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."


Laura said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. I love how you put it, and the quote from the Velveteen Rabbit is perfect. I am going through our donor IVF cycle right now, and I'm so excited. I share the same concerns as you had, but I also have a peace that I will love these children with all my heart. I already feel a bit of a bond with the donor, which is totally unexpected. I pray for her every day, and I am so thankful for her gift. Thank you again, and I'm so glad to see you posting again - I love, love, LOVE your blog!
Best wishes,

sarah said...

This is such a wonderful post on so many levels. Oddly enough, I was thinking,as a non jew, married to a jew, planning to raise our children Jewish, that if our current favoirte for donor didn't work out, maybe we'd go for a jewish donor (stick Hitler in the eye etc)...
I'm going to copy that part from the velveteen rabbit and reread it a million times.

areyoukiddingme said...

That is a beautiful analysis.

annacyclopedia said...

This is so beautiful and brings a tear to my eye as I sit here cuddling my son, who was conceived through DI. I'd read those lines from The Velveteen Rabbit many times before, but they seem to resonate even more deeply in this context. Thank you for writing this - I will send the link along to my husband, who is most certainly our boy's real father.

Dora said...

Love this. I had my Jewish mother read this. While I know she loves my donor embie daughter, I think this post helps her understand my feelings about my child and how she came to be.

Maredsous said...

I just wandered onto your blog. I am currently preparing for DE FET. Thanks for the post and all of the great information on your site.

Beth Gray said...

Good luck on your DE FET, Maredsous! I so hope you are PG soon.

Anonymous said...

I'm so relieved to find another DE recipient who isn't troubled by the term "genetic mother." The way I look at it, this is simply a matter of biological fact.

As for the Jewish thing, I'm not sure what to make of it, either. I'm somewhat surprised, but not being Jewish myself, I don't have any vested interest in it.

I guess I'm not sure that the decision has any bearing on who the "real mother" is, though. My best guess (and it's only a guess, mind you, since I haven't fully been keeping up with the topic, nor am I any sort of expert on Jewish law) is that it's more about who is "really Jewish" or "naturally-born Jewish" than any commentary at all about parentage. I know that this is a topic that people feel very strongly about.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful story. It made me cry! Or maybe that's the hormones from my Lucrin injections. ;-)

We fly to South Africa for our egg donation cycle in just over 2 weeks. So glad I've found your blog. Thank you.

Ann said...

I received the news today that my eggs are not good enough "quality" to be fertilized. As my mind was still reeling, I found this post. We read this same quote from the Velveteen Rabbit during our wedding ceremony 4 years ago. So perhaps this is just the encouragement I needed. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The woman who nurtures the egg in her body, gives birth, and raises the child is the mother, period.

Jules said...

I love this post and your blog. the velveteen rabbit quote at the end made me cry.

I am the "other" mother to a little boy, his gestatinal mother is my partner. I chose the relationship and the family when I got involved with her in her first trimester. I've battled so many people's traditional concepts of mother but that quote just made me realize how REAL I am.

thank you.

Anonymous said...

I have a daughter by donor egg. Throughout all the various cycles of IVF, I found this particular decision to be astoundingly simple. We knew we wanted a 2d child. We'd already tried with fresh eggs and already researched adoption. It was the best option available. We grabbed it and never looked back. She's now 4.5 months. I think frequently about the donor with nothing but gratitude (though I couldn't say the same for the agency). I wish I knew her but she was anonymous. I love my daughter as much as I love my son who is genetically ours without a moment's hesitation. We are extremely lucky. After I had my son, I immediately had the urge to have another child. I now feel that our family is complete.

Anonymous said...

I fail to see how an egg donor is the mother. She usually wants nothing to do with the resulting child that is born.

The woman who gives birth is the mother. Its unfortunate that many anti-adoption freaks are saying that genetics is the only thing they makes a mother. Anti-adoption freaks are usually birth mothers who feel guilty years later about dumping their baby, and choose to badmouth those who do make the sacrifices to raise a child.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote, "I fail to see how an egg donor is the mother. She usually wants nothing to do with the resulting child that is born."

