Today I’m starting to share experiences from those who are donor conceived themselves, a vital perspective for us to understand and learn from as parents through donor conception.
I’ve found it much more difficult to find the voices of those conceived through egg donation, most likely because it’s more recent and less common than sperm donation, but I am very grateful to two egg donor conceived ladies who have very kindly taken the time to share their experiences with us. I asked my Instagram followers what they would like to know and, with so many questions received, I’ve condensed them down into key themes. Today I’m sharing the experience of Chloe* who is from the UK and egg donor conceived, something she only discovered in the past year.
I want to acknowledge that some of the experiences and viewpoints in the Q&A series might not be easy for us to hear as parents, especially where elements of their conception have ultimately caused distress to them as individuals. I believe that listening to these views is a big part of preparing ourselves as parents for how our child might feel in the future. It’s important for us to open ourselves up to hearing about and understanding more around genetic curiosity and the potential impact around their identity. At the same time I believe you will also find comfort in their words, particularly as some speak about their relationships with their parents, even despite late discoveries. Chloe’s story gives us so many things to learn from and shows the importance of support, the impact of secrets and shame, being open to listening to their feelings and not dismissing them because they cause us pain. I’m so thankful to Chloe for using her experience to educate us as parents, whilst also showing such empathy too, even though it can’t be easy an easy topic to open up about.
How did you find out that you are donor conceived?
I was just curious one day about the statistics around a woman my mothers age (50 years old at my birth.) having a baby. I’d always known I was an IVF baby and I knew that it must have been a very low chance of me being here so I wanted to know what kind of low chance it was. Well I was met with an impossibly low number – unless, an article said, my mother used donor eggs. So I read more and more and it just seemed that it was impossible I could be alive and healthy through my mother’s own eggs. I didn’t speak to anyone about it for a few days as I tried to digest every article I could find on pregnancy stats for older women. I eventually confronted my mum who burst out in tears and told me everything.
How did it make you feel?
As you can guess it was a big shock. I was in denial at first as I thought why on earth I hadn’t been told yet. I have a great relationship with my parents and I never ever thought they’d be the type to keep any secrets from me. Let alone one this huge.
It took me a few days to pluck up the courage to confront my parents. I was worried if I accused them of using an egg donor they might get very upset and I didn’t want to be the cause of that. I was so worried that I may open a can of worms and I was scared of the impact it could have on our relationship.
But this journey has been a rollercoaster of emotions and I’ve changed my line of thought many times and I’m sure I will have my ups and downs for a long time to come – I am glad I confronted them as I think now I deserved to know the truth and even if it was to upset my parents it’s worth having everything out in the open so that we can all heal and move on.
How would you have preferred to find out?
I really wish I had just always known. Finding out as an adult has been hard. I’ve looked back on my childhood and realised that some points I really could have done with knowing the truth so that I could have felt normal and not weird or different. It wouldn’t have been a shock and I wouldn’t feel like my parents were ashamed of it. As if they weren’t ashamed of using a donor then what was the reason behind keeping it a secret. Secrets always come out and finding out on my own has been hard.
I often wonder would they ever have come clean – this thought hurts me because I never thought my parents would lie to me or keep secrets. It has made me so sad as I’ve lost a lot of trust now and I hope to rebuild it all back but it will take time.
Did you feel any differently growing up?
Yes, however I’d like to mention I’ve had a very happy upbringing but certain things never made sense to me which caused me to feel different and disconnected to my family – I just never knew WHY.
I only wish I had known from a very young age as I feel it would have answered a lot of questions I had of myself and I would have been more confident have a higher self esteem. One example – there’s a certain body feature all my family have except me. I noticed from a very young age and often felt weird and hated the way I looked because I felt I SHOULD look like my mum, my siblings, my grandparents. But yet I was so different. I tried to change how I looked so much, I would cry because I couldn’t understand why I was so ugly. I felt ugly because I looked different and couldn’t understand why.
If I had known that I inherited genes from someone else, if I had a photo of my donor, It would have explained why and I wouldn’t have hated the way I looked so much. I would have realised that the people I was comparing myself to all my childhood wasn’t actually the people I got my features from. It would have given me the answer and I could have moved on and thought that I’m normal because I’m not physically different to my genetic family. I could have been at peace with who I was much earlier in life.
