I am no stranger to fertility clinics, and until this month, for me, every visit had been filled with positivity and joy because as an egg donor I was giving couples a chance to have a baby.
Now, a decade later, I feel a deeply painful sense of irony that I might need to make the reverse journey with my husband, because I have had two miscarriages and we are struggling to build our own family.
In my twenties, I had donated my eggs six times, and because one cycle was shared by two couples, I may have helped seven families. Not only did I love the idea that I could help people in need, but being an egg donor completely changed my life. It allowed me the financial independence few 20-some year-olds can achieve in only a few years. I was able to graduate from college debt free, buy a new car, and put a substantial down payment on a house.
Because my donations were all done anonymously, I have no way of knowing if the intended parents were able to conceive or not. I usually only think of the hypothetical donor babies on Mother’s Day, and feel hopeful that somewhere a stranger is having a better day because of something I did several years ago.
Sometimes I think of the emotional and psychological pain endured by the couples who received my eggs. The journey that led them to ask a stranger for help with something that might seem biologically natural must have been incredibly challenging. I think of this more now because of the possibility that we might need help to start a family.
Some of the happiest days of my life include the day I got married to my husband, Greg, the day we got our labradoodle Winnie, the day we bought our “forever” home, and the days we were pregnant (twice).
All of my darkest days involve the loss of our babies. My first miscarriage happened at seven weeks, and was due to trisomy 16. Our second loss was due to a blighted ovum.
I have always been open and honest about my fertility journey. I blogged throughout my experience as an egg donor, and shared news of both of my pregnancies with close friends and family at six weeks. I have never quite understood why women are encouraged to wait to reveal their pregnancies until 12 weeks.
There’s so much excitement to share with the possibility of an anticipated child being born. On the flip side, why would anyone want to potentially suffer secretly the pain caused by the loss of a child?
During my first loss, I felt so supported and loved by friends and family, and my D&C was relatively uneventful. I was devastated, of course, but I quickly felt so hopeful to try again with an immense feeling of positivity.
However, our second loss was completely different. Our loss happened the day before Thanksgiving and was incredibly painful both emotionally and physically. An hour before my D&C, I started bleeding heavily, and had some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I felt as though my soul was being drained from me, and as I drove home with my husband, I just felt empty.
For two weeks after that experience, I felt alone. It seemed as if everyone forgot what we had been through. I think that sometimes when people don’t know what to say, or how to help, they do and say nothing. This left me feeling really isolated.
I didn’t know how I would be able to function and put on a happy face in front of everyone. The ‘Baby Shaeffer’ stocking we had made for our pregnancy reveal no longer hung on the mantle.
Meanwhile, Christmas rolled around. Months before, my husband and I had offered to host our families for the holiday dinner in our new home. I didn’t know how I would be able to function and put on a happy face in front of everyone. The “Baby Shaeffer” stocking we had made for our pregnancy reveal no longer hung on the mantle. Seeing our niece and nephews run through the house, everyone holding our cousin’s beautiful two-month-old, hearing my sister-in-law announce her pregnancy…it was really tough. Though having my loving family there did help me feel less alone, there were a few times I had to just walk away from everyone and sob.
My husband and those closest to us continually reassured me that we will become parents one day, too. What a test of patience.
Through trying times, I always think that there must be a reason why. If I can identify one positive thing about this situation, it is that it has brought Greg and me closer. Neither of us have ever had to experience loss quite like this before, and it has shown me that we each grieve in completely different ways.
I knew that Greg was hurting throughout our losses, but when I compared the visibility of our grief I felt as though I was suffering alone. I was completely shattered— outwardly cycling through feelings of depression, anger, and numbness. Greg would come home from work to a disheveled home, and an even more disheveled wife, and simply clean up the mess as if nothing was the matter.
I was wrong to think that Greg was just moving on and minimizing our loss. He was simply doing what he had vowed to do… to be strong when I struggled. This experience has made me realize that communication is so important through times of pain and grief. I had initially misinterpreted my husband’s love and kindness for indifference. By spending more time talking with him I realized that he was just as sad as I was.
Now that I am beginning to heal emotionally, I am able to take the next step and try yet again. I had a panel of blood tests completed in hopes of answering the question everyone suffering from pregnancy loss and infertility asks: Why is this happening to me and what can I do to fix it?
In desperation, I reached out to the clinics where I had donated in hopes that they had one of my eggs tucked away in a freezer for me to use, but unfortunately that is not the case.
In desperation, I reached out to the clinics where I had donated in hopes that they had one of my eggs tucked away in a freezer for me to use, but unfortunately that is not the case. In hindsight, I wish that I had been given the opportunity to keep a few of my eggs for myself— rainy day eggs, if you will. How amazing would that have been to have stellar eggs from my much younger self sitting idly, just waiting to be thawed?
Of course, more women these days are freezing their eggs for just such a need, but it never occurred to me in my twenties that I wouldn’t be able to conceive on my own as I was clearly able to produce many viable eggs.
I can’t help but wonder if my egg donations in combination with my current age (33) are linked to our babies’ chromosomal abnormalities and subsequent pregnancy losses. Maybe we have just had some really bad luck. My husband and I have decided that the best course of action for us is to do some “recurrent miscarriage testing” (karyotypes for both of us, AMH, antiphospholipid syndrome antibodies) while trying one more time naturally. If that doesn’t work, then we may pursue IVF with PGD (genetic testing).
So far all of my test results have come back normal, so I may just have to accept that we’ve been dealt a few bad hands. If we continue to have losses due to chromosomal abnormalities, I may have to use donor eggs myself, relying on the kindness of a stranger. The irony of the thought is almost too traumatic to consider, but if it meant I would be able to experience pregnancy, I would do it undoubtedly.
The journey to have a family is already longer than I had expected it to be, and having to use donor eggs or IVF would be taxing… both emotionally and financially. Throughout this process, though, I keep reminding myself that one day, no matter the route we have to take, one day Greg and I will be parents.
Michelle Shaeffer was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a licensed occupational therapy assistant, and currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in nursing. She is passionate about sharing her experiences as an egg donor and with pregnancy loss. She and her husband, Greg, are hopeful that one day their labradoodle, Winnie, will become a big sister.
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