Thursday, February 06, 2014

Short Story About Egg Donation

So, after this long hiatus, I come back to the blog to post about a discovery I made on the Web today.

I was surfing for something else entirely and happened across Lillian Fishman's short story Glass on the site Necessary Fiction.

I'm not sure what made me click the link and start reading; when I realized the story was about egg donation, from the point of view of a donor, a chill went up my spine.

And having read it, I'm unsure what I feel about the story, which is about a young woman named June who is about to earn $30,000 by donating eggs to some alumni from her (apparently expensive) college.

“Think of the money,” she tells her sister over the phone. “I don’t even know what I’m doing for the summer. Let alone with my life. It’s not a bad gig.”

“You can’t just give yourself up like this,” her sister says. “It’s too weird.” A long pause, and then: “What if you run into your kid on Bleecker in fifteen years?”

“I’ll never know,” June says.

I guess, in some ways, the story made me sad. I have always worried about what, to me, is the darker side of egg donation: The fear that a young woman could be emotionally harmed, either in the present or in the unknown future, by her decision to donate. And that by offering her money for this precious gift at a time when she is young, fertile, and relatively poor, we (who are old, infertile, and if not rich, then credit-worthy) are luring her into self-harm.

And yet. There is nothing wrong with paying a donor for her time and trouble (ours received nowhere near $30,000, bless her.) I just don't like to think of another woman being hurt by my need; my deficiency. It's why I asked to be matched with a donor who had already had her child and didn't want any more.

It's the elephant in the room, I guess--this terrible imbalance of power, affluence, and need between women who have viable eggs, and women who don't.

Anyway. Read the story, which is excellent. And give it some thought.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Egg donor child: Video!

Watching and listening to this beautiful girl, I'm reminded that sometimes, just sometimes, life gives you what you need, when you need it.

I came across this video tonight when I found a new blog, that of the lovely Donor Diva--check it!--and I just yelled for my husband to come and listen to Allegra with me. I've been thinking lately that it's time to introduce the idea of donor egg to my darling girls, who are four and two this year.

I've always been in the "tell" camp, for reasons I'll blog about one of these days when I have time to get into the tall grass. Instinct -- and now Allegra -- has led me to believe that if I plan to tell my girls of their origins at all, it had better be when they are young. Very young. That way, as they grow it will simply be part of their normal. Egg donation will no doubt be a topic we return to many times over the years as my daughters grow and understand more, but it will never be a shock or a betrayal.

Lately, Madelyn has been putting little stuffed animals under her shirt and telling me, "I have a baby in my tummy!" so I think the time is right for this conversation. Tomorrow, I'm going to order some children's books, and maybe by next week I'll be reading them to her.

But I am nervous. In dread, actually. So I am deeply grateful to have "met" this a dazzling young woman, who embodies all that my girls can become. And who has, for tonight at least, laid my fears to rest.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Who is the real mother of a donor egg baby?

Today I happened across a blog post that led me to a January 7, 2010 news story from the Jerusalem Post. It reports that many of Israel's rabbis now believe a child of donor egg is Jewish only if the egg came from a Jewish egg donor. This is a reversal of their earlier opinion that a child is Jewish if born to a Jewish mother, regardless of whether she used a Jewish egg donor.

I am not Jewish, and do not pretend to understand the importance of establishing Jewish heritage for a child of egg donation. If that's you, I refer you to Melissa Ford's excellent analysis at her blog.

What struck me about this rabbinical opinion is its implication that the egg donor is considered to be the real mother of a child born of donor egg IVF.

A mother or would-be mother of a donor egg child spends a lot of time thinking about the nature and experience of motherhood. Given that she shares no genes with the baby, will she feel like the baby's real mother?

This is not the emotionally self-indulgent question it appears to be at first glance. It would be a grave sin against any child to become its mother, without the ability to bond emotionally with the baby. This was my greatest fear before becoming a donor egg mother: That I would not feel like my baby's real mother, and would not be able to love my baby as I should.

