This study examined families where children lack a genetic and/or gestational link with their parents. A total of 101 families (36 donor insemination families, 32 egg donation families and 33 surrogacy families) were interviewed when the child was aged 7 years. Despite a shift in professional attitudes towards openness, about half of the children conceived by egg donation and nearly three-quarters of those conceived by donor insemination remained unaware that the person they know as their mother or father is not, in fact, their genetic parent. By contrast, almost all the surrogacy parents had told their child how they were born. A majority of parents who planned never to tell their child about their conception had told at least one other person. However, qualitative data indicated that to categorize families as ‘secret’ or ‘open’ is inadequate. In fact many parents engage in ‘layers’ of disclosure about their child’s conception, both with their child and with family and friends.