Considering Egg or Sperm Donation? This Is One Mum's Happy Story
The field of sperm and egg donation is an area fraught with anxiety for many patients who are dealing with fertility issues. Making the leap from the idea of using your own egg or sperm to having a baby that is not genetically your own, is never easy, and it deserves careful thought and discussion.
The area of sperm and egg donation has become a contentious one in Ireland. As it stands, the vast majority of patients who seek this service are currently looking abroad to America, Spain or the Czech Republic as the laws in these countries guarantee anonymity of the donor, while also protecting the rights of the patients receiving the donation.
A patient's experience
One of my patients who was in her early 40’s at the time, like many others in her situation had an issue with egg quality and made the decision to travel to the Czech Republic for IVF treatment using her husband’s sperm and a donor egg.
She had tried treatment in Ireland with her own eggs but had not been successful, so the donor option seemed like the only viable option for her to be able to conceive.
She was fairly pragmatic about the whole thing until, on her second IVF attempt when she had the long-awaited positive pregnancy test, and then the anxieties started to show.
With fertility treatment you really do have to take things one day at a time. In my patient’s case she was understandably concerned about the possibility of losing her pregnancy in the vulnerable first trimester, so it wasn’t until the 14th week of her pregnancy that she really started to contemplate the implications of the donor egg she had received.
One day when she arrived for a follow-up appointment I could see she was visibly upset. When I asked what was going on, she explained she had been looking through a family album the previous night, and it suddenly dawned on her, that her little boy or girl, would never resemble her or any of her family members.
Of course, this may seem like an obvious outcome for those who opt for egg or sperm donation, but accepting a fact with your logical mind, is not the same as resonating with it on an emotional level.
I explained that this was a perfectly understandable reaction for her to have and that it was important for her to go through it and experience these emotions, rather than refuse to acknowledge them. I also explained that based on other cases I had seen, she would very likely forget all about these concerns once her baby was born.
Should I tell my child that they were the result of a donor egg or sperm conception?
This is a very personal decision, and I have seen patients take different approaches to this sensitive topic.
One couple I consulted with were extremely open about their fertility journey from the beginning and their friends and family were already aware of how the conception came about. They decided that when their daughter was old enough to understand the idea of reproduction, that they would explain to her how special she was and how much they had wanted her because they went through this process to have her. The egg donor had been selected to match the non-Irish ethnicity of the woman, so it was unlikely her daughter would look that different to her.
With another couple, they had opted to keep the information private until such time in the future when it may be medically necessary to inform their adult child that he did not share 100% of his parents DNA. They had informed their parents and close family of the decision to pursue IVF treatment, but elected not to mention the need for donor egg because of the ethical or religious arguments they felt were likely to result between certain family members, which they preferred to avoid, if at all possible.
Nature v’s Nurture
We are all familiar with the ‘nature v’s nurture’ aspect of human health and frankly, from what I have witnessed with parents experience of children born as a result of egg or sperm donation, I think that genetics are vastly overrated.
One very happy 44 year old mother who welcomed her twin girl and boy early last year, commented to me recently, that in spite of the fact her babies were born via donor egg, as well as donor sperm, her friends keep commenting on how the twins look like either herself or her partner.
It had been a particularly emotional fertility journey for this woman because she had been adopted and so she had always dreamed of having a baby that was genetically her own. However, she now recognises how fortunate she was to have been able to carry the babies herself and nourish them during her pregnancy.
As she commented to me shortly after the twins were born:
"You know, I thought it was the ability to have my own genetic baby that mattered, but actually, the important thing was just the opportunity to become a Mum, however that came about. My own Mother who had been sick with cancer, was amazingly supportive to me during this whole fertility journey. She passed away just two weeks after the twins were born and while I was very sad to lose her, I am so grateful she had the chance to meet our babies and to see the delighted look on her face, when she saw how happy we were. They are and continue to be our little miracles and I’m just eternally grateful for the advances in IVF techniques that made this a possibility for us"
Jessica Bourke is a Natural Fertility Specialist who deals with all aspects of reproductive health. Her clinical approach is based on evidence-based nutrition protocols, acupuncture treatment, and she also offers functional lab tests to support you on your journey to parenthood. She's a regular contributor to Irish media and co-author of the 'Guilt Free Gourmet' cook-book. As a Mum of two, Jessica understands the challenges of pregnancy and parenting. For more, visit jessicabourke.com.