What Not to Say to Someone Using a Donor

What Not to Say to Someone Using a Donor

There’s been much-needed talk about what not to say to someone facing infertility, but what about donor conception? Inspired by the amazing Alice Rose and her ‘Think, What Not to Say” campaign about fertility, I wanted to provide some similar advice in the context of using a donor. There’s a whole new level of complexity and insufficient awareness of this route to parenthood, which can bring about even more misconceptions and confusion for those who don’t understand, leading to unintentional but potentially hurtful comments for those who are making this huge decision.

I’ve been writing recently to help friends and family best support those needing to use a donor to conceive a child, with this second blog post looking at some of the things that are often said (or sometimes unsaid) that can make us feel uncomfortable. I caveat this with an acknowledgement that some of these comments are well-meaning, but by sharing I hope to show how they can actually be perceived and how they can make us feel. I also want it to be a way of educating others, to help them feel more comfortable when speaking, not only to us, but also to our children in the future. I hope that others will feel able to respond to questions and hold conversations with our children, so that they too aren’t subjected to feeling uncomfortable from triggering remarks about their conception – something which they themselves had no say in.

The last thing I want to do in this piece is to scare anyone into feeling like they can’t say anything or that they’re walking on eggs shells, so I’ve included some advice about how I think it’s best to approach the topic. I’m no expert, just a donor recipient mum who has personal experience and has listened to the experiences of many others. These are views of my own and won’t apply to everyone, but I’m hoping it captures the essence of where things can become hurtful and help avoid some of those more awkward moments in the future.

I’ll start by giving some examples with some of the more ‘shocking’ comments I heard from my Instagram community:

“Think of all the bad genes you won’t pass on”

“Are you the real mother?”

“Referring to the donor as the ‘Dad’ rather than my husband”

“Oh, so you’re a surrogate”

“Maybe you’ll have your own kids one day”

“But it wouldn’t be your child!”

“You never know you might just get pregnant naturally after, you’ll be just like a step-mum”

“Why would you tell the child?”

So you’re not the real Mum?

Many comments centre around terminology and an inference that the parent who doesn’t share genetics isn’t a ‘real’ parent, or that our children aren’t ‘ours’ because we don’t share DNA. It’s hugely sensitive because how we feel as a parent and our legitimacy as one can be one of the biggest fears and emotional challenges we face when choosing this route. After grieving the loss of our genetics we’ve had to think much more consciously and deeply, re-evaluating our understanding of what it means to be a mum or dad.

Parenting is a process. It’s time spent supporting the emotional, physical, social and intellectual development of a child. It’s an act, what we do every single day, the important role that we play which we recognise within our family as ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’. Everything I do for our girls every single day, every decision I make with them in mind, every emotion I feel in relation to them is ‘mothering’ – there’s nothing more real than that. It’s not denying that there is another genetic parent, but it’s recognising the important nurturing roles within our family, in the context of how it was built.

Often when the word ‘mum’ or ‘dad’ is used to describe the donor it’s unintentional, a slip of the tongue, but it can really touch a nerve when it comes to the relationship between the non-genetic parent and the child. I’ve had this one myself where someone asked if Mila’s curls were from the ‘mum’. It hurts because it awakens one of our deepest fears, about being seen as the legitimate parent. Mostly it’s not because people don’t actually see us as the legitimate parent, but more because they don’t know what words to use, which can be understandable when you’ve never considered donor conception yourself.

This is where understanding about the terminology we as a family choose to use is important. If you’re not sure, just ask us – a good starting point is asking how we refer to the donor. In our family we are completely open, we all acknowledge the important role that our donor played and share complete gratitude for her, but in conversation she will always be referred to as ‘the egg donor’ or, for my children at their current ages, ‘the lady who did a kind thing by giving us some of her eggs’.

Simply put, it’s being open to learn about how we as a family intend to talk about things, which will allow you to be able to support us in doing the same. It’s a message I want to be clear and consistent for our girls as they grow up in helping them to understand how they came to be and how our family was built.

“It’s no biggie, genetics don’t matter”

It’s hard to explain this one, especially because I myself have uttered the words many times – “genetics don’t matter”. In the context of how much I love my girls this is completely true, but it doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel grief and sadness over the loss of my genetics, and that our girls won’t feel similar about their missing genetic link.

