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
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
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.
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.
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.
Mila and I finally had the opportunity to read our new book Happy Together Childrens Book – a story about egg donation, kindly gifted to my girls. I actually started talking to her occasionally as a baby, holding her in my arms in the middle of the night. For me this was such an important time – it helped me to gain confidence and recognise my emotions, whilst it still being a one-way conversation. It helped me become more comfortable in saying out-loud that we needed help to get them and they were so very wanted.
Even though I’d practiced to help myself become more comfortable, honestly, I still had some anxiety about reading this book with Mila. When the book arrived I sobbed as I read it, it so simply and beautifully talks through what was a hellish journey with the most beautiful ending. I worried that the same thing would happen when I started to read it with Mila.
We settled down in her bed, her head in the usual spot resting on my chest as I read her story… this being one of two stories because she negotiates a ‘deal’ every night! She listened intently and instantly picked up on Mummy bear looking ‘sad’. She then showed her sheer delight upon realising that the baby bear was ‘Mila’ as well as the picture on the wall being the words from ‘our song’ – You Are My Sunshine. Her next question was “where’s Eska and Lena?!”…which got me thinking, we could really do with a twin version!
In true Mila style, her comment at the end had me in stitches in relation to a picture of Mummy and Daddy bear riding in tandem pulling a trailer with Mila bear in the back. In a dramatic voice she said…”Mummy, what if a naughty dragon came and breathed fire on the rope? It would break and then Mummy and Daddy would ride away without Mila!” She’d decided to add her own extra drama to the story which made me realise that all would be ok – to her it wasn’t huge news, it was simply a story – one of love…and don’t all great love stories include a fire-breathing dragon?!
How did I feel?
I coped better than I thought when actually reading the story – just feeling the weight of her head on my chest gave me such comfort – our happy ending was right there in front of me and this book actually celebrates how special her life is. I did feel emotional and definitely got a little ‘hot under the collar’ when I came to the page about the donor, unsure about her reaction, but she simply absorbed it and happily awaited the next page. It’s a story we’ll revisit many times and I know I’ll feel more comfortable each time I read it – I’ll probably be able to recite it by the time Eska & Lena reach Mila’s age!
If you’d like to learn more about this book, click here, Julie has written a number of versions for egg, donation, embryo adoption, sperm donation, IVF and a two Mum sperm donation story.
Love, Becky x
Since I wrote this post, I started to see how Mila was absorbing some of the information and so shared another post on the same topic…
It’s incredible how quickly Mila (who is only 3 and a half) is picking up parts of the story of how she came to be. Only last night we were together in her bed after storytime when it just felt right to talk about it again. Recently she’s become obsessed with saying “when I was in your tummy” and stuffing soft toys up her top, even sometimes getting a little confused in saying “Mummy, when you were in my tummy…”! I reminded her about Mummy being poorly and us needing to see a Dr to have a baby when she suddenly interrupted and said, “there was an egg, and what was it Daddy gave?”. Without me even saying it she’d remembered the part about the egg, something I couldn’t believe, but it goes to show that she is starting to absorb the information. It’s becoming her ‘normal’ and will be the only thing she’s ever known. I explained again that a special lady gave the egg, mixed with Daddy’s seed, which was put in Mummy’s tummy for me to grow her. With this I always take pride in telling her how much she is loved and how very special she is, which I can see she loves to hear. I recently spoke about the first time telling Mila with Jana Rupnow for her Three Makes Baby podcast – click here to listen. I talk about my feelings and honest fears in confronting this hugely emotional and sensitive topic. I can honestly say that talking with Mila is getting so much easier, and much more natural each time, with fewer lumps in my throat too, especially as she starts to fill in the gaps herself.
As Eska and Lena become old enough to understand more I can already envisage Mila playing a part in telling them too. I’m sure as she learns more she’ll love talking about how they were frozen (where there’s sure to be a link to Elsa thrown in) and how the same special lady gave eggs to help make all three of them.
Telling isn’t easy, it’s hard to confront deep emotions, pain and fears that you’d hope to leave in the past, but I’ve no doubt that it’s the right thing to do at this early age, both for them and for me – it’s therapeutic, healing, whilst being a great builder of bonds and trust.
As you know, we’ll always be open with the girls about their conception – they’ll never know any different. It’s only now that Mila is three and a complete chatterbox, that we can actually talk about it in a two-way conversation. One of my favourite things to do is to have time for an uninterrupted chat with her – she just amazes me every day. I thought now was a good time to start weaving in some information about how she came to be, obviously including how special she is and how she was very much wanted. I also think it’s a good time for me to practice talking openly with her about something that is so important but so emotional too – I want to make sure I build my own confidence.
So a few days ago Mila and I were deep in conversation in one of her favourite places to chat – whilst on the toilet! She was talking to me about rainbows and asked where they came from. I gave her the standard answer about the sun and the rain, then I told her that she herself was actually a very special rainbow for us. As curious as ever, Mila asked a question that I must hear at least 100 times a day – “Why Mummy?”. So I explained that we tried to have her for a very long time, Mummy was poorly and needed some help to have a baby. I explained that we went to see a doctor, where a very kind lady gave us some eggs that were mixed with Daddy’s ‘seed’ (I wasn’t sure what word to use here, but seed felt more appropriate than sperm!). I told her that this made an embryo which was put inside Mummy’s tummy for Mummy to grow Mila. She smiled and took me by surprise with her first question… “But where’s the kind lady?” Well, honestly, that threw me. I found a lump in my throat. Flooding back, came my old friends ‘grief’ and ‘fear’. I knew at some stage she would ask about our donor, and I will always answer truthfully, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t still have moments of pain. In that moment I felt deeply the loss of our genetic connection. I craved being able to have a Mother / Daughter relationship with no complications or difficult conversations to have.
But I know that isn’t our reality, I accept that and I accept that at times it may be difficult for me, and maybe for them in the future too – but I owe it to the girls to tell them everything. It doesn’t mean they will love me any less, and if anything, I hope it will create an even stronger relationship – built on trust and honesty.
I wanted to share this moment to show that, even if you still find it difficult – that’s ok. I might seem like I have it all together but I don’t always, it’s a learning curve and something I need to build my confidence in particularly when talking about it with those most important to me. I can talk to most people about this topic in a completely calm manner, but it seems it becomes a different emotional challenge when speaking with my girls. I so badly want to get it right, which is why facing my fears and building my confidence is so important. Fear and grief doesn’t mean you can’t still be open with your child, we just need to recognise it and if needed seek some help. It’s so important to ensure our children grow up with the right message, security and never feeling like they’ve been left in the dark.
Love, Becky x