This is probably the most common question I get asked and definitely the most difficult to answer! It’s a complex decision…everyone has their own individual thoughts, experiences, diagnosis, hormone levels and funds available to keep trying with their own eggs.
I remember wishing that one of my Doctors would just take it out of our hands and make the decision for us, it can be so hard to know when to stop and abandon the dream you have always had – a genetic child. If you’re experiencing this scary, potentially life-changing decision now, I can truly empathise with you – it can feel like such a leap into the unknown. The acceptance that we were going to need IVF to conceive was hard, but the move from own eggs to donor eggs was so much more significant. For me it took just under 18 months from diagnosis, after 5 failed IVF cycles and a miscarriage we decided to take a step in a different direction to reach our end goal. Although it’s impossible to give a definitive answer, what I can talk about is my personal experience in making this momentous decision.
Being honest, I believe that becoming pregnant with my own eggs on ‘IVF cycle one’ was a huge factor in extending the length of time that we tried with our own eggs. Whilst I felt the loss so deeply, what it had given me was faith and hope that, because it had happened once, it could easily happen again. We’d also retrieved five eggs from my first cycle, three of which were mature – more than we ever thought possible with my miniscule AMH of just 0.7. It was during the following four cycles where our hope dwindled. Negative results and consistent failure of our embryos from day two to three showed that quantity wasn’t our only problem, my egg quality didn’t appear to be great either. Each cycle I fell deeper into despair but, I always had at the back of my mind, “I can still be a Mum using donor eggs”. Even though I wasn’t ready for it yet, I think it was this option that kept me from falling apart completely.
There definitely wasn’t a lightbulb moment of clarity and realisation. We both yo-yo’d back and forth numerous times, with what felt like a decision based on so many unknowns and ‘what ifs’. In fact, after making the decision to take a step towards Donor Eggs and have a consultation in Prague, I was actually in my two week wait following a surprise opportunity with my own eggs just a few weeks prior to travel. With my FSH uncharacteristically low, we decided to roll the dice again with a natural IVF cycle. With help from no stimulation drugs whatsoever I produced TWO eggs and two day 2 embryos for transfer – it was all so improbable and had me believing that this really was meant to be. I almost cancelled our appointment in Prague but we figured “what have we got to lose?” by finding out more.
Although the failure of this ‘bonus’ cycle was devastating, unexpectedly I felt some comfort in knowing that we had a plan in motion and all wasn’t lost. So, what were the factors that led us to start changing direction and move towards donor eggs? The two blog posts that will follow will talk more about what I believed were our big turning points, I hope that in some way it might resonate with you and provide some comfort as you make your own momentous decision…
The first turning point was starting to recognise that the odds were stacked against us – click here to read more…
Finally, I had to define what it meant to me to be a Mum – click here to read more…
I’m Sarah, a 46 year old mum to a 6 year old son, conceived in northern Cyprus by anonymous egg donation. When my husband and I initially embarked on the donor conception part of our journey, we were adamant that we would not tell our child how he had been conceived. However, as soon as I got pregnant and the dream of having a child became a reality, my thoughts began to change. We’d told my parents, my brother and my husband’s sister. My friends who I’d met online from infertility forums (one of whom is his Godmother) also knew. How could I keep something from our child, when people who it didn’t even effect knew? I really hadn’t thought it through! As my pregnancy progressed it was clearer in my mind that we would tell our child as much information as we could about his conception and about the wonderful woman who gave us the cell which enabled us to give him life.
As soon as he was born, I felt an instant bond. I knew that this little boy in my arms was MY baby. My very talented friend had made me a book with photographs, telling his story from conception to birth. She included photos of us in Cyprus along with quotes that she’d secretly taken off a secret group I’d set up to keep my ‘infertility friends’ updated. They’d held my hand through 6 cycles of clomid, 4 IUIs, 3 own egg IVFs and I needed their love and support now, more than ever! This book, with its photos and actual words spoken by me, has been an invaluable tool in telling him from a very young age.
We’ve read it at bedtime. We’ve talked about how Mummy was poorly and didn’t have any seeds to make a baby. How the doctor found Mummy and Daddy a very kind lady who said that we could have one of her seeds. How they mixed her seed with Daddy’s seed and how it started to grow into a baby. How the doctor put that tiny, microscopic baby into Mummy’s tummy and how he grew and grew. How I felt him kick me for the very first time, how he used to wriggle in my tummy keeping me awake at night – which he finds highly amusing!
As I said, he’s now six years old and enjoys reading his special book. He came with his Dad to pick me up from Becky’s baby shower. He was only 3, but he knew then that Becky was having an extra special baby just like him. When he met Mila, he knew he was going to meet that special baby. To this day, when we talk about it, he’ll say ‘Mila’s extra special, just like me isn’t she mummy?’ In the summer I’m hoping we’ll have chance to meet up with Becky, Mila, Eska and Lena. I think it helps him to know that there are other children who were conceived in the same way that he was.
We were recently laid in bed having a cuddle and the subject came up. He said ‘Mummy, which bits of me are like Daddy and which bits of me are like you if I didn’t come from your seed?’
