By Diana Thomas
Founder & CEO, The World Egg Bank
The World Egg Bank consents all of our donors for open identity because of my own experience over 20 years of child rearing.
Donors are very proud of what they’ve done, and wish to be helpful to either the parent or child if they are needed in the future. I believe that parents via egg donation may or may not tell their children for any number of personal reasons, but I believe that if you have an open identity donor, the choice will remain yours for a long time to come. It’s very empowering to know that you don’t have to decide at the time of egg donation, because the choice remains yours in the future. You will never have that choice if you select an anonymous donor.
After 15 years of IVF, when I was told I’d need to find an egg donor if I wanted any chance to conceive, I found myself feeling a sense of relief. There was really hope looking down this path and letting go of all the poor outcomes with my own eggs. I also thought of passing on genes that were better than my own, and I felt some freedom knowing I just had to step in for some minor uterine prep and an embryo transfer.
This new found hopefulness allowed me to think ‘beyond birth’ to my child. As we all know, many of us have this odd notion that if we are too optimistic while in treatment, we fear we ‘jinx’ourselves and lessen our chances of getting pregnant. I also think that we are afraid to feel hopeful, because the disappointment only feels that much bigger if we don’t. But that is another story.
When I used my own eggs, I spent so much time and
energy thinking of ‘getting pregnant’ that I didn’t truly think about what my child would want or need in his/her future. People who chastise us about ‘not thinking about the child’ really don’t understand that we find it hard to do; not because we are selfish, but because it hurts to think about ‘a child’ when you fear you may not have one.
Please don’t feel chastised here. I want to tell you my story and you can take from it what you wish. I knew that I couldn’t mislead my kids. I know this about myself and I would have felt dishonest, which is not part of my nature. I also knew that kids are smart, and they pick up on nuances that we don’t even know we are projecting.So if I examined my own personality, I knew that I’d need to tell them, it was just a matter of when and how.
I had no reason to ‘not tell’ my children that I could logically verbalize. I briefly felt some fear that they may not think of me as their mother, but my instincts said that wouldn’t happen. Would I have thought my own mother was ‘not really my mother’ if she’d told me about some cool science stuff that included someone’s genes? No. In fact, after decades, I have not had a single couple come to me and say they regretted using donor eggs, nor has a child born from egg donation contacted me requesting a meeting with the egg donor that helped their parents.
Donors know they lose nearly a thousand eggs a month, but through egg donation, some 20 of these ill fated eggs are ‘rescued’. After they complete their screening tests, they know more than most 20 something year olds that they ‘have good eggs.’ They just want their own child someday, not the one you raised. I learned this over the years from my own egg donors.
My family was supportive, my friends knew, and I wanted to be open with their pediatrician if issues around their health arose in the future. I decided to make the donation part of their ‘birth story.’ I told them they were very special and it took 3 wonderful people to make them instead of 2. They didn’t understand it until they were about 8 years old. By then, it was a kind of “oh now I get it” reaction rather than a surprise.
Being open with my children has worked out for me in ways I could not have imagined. My oldest son began getting headaches around age 8. While in the pediatrician’s office, the doctor asked me if I had a history of headaches. I quickly and openly answered in front of my son: “yes, but my son was conceived with donor eggs and although her medical history did not show headaches, I’ll call and double check with her.” If I’d said, “can we go outside to talk?” my son would have hounded me about what I told the doctor for hours.
My kids started preparing personal “ethnic history” charts in about 6th grade. They came to me and said, “Mom, since you are mostly Irish, that means I am too, right?” This triggered a more sophisticated approach to explaining egg donation and the role of genes and ethnicity. I said, “No, you are mostly Hungarian and Swedish, and this is why….” The discussion also opened the door to an exploration of ‘who we are’ as individuals and why personality characteristics and behaviors are truly how we define ourselves and others define us. I love these discussions with my sons. I had asked the egg donors, some years after my kids were born, if they could prepare an ethnic family tree for the boys. It was great to have access to them as this sort of issue came up in later years.
In the meantime, my egg donors met my children, and about every 5 – 10 years our paths cross and if the boys are around, they say Hi. The donors are like distant relatives to my children. The donors see the children as mine, and as the individuals they are. The donors are also extremely happy when they see the kids, knowing that they helped give life to a soul.
My children could not imagine anyone being their mother but me. I think I have been able to create conversation with them that helps them better understand how to negotiate life, in large part because I used egg donation as an opportunity to delve into topics most adolescence would avoid, and, because I had access to my egg donors. My biggest ‘take away’ from watching my kids grow and going through varying levels of understanding about genes, who they are, and what makes a family, is that they are proud that they are unique, and they know how very much I wanted and love them.
My oldest son, who is 20 years old, recently told me he is writing an article on his own experience as one of the first 100 babies born with donor eggs in the U.S. I can’t wait to read it!