As a little girl, I loved playing with dolls. In fact, I kept several of my childhood dolls dreaming I would have a little girl to play with them someday. I kept music boxes I listened to while I fell asleep as a child in hopes that my child would fall asleep to them someday.
As I grew up, I held onto that dream. I held onto that dream as I passed through my 20s still single and focusing on my career. I held onto that dream into my early 30s, when I met the man who would eventually become my husband.
Our bright-eyed newlywed bliss was soon shadowed by something we never imagined, the harsh reality of an infertility diagnosis. After months of trying to conceive, my OBGYN finally gave in to my requests for fertility testing. I remember sitting in my doctor’s office, papers piled on his desk, the photo of his wife and children in the corner, and sunlight beaming through the windows.
He told me I had DOR (Diminished Ovarian Reserve), meaning that my remaining egg supply was low; in fact, it was much lower than it should have been at the age of 35. I learned my AMH (Anti Mullerian Hormone) blood level was undetectable, which is the level thought to also reflect a woman’s ovarian reserve. In addition, my Antral Follicle Count was also very low—less than 5.
We made an appointment with a Reproductive Endocrinologist and completed two back to back egg retrievals, as time was of the essence with my diagnosis. We retrieved only one egg each time but fortunately got two embryos.
Our first embryo transfer was unsuccessful and the second resulted in a miscarriage. My husband and I found ourselves right back where we started, with no embryos. Though, we weren’t back where we started emotionally, physically, mentally or financially. By this time, our souls were crushed and our hearts were broken. We feared our dream may never come true.
We weren’t sure if we would ever be able to have a child with my eggs. We still very much dreamed of becoming parents, and the possibility of me being able to carry the pregnancy of a baby with a genetic link to my husband was important to us. We told our RE we wanted to move forward with an egg donor. This wasn’t something he mentioned to us first; we brought it up with him and told him it was what we wanted to do.
Our hope was renewed with a path to parenthood via egg donation. Through egg donation, a beautiful embryo was transferred who is now our world.
I am not a therapist or physician, but as a mama through egg donation, I share with you my biggest takeaways in hopes that it helps others on their Donor Egg IVF journey:
You are not alone.
Anyone going through infertility knows how utterly heartbreaking and isolating it can feel. My husband and I protected ourselves from an outside world that became extremely triggering. I found it very difficult to be around children. It was painful to see photos of other people’s children, and it was unbearable to receive news of pregnancy announcements. This type of pain is so deep that many couples going through infertility often avoid certain social situations as a way of coping.
As much as we felt alone, I was fortunate enough to find a local fertility support group in my area. I met fellow infertility warriors and learned there was a sisterhood of women who got it; they understood. I also met women who were using egg donation, sperm donation, and embryo donation as paths to parenthood. The ability at that time to connect with other women who were using gamete donation as a path to parenthood was invaluable. I’m so grateful for those women for letting me know that I was not alone.
Seek out your tribe, find others who are going through a similar journey if you can.
Egg donation is not plan B.
There are several reasons a woman may need donor eggs to become a mother. These reasons may include an infertility diagnosis which results in unsuccessful IVF attempts with one’s own eggs, a prior cancer history, age, same-sex couples, and carriers of a genetic condition.
Some people have the misconception that gamete donation and adoption are plan B on a path to parenthood, and that is simply untrue. All paths to parenthood are true gifts that should be cherished equally.
Acknowledging fear is healthy.
For some couples, deciding to pursue egg donation is a decision that comes relatively quickly, while for others it may take months or even years to arrive at the decision. When thinking through if egg donation is right for you and your partner, there are many considerations to make. It’s important that both partners be completely open and honest with each other. In the space of open and honest communication, it’s necessary to acknowledge and prioritize what is and what is not important to you. This openness should also include your deepest worries and fears—it’s then you’ll be in a place of complete transparency and can make the decision together that’s right for both you.
I also highly suggest seeing a professional mental health therapist specializing in infertility when making this choice. A reproductive therapist is tremendously helpful in processing through the infertility diagnosis and journey, as well as pursuing a path to third party reproduction.
It’s okay to grieve the loss of genetics.
Many of us grew up with a vision in our minds of what we thought our child(ren) would look like and certain features they might inherit from us. We can’t help but picture our children as being the perfect mix of our physical traits and our partner’s physical traits.
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Egg donation removes our genetics from this equation, and it’s not easy to reconcile with that loss. There is no playbook on how to process the realization that you will never visually see yourself or your family in your child. Unless someone has been through it themselves, they can’t truly understand. The loss is profound and must be grieved. The grieving process is like the loss of a loved one, but it’s a loved one you have never met.
Take the time and feel the pain, stay in it for as long as you need to. It will be uncomfortable, but you need to work your way through it. Know that these feelings may continue to pop up in the future, even once you’re holding that precious baby in your arms and as your child grows up.
It’s okay, and you’re still not alone. Healing takes time. Recognizing the sadness in the loss of your own genetics doesn’t mean you aren’t immensely happy and grateful when you do become a parent. It may be helpful to talk with your partner when these feelings arise. By talking with someone, or engaging in other efforts that help you personally (journaling, speaking with a therapist, etc.) you can process the feelings in real-time and move forward freely without bottling your emotions up.
Yes, the child will most definitely feel like your own.
One of the most common questions women have when contemplating egg donation is wondering if the child will feel like their own. The answer to this question from myself and every mother through egg donation I’ve connected with is a resounding, shouting from the rooftop YES. Unequivocally, yes.
You are the mama up in the middle of the night with the newborn, you are the mama changing all of the diapers, you are the mama making all of the holiday memories, you are the mama wiping the runny nose when your little one is sick, you are the mama reading the bedtime stories, you are the mama your child is calling for and clinging to, you are the mama cheering your child on at games, you are the mama helping with homework. You ARE the mama. This child WILL be yours and you will feel love more all-encompassing than you ever could have imagined.
It’s important to decide how you will share your family building story.
It’s important to ensure that you and your partner are in complete agreement on what you plan to share with your donor-conceived child in relation to the family building story. This is something my husband and I both agreed on from the beginning and also talked through with our reproductive therapist. I agree with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine that disclosure to donor-conceived individuals is strongly encouraged (article: informing offspring of their conception by gamete or embryo donation). In my opinion, it’s non-negotiable, but everyone is different..
To help share the family building story, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of writing a book. I wrote Happy Together, a collection of various heartwarming books to help introduce young children to the family building concepts of egg donation, sperm donation, and IVF. It is my hope that Happy Together will provide a heartwarming story for parents to read with their child sharing just how much they were wished for and loved!
Julie Marie is an infertility warrior, advocate, volunteer, and mama through the gift of egg donation. After going through her own infertility journey and becoming a mother through the gift of donor assisted reproduction, she found various paths to parenthood were underrepresented in children's literature. She wrote Happy Together to help parents share the special family building story with their child. You can follow Julie Marie on Instagram here.