I donated eggs six years ago. I'm just waiting out the other twelve, hoping the kid(s) contact me. I checked the box on the form giving them the right to my contact information, but who knows if the agency will even be around then? Should I make a website or list myself someplace so I can be found, if they want to find me?

Egg donors are often cash-strapped young women who grow to regret their actions, to fully realize the significance of those actions as they later have their own children, or to simply grow up and understand the magnitude of things.

Gratitude towards egg donors is certainly nice, but it's more complicated than that. It didn't bother me at first that some child out there looked like me, but one day it occurred to me that that child maybe looked like my mom, or my brother, or any of a number of other relatives who also would have liked to have met him or her.

Sometimes I fantasize that some amazing stroke of fate (single parent goes missing in the Bermuda Triangle!) will cause the courts to look me up and drop the child on my doorstep.

wanluqman said...
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K2 said...

Thank you for blogging about this and sharing your thoughts.
I'm preparing to how to tell my 2mos children about DE and stumbled on your blog and

which posted:
"This means that a donor egg baby has 3 biological parents: a father, the egg donor, and the woman who carries the pregnancy.

The child who is born would have been a physically & no doubt emotionally different person if carried by his genetic mother.

This put my mind at ease a little (as I have been feeling as I am a fake momie til reading yours and the mentioned post) even though I'd need to read more on genes expression.

Look forward to reading more of your blogs.

My warm thoughts are with you and your family!

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting for those considering who is the "REAL" mother:

Freedom Pharmacy published this great booklet about egg donation -- here an excerpt:

“Perhaps the greatest myth surrounds pregnancy. Many believe the uterus is simply an incubator. Nothing could be further from the truth. The most important aspect of all pregnancies- including egg donation pregnancies- is that as the fetus grows, every cell in the developing body is built out of the pregnant mother’s body. Tissue from her uterine lining will contribute to the formation of the placenta, which will link her and her child. The fetus will use her body’s protein, then she will replace it. The fetus uses her sugars, calcium, nitrates, and fluids, and she will replace them. So, if you think of your dream child as your dream house, the genes provide merely a basic blueprint, the biological mother takes care of all the materials and construction, from the foundation right on up to the light fixtures. So, although her husband’s aunt Sara or the donor’s grandfather may have genetically programmed the shape of the new baby’s earlobe, the earlobe itself is the pregnant woman’s “flesh and blood.” That means the earlobe, along with the baby herself, grew from the recipient’s body. That is why she is the child’s biological mother. That is why this child is her biological child.”

"While not discounting that genetic tendencies may exist, supporters of the nurture theory believe they ultimately don't matter - that our behavioral aspects originate only from the environmental factors of our upbringing. Studies on infant and child temperament have revealed the most crucial evidence for nurture theories.

In a donor egg pregnancy, the pregnant woman’s womb is the environment.It is her genes, not the donor’s, that determine the expression of thedonor -egg baby’s genes.

Anonymous said...

The woman who gives birth is the real mother. An egg donor is not the mother. She chose to donate her eggs. The real mother chose to give birth to, and raise, the child.

I refuse to believe that egg donors are forced into donating eggs. Yes, most of them are young women, but they make this choice as adults. If anyone reading this is considering donating your eggs, please don't do so, unless you understand that choosing to donate does not entitle you to cry "victim" later on. If you have any hesitations about doing it, don't. If you have already donated and feel that the resulting children from your eggs are really "your" children, then perhaps you owe some back child support payments.

TABI said...

I love this post. Thank you. I was feeling weird and sad today and confused about my choices and this made me feel much better.

gayla said...

