Wrapping your head and heart around the often unthinkable idea of a third party egg, embryo or sperm donor
For some people, donor sperm, donor egg, no big deal, but for most of us, unthinkable. Literally. We can’t think about it, because it makes no sense.
Oh, with a doctor’s help explaining it, patients can get the technical part of it. They’re going to shoot some stranger’s sperm up your cervix and, hopefully, you’ll get pregnant. Or they’re going to put some stranger’s eggs in a petri dish with your husband’s sperm and hopefully you’ll get tons of embryos and they’ll only have to transfer one, maybe two, into you and then you’ll get pregnant with twins—and you and hubby will just have to worry about what to do with all the leftovers.
But—and it’s a big BUT!—how do you even begin to wrap your head and, more important, your heart around what that means to you, to your partner, your children, your families, to anyone? You probably never thought you’d get here.
You were, reluctantly, willing to talk to a doctor, but you weren’t going to do any treatment. Well, you thought you’d do some IUIs (intrauterine insemination), but you’d never consider IVF (in vitro fertilization). OK, you’ll try IVF, but you’re drawing the line at any kind of donor stuff because that’s too weird.
And then, here you are at Advanced Reproductive Medicine, and the doctors say that the only way you’ll ever experience a pregnancy is if you use a donor. Now you’re back at that BUT conundrum again.
Whose baby is it anyways?
So let’s try to think together about what the problem is. I do this all the time, counsel fertility patients on these knotty issues. You’re thinking, well, it’s weird, creepy, doesn’t feel good. Okay. And you’re never going to have a little girl who looks just like you. Well, there are some advantages to that: for example in my case, it would mean she wouldn’t have to struggle with my curly hair.
But this means you can’t do something that everyone is supposed to be able to do. What kind of woman/man can’t make a baby? And what kind of unnatural process is this, your baby growing in a lab and some stranger doing what you’re supposed to do for your partner. For some, it doesn’t feel right.
It doesn’t feel possible and yet, you want a baby, more than you’ve ever wanted anything. So you keep coming back to what felt so yucky—you even wanted to throw up the first time the doctor talked about it. And then you have to ask the hard questions. What does it mean to parent a baby? Whose baby is it? Is it still your baby if the baby doesn’t have your genes? And what do we mean by YOUR baby anyway?
Don’t you want your child to belong to herself, not to you? And when you think about the people you love most in life, many of them have no genetic connection to you, and some that do, well, if you’re honest, you could do without them without much difficulty.
Genes, what do they really mean?
So what do genes have to do with families? In my case, is my adoptive cousin who always makes me laugh any less family than my skanky uncle who’s my father’s twin, but you’d never know it, ‘cause he drinks a ton and is totally unreliable, totally unlike my father, who’s been a rock since birth, so what sense does that make? You probably have similar family dysfunctionitis.
But you’re still really confused. You know this issue of genes and parenthood matters and it matters a lot, but you can’t quite pin down what the problem is. And that’s part of the problem: you’re grieving a loss, but you can’t even say exactly what it is you and your partner have lost.
And now you are learning about epigenetics (heritable changes in gene expression) and you are even more confused. Because apparently lifestyle environment has a big impact on whether and how genes get expressed as the child’s traits and behavior. So even though your child’s genes will belong to someone else, your uterus and your nurturing environment will have some control over those genes.
Seems like you’ve lost a lot, doesn’t it? Sometimes it feels like you’ve lost everything. But your little girl is not going to be someone else’s baby, she’s going to be your and your partner’s baby.
You even know a mom in your neighborhood who has a donor egg baby that looks like her!? Maybe, over time, and with a lot of talk—with your partner, with other couples who have done this and have not only survived but seem incredibly happy and have amazingly cute kids, and with some professionals who are used to people moving from No to Yes the way you seem to do—maybe having a donor child won’t seem so awful after all.
Maybe it will come to be just another way to get to what’s really your goal, what really matters to you and your partner: to make a family where your love together can be the vehicle that will grow your children through all the challenges, confusion and big BUTs the world keeps kicking up in all our faces.