Does epigenetics affect egg donation and surrogacy?
What is epigenetics? How does it all work? How much influence does a gestational carrier have on the embryo they are carrying? How do epigenetics work in egg donation?
When one is creating their family via third-party fertility, these questions often come up. Epigenetics gives some insight into how to answer these questions, though the answers are not simple, and there is much that we still don’t know.
According to the NIH, “epigenetics is very much like a switch on the outside of the genetic circuits and genome that influences the behaviors of a gene.” The woman who is carrying the embryo, be that the intended mother who has used an egg donor or a gestational carrier who is also not genetically related to the embryo, can influence the development of the child. How she eats and cares for herself throughout the pregnancy is important and may influence the child's future health. Epigenetics continues long beyond in-utero throughout our lifespan; our health will be influenced by how we eat, manage stress, and exercise, and more.
If you are creating your family via egg donation, you may be struggling with the fact that you can’t contribute genetically to your child. However, you will be able to contribute significantly to your child’s development “Thanks to the role of epigenetics, your nurturing womb can help your baby lead their healthiest life, well into adulthood,” says Jaime Shamonki, MD is the Chief Medical Officer at Generate Life Sciences, who is also a physician with unique expertise in regenerative medicine, reproductive medicine, genetics, and clinical laboratory management.
“It turns out molecules known as MicroRNAs that are secreted in the mother’s womb act as a communication system between the mother (or surrogate) and the growing fetus… this is really the beginning of every influence that a mother (or surrogate) can have, including the onset of diseases.” Dr. Carlos Simon, a researcher who started his career at Stanford University in 1996, has presented more information about the effects of epigenetics. I share his findings below.
“Think of the MicroRNAs as little spaceships that shuttle information through the endometrial milk from a mother’s genes to the developing embryo and regulate the expression of its genes. “This epigenetic effect begins to happen at the moment of conception,” says. Dr. Simon. “If you take out the micro RNA, this regulation disappears.”
But it’s about more than how your baby will look. Dr. Simon says that this is really the beginning of every influence that a mother (or surrogate) can have, including the onset of diseases. For example, if a mother has Type 2 Diabetes at the moment of conception, it can directly affect her growing fetus. “The condition of the mothers at the time of pregnancy makes a huge difference, says Dr. Simon. “There are many things a mother can change regardless of whether her baby comes from her own eggs or not, and by the same token a surrogate can modify her lifestyle for the baby.”
Over the years, I have worked with thousands of future parents and often heard back from them telling me how much their children share certain qualities with them. In some cases they seemed to have the mother's eyes and in many cases, they have the same mannerisms as the parents. There is really no guarantee that any child, regardless of how they are conceived, will look like his or her parents. But I love this note I received from a former client years ago:
“Almost 2 years ago, I contacted you to help us locate a donor. I was hesitant to even consider using a donor and, of course, very sad that in our fertility journey, we were at this junction. Over the course of 8 years, we had experienced 14 IUI’s, 8 IVF egg retrievals and transfers, and 4 miscarriages. You helped us locate a donor and now we are the glowing parents of an amazing 8-month-old daughter. I wanted to share with you something I’ve learned from our “Topsy Turvey” tomato plant hanger and our daughter.
When our miracle baby was born, it was amazing how much she looked like me. In fact, my mother drug out my baby book and compared pictures of how much we looked alike. She even had the same birthmark on the back of her head and mole on her rear end that I have. We love garden fresh tomatoes. Sadly, our Topsy Turvey tomatoes tasted terrible compared to my mother-in-law's tomatoes. What I learned is that it really doesn’t matter where the tomato seed came from. The secret ingredient was the soil that grew the tomatoes. I can with 200% certainty tell anyone hesitant about using a donor that once your baby is born, that baby is ALL yours. We are so grateful for our miracle baby and I regularly say prayers and offer thanks to our egg donor. I may never meet our donor, but I will forever be eternally grateful for her gift to us. She gave us the seed to grow our daughter, and allowed my soil to grow her. She’s our daughter in every way. Thanks so much for helping us find the 'special seed' we needed.”
Often, epigenetics is a source of confusion for parents beginning the egg donation, sperm donation, or surrogacy process. It is one of many considerations, and a piece that can often feel overwhelming as you make your decision to pursue third-party fertility. Having knowledge about these concepts is just one part of what will help you to feel prepared. We strongly recommend working with a specialized fertility therapist who can help walk you through the fears, concerns, or trauma that you may have after a fertility battle. My suggestion to all intended parents who may be struggling with the decision to pursue a donor egg cycle and/or surrogacy - your fears are valid, and talking through them is the first step. But there is light on the other side.
Interested in building your family with Donor Concierge? Schedule your free consultation today.