I have so much relief now for knowing – it’s like everything finally makes sense!
Often parents can worry about who to tell, how do you feel about it being your story vs a family story and would you prefer to control who knows about your conception?
To me, I would have wanted my family to know. The people who love me. That way they would understand if I ever felt different and could have helped and reassured me. Also because I had comments made about my looks and it would hurt because it was only pointing out that I was different. If they knew they could have avoided any mistakes being said.
I also think close friends should have known too. Someone outside the family I could have spoken to. At the end of the day it’s nothing to be ashamed about and I think keeping it from friends and family makes it seem shameful. Like it’s a secret and shouldn’t be spoken about. Personally I wouldn’t go out your way to tell people who aren’t close to the child/ family unless there’s a valid reason they should know, for example a school teacher or care giver.
If your donor is anonymous, do you resent your parents for that choice?
I don’t resent my parents because they didn’t have a choice back then. As far as they were aware anonymous was the only option. They hadn’t been given suitable information about the lasting effects of using an anonymous donor. How can I be angry at them for that. They honestly didn’t know any better at the time.
I think if they were to have known the lasting implications that an anonymous donor could have on a future child then I most likely would have been angry. As they would have taken the opportunity of knowing my donor away on purpose for their own reasons, without considering my feelings. As an unborn child I had no voice.
In an ideal world I’d have loved to have had a donor I knew from very young who was happy to be a part of my life and always be there to answer any questions. Otherwise it’s like my scenario now where knowing my donor (and any half siblings) is completely out of my hands. A decision has been made for me without my consent. A decision has been made before I was even alive that will impact me for the rest of my life (unless I get lucky with DNA testing but that’s never guaranteed). But like I say, I’m not mad at my parents for picking an anonymous donor as they didn’t ever think I’d want to know my donor and no one told them of the implications it may have in the future.
I’m very very disappointed in the industry for not proving enough support and information regarding long term effects of using an anonymous donor – I feel they failed my parents and I. I know my mum never meant to hurt me and I know if they could do it all over again they would have done it so differently. The most important thing to me NOW is that they understand how I feel and are supportive of all decisions I am making now. They have apologised even though I have not asked for an apology. This means the world to me!️
Of course I believe that anonymous donors should be avoided where possible, but I understand that it’s not always that easy, especially due to finances. It’s unfortunately a money-making industry and it seems so cruel to stop someone from being a parent just down to money. Everyone deserves to be a parent but for some it’s an incredibly tough road.
I know some parents who have already used an anonymous donor who may be very scared or worried about their children being ‘angry’ or ‘upset’ over the decision, and they may well be one day, but I’d like to reassure you that they will understand that you made all your decisions at the time with so much love. For example, I’m upset but this is not directed at my parents at all – especially now that they are fully supportive in my search and are even helping me look! I’m so grateful for that.
Personally I believe that as long as you’re open and honest about everything from the start and you can support them if they want to search it’s more than likely going to be fine! And please remember, if they do ever want to look for their biological family/ donor, this will not take anything away from you as their parent or make them love you any less. They will just be so grateful that they have their lovely parents to hold their hand every step of their journey. No one will replace you.
How did/do you feel towards your parents?
I’ve had many feelings, disappointment has been a big one for the reason that I was never told. That after many years of feeling different (my parents knowing that these feelings had a direct result of having a different genetic parent) didn’t explain why I was feeling the way I did and tell me the truth.
But I think this was down to their own fears. My mum has expressed fears that I wouldn’t love her anymore or wouldn’t think of her as my mum. This was an extremely wrong fear.
Never be afraid that your child won’t love you or won’t think of you as their mother. She has wiped my tears, hugged me tight, made me laugh, danced around the kitchen late at night, been on holidays together, had this incredible mother/ daughter bond. That bond will never be broken. And it won’t break with your children either. We are smart enough to know that we inherit genes from one ‘mother’ and love, care, warmth, fondness from our other.
I personally think I have two mothers. But they are VERY different. One I will have a place in my heart for always and forever and one I thank for giving me life and health. I respect both but of course my mum is my mum. Doesn’t matter if I got my hair or eye colour from someone else. But I just wish I had known from the beginning.
The trust I will rebuild with them over time. But this blip in our relationship could have been avoided with total honesty from the start.
