What I wish I’d known about using a known egg donor
Looking back, the darkest part of our whole infertility ‘journey’* was not when I received my diagnosis of premature ovarian failure. Nor was it when I only grew a single egg during our first IVF cycle, which subsequently failed. Nor was it when the following two cycles also failed.
Don’t get me wrong — each of these events left me completely devastated. Each time, I crawled into bed and cried for days. We just hadn’t reached peak devastation. That was still to come.
And it did come, ultimately in the form of our fertility clinic informing us that we would not be allowed to use the anonymous egg bank due to our foreign citizenship. That’s when any hope I was clinging onto was ripped away. Grappling with the decision to move to donor eggs was hard enough on its own, but it was infinitely harder when there weren’t even any donor eggs to speak of. That was peak devastation.
My husband and I had already had many conversations about trying to find a friend or family member to donate eggs, but there were so many unknowns. How would we even begin to ask someone for their eggs? Would anyone we know fit the donor criteria in the first place? And if we did find someone who was willing and able to donate their genes, would they also be willing to drop everything and fly to the Europe**, where we had recently moved and where we were lucky that our health insurance largely covered the incredibly costly procedure?
Finally, even if — by some miracle — we found someone who was willing to do all this for us, I still had some lingering concerns about using a known donor in general. Namely, would it complicate things in the future? Would we feel like we were ‘sharing’ our kid with a third person? If the (hypothetical) baby ended up being the spitting image of this (hypothetical) friend, would it be a constant sad reminder of my broken eggs and lack of genetic connection with my child?
Confronting my fears
As with most hard things in life, the best way out is through. In this case, that meant sitting myself down and having a long, hard look at where these concerns were really coming from in the first place. Once I was brave enough to do this self-reflection, I quickly discovered the source of the concerns: Fear and insecurity.
I wasn’t afraid that using a known donor would affect my feelings for the child: I knew I would love any baby that was ours just the same. Rather, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be seen as the ‘full’ mother by our mutual friends and, maybe eventually, by the child too. If I then followed this thought to its ‘logical’ conclusion — and if I was brutally honest with myself — a small part of me was afraid that the baby won’t love me as much as they otherwise would.
This fear isn’t restricted to known donors, of course. I’ve seen many women that are using anonymous donors express this fear in one form or another. However, it’s clearly much harder to ignore when the donor has a name and a face, and may even pop by the house for a visit.
Only when I was able to articulate the deep-rooted fear underlying my concerns could I recognized how ridiculous it sounded. Of COURSE the baby would still love me the same amount. Of COURSE I would be their one-and-only mother. It just meant that there would be no huge secret around where the other half of their genetics came from. And I realized this could actually be a benefit for the adult our baby would eventually grow into.
What I wish I’d known
Those of you who read my blog or follow me on Instagram know how our story unfolded next: An old friend from high school, Marie, volunteered to donate her eggs and flew out over her summer teaching break for the DEIVF cycle. Our fresh embryo transfer failed, as did our frozen transfer after that, but we eventually got lucky on our third (‘poor quality’!) transfer. I had an amazing pregnancy, giving birth to our perfect daughter at 41 weeks and 5 days pregnant. And after some scary (unrelated) health complications — because real life isn’t a Hallmark movie — she is now a very healthy and happy toddler.
Sitting here and watching her sleep on the baby monitor, I wish I’d known that my fears were unfounded. Using a known donor didn’t complicate anything — we are a family like any other family. Our egg donor is still a good friend who I text randomly about high school gossip, and our respective families are just as thrilled as we are that everything worked out.
I wish I’d known that using a known donor doesn’t feel at all like ‘sharing’ my daughter. More than that, I wish I’d known that I’d enjoy having another person with whom to share my adoration. I’m not threatened by my daughter’s connection to our egg donor, and I actually love that she has an extra special ‘Auntie’ in her life*** who thinks she’s as special as I do. At the end of the day, it’s one more person in the world who wants the best for my child, and what parent wouldn’t want that?
I wish I’d known that using a known donor would make my husband and I feel less alone during what is an incredibly isolating experience. Even when we didn’t know if it would work, having someone fly across an ocean to donate their genetics gave my husband and I renewed energy. Our private battle became a team effort, and after feeling alone in our struggles for so long, that support was invaluable.
Most importantly, I wish I’d known that using a known donor doesn’t make me feel like less of a mother. Yes there are times when I notice a hint of our donor’s features in my daughter’s sweet face, and yes, it has occasionally made me sad for the genetic connection we’re missing. However, most of the time, it just makes me feel ridiculously proud and grateful that I get to call her my daughter. More than anything, I hope that when she gets older and starts realizing that she doesn’t look like mommy, that she finds the answers she needs with her Aunt Marie. And I hope these answers make her realize how mommy and daddy moved heaven and earth just to have her.
xx Allie (aka @thebunlessoven)
* I hate the word ‘journey’ here because it conjures an image of a leisurely hike through a meadow, with an occasional stream crossing or maybe some light bouldering. If you’d have asked me after our 5th failed transfer, I’d have instead described our ‘journey’ more like that documentary where the guy has a horrific canyoneering accident, gets pinned behind a boulder for five days, and ends up sawing his own arm off. I think you get the picture.
** We are from the US but live in the Netherlands and did our DEIVF cycle in Belgium, because — according to my husband — I like to make everything ‘as complicated as possible’.
*** We talk openly with our daughter about her conception story. However, since there’s no honorific to indicate ‘woman who donated her genes to make the embryo that went in mommy’s tummy’, we stick with the next closest title: ‘Aunt’.