I ran onto your blog site by accident but find I must say something. My daughter felt that she was born to be a mother but had endometriosus and so had surgery to clean it out once again. The fear was that even if she could manage to get pregnant, she wouldnt be able to carry. She Kept trying and trying, got on a discussion board with other professional women around the world, each praying for the other. My neice offered to carry a child for her if she couldnt. My daughter is a kindergarden autistic teacher in central valley of California. Later they found out her huband was the problem as his sperm count was very very low. So they made babies in a petri dish and she got pregnant. Within 16 weeks she went into labor and then in and out of hospitol for weeks at a time through out the entire pregnancy. Almost lost them at 16 weeks then again at 17 wks and then again at 24 weeks. Still not viable, again at 28 weeks and total bed rest until delivery at 37 weeks. 2 beautiful baby girls, little small and coilicky but ok. She didnt want any other woman to go through what she did so she decided to 'pay it forward' and help someone as she had great eggs. My neice has carried babies for 2 different families she has 2 very healthy children of her own. I have 6 grandkids and deeply love each and every one of them. We have all deeply prayed about all of this asking what is the right way. The Word says to the two women fighting over a child whose it was. The leader said we will solve this, cut the child in half and give each mother half. One of the women said no, no, no dont harm the child, she can have her. now that was the real mother. We have talked about if something happened to the parents of the eggs, would you want to be cntacted, her immediate answer was that she would want to be the first source looked at immediately. Not to profit, that is sick but because, though she gave the gift of love and life to that family, she would always want to know he or she is safe and secure. Not to invade, not to take over your baby, but to be a safty for some tragic failure. You see, the first law for mankind is love your neighbor yourself. thoes children have her genetics, very good genetics, i might add but is nurtured by you, mommy. So dont be threatened, instead be blessed as now you are a mother. Use it to 'pay it forward' to someone else who has a desperate need. bless you and yours pr. gayla

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Anonymous said...

Hi there - my daughter is 10 and 1/2 now and I just told her about her genetic origins. I have been wanting to tell her for a long time, but I wanted to make sure she understood the reproductive system enough to make the new information clinical. I think she doesn't mind at all, and I don't think she sees it as a big deal at all. Time will tell. Her big sister has known since early on and has been good to keep the information to herself. But now I feel better that we as a family can discuss our genetic origins without a hush in the conversation.

Yang Brand said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi there,
I came across this blog while doing some research. I am considering donating my eggs to my mother and I was wondering what all your opinions are?
My mother is re married and no longer has working eggs (I'm not sure why) but her second husband has never had any children and I think that he would make a great father as he is great with my younger siblings. I would love to help them have a child together.
My mother likes the thought of having a child that is as genetically close to herself as possible, what are your thoughts? Would we all be better off if they used a strangers eggs?



Bee said...

Hi "Anonymous M,"

How kind that you are thinking about donating eggs to your mother. I think "known" donations are wonderful choice especially within a family, because it solves what I see is the biggest negative of anonymous donation: The fact that my children may not be able to meet their genetic mother if they have that need when they grow up.

I didn't have anyone in my immediate family in a position to donate to us. I did have a couple of dear friends each offer to donate to us and although I still get tears in my eyes when I remember their kindness, I ended up choosing an anonymous donor. The main reason was that my friends weren't that much younger than me, and I wanted the cycle to be as successful as possible since we could only afford it once. So I wanted a donor no older than 30.

But also, I didn't want there to be awkward feelings when we got together with those friends. I didn't want them to look at my child and think, "That's my kid!" or decide they wanted to be part of the parenting decisions, etc.

And that's what I think will be important for you to figure out before you proceed: When a baby is born to your mother from your eggs, will you be comfortable having a SIBLING role in that child's life, or will some part of you always consider that child "yours." I remember when I met with the counselor before we did our cycles, she talked to me for awhile and then she laughed and said, "You're going to be a great mother, but you'd be an awful egg donor--to you, your eggs are babies already!" And she was right.

Best of luck!


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Anonymous said...

The mother is always the egg donor. It is her genetic make up, you are the one loving and raising the child and your bond may become as strong as any other mother child relationship but you are not the mother. Are donors aware that there are children in the foster care system from IVF and donors. Not a pleasant thought.

NCVN said...