We talked about how his hair and his face are just like Daddy’s and how him and Daddy both love Lego, Mr Bean and fixing things. Then we moved onto me. We both like chocolate, Harry Potter and cuddling. We both have a birthmark in exactly the same place. We both sit with our 2ndtoe tucked under our big toe because its comfy??? We both get cross in the same way but neither of us sulk like Daddy 😉
That was enough for him! I find that complete honesty in a way he can understand, is the only way to be. I never ignore his questions but just answer them in the best way I know how. His ‘special lady’ does come up in conversation, but not often. He’s more excited about how special he is and how he’s made Daddy and I so very happy.
My son and I have the most incredible relationship. He’s definitely a Mummy’s boy. He is my world and I could not love him more if he were genetically mine. I remember saying to Becky before she had Mila, how insignificant genes were and how they really don’t matter. Then I remember meeting her after she’d had Mila. I just looked at her and said ‘they really don’t matter do they?’ She looked at me with tears in her eyes and simply said ‘No, they don’t’. No more words were needed to know that here were two women, who could not be more in love with these two children.
I know that as he gets older he’ll understand more about how he was conceived. All I can do is answer every question he asks me with complete honesty. It took three people to give him life and I am forever grateful to our donor. But without my husband and I, that cell would have gone to waste as part of a normal, monthly cycle. We gave that cell life and the little boy who is that life is the most incredible person I have ever met. I am truly blessed.
I’m by no means a scientific person, I’m much more interested and motivated by the ‘fluffy stuff’ – feelings and relationships and it’s probably because of this that personally I never really felt a need to do a huge amount of reading on this topic. Epigenetics is a fascinating concept though and, given that a few people have asked me my thoughts, I thought I’d share a few things that resonated with me. Those of you who are more scientifically minded may wish to add to this –please do – I’d definitely welcome opening up a discussion on how these theories can actually be applied to our donor conceived children!
I find great comfort in the fact that, from the moment my embryo girls were put inside my uterus, I began to provide the internal environment that would be responsible for deciding how their genetic code (or blueprint as I like to think of it) would be expressed. I would have always believed that DNA within genes were responsible for the total uniqueness of an individual, but what I actually learned was that it isn’t DNA itself that creates life. The womb environment actually determines the embryo attachment and development and how we feel, think and react during pregnancy can cause certain genes to be more expressed and some more reserved (some liken it to a dimmer switch effect).
So, whilst Mila, Eska and Lena may have their genes from Matt and our egg donor, how these genes were expressed were solely down to me. I wasn’t just an ‘oven’ for those embryos. I gave them life and, simply put, I made them who they are today – completely unique, individuals that no-one else would have been able to replicate.
I came across a couple of analogies that made the whole concept easier for me to understand, one likening the embryo’s genetic sequence to a music score. Depending on which orchestra played the music, it would always sound slightly different and be in itself a unique replication. The second likened it to the genetic code being the script for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet – a play that could be produced in a number of different ways according to different ‘notes in the margins’, all designed to interpret how the script is played out. The role of epigenetics creates these ‘notes in the margins’ allowing the genes to be switched up or down, determining how it is expressed.
Epigenetics is way more complex than I have explained above and is an ever-evolving concept as developments in science take place. Isn’t is comforting to know that, when we thought we had lost the chance to influence what our babies would be like genetically, we are learning that we do play such an important role in not only giving life but also deciding how that is played out? This, alongside the concept of nurture over nature, reassures me that when we define what it is to be a ‘Mum’, there is so much more than simply DNA – we give life, and then show them how to live it. 💛
This is ‘Mummy Rabbit’ – Mila’s favourite thing in the world, she goes everywhere with her, sleeps with her and is her ultimate comfort. I share this with you because I wanted to show that, regardless of genetics, a Mum who has used donor eggs is still everything to that child. I have been asked ‘will I feel a connection to the child?’ and ‘will they feel a connection to me?’ I must admit, I did worry about the latter question – part of me worried that my baby would somehow have a sixth sense that we didn’t share genetics and it might affect our bonding. How wrong I was! I can only give my experience but my answer to the questions above is unequivocally – YES.
I use ‘Mummy Rabbit’ as an example because comforters are a child’s safety blanket, a reminder of close special times and a bridge to help them move into the ‘big wide world’. The fact that Mila has so lovingly named her ‘Mummy Rabbit’ tells me that she sees me as her safety blanket, the one she feels closest to, and the one she has shared the most special times with.
She may not have my eyes but she sees things the way I do, she sounds just like me and has the same sense of humour as me – I smile when I hear myself in her, and even my family comment that she is just like I was as a child.
I now ask myself – why should it be any different to any relationship between a non-donor child and their biological Mother?! Biological is an interesting word – pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding are all biological, and so technically I am their ‘biological mother’. The difference is that there is another biological link in that a very kind lady donated her eggs to allow us to form the ‘blueprint’ for our children. It is with this ‘blueprint’ that I grew them, nourished them – effectively gave them life. Beyond all of this we could get into the nitty gritty science of Epigenetics – an evolving understanding of how donor mums play such an important part in determining the building blocks of our children (Epigenetics is fascinating – but that’s for another post!).