Dismissing the importance of genetics can be a throwaway comment, often made to try to make us feel better, to reassure us that it doesn’t matter to them and that they see us the same as any other family. It happens when people want to try to give the impression that it’s “no big deal”, trying to demonstrate that they are fine with the concept, without realising what they are failing to acknowledge – that genetics can still be important to parents and their children. Saying it’s no big deal can dismiss the complex considerations and importance of grieving the loss of genetics. Not only to us as parents, but these comments can potentially be dismissive to a child as well. Should our girls have perfectly normal curiosity about their genetics I want them to feel like it can be something that is important to them, without trivialising their feelings. Please don’t try to tell anyone they’re overthinking it, the importance of genetic connection can vary greatly to each individual – there is no right or wrong way to respond.

My advice would be, rather than dismissing the topic, acknowledge that this must have been a hard decision for them, which gives them the opportunity to share more if they wish. If not, you’ve acknowledged and validated the process they’ve had to go through, which is all that is needed. It’s accepting that it might matter (or have mattered) to us and potentially to our future children.

“At least you won’t be passing on your bad genes!”

When it comes to sharing humour or making light of the situation, always let this be led by the person involved. Saying they’re lucky not to be passing on “bad genes” can be incredibly hurtful and minimises what for many is a core loss. It’s the loss of the ability to see themselves in their child and pass on their family genes, their legacy if you like.

I vividly remember one of the first people I saw speak about using an egg donor at a clinic information evening. She made light of her situation with her explanation for being “quite happy” to have been told she needed to use an egg donor being because her child wouldn’t have to have her nose and that “she didn’t really like her genetic family anyway”. Whilst she used humour, I most certainly wasn’t in the same frame of mind, finding the light-heartedness hard to listen to when I was feeling immense grief at not being able to pass on my genetics. I think it demonstrates how there can be a real spectrum of responses to being told you need to use a donor, there’s no right or wrong way to react. Please don’t assume that it’s ok to make humour or ‘at least you’ comments without understanding how they truly feel themselves and also having respect for the future child whose conception certainly is no joke.

Uncomfortable Silences (and other remarks)

Many told me that some of the most awkward moments are when nothing is said, for example the glossing over of who a baby looks like (for fear of upsetting us) rather than just saying “she looks like your husband”. Changing of the subject can actually be more uncomfortable and upsetting than simply asking a question. Showing curiosity is fine and something I’d encourage, unless you’re explicitly asked not to.

Then there’s total silence and complete avoidance of the subject, something I’ve experienced a few times, and it seems many others have too. It’s understandable that people might feel uncomfortable with such a personal topic they know nothing about. It’s is why I’m raising awareness of this route to parenthood, to normalise the conversation and the feelings surrounding it. But please remember that it’s ok to ask questions, I encourage you to show curiosity whilst being open-minded and non-judgemental. One person said to me, “friends who do it well talk openly like me, have the same gratitude towards the donor, understand our viewpoints, and call out if they actually see a resemblance”. It’s about learning to talk about it ‘normally’, being comfortable to ask appropriate questions, judge the response and respect our family wishes.

What can be hurtful are the comments that suggest an underlying sense of judgement such as “I don’t know how I feel about that” and “I know I couldn’t do it”. We’re not asking you to comment on whether or not you’d do the same thing, no one can truly say unless they’re in that position and have experienced the emotions and challenges of the complex decisions we have to make. It may not be intentional, but it suggests that we’ve done something you’re not comfortable with or don’t approve of, making it about you, rather than how you can best support your friend or family member.

Why would you tell the child?

Please don’t be tempted to give advice on how to tell (or not to tell) our story. I’ve even had a hairdresser I’d just met ask me “Why would you tell the child? There’s no need.”

It might sound like a trivial question for some – on the surface why would there be any need to tell them? I carried them, gave birth to them and have been their mum from day one. Without much deeper thought this can genuinely be the initial reaction of some people, which actually reflects historic advice that was given by the medical profession years ago. What this doesn’t take into account is our children. By keeping it a secret what does this say to them? How would they feel if they grew up thinking they were genetically related to me, and then for an unknown medical reason or through an ancestry test find out otherwise? It’s information I believe a child should have from the very beginning – it’s part of who they are and forms their story of how they came to be.