I haven't fully been keeping up with the topic, nor am I any sort of expert on Jewish law is that it's more about who is "really Jewish" or "naturally-born Jewish" than any commentary at all about parentage.

NCVN said...

That my eggs are not good enough "quality" to be fertilized. As my mind was still reeling, I found this post

NCVN said...

Its unfortunate that many anti-adoption freaks are saying that genetics is the only thing they makes a mother. Anti-adoption freaks are usually birth mothers who feel guilty years later about dumping their baby.

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. As the mother of a baby conceived via IVF, egg donation, I will cherish that quote from Velveteen Rabbit. I strongly disagree however, that an egg donor is a "mother" in any sense of the word. "Mother" is defined as (1) Noun: A woman in relation to a child to whom she has given birth or (2) verb: bring up a child with care and affection or (3) verb: to give birth to. I meet all of those definitions. The egg donor does not. I feel so humbled and grateful that our egg donor had the compassion to do what she did for us. At the same time, I see her donation on par with the act of living organ donation. She donated a cell which carries with it the blue print of our child's physical characteristics. Everything else including the tissue, cells and blood needed for gestation as well as birthing the child is all me. What is more, I am the one nurturing, rearing and unconditionally loving our child. To refer to the egg donor as "mother" misses the whole point of motherhood. A cell donor does not a mother make...

Anonymous said...

The anonymous post at 11:09 wishing the courts drops her kids on her doorstep. Those kids aren't yours, so get over it and move on. You sold the eggs that someone else decided to do something with. That's like throwing something away and then deciding you want it back after someone else fixes it and now it's beautiful again. I know this is a hard statement but just take joy in knowing that someone has a beautiful child they love and you just helped a little. Remember oocytes are not children, just cells. It took a loving relationship the recipient is in to make the child.

Anonymous said...

I loved this story. I am 32 weeks pregnant with triplets resulting from egg donation. I have been struggling with whether I will love my girls after they are born, as I don't feel a connection, yet. I'm not sure if this is because the eggs were donated, or because this is natural and will feel the connection after they are born. I have also been thinking that I will not feel like part of the family, because I will not be genetically related to the girls, whereas my husband will be. The things I have to remember, however, are that an egg is not an embryo, it is not a fetus, it is not even a human being. It is a cell. Women shed eggs every month. Does this mean they have a miscarriage every month? Certainly not. All she did was produce an egg. If the definition of a mother was to produce and egg, we would all be mothers from the time we started puberty. The difference now is rather than waiting for her body to shed the egg, she allows a dr to remove it safely and ensure it continues to be viable.

The other think I have to remind myself of is that those of us who have had miscarriages still carry the genes of our unborn children in our bodies (new research) and these genes stay with us for decades. Furthermore, these genes interact with future fetuses and get incorporated into the new fetus. This means that your genes do, indeed, make up part of the genetic makeup of your child, regardless of whether the egg was yours or donated.

Finally, the last thing I have to remind myself of is that epigenetics shows the strongest evidence that DNA alone is not what determines genetic expression in an organism - human or otherwise. The environment in which it is gestated determines which genes are expressed and what that expression will be. That is why it is so important that expectant mothers are conscious of what they eat, how they handle stressful situations, and whether they are consuming chemicals and toxins. All the decisions a mother makes about her physical, mental, emotional, and physiological state while she is pregnant are important for the expression of her future baby's health, but also for the determination of its gene expression. So, when her baby is born, she can confidently say that she was responsible for how she/he turned out.

Despite reminding myself of all these facts, I will continue to struggle with the fact that I did not produce the eggs that gave rise to them, at least until they are born; but there is no doubt that we will be a real family and that I will be the best mom that I can be for them as long as I live.

Khylen Dennis said...

I believe frequently concerning the donor along with nothing but appreciation (though We couldn't state the same for your agency). We wish We knew the girl but the girl was unknown. I love the daughter just as much as I love the son that is genetically our bait without a moment's hesitation. We have been extremely fortunate.

Mollie said...

Thank you for saying this.