Third Party Fertility: Then and Now

When I first started working in the field of third party reproduction in 1998, egg donation was not a popular choice among intended parents. Ovum donation was seen as a last resort. It was right up their with having a limb amputated, it solved the problem but was a very unpleasant decision to have to make. Couples were full of denial, anger and hostility. The mere suggestion of seeking counseling was seen as a threat. Not only would they have to reveal their own vulnerability but also one more person would know their painful “secret”. Fertility was seen as a shameful curse rather than a physical reality that they shared with thousands.

When intended parents pursued a donor cycle they usually had no desire to share this information with anyone including the child they were bringing into their family. I have always encouraged intended parents to be open with their children regarding the special way they became a family. In the early years this was often too accept and therefore too difficult to comprehend. It seemed to far beyond what we had all grow to think of as the “normal” way a family is formed, as one couple phrased it too “Orwellian”.

I would often be one if the first people they spoke to just a matter weeks after their doctor has told them that a donor cycle was their best chance for becoming parents. It would often take a couple 6 months to a year to be ready to start looking for an egg donor. I learned how to approach the intended parents softly and carefully never knowing what might set off a wave of anxiety and pain. Even then they were still often fixated on finding the closest thing to a twin that they could find. Setting standards that were impossible to meet.

I still take a soft approach with intended parents, but now I find, more of them have taken the time to think through their decision to choose third party reproduction. I have always found it helpful to learn what the intended parent’s journey has been. I find now that far more often they have through time, and counseling allowed themselves to resolve a number of issues to reach a point where rather than a donor cycle being a distasteful necessity it can be an exciting option; to be pregnant, care and nurture their child in utero and give birth.

The journey may still take six months to a year to get their mind and heart around the idea of moving forward with a donor but most of the intended parents who come to me now have resolved the most painful grieving before they call me. Many intended parents have known that a donor cycle would probably be in their future while they were trying just one more time with an IVF cycle using their own eggs. Intended parents now are more likely to seek counseling, talk to friends, or join support groups. They are less likely to be making decisions in isolation. It is still a difficult process but they now realize they are not the only ones.

Families have learned to embrace the wonder of being able to grow their family. Talking to their children regarding how they became part of the family is an important and beautiful true story that they can share proudly. Having learned from the painful fiction that was encouraged long ago with adoption and sperm donation. It was assumed that they would not discuss the details of their child’s special conception, never realizing that silence has a life of its own and its presence is always lurking in the family’s subconscious. It is better for children to hear their story from their parents, than by accident some day through another source. This is the child’s story as well as the intended parents.

The idea is no longer an “Orwellian” experience. It is more commonplace or at least it appears so since more intended parents are willing to share their experience of how their wonderful children came to be. More couples are choosing to work with a donor, realizing that their chances of having a healthy pregnancy and birth increases dramatically for 5% at best to 50% at least when working with a donor. Some intended parents in their 40’s are going directly to a donor cycle rather than go through the emotional and financial trauma of an unlikely positive out come when they already know their FSH levels are to high at this point in their life to produce a viable pregnancy.

It is still hard to make that leap from having ones biological child to choosing an alternative method to becoming a parent. There is always the hope that the statistics won’t apply to “me”. When a women finds out that it is true that egg quality and viability starts to decrease as we get closer to 35 and quite dramatically as we reach 40 and beyond. We all hope to be the exception in this still a very painful, stressful and difficult journey of infertility. The good news is that these facts are more broadly known now than they were years ago. So, hopefully we can realize we are not alone in this struggle but many of our peers who are yearning to grow a family are also facing this same journey.

I find that most intended parents are starting from a more realistic perspective when it comes to donor selection. Intended parents still sometimes start their search for their twin or better but most intended parents realize that they will not find a clone but that they can find someone that they like. Someone who feels familiar to them; someone who will fit into their family. They may find similarities they hadn’t been looking for that come together to make the match feel right. They are drawn to the individual donor often for reasons that can’t be put into words. Intended parents want someone bright, kind, thoughtful, and reasonably attractive; who understands the egg donation process and is willing to follow through cooperatively.

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