When The Woman You Love Needs An Egg Donor
Any couple considering using an egg donor as an option for growing their family has to make a leap in their understanding of family building. It’s not uncommon for one partner to be more ready for this transition than the other. While the focus of adjusting to egg donation is often focused on the woman, men have their own struggles when considering this path.
I often say that no one grows up saying, “I can’t wait to pick my egg donor.” It is as true as for men as it is for women. Men fall in love with their mate and picture a child that is theirs together. It can be a difficult emotional transition for the husband or male partner even if he will be genetically related to their child. I reached out to some of my friends in the mental health community who work with couples grappling with fertility issues to see what their experience has been with the future dads.
Dr. Piave Pitisci Lake of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina said “The things I have noticed is that they are very supportive of their wives and they seem to understand their wives’ grief without being critical of it. They all want to do what is right for their wives and help them feel better. They don't like to see them hurting. They do not seem to be as concerned about the lack of their wife's genetic connection in how the child will belong to them and are able to say that because she is carrying the child it will be hers. They also seem to agree with their wives that they would rather maintain some genetic connection and control over the in-utero environment through egg donation rather than adoption.”
Although most of the men we work with are quite supportive, some do have reservations. One of the clinics I work with has mentioned that some of the husbands/fathers are hesitant to review donor profiles and may overly focus on the cost of an egg donor cycle. There can be many reasons for this and, if you interviewed 20 of these men, you would probably uncover 20 different issues at the core of their reserve. So let’s look at a few common issues that may arise.
• Grief – Men need time to mourn the child they had imagined they would have with the woman they love. This is a normal part of coming to a place of acceptance for both husband and wife. It is a necessary step toward becoming comfortable with what may still seem like a new and unusual way to create one’s family.
• Guilt - Men may feel that choosing an egg donor is the wife’s decision since they will be genetically related to the child being created. The dad may even feel guilty that he can be biologically related to their future child while his wife can’t share in that connection. He may feel guilty because it may feel like he is having a baby with another woman.
• Hands-off - If the father is the type of man who likes to leave certain decisions to his wife, whether it where they will go on vacation or who will be the egg donor, he may simply feel confident in his wife’s judgment and not want to be involved in the details. Often the wife has already done significant homework before she starts looking at egg donor profiles.
• Orwellian - The process of reviewing profiles of young women who will provide eggs to create their family may feel Orwellian. Donor databases can look like dating sites, and that can feel odd. Although choosing an egg donor is not choosing a new mate, it may feel like a competition between the intended mother and the donor.
• Transference - Men may experience transference and feel guilt if they find the donor attractive. It is a normal reaction, just as women sometimes have transference with their doctor. We all have thoughts or temporary crushes that can arise; it’s acting on those thoughts that would be a problem. Both the man and his partner may be feeling sensitive and vulnerable during this emotionally charged time in their relationship.
• Analytic – Some men may be used to taking an analytical approach to solving problems. He may not realize how important it is to his partner that he take an active roll in choosing the egg donor. Or, through his analysis he may have strong feelings about who should be their donor by who ‘measures up’ to his assessment of the pros and cons.
• Control – Both men and women want to feel that they have some control when they are creating their family via egg donation. I often hear, “If it can’t be my wife, I want to find the best possible donor to give my children the best chance in life”. When one falls in love we rarely take the time to look at our partner’s genetics. Nonetheless, when we have the chance to have a say we want someone who is as perfect as possible.
Most of us haven’t grown up thinking about egg donation as part of our future. I’ve written this with input from several mental health professionals who specialize in assisting infertile couples to come to terms with family building struggles. My fertility industry colleague Elaine Gordon, Ph.D. sums it up very well when she says “The child will be the teacher of the parent.” When it comes down to it your child will be who they are, we are not in control. Be gracious with yourself and your mate as you make the often-slow evolution to embracing egg donation as a miraculous family building choice.
*Other thought contributors to this blog are: Carrie Eichberg, Psy.D., Macy Schoenthaler, M.Arts of RSC Bay Area