As I write this, I am three weeks away from my due date with my second double-donor child.
“Double donor?” inquired my gestational diabetes doctor at last week’s appointment, obviously quite baffled.
“Yes, I had to use an egg donor because my eggs were too old at 36, and a sperm donor because I’m a single mom by choice… also, as a lesbian, partnered or not, I was always gonna have to use a sperm donor,” I laughed.
“Both kids, same donors?” she asked.
“Same sperm, different eggs because my son’s egg donor was retired by the time I was ready to try for child two.” (The American Society for Reproductive Medicine advises that egg donors not donate their eggs more than six times in their lifetime).
I could tell my doctor had never encountered someone who had conceived with a double donor, or, more likely, never encountered someone so open about it.
Flash back to five years ago, when, after seven failed IUI’s and four failed mini IVF’s (resulting in only one chemical pregnancy and one eight-week miscarriage), I found myself sitting in a Resolve support group at Manhattan’s Upper West Side’s YWCA. The focus for that meeting was egg donation and the featured speakers were two moms who had conceived using egg donation. In both cases, they talked about how private they continued to be about their child’s conception. One of the moms said even her sister didn’t know. Both admitted that they didn’t know when or how they would tell their children.
Their propensity towards secrecy rang off my “shame gaydar.” As someone who came out as queer in my teens, I can quickly recognize the difference between shame and pride. On one hand, I sincerely respect every parent’s decision on how she or he handles the pain of infertility. Not everyone can be as extroverted as I am, and sometimes for very good reason. We all come from different cultures and social groups and I admit I operate within liberal circles.
However, I still get my fair share of ignorant comments like everyone else, from: “Just relax and it will happen for you.” (Yes, as a lesbian, I’m really going to get pregnant by sperm magically flying through the air.) Also “Egg donor? As in you had a surrogate? Oh, he has your eyes.” (Yes, a sign that clarity is still needed on the difference between egg donation and surrogacy. For the record, though, I used donor egg and donor sperm and I carried both of my children.)
I know that when I am out and proud about my sexuality, or my donor conception story, I feel better. It feels good to challenge misconceptions and prepare the path for the next generation of queers, or those struggling with infertility, so they won’t have to entertain for even one second that something may be wrong with them.
While stories of donor-conceived children have existed since the beginning of time (take, for example, Sarah and Rachel’s surrogacy stories in the Bible), there has been a definite increase in donor-conceived children in the U.S. (38,910 born in 2005, compared with 20,695 in 1996). And, along with anything new always comes questions of ethics, and confusion on how to handle it.
However, we can make comparisons between adoption and donor conception because in both cases children are brought up by parents who have a different genetic lineage than their own. And it’s worth making a case for openness about both.
Research shows that adoptees who have always known about their origins and who have an open adoption fare much better psychologically than those who are shielded from the truth. And, as for the LGBT community, we know that shame and secrecy often leads to negative outcomes.
On a personal level, I know that when I am out and proud about my sexuality, or my donor conception story, I feel better. It feels good to challenge misconceptions and prepare the path for the next generation of queers, or those struggling with infertility, so they won’t have to entertain for even one second that something may be wrong with them. I also feel good knowing I am making the world a better place for my double donor conceived children because the more normalized their story is, the less chance they will feel inadequate.
How does all this translate to what I actually say to my almost-4-year-old? Ever since my son was a toddler, I’ve told him all kinds of stories… I tell him how a really nice man gave me his sperm, a really nice woman gave me her egg, and a really nice doctor put them together inside of me and they grew into him.
One of the biggest pains of infertility is shame. If we all grew up knowing how common infertility is (12% of couples in the United States and 16% of couples in Canada) and how many children are donor-conceived, (Celebrities: If you didn’t magically conceive at 48, will you please acknowledge if you froze your eggs or used egg donation?), then it could take a big chunk out of the struggle. Yes, we would still long for our baby, suffer from the uncertainty of when or how we will get our baby, and endure the awful poking and prodding from an overly-medicalized experience, but at least we wouldn’t feel as if something is wrong with us.
One common argument in favor of being closeted about your child’s donor story is the idea that it’s your child’s story to tell, not yours. I get that. However, I would like to challenge parents to re-consider why this is a story for their children to choose to reveal, compared with all the other family stories they grow up so open about? Are you unintentionally implying it is shamefulto be a donor-conceived child by hiding it?
Scientists studying epigenetics suggest that donor children are, in fact, genetically influenced by their biological mother, despite obvious DNA differences. There is well researched evidence that proves there is powerful bonding that occurs between baby and mother in utero. And, there is the obvious fact that if you went to all these great lengths to conceive your child, is this child not incredibly loved? Passionately wanted? Irrevocably blessed?
That’s the story I choose to tell my children and the world. It is our origin story and it is the truth.
How does all this translate to what I actually say to my almost-4-year-old? Ever since my son was a toddler, I’ve told him all kinds of stories. I tell him how he grew inside my belly. I tell him how his Nana is my mommy and I drank milk from her, just like he drinks milk from me. I tell him how a really nice man gave me his sperm, a really nice woman gave me her egg, and a really nice doctor put them together inside of me and they grew into him. I tell him how much I wanted him and loved him, even before he was born.
My intention is that this story will be so normalized that he will have zero shame about being a little different from his peers. Because all that matters IS the love, IS the bond, IS day-to-day parenting that lasts a lifetime and beyond.
“You chose me, mommy” he often says. “But mommy, I chose you too. Because I knew you were sad and wanted a baby, and because I like you!” The last part is his contribution to our story; the fact that not only did I want him so much, but he chose me, too.
I remember when I first got diagnosed with low ovarian reserve, I called my cousin, who had had her fair share of infertility struggles, finally resulting in IVF twins. “How you get your baby doesn’t matter,” I remember her stating matter-of-factly. “It’s the parenting every day that is the fun part. My friend used an egg donor and everyone says how much her baby looks just like her. Just go and get your baby and get to the fun part.”
Athena Reich is a Canadian-American actor, writer, singer/songwriter, and Lady Gaga impersonator. Athena's journey to conceive using IVF is documented in the Emmy nominated film "Vegas Baby." Athena writes about being a single parent by choice, and conceiving with donor egg and donor sperm for magazines such as HuffPost, Today’s Parent and Chatelaine. Athena is the creator of Alternative Families International, an online magazine and community for anyone outside the nuclear box. AthenaReich.com
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