It’s their own family story, so please don’t force assumptions or views about how they should tell it, it is completely up to them and something they will have given great thought to. What they need is support and understanding from those around them. Instead, it’s better to ask how they intend to talk about it with their child, what language they will use and how you can help over the years.

How can I best support?

Talking whilst the child is still young allows parents to practice, get used to saying things out-loud and become more comfortable in doing so, with the same applying to wider family and friends too. My overarching piece of advice is to think about what it is you’re saying and the impact that it might have. Instead of avoiding the topic completely, show curiosity (without judgement), ask how you can best support them, understand the family building terminology they use and put them at ease by allowing it to flow into normal day to day conversation.

Realistically, there are always going to be people who don’t know about donor conception and ask innocent but triggering questions, especially when it comes to social situations with the inevitable question regarding family resemblances. As a person close to them you can actually help support these situations, with an example I heard recently from a fellow egg donor recipient parent. In an incredibly insightful episode of Three Makes Baby Podcast Sarah talks about a social scenario where in a group setting she was faced with questions about who her new baby looked most like. A good friend of hers actually recognised the difficulty she was facing in knowing how to answer and was able to support. She came up with what I think is the most perfect answer anyone could give to the question of who the child resembles, an answer that I might use myself, she simply said “he looks like himself”. Entirely true and respecting of him as a person, not just focusing on the societal expectations of resemblances but deflecting the question in a positive way and celebrating his uniqueness. I know that it’s all too easy to focus on resemblances, it’s what we as a society do, but it’s also important to remember that there is so much more to them, that they are their own person and that their differences are just as important.

I hope this is useful as a way to educate and raise awareness from a personal perspective. As always I encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences both as a recipient parent or a friend or family member. It’s by sharing these that we can make these conversations much more comfortable and accepting in the future, for us as parents but even more importantly for our children.

Love, Becky x

Dear Loved One…

Dear Loved One…

If you’re reading this blog post as someone wishing to support a loved one who is (or has) needed to use a donor to grow their family – thank you. Thank you for taking the time to better understand and support them in this huge decision, one that will require love, collaboration and understanding as a family (and beyond) to best support not only your loved one, but also their future children.

For many it can be difficult to find the words to properly describe their emotions and everything that has led to their decision, even with those who are close to them. Both infertility and donor conception are often shrouded in secrecy and shame, which is why it is rarely talked about, with little awareness unless you’ve had the misfortune of experiencing it yourself.

In this first of a series of blog posts I want to ‘set the scene’, to try and paint a picture using my own experience and perspective to allow better understanding and empathy towards those who are facing this now and looking for support. Please note that this is based on my own personal experience, I am no expert, and others will feel varying levels of emotion.

What emotions might my loved one have experienced?

Your friend or family member has most likely experienced trauma and grief leading to a decision to use a donor, whether it be over several years of failed treatment and loss, or a sudden devastating diagnosis which means using a donor might be the only way they can build a family, aside from adoption. However they have come to this point, it can form what is described as a ‘core grief’, something significant, but hard to put into words because nothing visible or tangible is lost.

When I was first diagnosed with early menopause and told that my chances of having a genetic child were very low, the best way to describe the magnitude of this news was that it was the potential loss of a lifelong dream. In that moment I had to process that I may never be a mum. The one thing I was sure I would always be. The path I’d expected my life to take. What society expected of me. What I desperately wanted to give to my husband and my family. Frustratingly, what everyone else seemed to have so easily. Since I was a little girl I’d ‘mothered’. My dolls, my pets, I’d talked about when I’d have babies of my own and fantasised about which parts of me they’d share. In short – infertility can be finding out the dream you’ve always had, may not be possible.

I write about this because the impact the journey can have on an individual is often misunderstood, with a significant effect on emotional and mental health. People (well-meaningly) can try to help those struggling with infertility to see the ‘positives’ in life, trying to give perspective by suggesting that ‘it could be worse’. An example from my own experience was comparing it to a life threatening illness, “at least you’ve not got cancer”. In saying this, what they were (unknowingly) doing was diminishing and devaluing my valid feelings of grief. For me, my diagnosis wasn’t life-threatening and I was grateful for my health, but it was life-limiting and impacted every element of the future I’d always planned. There was no ‘at least’ about it.

