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For those in a heterosexual relationship, unless at an early age you were diagnosed with an illness that you knew would affect your fertility , you probably only considered using a donor egg after several IVF rounds, or perhaps after being encouraged to by a fertility doctor. It’s rarely a first choice, and those that walk the donor road have most likely already suffered much emotional turmoil and grief.
For gay couples, one of the couple has to come to terms with the fact they will not have a genetic link to their child. For solo mums considering a donor egg, the same holds true. Whether you’re a straight, gay or solo parent facing the prospect of using a donor egg or donor sperm, there is light at the end of the tunnel. You just need to remember these 5 things:
1. Allow yourself to grieve for the genetic child you will never have.
The summer we first contemplated using a donor egg sticks in my memory like a black hole. Although I had read that you should allow yourself time to grieve, and fertility doctors and staff had said it, our society is not geared up around grieving something that never was. It doesn’t help that I have friends who have lost actual babies. It would never occur to them that I might be grieving, it didn’t even occur to me at the time. But looking back now, all that burying myself in yet another glass of wine looks like real grief.
It was hard to come to terms with using a donor egg. First you must let go of the notions that the child that will not look like you, have your eyes, or chin or ears or whatever your most endearing quality is. Then you have to wrap your head around the fact that it’s NOT like your partner (if you have one) is having a child with someone else. This is all overthinking it. But you do need to have these thoughts, so you can acknowledge them and put them aside.
I did not go for counselling, but in hindsight, counselling would have helped me get my head around these uncomfortable ideas faster. Using a donor egg is emotional stuff and having a trained professional to navigate those emotions can help. At the very least, read the wonderful book by Jana M. Rupnow, Three Makes Baby. I wish it had been around when I was going through these complex thoughts!
2. You are making a human being
I had been through the heartache and emotional rollercoaster of trying to conceive through IVF, and I hardened my soul. We daren’t have hoped that this sperm and this egg were actually going to make a real baby. So we didn’t think about them in human terms. We simply couldn’t. The disappointment is too great at each failure for you to invest emotionally with a blastocyst.
But one day it did work, and then we ended up with not just an embryo, but a baby with a face we could see on a scan. And then, before we knew it, he was born and all those years of anguish were over (just to be replaced by parenting anguish, but that’s another topic!).
If you’re at the beginning of your journey, a baby may seem like an unattainable goal, but it’s not. And one day, it will work, especially if you are using donor eggs or sperm. Although right now the story is dominated by you and your feelings try to remember that in the end, it isn’t your story.
You are making a human being that will grow up to have their own feelings and personality. They are made up of their DNA that will be with them long after the anguish and struggles of having a baby is over for you. The information about how they came to be belongs to them: it is their story.
3. It will feel weird at first
And then finally the baby comes and you feel so happy when it’s born, you could burst! But it takes every parent time to bond with their new baby, not just those that use donor eggs (or sperm for that matter). In the first couple of weeks after Max was born, I kept a secret diary alongside the diary I was keeping for the UK High Court and the parental order process. The secret dairy was darker and held the deep-rooted fears that I felt about having a child I would not be related to (and which I did not carry myself as we’d used a gestational surrogate). The entry five days after my son was born reads:
“Every time I look at Max, I see my failure. He is so perfect. I couldn’t produce this. He is not mine. I feel deep grief.”
I was clearly still coming to terms with the grief, something counselling would have better prepared me for. But the feelings didn’t last long. I quickly realised that my thoughts were slightly self-indulgent. Max didn’t have a say in how he had been created and he needed me: I was the only mother he would ever know. Three months after he was born, there is an entry in the secret diary that reads:
“I do love him. He’s sleeping soundly and at peace. The longer I spend with him, the more he becomes mine.”
This sentiment is probably true for any new parent, not just those that conceived using donor gametes.
4. They will be curious
It didn’t take long after Max was born for me to be over my grief. As my love for him grew and we bonded I realised had we not used a donor egg, Max would not exist atall. This thought was abhorrent to me. The world needed this child!
I had always intended to be completely honest with Max about his origins, and that is one of the reasons I created the Magic of You. In my job as a publisher of personalised books to help talk to children about tricky subjects, I have read lots of articles and watched many videos by both donor conceived adults and parents of donor conceived children.
Although we are not quite there yet, one fact sticks out from what I’ve read and heard – your donor conceived child will be curious about their origins. Wouldn’t you be? They will want to know about their biological parent, and whether they have any half siblings (sometimes called diblings). This is natural human curiosity and does not mean they feel any less for you, their parents.
Although Max isn’t quite there yet, I have chosen to embrace this curiosity and support him to find genetic relations. I have registered him with the donor sibling registry and look forward to getting notified of a match one day.
It is easy to feel threatened by this future curiosity to find genetic links, but if you embrace the idea of supporting your child through this, it can become one more thing that makes your relationship strong.
5. You will love them more than anything else – and they will love you back
Having read through points 1-4, you may be thinking, “Do I really want to do this?” So my last point is this: yes! My message to you is that it’s important to understand what you are about to do, but don’t overthink it!
You will one day find yourself the adoring parent of a loving child and facing the same parenting issues as everyone else. And you will feel no distance between you and your child because nurture is a very strong thing, and love is even stronger.
I used to do a thought experiment – how much do I love my husband? Then my brain would answer, “I’d throw myself in front of a bus for him”. I used to think that was a satisfactory indicator of love. Until I did the same thought experiment with Max – how much do I love him? When I realised that I, like a lioness, would be capable of killing someone with my bare hands in defence of him, I realised the truth: like any mother in nature, you will defend your cub to the death.
But best of all? The love is returned. An entry from my secret diary when Max was 3 reads:
“Every day, at least once a day, and usually more, Max exclaims “Happy!” This is incredibly cute and fills my heart with joy. How satisfying it is not only to have a happy child, but one that tells you all the time! I can’t imagine life without him.”
In the UK, BICA has a list of fertility and related counsellors working in your area
In the US, ASRM has a list of fertility and related counsellors working in your area
In Canada, Fertility Matters Canada has a list ofr fertility and related counsellors working in your area
In Australia & New Zealand, ANZICA has a list of fertility and related counsellors working in your area
In Spain, the Spanish Fertility Society has a list of fertility and related counsellors working in your area
In Germany, Germany Society for Fertility Counselling has a list of fertility and related counsellors working in your area
In France, the Maia Association has a list of fertility and related counsellors working in your area