Dear Carolyn: My mother conceived both my brother and me using a sperm donor. This information was never kept from us, and my mother has spoken openly about it throughout our lives. My stepdad adopted us.
Recently, I was discussing taking an ancestry test and my mother revealed to me that her sister and my uncle had troubling conceiving, and my cousin is also a sperm-donor child. They, however, have not disclosed this to her; my uncle was the source of infertility and did not want her to know (he has some ego issues). This is apparently a big secret nobody knows outside of my mom, aunt and uncle.
My mom asked me not to post publicly about my ancestry test, lest my cousin get curious and want to take one, outing her parents. I am deeply uncomfortable with this; as a fellow sperm-donor child, I feel an obligation to tell her, but I am concerned about destroying my relationship with my aunt and uncle. What am I to do?
Carolyn says: Go back to your mom immediately with the following:
People who think they can control such information, like your aunt and uncle and anyone else sticking to a strategy they drew up before commercial DNA testing, are kidding themselves.
This secret will not stay a secret.
Censoring your social media is like locking one window when all the doors are wide open. Your cousin could get curious for dozens of reasons, of which your (impulse to publicize your) experience constitutes but one. Plus, people don't just find; they get found.
And while it's possible your aunt and uncle avoid exposure, that'll take luck, not merely A-plus secret management from the entrusted few.
Which your mother totally blew, by the way. She was so wrong to tell you. I realize she meant to protect her sister, I guess? It's hard to see any rationale here. Her calculations were clearly faulty, though, in deciding the sliver of risk that your test would inspire your cousin was worth breaking this confidence. The greatest risk to a secret is telling it. Always.
Plus, she put you in an awful spot. I don't agree that your being a sperm-donor child yourself gives you any standing to intervene on your cousin's behalf — this is just not your business — but now you're stuck with two lousy choices. Meddle or lie by omission.
So, go back to your mom. Spell out what a no-win deal this secrecy is, for you, for her, for your aunt, for your uncle and for your cousin, in increasing order of significance. She's obviously invested in this, so urge her to warn her sister she's running out of time to be the source of the truth for her daughter. Give the right people a chance to set this right.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.