How might they have felt learning about the need for a donor?

It most certainly wasn’t an easy concept to process. We learned that donor conception could still make my dream possible, just in a way that I’d never envisaged, whilst I’d need to accept the loss of the chance to pass on my genetics.

Looking back, I remember the moment I was first told that my best chance of having a child was to use an egg donor, it hit me like a sledge-hammer, seeming like such an alien concept. I never even knew people donated eggs, never-mind that some women could use those eggs to carry, grow and have babies when otherwise they wouldn’t be able to. Honestly, my initial reaction was of confusion and sheer horror; the thought of mixing my husband’s sperm with another woman’s eggs felt so foreign and hard to comprehend. You may feel this initial reaction about donor conception too, it’s not unusual and totally understandable – it might well be why you’re reading this blog, to try and understand more.

Our decision came after numerous failed attempts at IVF, including a devastating miscarriage – the only pregnancy I’ve ever had with my own eggs. We had to face the facts that our odds were low, financially we were stretched, emotionally I felt broken and I still desperately wanted to be a mum. We had a 5% chance of success with my own eggs vs. a 50% chance of success with using a donor. Our heads told us that the best option was to go with using a donor, but that in no way made it an easy decision. In reality, consumed with grief, my heart wrestled with my head, making the decision even harder. “What if?” questions whirled around my mind with so much unknown.

I share this to show the complexity of the conversations we had to have that led us to this choice. I had to grieve and accept the loss of a genetic link to my future child, which brought along with it so many fears and worries, many of which your friend or family member will likely be experiencing themselves.

Would I feel like the ‘real’ parent?

Would it be obvious to everyone that I’m not their genetic parent?

Would I feel the same connection and attachment with my child?

How will our future child feel about our decision?

Will others be accepting of our decision? Most importantly you, our close friends and family?

You may even have perfectly valid questions yourself such as – will I feel like the ‘real’ Grandparent?

There is no easy or quick answer to these questions at the time, all of which I’m pleased to say for me couldn’t be further from my mind, with the exception of how our future child might feel. All I can say from experience is that it’s a process, which takes different amounts of time for each individual, whilst for some using a donor may never feel like the right option.

Personally, my own feelings changed significantly over time after each failed cycle. One of the biggest turning points being when I listened to other stories of success, seeing other people’s ‘realities’ and what might be possible. It changed my focus to what I could gain, rather than what I would be losing in not using my own eggs. I was grateful for the advances in medical science, allowing us an opportunity to still have a family, even though it wasn’t the way we’d originally envisaged. I started to re-define in my mind what it means to be a mum, and realised that there’s so much more in the act of mothering than simply sharing genetics.

What can help my loved one navigate this process?

I’ll talk in a later blog post about how you can support them specifically, but my advice for anyone who is looking to make this decision (and equally for anyone else who wants to come to terms with this alternative route to parenthood) is that these three things can significantly help.

Firstly – communication. Talking about these fears out-loud and spending time with a counsellor really helped me, but the most important thing was that I could share these emotions with loved ones who understood and allowed me to talk openly, without judgement.

Secondly – reading, learning and listening to those who have walked this path and now have their family. ‘Hope’ is a fundamental part of facing infertility, something I wish to give to others – not simply through ‘rose tinted spectacles’, but with a realistic perspective on life as a mum to three precious, donor conceived girls. I’m starting to share more guest blogs to add different voices and perspectives with the same aim of giving hope, support and inspiration to others. You may also find comfort in reading these, as they’re a great way to bring to life other families that are being built with the help donor conception.

Lastly, it’s about finding others who are also on the journey towards making these decisions. I believe strongly in ‘finding your tribe’, whether it be those who are still yet to use a donor, or those who already have children through donation, so much validation and mutual understanding can be found within each other. Through my Instagram page I am constantly trying to connect people with others who can help, both anonymously or openly. Building a community and support networks is something I feel incredibly passionate about.

As someone close to them, why it is so important that I’m involved?

