Egg Donor: Spoiler Alert, Nurture Wins

Nurture vs. Nature has always been a hotly debated topic and in this age of third-party fertility, it often causes quite a bit of stress for intended parents. The majority of my clients are high achievers, particularly academically. Most have advanced degrees, many from prestigious institutions.  They often come from families where education is highly valued with parents and grandparents who also have advanced degrees.  When choosing an egg donor they want to do their best to find a donor who is as bright and accomplished as they are.  The problem with this is that most young women may not have had time to accomplish the same sorts of goals.

My clients are often concerned when they are looking for an egg donor if their future child will fit into their family and they look to a donor’s education as a measure of their future child’s intellectual standing.  It is not so much will this child measure up as worrying that the child will not feel part of the this intellectual tribe.

But it’s not always easy to find an egg donor that matches that of the intended parent’s education levels.  There are many reasons why uber achieving young women may not become egg donors.  They may come from families that may not approve of egg donation, or perhaps these young women don’t have the financial need to pay off student loans.  Many young women who choose to be donors may have grown up in families where they have been nurtured to achieve, but their parents may not have had the same educational opportunities.

Choosing an egg donor is always a leap of faith.  Our genetics make us who we are when it comes to our appearance, much of our health, and to some degree our psychological make up.   But when it comes to one’s intellect, drive and ability to succeed in the world nurture has the upper hand.

“Research shows that parents who talk to their children and spend time helping them interact ultimately raise more socially developed and intellectually stimulated children.”

I saw this first hand when I was a research assistant at Yale.  I was testing children who were born prematurely and of low birth weight.  The goal of that study was to measure the effect of a specific drug administered immediately after birth but what was also observed was that children with parents who talked to and interacted with them from the time they were born showed the most progress.  

Most of the young women who choose to be egg donors are reasonably intelligent although they may not have attended one of the top 20 universities or have standardized test scores that are in the 99th percentile, as I’ve discussed in a previous post The Myth of The Ivy League Donor.  If intended parents choose a donor who physically looks like she could fit into their family, has a good family health history, and is reasonably intelligent, that’s an excellent start.  In most cases my clients have a significant other who is equally well educated (i.e. intelligent) who will make up the other half of the genetic equation.  

The resulting child or children will then be raised within a family where they will be exposed to intellectual stimulation and opportunities to learn and grow in an environment where education is valued.  In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell says,  "It's not enough to ask what successful people are like. (...) It is only by asking where they are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn't."(2) One premise of this book is that people thrive and succeed because of their environment and the opportunities that they are exposed to.  Another premise comes down to practice makes perfect. 

A violinist friend of mine gave me two books -  The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. By Daniel Coyle and Nurtured by Love: The Classic Approach to Talent Education by Shinichi Suzuki. I had been sharing with her my desire to help ease the concerns of the intended parents that I assist in making one of the most difficult choices in their lives; the person who will take their place in their family’s gene pool?  My friend has taught violin to students who have gone on to play at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.  She knows a thing or two about developing talent.  Both of these books and her experience support the idea that it is not raw talent, intellect or nature that makes one shine and succeed but nurture.  

Nurture makes the difference.

A few months ago I read Proof of Heaven by Ebin Alexander.  I bring this up not so much for the main message in his book but because what I learned about Ebin Alexander.  He is a neurosurgeon just like his father, the man who adopted him as a baby.   He later learned more about his birth parents who were bright but fairly average individuals, not brain surgeons like he and his father.  He excelled and succeeded and grew up just like the father who raised him due to the love and support he received from the parents who raised him.  Yes, he received good basic genetics from his birth parents but it was nurture that made him into the man that he became.

In conclusion, nurture wins.  When choosing an egg donor I encourage intended parents to focus more on finding someone who they like rather than worry about choosing the highest academic achiever.  I know that it’s hard to let go and even harder to trust but we are not in control of genetics. What we can control is how we love, raise, and nurture our children to be the best that they can be.