In Mothers and Children, writer Susan E. Chase discusses how reproductive science has divided the concept of motherhood. No longer must it be embodied in one woman. Today, a child can have a genetic mother (the egg donor), a gestational mother (who carries the child), and a social mother (who raises the child).

Who then, is the child's real mother?

With regard to establishing Jewish heritage, rabbis say it's the Jewish egg donor. Some adoptees, who have a a deep need to find their birth parents, might agree with this even when when they love their adoptive parents dearly. And literature abounds with stories based on the King Arthur fantasy, that the parents we know are not our true parents. In these stories, real parents are those of blood and bone.

I do not deny the role that our egg donor has, and will always have, in my daughters' lives. She is their genetic mother. I do not flinch from the word mother when I think of her, with such gratitude for the gift she gave. If my girls want to know her when they are grown, I will support that choice.

But I am my daughters' real mother. Not because I am their gestational and social mother, but because I love them, deep in my blood and bone. And because I will care for them to the best of my ability, for the rest of my life. It is that simple.

So with thanks to Margery Williams for the paraphrase, let's listen to the Skin Horse and the Velveteen Rabbit.

"What is real?" asked the Rabbit one day.

"Real isn't how you were made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, really loves you, then you become real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse. "When you are real, you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once?" the Rabbit asked.

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are real, most of you has been loved off, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Considering egg donation? Keep it on the down low

Recently I had a blog comment from a lady who is just starting her journey with egg donation, and her post got me thinking back to that time. I realize it's strange for a woman who blogs on the public Web about egg donation, to tell others to keep quiet about it. But bear with me, and I'll explain why.

Using donor eggs is rarely -- never? -- a woman's first choice for how to have a family. Most of us come to egg donation after a long battle with infertility. We run a grueling course of monthly disappointment, failed cycles, and sometimes the heartbreak of miscarriage. And what do women tend to do about our problems, our struggles, our tragedies?

We talk about it. We talk about it a lot.

When I first learned at age 38 that I had diminished ovarian reserve, with a Clomid Challenge FSH of 40 (you all know what that means, right?), my doctor cut straight to the chase. He told us the odds were long on having a child with my eggs. He advised us to switch to a practice that could offer IVF with donor eggs. And he warned that if I pursued pregnancy with my eggs, I would have a high risk of miscarriage.

I was devastated. This diagnosis was truly like a death in the family. It was the death of the children I would never have, and I grieved my loss. Loudly, and to anyone who would listen.

All my friends and family knew what the doctor said and how I felt about it. Anytime my girlfriends and I got together, I talked about my infertility and asked what they all thought about egg donation. Business lunch, football party, it didn't matter -- I talked about my issues. And when I felt I needed even more self-expression, I started this blog. Talking, writing, and a lot of tears: That was how I worked through the grief of never being a genetic mother. Some people hold their pain close. I let mine run wild. For me, it was a coping mechanism. It was how I got through.

To the everlasting credit of my friends, they put up with me. (My husband and family get no credit, as they are contractually obligated to endure.) Two of my dearest friends even offered to be donors.

Fast forward to today. I have two beautiful little girls born of anonymous egg donation. Everybody in my family and group of friends treats my girls the same as all the other kids getting underfoot on holidays. But...they know. In the back of my mind, I can't forget that all of them know my girls' origins.

For me, it doesn't matter any longer what people think of my choice. My girls are perfect in my eyes. If I could wave a wand and make them my genetic children, they wouldn't be themselves. And the world without Madelyn and Lilly, exactly as they are? Not to be thought of.

The problem is, I am not sure how my girls will feel about their donor egg origins. We plan to tell them about egg donation, and it's very possible they would want that part of their history to be private to our family. But it's too late for that. I took that choice from them with all my blathering.

Also, you may decide while pregnant or after your baby is born, that you would rather not tell your child about his or her egg donation origins.

I have had a purely unscientific poll running on this blog for about three years (look at the top right part of your browser.) Of the 273 people who have voted on the question "Will You Tell Your Child About DE?", a full 25% have answered no. If you've told all and sundry that you are doing a DE cycle, you won't be able to change your mind later and keep the choice private. Not without telling some whoppers.