Have your opinions evolved over time?
100%. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions. I’ve had a therapist help me through it all which has been great and I’ve had to courage to be completely honest with my parents to keep them updated too with how I am feeling.
I’m so grateful that they are open and understanding of my feelings. Even if my feelings are sometimes of pain and disappointment. And I too, am there for them. It’s not been easier for any of us, it seems keeping the secret for so long hasn’t helped anybody and we are all hurting in different ways (my parents feel a lot of guilt) but we are helping each other through – as a family.
Do you feel closer to your dad as your genetic parent?
I have always been closer to my mum and this hasn’t changed – we are best friends.
Do you feel like your mum is your mum?
Absolutely!! The thought of her not being my mum has never entered my mind. I may not have got my hair or eye colour from her but I’ve certainly got my whit, kindness and fun loving personality from her. We’re two peas in a pod. Regardless if we don’t share DNA.
Do you wish to find the donor / genetic parent?
I do wish to find my donor. I am looking for answers as to who I am and why. It’s hard to look in the mirror and not know where certain features come from or why I don’t tan well like my parents, or why I can put on a stone in weight by just looking at a piece of cake when my parents can go to an all you can eat buffet and come out looking like swimwear models. Haha!
I am looking for validity in who I am so I can move on. I also want to know the story behind why my donor donated her eggs. What was the reason. I would also like to thank her for what she did.
I think a main reason as well is to be acknowledged that I exist and that we have a big connection through DNA, even though we are strangers. I would love her to know I am alive, I am well and I am happy.
I am not sure at this moment in time if I would like to meet her. I don’t know what kind of relationship I would want yet because I don’t know who she is. I wouldn’t want to force any feelings or have a fake relationship. I would play it by ear.
In a perfect world she would be very kind and open to learning about me and I would love to have an ongoing relationship where I can update her with big life events and catch up every few months but my biggest fear is rejection. I would be so upset if she didn’t want talk or acknowledge me.
Are your parents supportive of you seeking out the egg donor?
They are 100% supportive in my search. This has meant the world to me. I think if they were to have been against my feelings or my intention of searching I would have felt a huge disconnection and would have been extremely hurt. Your parents are the ones you go to in need, they are the ones who love you unconditionally and they are the ones to support you in every way.
They are being the best parents by supporting me because even though they may finds some things difficult they understand this is my journey and their love for me is more important than anything else. I am so grateful for this.
Have you looked for and found any half siblings?
I am looking and praying. I grew up with my mother’s previous children who I always thought were my half siblings. I was always so grateful that although they weren’t my full siblings they were my half. And to know now that we aren’t genetic siblings at all has been one of the main things I’ve found hard. But of course my love for them hasn’t changed in the slightest.
But I think because I feel I have lost a connection I would LOVE to gain some new ones. I’d love to have someone to share this journey with who understands it like me. I’ve always wanted a sibling my age and the thought that there might be some out there is very exciting to me.
Would you like your parents to support you with this?
I would love my parents to support me with this and thankfully they do support me searching for half siblings.
Have you ever experienced comments about you looking like / not looking like your mum?
All my life I’ve had comments about how I don’t look like my mother. These hurt a lot because I could see it too but never understood why I was different. I felt weird and this gave me very low self esteem. But I know for the physical likeness we don’t have we more than make up for it in emotional likeness – I just think the truth would have avoided a lot of pain I felt when I was young.
Have you ever had any bad experiences / comments from friends and family who knows?
I have always had comments made about how ‘different’ I am from family. I am not upset about these comments because no one in my family knew I was donor conceived. Not even my grandparents. They obviously didn’t mean to upset me but if they had known I’m sure these comments wouldn’t have been said or they’d have a better awareness of my feelings.
What advice would you give to recipient parents?
Personally, just be honest from the start. Don’t make it seem like there’s a shameful secret. They will always come out and sometimes not in the best ways. Children are so clever, they have such big hearts and if you teach them that is okay to have 3 parents, one being someone who helped give them life, they will understand that.
Respect that the donor is a big part of your child’s life. Make it normal. Don’t have the big ‘sit down we have something to tell you’ just make it normal like telling them who their cousins and aunties are.
