The Decision To Use Donor Eggs: Differences Between Men and Women
By Dr. Andrea Braverman
Each partner must examine his or her feelings about the role of genetics in parenting as well as how they choose to form their family. Among those who choose parenting, many will choose to adopt at this stage, whereas others will choose donor oocytes (eggs and/or sperm).
Separately and together, a couple must mourn the loss of the woman’s genetic contribution. This mourning process may take the form of an immediate grief reaction, anger about the limitations of medical treatment, or a prolonged sadness. A wide variety of reactions have been observed, just like those observed in people adjusting to death or illness.
Women may feel ambivalent about using donor eggs. On one hand, the woman may feel excited to have an opportunity to become a mother and to experience pregnancy and birth. On the other hand, she may feel sad about the lack of a genetic tie. Some women remark that they feel the loss of not being able to look for her own or her parent’s physical characteristics in the child.
“My husband has it all,” remarked one egg recipient. She went on to explain that she felt that her husband had to give up nothing since the child would still be genetically his. These types of feelings often exist side-by-side with feelings of happiness that the child will be related genetically to one parent. Most men do not feel that they “have it all.” Men experience the loss of the dream child that they planned with their partners. Both men and women need to explore that mutual loss.
Conflicting feelings are not to be avoided. They need to be recognized as part of the fabric of making difficult decisions. The decision to use donor egg is not a first choice, and very few individuals ever think that they will need it. Working through the conflicted feelings is part of the reconciliation process everyone goes through when life presents a blow. The loss of one’s fertility is a blow, however, it is not something from which one cannot recover. To borrow a line from adoption circles, “Egg donation may not be a first choice, but it doesn’t make it second best.”
The process of women examining their feelings about parenting and genetic ties is further complicated by the impact of receiving the powerful diagnosis of infertility. Whatever the basic diagnosis is for the woman, complicated feelings about her self-esteem, body image, or femininity often arise. The woman may find herself re-examining a career choice of the family dynamics of her childhood when deciding to use donor eggs or to disclose their use to the child. Her partner may go through a similar process as well.
The choice to use donor eggs (whether known or anonymous) also highlights the couple’s decision about whether or not to tell the child about his or her donor origins. This important question must be considered at the same time the couple is dealing with recognizing the loss of the biological child they planned to have together.
The Isolation Factor
Choosing egg donation can launch a radical departure from one’s usual emotional coping style. Individuals experiencing infertility who had previously been open about their situation may choose to keep this decision private, based on a desire to protect the child’s privacy, a wish to maximize the option of whether to disclose to the child or not, and/or concern about negative family or community reaction.
Another isolating factor is that most individuals don’t have a peer group for support that is made up of people who have used egg donation. Unlike general infertility, where others may have had some personal experience or awareness of it, egg donation is much rarer.
Choosing to build a family by using egg donation needs careful consideration as well as time to explore the many issues and feelings involved in this decision. Egg donation can be a wonderful option for many families. Counseling from both medical and mental health professionals can be a very helpful part of the decision making process. In addition, being a wise consumer and investigating egg donation programs thoroughly are critical.
Andrea Braverman, PhD, is Director of Psychological Services at Pennsylvania Reproductive Associates in Philadelphia