It’s important because, not only is it a significant decision for them to make right now, it is one that will inevitably be a part of their future child. I’m an advocate for telling the child about their conception from early on, so that it’s all they’ve ever known. Having an understanding and supportive circle of family and friends means that our children are able to talk openly about it, without being met with upsetting reactions of confusion or resentment from those closest to them. We all play an important role in supporting them and answering questions as they learn about how they came to be, in what will become an incredibly special story. I’ll share more in one of my next blog posts about how you can help with this, along with how my own family felt and embraced our girls, despite not sharing genetics.

I share all of this as another way to encourage understanding, change perceptions and ultimately give hope. This is an incredibly difficult journey in itself without having to worry about what those who are close to us are thinking and saying, which is why I’ve tried to give context behind our decision. If your friend or family member has made the decision to use a donor, or already has a donor conceived child, know that they haven’t made this decision lightly. Please be kind and show empathy, it will be the result of lots of difficult conversations, often many tears, leading to a path of hope, to give them that lifelong dream and to bring a much-loved child into the world.

Ultimately, through DefiningMum I try to show others that there is so much more to building a family than simply DNA – it’s about the bonds that we share, the time spent together, the lifelong memories we make and the importance of nurturing. Now that I have my three girls, I wouldn’t change them or how I came to have them for the world. They’re wonderfully unique, loved beyond measure and have brought so much joy to us and our wider family. The journey has taught me a lot about gratitude and relationships and given a much deeper level of connection as a family, just through having to consider and support each other with these complexities that we otherwise wouldn’t have consciously faced.

I love to hear from those who follow my blog solely to support someone they love, it shows just how much you care and how important it is to open these conversations. Please do get in touch if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to respond to these as I write my next blog post, which will also be written for friends and family of current and future donor recipient parents.

Love, Becky x

Anonymity reflections…

Anonymity reflections…

This blog post has been on my mind for a while now, almost a year in fact.

For those who didn’t follow me a year ago, I posted about the decision within our story which involved us using an anonymous donor from Czech Republic. I was clear back then as I am now that I wasn’t advocating for any particular route, but I wanted to open up conversations and to share our personal reasoning behind making that decision. The post definitely achieved the goal of opening conversations, but not particularly in the manner that I’d envisioned they’d be discussed.

There were some opinions voiced who strongly disagreed with anonymous donation with the view that it restricts the donor conceived child in accessing parts of their genetic origin. The majority of these opinions came directly from an online donor conceived community, after my blogpost was shared amongst some Facebook groups. I was pleased that personal stories were shared to provide context and examples for discussion, but the way in which some opinions (not all) were expressed made them more difficult to listen to. It filled me with sadness that many who had been conceived with the use of a donor years ago had to face secrecy and shame, something which I can’t imagine and must be incredibly hard. I believe there is much that can be learned from what has happened in the past, something I am always open to listening to, but equally we must also have empathy and understanding that we all have our own personal decisions to make, with individual complexities and factors to consider.

Whilst I’d anticipated some varying opinions, it led to some personal and incredibly hurtful remarks, with a rapid-fire heated debate on my comments thread, after which I decided to take it down as it was causing more harm than helping. I know that the responses last year upset and scared many of you who are desperately longing for a child, which I can completely understand because they shook me to my core, especially as they directly challenged the decisions that ultimately led to the people I love most in this world – our girls. A decision that, now I have them, is unimaginable or impossible to foresee having ever done anything differently – because otherwise, we simply wouldn’t have them. I often get asked the question as to whether I would do anything differently given what I know now, and it’s for this reason that this question is impossible for me to answer. I will never be able to advise you personally on which path to take, as that decision can only be made by you.

I explain this to give context and to share that I’ve been hesitant for a while about revisiting this topic through another post. Having changed laptops over the past year I’ve actually lost the original blog, which I wonder if it’s a blessing in disguise, as it allows me to reflect and write again completely from scratch. I want to say upfront (as I did before) – I am no expert and don’t claim to be, I’m still learning myself and speak solely from my own personal experience.