And don’t worry. Your children won’t ever think you’re not their mummy. You are, you are the ones who rock them to sleep at night, who hug them when they cry, who looks after them when they’re ill. Who plays games with, cooks with, spends precious time together. Having a donor won’t take ANYTHING away from you as a parent.
But the donor is someone to acknowledge as they may not understand why they look different or have a different trait of some kind. Explain to them that actually they’re not weird, or different – that although you don’t have mummies skin colour, or eye colour you have mummies strength, loving personality and humour.
Don’t be ashamed either. Having to use a donor doesn’t make you less than any other parent. It shows how strong you are and how much love you have to give.
Remember as well that your child’s feelings may change with time. So I would say as a donor conceived person to not expect any certain types of feelings your child may have. Be aware they may change from time to time just like our feelings change about everything else in life. We have phases where we feel more vulnerable or more curious about things. Just embrace your child’s feelings and go through them together. What’s so amazing if you have each other and the bond and love you have for each other will overcome anything.
Also, as I sure any you would anyway, just make sure they know they can talk to you anytime about their conception.
And if you do ever get upset over a question or it’s a bit hard to hear, don’t show that you’re upset as it may make it seem like their conception is upsetting to you as their parent and therefore they may want to protect you and not bring it up again – please know that I don’t mean this in a hurtful way – your feelings are valid. It’s just I felt this way with my parents and since I’ve told them they have urged me not to keep any of my feelings from them even if it’s a bit painful for them. I often think I shouldn’t talk about it but it then means I can’t heal or move on and it’s then a catch 22. I don’t want to upset them but they don’t want me to be upset with any part of my conception story.
But please remember that your feelings are so important and any hurt or pain you feel around your child’s conception is normal and should be embraced. The journey of a recipient parent can’t be easy and I give you all my love and best wishes. I hope my comments make sense and are not meant to hurt anyone. I just feel as a donor conceived individual I feel I should share my feelings as I wish someone had done that for me before I was born.
Do you feel like your parents understand how you feel about being donor conceived?
Yes they do and this is because I’ve felt I can be 100% honest with them and it’s helped me heal a lot. And in turn my happiness and my healing has massively healed my parents too. It’s taken some time (several months) but we’re getting there.
What have you found to be the most difficult part of being donor conceived?
The truth being kept from me for so long and the fact I have an anonymous donor. My parents and I are working on our issues together and we’re making great progress with each other. I know that we will get back to where we were at some point but I feel I need time to heal from being kept in the dark about such important information about myself.
Regarding the anonymity of my donor, I have strong feelings about this but no negative feelings are directed to my parents as they didn’t realise the impact of the decision at the time. Now they do.
My anger is focused on the clinic and industry itself although now thankfully I have seen the UK take a great step forward and making donors known at age 18. I wish I had the choice of knowing my donor. I feel like the industry not only let me down but let my parents down.
I’m not sure how it is now in the industry but I know for a fact they didn’t give enough support to new recipient parents at the time. They didn’t think of the implications an anonymous donor may have on the child.
I’m not saying every donor conceived person will want to know who their donor is, but I believe whole heartedly that they should be given the opportunity and the chance to know them if they wish. I am hurt that a clinic has taken the opportunity out of my hands, more so they have made this decision before I even had a voice. Not considering how I MAY feel one day. I didn’t sign any contracts, I didn’t make any decisions yet I am the one suffering now because of it.
I now have to live with the fact that I may never find out where half my DNA comes from but I will keep searching and I pray that I am acknowledged and accepted by my genetic family and can have any questions answered and understand exactly who I am.
What have you found to be the best part of being donor conceived?
The best part of finding out has been the fact that I understand now more of who I am and why I am the way I am. Why I look the way I do and when, at times, I felt like an outsider when I was young. I can make sense of certain features and why I don’t look like my family. I’m learning to love myself for who I truly am and my uniqueness. And the fact that I’ve met so many lovely people along the way, from Donors to Donor conceived people to Recipient Parents.
*The name Chloe has been used to protect anonymity.
If you want to learn more about the support, connection and resources on offer through my platform Paths to Parenthub do follow the link below. There are already many recorded resources to support you on your donor conception journey, including conversations with experts about talking to our children, examining our common fears and chats with other recipient parents and donor conceived individuals themselves. There’s also a private community, away from social media, for members to join and connect with each other for support. I would love to welcome you there! www.pathstoparenthub.com