So my advice to you, if you are just considering donor egg: Play your cards close to the vest. Don't talk about it to everyone you know. Or if you do, speak only in general terms. There are ways to get the help and counsel you need without sacrificing your children's privacy:

1. Find a good support forum like Looking to Be a Mom Thru DE, and cut loose there. Take care to maintain anonymity when creating your online persona.
2. See if there's a counselor at your infertility clinic who would talk with you for an hour.
3. Make your partner be your confidant.

I'm not saying you shouldn't tell anyone about pursuing egg donation. Each person's needs and relationships are different, and there are plenty of future donor egg moms whose donor is a friend or family member.

Just keep in mind that once you've told, you can never "un-tell." If it makes sense for you, save that choice for your children.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Left over embryos: What to do?

We have a basket in our kitchen. It's a pretty big basket. And it's usually overflowing, because it's where we throw unopened mail, receipts, magazines, preschool artwork, papers that come home from school in the kids' backpacks, even the odd library book (found it!).

We pay almost all our bills online, but there are a few that end up in the basket. So unless I've got time to empty the whole thing -- and believe me, blue moons come around more often than that -- I have to root through the pile a once a month looking for accounts that need to be paid the prehistoric way (with a check and a stamp).

One of those comes quarterly, from our infertility clinic. A fee for storage of our frozen embryos.

Before Lilly was born, I paid the fee four times a year without a thought. We were worried about trying again after Madelyn's spina bifida, but somewhere inside me, I knew I'd be doing a frozen embryo transfer cycle. At that time we had eight embryos remaining. Before the cycle that gave us Lilly, I remember considering, briefly, the idea of thawing all of them and transferring the two or three that looked best.

Why would I do that? Embryos are precious, requiring many thousands of dollars to create, and freighted with all our hopes and dreams of parenthood. The more logical course -- and the one we ended up following -- was to thaw four, transfer two or three, and leave four in reserve in case I did not become pregnant. But I did, and now we have our precious Lilly.

And we still have four embryos.

Lilly is a thriving one-year-old, and the embryo storage bill has appeared in the basket once again. It's time to make the decision I wanted to weasel out of by thawing all eight and letting the embryologist choose. Rather coldly, doctors call this "embryo disposition."

In a perfect world -- in which I win the lottery, quit my job, mother my girls full-time, and travel the globe in search of money-is-no-object treatments for Madelyn -- I would not have to face this choice. Or rather, its terms would be different. The decision would become the same as before Lilly: The recurrence risk for neural tube defect is 1-2 in 100 births, versus 1 in 2,000 for the general population. If we chose to roll the dice again, I could take enough folic acid to choke a cow, do another frozen cycle, and let the pee sticks fall where they may.

But in the world I have to live in, we cannot afford another child, especially if that child might have spina bifida. We are still in debt for our donor cycle, and our family's medical expenses are steep. I have no option but to work, yet if I had a third baby we couldn't afford the daycare that allows my income. And even if we could somehow solve that problem, if we had another spina bifida baby, the financial consequences would be crippling.

Some women who don't want to discard embryos would just take the chance of cycling, assuming it's unlikely they'd get pregnant anyway. After all, the success rate for frozen cycles is less than 50 percent. But if there's one thing I'm good at, in my whole sorry reproductive history, it's implanting embryos. (I have done five cycles and became pregnant four times.)

So for all these reasons, I cannot risk another cycle. Even though a deep and irrational part of me desperately wants to. And in complete honesty, I do not know where that urge comes from. It is just a mother's normal sadness when she realizes that she'll never have another baby? Or is it the embryos themselves that trouble me?

I'm not the only one facing this problem, according to a Mother Jones article titled Souls on Ice: America's Embryo Glut and the Wasted Promise of Stem Cell Research. As the article describes, people like me just keep writing the check, year after year, because we cannot decide what to do with embryos we have chosen not to transfer.