My aim is always to share my family’s story authentically and honestly, to show our ‘reality’ because I know just how lonely it can be having to make these huge decisions with limited support.  I want to revisit this topic because it forms a significant part of many people’s decision making, with different pathways resulting from whatever route they take. By not talking openly, for fear of personal comments, it won’t help those that are feeling very much alone in making these decisions in the future. Using a donor from a place where donation is anonymous by law is a very real and valid option taken by many for different individual reasons (not solely for anonymity), my hope is that rather than ‘shaming’ people for something so personal, we should instead focus on what can be learned from the past and how best to support our children in the future, something I’ve reflected on for this post.

Today I want to take the opportunity to reflect and share how we plan to support our girls with the potential ‘implications’ of this route, as I know that it inevitably leads to different options for our girls in the future, should they wish to know more. What I have learned from the conversations that stemmed from my original post is much more about the impact that our decision might potentially have on our girls in the future, something that admittedly does scare me, but something we will do everything in our power to minimise and support them with. My biggest reflection now is that using an anonymous donor comes with potentially bigger risks, all depending on the extent to which they wish to know their genetic origins, which includes details about their medical history and potentially any half-siblings. Something which we cannot control, but as parents we can be emotionally aware of and prepared for.

I now understand and feel more comfortable about the curiosity they’re likely to have – something I’ve spoken about recently in comparison to my own perspective. It’s completely natural that they might want to know more about their genetic origins, but to what extent they want to know more will be up to them and them alone. Over the past year I’ve heard perspectives from some donor conceived people who say that this information is a fundamental core part of them, and others who don’t feel as strongly at all, for them it’s simply a curiosity (and in some cases not a very strong one). I know that the girls could fall anywhere on this spectrum of interest in our donor, with my hope being the latter, but it’s something that is totally up to them.

I know now that there are options to support them to find out more should they wish to, with advances in DNA testing and technology. Something which may have unnerved me at the very beginning, but actually now gives me comfort in allowing them a way to potentially find out more if they really wanted to, and something we can support them with. We as recipients (and donors too) should be aware that ‘anonymous’ donation is no longer a guarantee.

I believe managing our girls expectations with complete honesty is incredibly important for the future, to try to reduce the risk of any form of disappointment, should they want to know more. One of the reasons we originally felt more comfortable with anonymity was an element of trying to protect our future children from rejection, something I now know is difficult to have any control over, but when so much is unknown I found it hard not to think of hypothetical situations, with a natural instinct to protect both our future children and ourselves. They will be aware that there’s no guarantee we will find her, that we might discover other genetic links along the way but, as with much of this journey which all starts with infertility, it’s all very much unknown.

I also want to manage their expectations about our donor as a person. We know that she did a kind act in donating her eggs to us (which for us was life-changing in the most wonderful way), but we don’t actually know her as a person, so it wouldn’t be fair to build up a false image beyond the information we have.

I want them to be aware that she donated her eggs with the understanding that it was protected by anonymity, so there’s a chance she may not even be open to being contacted. I want to prepare them as much as I can, so that they’re aware of what they might face if they ever follow up on any genetic matches. I suppose much of this doesn’t just apply solely to children conceived using an anonymous donor, there might also be similarities with fears faced by those following up contact with an open-ID donor, there will never be any guarantee about what the reaction might be.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I feared about in the future, ultimately I never want to think of our girls feeling any negative emotions at all, but it’s our reality and something we’ll support them with as a family. My hope it that all of this will make us an even closer family, much more in-tune with each others emotions on a much deeper level.

I promise my girls never to close down their questions with the phrase “you wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t made these choices”. We can be forever grateful for the choices we made and, whilst we hope they will be too, we can’t dismiss their understandable and natural curiosity with forced gratitude. It’s about openness, honesty, love and support – for me these are most important things we can provide to our girls in helping them towards understanding and acceptance as they find their own identities in life. I truly believe that together Matt and I can help them feel secure, wanted and loved, whilst providing the opportunities to speak their minds without fear of upsetting me or diminishing my role. It’s funny, but in reading this final paragraph back it makes me think of anyone else who has children, regardless of their conception. We all want what is best for them, in our case we are even more consciously aware of these emotions and the importance of our role, allowing us to provide positive examples of openness which will surely play a part in shaping and nurturing their attitudes in the future – all qualities I would absolutely want to share with our girls. I hope that in sharing this it helps to know that you’re not alone when faced with these decisions, to understand a little more about the different perspectives and to start thinking about some of the conversations and challenges that may lie ahead in the future. It’s by opening up and talking about these topics that will help towards losing any shame that is linked to this alternative route parenthood, I encourage us within this community to share and support each other – without judgement and with empathy – these decisions are difficult and never taken lightly.

