast forward many years late. Getting DNA tests online has become a popular gift, and we are concerned about how to handle this. Our sons have repeatedly expressed interest in us gifting them DNA profiles to show their “ancestry,” and relatives have also expressed interest in purchasing these as possible birthday or Christmas gifts. We are concerned that our son could find out he is not our son if he were to innocently use one of these tests. Right now, about 60 percent of our extended family members have done these tests and shared their results online. We know these aren’t always clear-cut tests, but trying to sort out the math from the websites has left us feeling very confused. We are trying to figure out if this is something we should deal with proactively or if we should just let it play out and deal with the possible fallout when it happens. Any thoughts?

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A: If more than half of your relatives have already done online DNA testing, and your kids are already asking for the same tests as a Christmas present, I think you’ll have to take leave of your senses to say, “Eh, let’s just see how this plays out—maybe nothing will come of this.” You and your partner definitely need to talk to your kids about this, because the odds that they’re going to end up buying these tests for themselves are pretty high, and will only get higher as they get older.

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If your partner is still concerned, after a lifetime of raising your son together, that he would love him less in the event that they weren’t related by blood, you two should talk about that now, preferably with a therapist, and spend some time unpacking that before you say anything to the kids. But I should hope that even if tests revealed that they weren’t biologically related—and even if your partner experienced some understandable grief and bewilderment over the clinic’s deceit—your partner would be able to focus on the real relationship he’s developed over the years and not love his eldest son any less. But you need to talk to your kids about this, and soon, because it seems very likely that they’re going to find out.

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