I know what you're thinking. You're wondering why I didn't consider the moral and emotional dilemma of excess embryos before I did the cycle that created them. And possibly you're wondering whether I did think about it, and just brushed it aside amid my overwhelming desire for a child.

What I can share is this: It's different now that I have Madelyn and Lilly, born of the embryos we made. Back when we were cycling, embryos were science--and the more we could make, the better our chances of becoming parents together. Now, my embryos are potential siblings to my daughters. No matter a woman's opinions on abortion, reproductive rights, and all the rest, she will think differently about embryos after she becomes a mother through IVF.

Incredibly, as reported at Science Daily and confirmed in a Los Angeles Times article on embryo legislation, some states are considering the idea of making abandoned embryos "wards of the state." Many people, it seems, consider embryos to be unborn children.

It follows that to those who hold that belief, discarding embryos is equivalent to abortion. This idea horrifies me. I have always opposed abortion, the more so since doctors offered me the chance to terminate Madelyn at 19 weeks (after seeing eyelashes on the ultrasound!).

People can and will argue "when does life begin?" until the fabled cows come home, and I won't bite on that one. But I do not believe that allowing a few-celled embryo to stop dividing is the same as detaching a growing fetus from a womb, given the fact that the fetus from very early days has a nervous system to feel the experience.

Is that just an easy answer for my situation, something they call "moral relativism?" Is it ethically indefensible? Maybe. But it's what I've arrived at after more than one sleepless night. I still wish things were different, and we could give those four embryos the chance I gave to Madelyn's and Lilly's embryos. But we can't.

So what are the options for couples with left over embryos? Miracles Waiting has a nice summary:

1. Leave frozen indefinitely
2. Thaw and discard
3. Transfer in a way that cannot produce pregnancy
4. Donate for scientific research
5. Seek embryo adoption

My husband is not comfortable with embryo adoption. And I feel it is disrespectful to thaw and discard our embryos, or donate them for research.

So we have chosen the third option, commonly called "compassionate transfer," in which the embryos are thawed and placed in my body at a time and using a method that cannot produce pregnancy.

It's a strange choice when you think about it. What does it matter whether the embryos stop growing in a dish in the laboratory, or inside my body?

My obstetrician, who is also a friend, put this in context for me: "More often than women will ever know, fertilized eggs 'roll on through' and do not implant. It's the way nature works." In fact, that's exactly what happened to the embryos that we transferred with Madelyn's and Lilly's embryos, that did not grow into children. By choosing compassionate transfer, I'll be putting our remaining embryos back where they would have been if naturally conceived, but not implanted.

And the mother in me, as I think about the children who are not but might have been, simply wants to hold them for that brief time. And say goodbye.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Lillian Hope

Hello, friends! If anyone still has me on their RSS feed. After so long away I return to my blog to post about Madelyn's little sister Lilly, who was born January 9, 2008.

Lilly is as beautiful as the day is long, with round blue eyes and such a ready smile, unless I take her to the portrait studio, of course. This week she learned how to yell really loud, and to blow raspberries with her oatmeal.

She is Madelyn's full sister, born of the love of her parents and a frozen embryo transfer -- and she doesn't have spina bifida. We agonized over whether to try for Lilly, but in the end we decided that having another child was worth the risk, and we were blessed. (Not to mention, flat-out lucky, though the odds were in our favor.) We won't tempt fate again, but I'm peaceful with it. I feel our family is complete. Lilly sleeps through the night now, and Maddy's doing just great -- she hasn't had surgery in over a year, and she walks and dances and has all sorts of opinions about how her world should be. Just ask her.

Even though we all know that siblings don't always look alike, I was somehow expecting Lilly to be Little Maddy II, but it just ain't so. Maddy has gorgeous chocolate brown eyes and doe-brown hair, while Lilly has deep blue ones and looks to be sporting strawberry blonde when she gets more than fuzz. I look at the two of them and I'm just in awe. I never knew I could love so much.

More soon -- I've got a plan or two for this blog, something better than letting it lie fallow. After all, it celebrates the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me: Maddy and Lilly.