Love, Becky x

Do I ever wonder ‘what if’?

Do I ever wonder ‘what if’?

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, trying to put it into words. I’ve been asked many times if I ever look back & wonder “what if” or have any regrets about stopping IVF treatment with my own eggs. As I’ve always said, I have no regrets. It’s not possible to love our girls any more and, although I’m not a big believer in fate, I believe that somehow they were the children we were always meant to have – a life without them is simply unimaginable. I truly believe we made the right decision at the right time for us and I have made peace with not having a child genetically related to me. I know first hand that genetics don’t make a family and are not a requirement for love.

Being totally honest (as I always try to be) what I do think I will always have is an underlying feeling of curiosity about what a child sharing my DNA might have been like. It’s definitely not something I think about often, and not a negative or sad feeling in the slightest, as I am beyond grateful for our donor giving me the chance to carry & bring our girls into the world. I have felt guilt about these ‘musings’ but I’m starting to realise that it is ok to wonder. What would a child with my genetics have looked like? What traits they would have inherited from me or my family? Would they have been like the girl in these pictures, taken when I was a similar age to Mila?

I share this for two reasons; firstly to let others who may also feel some guilt for this ‘wondering’ know that they’re not alone.

Secondly and most importantly, because it’s actually helping me to better prepare and understand the potential curiosity that my girls might have about their own genetic origins. Wonderings that they will no doubt have about what our donor might look like, what traits they may have inherited and whether they look like her. If you look at my questions above, these are a perfect mirroring of my own curiosity. Whereas previously I might have felt threatened and upset by future questions such as this (touching on sensitivities about my legitimacy as a parent) I can now see even more clearly that these are completely natural in the circumstances that we find ourselves.

Acknowledging my own feelings actually helps me to better empathise with their potential feelings, understanding how they might feel. I know that questions they have won’t mean they love me any less, or that I’m any less of their mother, it means they simply want to know more about where they came from. It’s not always easy, but every day I’m becoming better prepared and ready to support any of these questions in the future.

So here’s a promise to Mila, Eska and Lena – I promise I will never deflect your ‘wonderings’ with any forced gratitude or feelings of guilt – I understand you’re curious, I love you no less for it and will do everything in my power to support you. Because that’s what mums do. We’re in this together.

Love, Becky x

Deciding to use an egg donor – the male perspective

Deciding to use an egg donor – the male perspective

I’ve been asked many times about how my husband, Matt, felt about the decision to use an egg donor and how he himself came around to the idea. Not being in a position to answer this myself and not wanting to speak on his behalf, I asked whether he would be happy to share his thoughts.

Thankfully he agreed and I am delighted to share his first blog post written for DefiningMum, one that he has penned in response to questions posed by some of my Instagram followers. It was insightful for me to read his views (thankfully with no major surprises!), and is a perspective that I hope will give you comfort, along with the opportunity to share and open up discussions with your own partners.

Matt’s perspective

Hi – thanks for the questions. If the discussion around donor eggs is generally considered to be under resourced, then a male viewpoint within this sometimes-divisive subject is probably about as niche as it gets. But here goes. It’s interesting (but not unpredictable) that having read through what I was being asked to comment on, about 95% of the topics concerned the fears and apprehension of what we went through, rather than the huge upside at the end of it! So, before I even attempt to add some comments around the questions that were posed I feel I should add a very quick disclaimer! Whilst all of my views are my honest opinions and recollections, I’m quite aware that I’m looking back through a sort of ‘positivity filter’, as the absolute joy of the last three and a half years with our girls has almost certainly softened the edges of how tough it sometimes was in the ‘pre-girls’ days. 

The questions seemed to naturally fall into three groups: the decision itself, thoughts around the donor & any concerns regarding connections to our children (& how it may differ from those parents with ‘normal’ genetic links).

