Egg Donation and Mourning
Red and yellow, black and white, straight and gay, we are all alike in our desire to have children. For many, fulfilling this innate desire can come at a significant emotional and financial cost. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have children in the traditional way and, for the vast majority who conceive and carry children easily, it may be difficult to relate to the emotional toll that infertility can take on those who are not so lucky.
My area of expertise is in third-party fertility. Third-party fertility is one means of building a family when you can’t use your own gametes (egg or sperm) or if you don’t have a functioning uterus. The focus of this article is egg donation. The decision to use an egg donor is never an easy one but one that is usually arrived at after much soul searching and grieving.
In order to be ready to move into what one of my clients dubbed, this “Orwellian territory” of third party reproduction, it is vital that the intended parents go through mourning the loss of their biological child. This is true for both the father and the mother. The mother may have dreamed all her life of the child she would someday have who would share her genetic makeup: her full lips, high check bones and love of music. For the father, he fell in love with his wife and has visualized his future children with the characteristics that he loves in her. So, both must mourn their loss.
Like any other grieving period, it starts with denial. The intended parents must come to terms with the fact that they will not be able to have a child in the traditional way. It is hard to hear this for the first time and it doesn’t get easier to hear the 4th or the 100th time and intended parents need time to process this information. Denial is why so many intended parents will continue with several more IUI’s and IVF cycles with their own gametes just in case they might be the rare exception and beat the odds.
Denial is followed by anger which is why many intended parents may go from physician to physician, hoping that the first diagnosis was incorrect and that maybe they can find hope elsewhere. It is why many of us who support intended parents have, at one point or another, experienced the wrath of an intended parent when a fertility procedure has not brought about a positive pregnancy. When I have been the target of this anger due to the intended parents’ pain and disappointment, I realize it’s not me they blame for their current despair; I just happen to be the one who is at hand at the moment.
Intended parents soon evolve to the bargaining phase of mourning. At this point in the process, I have had intended parents who have chosen a particular egg donor who they feel is ‘the’ one and the only one who they could possibly imagine doing an IVF egg donor cycle, but this ‘one and only’ doesn’t want to do another cycle. There are 101 reasons why a donor may decide not to donate even if she has donated before and promised to do a future cycle. She cannot be forced to move forward if she has changed her mind. Nevertheless, I have had intended parents beg me to track down a specific egg donor and offer them the moon if they would do a cycle with them. I spend a substantial amount of my time encouraging intended parents to have a backup plan and to choose more than one possible egg donor so that if their first choice is not available, they can move on to the next. But if they have not gone through this or, like me, worked with hundreds who have, it can be difficult to understand.
When you can’t have a child with your own genetics and your think you have found the perfect egg donor, it can be easy to fall in love with the donor as embodying everything you could hope for that will make up for the fact that your child will not be sharing your genetics. If that donor seems to slip through your grasp, many intended parents go through yet another period of mourning. This time they are mourning the loss of the “perfect” donor. Every time we mourn we are not just mourning the current loss but we are mourning every loss we have ever had including and especially the loss of the ability to have a child that is biologically related to you or your spouse. It can be difficult to have the perspective that there really is no such thing as a perfect donor when you’re at a low point in your fertility experience.
Depression is the fourth stage of mourning the loss of one’s biological child. At this point, it is common to have a lot of negative internal dialogue regarding your chances of every having a child. The world seems bleak and everyone but you seems to be pregnant or have a baby. This is when the thoughtless statements from well meaning friends and family can often sting the most. “If you just relax you would probably get pregnant”, “all my husband had to do what look at me and I got pregnant”, “Why don’t you just adopt?” (Easier said than done.) And the list goes on.
The fifth and final stage is acceptance. As frustrating and painful as these stages are, they are necessary to reach the place where you can accept egg donation as an amazing opportunity. I liken this realization to the fact that just as you can’t force a flower to bloom, you can’t force yourself to be ready to see egg donation as a positive option until you have reached a point where you can begin to let go of the need to have a child that is biologically related to you and be open to becoming a parent through an alternative option. This doesn’t mean that you will never again feel the sting of your loss just as we still mourn other losses but, over time the pain is not as visceral and, once you have your baby, you will fall in love with the most important person in your life: your child. There is nothing like the love we feel for our children, however they come into our lives. We have the children we were meant to have.