Women, Grief, and the Donor Egg Decision

If you’re considering donor egg or surrogacy as a family building option, join RESOLVE New England on Saturday, February 2nd, 2013 in Waltham, Mass. for our Donor Egg/Surrogacy Connect & Learn Seminar!

by Phyllis Martin, M.ED., LPC

pensive woman

Are you one of the many women who have been told your best chances of becoming pregnant are by using donor ova? More and more women are being told that they should consider using donor egg if they want to have a child. Women and couples are faced with difficult decisions as they are given more choices in pursuit of family building. The initial reaction of many women upon hearing the recommendation for donor egg is to think it is “too weird, I could never do that, I won’t bond.” Others are more accepting of the idea because they want the pregnancy experience. Financial concerns and the fact that donor egg isn’t a certainty also add to the difficulty decision-making process.

So how do you decide to use donor egg? How does one make this life-changing decision to even try? How do you choose between donor egg and adoption? Over the years I have seen many clients grapple with this decision and process. In order to proceed with donor egg, couples must first grieve the many layers of loss.

The cycle of grief, as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, is comprised of shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and finally acceptance. For those considering donor egg, many of these stages occur simultaneously and repeatedly during the donor egg decision-making process, and can flair up even after proceeding with donor egg. For example, a woman may initially be shocked and angry to hear a doctor even suggest donor egg. Months later, after working through her losses, she may feel shocked again during milestones such as picking the egg donor or beginning the medical protocol: “I can’t believe this is happening to me – why do I have to jump through so many hoops just to have a child?!”

Considering donor egg evokes grief about a woman’s genetic heritage first and foremost. I use “genetics” rather than “biology” very specifically because it is the DNA and passing on of genes that will not occur. This can feel like a death and is equated to the death of the fantasy child, the image of your future child and how he/she would fit into the image of yourself and your partner. “Biology,” however, is not part of what you give up in the donor egg process, when defined by your uterus, your health, your nutrition, your labor pains, your blood, nutrients, and oxygen – all needed to create a life. Without your biology aiding the donor genetics, nothing can occur.

Even so, women who feel generally good about the choice still face saying goodbye to their genetic traits. The physical traits that are in your family, that are often passed down in one form or another, make a child similar to parents and/or extended family. These traits or characteristics (height, nose, athletic ability or musical talent, etc.) are often how we define ourselves and our place in our family and the world. It is losing this sense of knowing your unborn child and feeling there will be familiarity and similarity that can be so difficult.

In the journey toward acceptance, a woman is forced to reevaluate her idea of mothering and building a family. She must take a close look at herself and the qualities she likes and does not like in herself. Most importantly, in grieving genetics, a woman must define what traits she had hoped to pass on to a child that she will be unable to pass on, and what part of herself she can pass on through her biological experience and nurturing as a mother. Tweezing apart her definition of nature, which she must define and focus on, are part of this work.

Many couples feel divided about if and when to proceed with donor egg. The impact on a relationship can be frustrating and confusing. Women often feel anger and jealously toward their spouse who does not have to give up his genetic identity. Men may feel helpless or guilty. Couples must respect that this is a joint decision, but each person makes decisions differently. Also despite it being the female genetic traits that are not going to be passed on, men report feeling sad for their partner’s loss and feel a personal loss as well. One of my male clients put it best: “Wendy* (name changed) is the person I married, she is the one I chose to spend my life with because of who she is…and the fact that her genes don’t get to join with mine makes me sad. I wanted to see little Wendys running around.” It is important for a couple to mourn the genetic connection a child would bring to each other as well.

Grieving your genetic loss, the image of yourself, your family, and your child is all preparation for accepting your role as nurturer and mother. The work can be done alone or in groups and with support. Journaling, improving communication with your spouse, sitting with honest and difficult thoughts and feelings, artistic projects such as collages or gardening, can all help close the old expectation of how you saw yourself as a parent. In closing the old chapter you open a new chapter that is yet to be written. Rituals that say goodbye to genetic traits or part of oneself help move a woman or couple past the loss and into the realm of acceptance. By taking time to redefine mothering and family images, you can calm your emotions and feel peaceful, rather than panicked, and make truly honest and genuine decisions.

The hard work you and your partner do before proceeding to ensure that donor egg is the right choice for you and your future family will benefit any child that joins your family. Redefining how you can parent and what mothering really is will help you embrace the role of a parent, and the realization that the best parts of you are not necessarily genetic traits, but personal qualities that can be passed on and nurtured.

Still have questions about choosing the donor egg path? Join us on Saturday, February 2, 2013 for our Donor Egg/Surrogacy Connect & Learn Seminar in Waltham, MA. Learn more and register online here.

About the Author

Phyllis Martin is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Fairfax, Virginia and host of the Fertility Forum Radio Show.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2009 RESOLVE New England quarterly newsletter.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this article. I’ve just been told I’m not a candidate for IVF and that egg donation is my only option. Struggling to come to terms with it all. This article has given me lots of new things to think about, in a positive way. Thank you.

  2. This article uses language that is offensive to single women. Married heterosexual people are not the only ones who may be using donor eggs. As a single woman, I may have to use donor eggs if I want a second child in a couple of years. Where do I fit into this discussion? And what about lesbians?

    • RESOLVENewEngland says:

      Thank you for your comment. You’re right that this article is not inclusive of single women or lesbian perspectives, and we’re sorry that you found that lack to be offensive. The articles that we include in our newsletters and website are written by contributors and are meant to be informative, even if they don’t reflect all points of view. We do offer a resource, Considering the Donor Egg Option, that might be useful for you. Also, we do have an area on our website with LGBT Family Building Resources. Best wishes, Joanna

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