So  – the decision:

To be completely honest, I felt that initially I had less of an opinion to give throughout all of our attempts at IVF, whether with Becky’s own eggs or with DE. This wasn’t through a lack of interest on my part, just that Becky’s desire to reach a successful conclusion massively overshadowed my own. Whilst I tend to make a lot of decisions based on gut feel and on principle, I also try to balance this out with evidence and fact. As my ‘pre-girls’ knowledge of the processes and considerations involved in IVF in general (let alone DE IVF) were so limited, I felt that I was always going to be guided by the person doing the lion’s share of the research – in this case Becky. Becky made it her role to understand the science, the probability of successful outcomes and the choices that we would inevitably have to make. My role was more of being supportive of her than of being a significant influence on which paths we would take & this was something I was more than happy with.

We agreed that we wanted to be parents and basically had to work our way down the list of preference of how we could achieve this, ticking off the ‘this option is not available to you’ boxes as we went. The only problem with working your way down the list from ‘most preferable’ to ‘I didn’t even know that was possible’, was that there were more and more additional side-questions and consideration that were unearthed at each level. Once we came to the realisation that ‘normal’ conception and then the use of IVF with Becky’s own eggs was not going to be fruitful, the main mental roadblock that I faced personally was that I struggled to shake the thought that I would effectively be creating a child with someone I’d never met! Whilst this was something that initially troubled me, I’ve always been relatively pragmatic and knew that we weren’t exactly blessed with options.  Our desire of becoming parents was stronger than my initial misgivings & I’m not a big one for personal mantras, but after bitter personal experience I know for certain that life is far too short. With this always at the back of my mind I’d always thought that in the end it’s better to regret doing something than regret never having done it, so on we went. 

The donor:

Due to the procedure offered by the clinic we attended in Prague, we didn’t have the option of selecting a specific donor, we were simply matched with someone who had reasonably similar visual characteristics to Becky. In hindsight, I see this as a really good thing for us. I tend to go full-on-researcher when it comes to selecting pretty much anything that I want. I like to trawl internet pages, comparing specifications, reading reviews, watching videos, etc. If I’d have been given a catalogue of donor options and their relative merits I would have spent forever second-guessing what the person was really like & I’d now be wondering which elements were influencing the things we observe in the girls. This also means that I would potentially have seen any negatives traits as being the fault of the donor or the fault of ourselves in picking the donor in the first place. I’m far more content in looking at the positives, knowing that the donor decided to do something incredibly altruistic and although we will never meet them, I’m extremely grateful to them for this. On the flip-side, If I chose to be somewhat cynical, as a ‘people manager’ who’s done their fair share of recruitment, I also know that the CV doesn’t always give a true impression of a candidate, so the catalogue method may not have been a particularly trustworthy source of information anyway!

I had no real fears about the personality of the donor and how that would influence how our girls’ personalities would eventually unfold. Whilst I obviously understand the genetic link in terms of influencing physical characteristics, I’m far more swayed by ‘nurture’ than ‘nature’ when it comes to temperament and disposition, so I think Becky and I (rather than the donor) should probably be held accountable if Mila, Eska and Lena turn out to be absolute horrors.

Connection to the children: 

I’ve never ever thought that simply because half of their genetic make-up comes from me, I would be any more connected to our children than Becky. Even if I had considered this to be a concern at any stage, the theory would already have been disproved as the girls are very firmly connected to both of us. If anything, I worried more that I would be the one who had issues with bonding, as I spend time away with work whilst Becky couldn’t get away from them if she tried. I’ve already alluded to my preference for nurture over nature, so I’m very much of the opinion that it’s a parent’s job to ensure that their children have every reason to want to connect to them, therefore blaming genetics for any lack of bonding seems like a lazy excuse.

Anything I’ve learnt after all of the above? Firstly, that I now feel extremely privileged to have such an incredible story to share with our girls rather than in any way embarrassed about how they came to be. Don’t get me wrong, in terms of stress, finance & heartache the ‘normal’ way of getting pregnant is infinitely preferable, but our story just seems a little more special. Having been through the darker times I can also comfortably say that I have absolutely no regrets about the choices we made and what we went through – I’m looking forward to supporting our little ones in anything they choose to do with their lives and they can know (more than most) that we are delighted to share our home, time and love with them. We tried hard enough to get them, so we’re determined to enjoy every second.