Having been both an egg donor as well as coordinating over 4000 cycles, Wendie Wilson from Gifted Journeys has a unique opportunity to share her experience with others exploring the egg donation journey. Wendie’s article is focused primarily on the questions she is asked regularly by recipient parents. Wendie is not only sharing her own first person perspective as an egg donor, but the perspectives of egg donors she has interviewed and coordinated cycles for throughout the years.
One of the concerns I hear from many intended parents, most especially intended mothers, is, “Will I feel like this child is mine?” The answer is a resounding YES! Biology does not a parent make. It's all about the heart. When we remember that it's the heart that considered egg donation that will carry your child or support your surrogate and feel the joy as you experience all of the "firsts" that accompany walking with your child through the world, it makes a lot more sense. Your egg donor is the catalyst to the much more important part of the journey: parenthood. It's the combination of your heart and an egg donor's heart that make this possible.
What if the egg donor is not honest regarding her profile?
An obvious and valid concern is whether what a donor states on her profile is true. Some things are relatively easy to find out, while others not so much. There are also things the donor may simply not know, such as the health history of an estranged grandparent or cousin. On the other hand, an SAT score of 1600 should be relatively easy to verify. Additionally, you can always request a background check on your preferred donor through your agency, and most will be happy to assist with the process for a nominal fee. However, it is the agency and doctor’s offices jobs to extract as much information as possible and share this with you.
An agency is responsible for setting up a donor with a genetic counselor who will draw up a detailed history of your donor’s personal and family medical background. This consists of both a report and a “map” outlining the possible genetic predispositions of the donor’s offspring. What we hope, of course, is that the donor is both honest and knowledgeable about the questions asked on the profile. Secondly, an agency is responsible for having your donor take a psychological evaluation, usually a MMPI, which requires that she test within the average range for the typical egg donor. In addition to the MMPI, an agency or intended parent could request an in-person consult with a licensed psychologist. This additional examination can double-check for consistency and the right motivations for becoming an egg donor.
Lastly, an agency is going to do everything they can to ensure that the donor is everything put forth in her profile. A responsible donor is an agency’s dream and an irresponsible one a nightmare. There is no motivation for an agency to work with a donor who will ultimately cost everyone involved money, time and emotional distress. A reputable agency will listen for any red flags that may arise if the donor were to cycle and ultimately choose to omit her from their program.
Egg donation is a detailed process, especially given that you've already been through so much on your journey. Putting your trust in both an agency and donor that you don’t personally know is a big leap to take, but one filled with faith and hope. The author of Eat, Pray, Love made a comment that seems poignant for recipient parents: “The inability to open up to hope is what blocks trust, and blocked trust is the reason for blighted dreams.”
What is the donor’s motivation?
Young women often have several motivations for becoming egg donors. The monetary motivation is obvious, but what we hear most often is a more altruistic one: their ability to understand the desire to have children. Our donors who already have children can’t imagine life without them and most donors without look forward to families of their own one-day.
In my experience, most donors are initially motivated to learn more about egg donation when they see that there is a fee involved for their gift. However, it does not mean that a donor would be motivated by just anything. I know that I would never have responded to an ad that said, “Donate your kidney: $5000 compensation.” Donors learn through the education process that
a.) They have many thousands of eggs – more than they could possibly use before menopause b.) They would like to help the intended parents, and c.) The fee for their gift will help pay off student loans, save for a down payment on a house, pay off their car, etc. When I became a donor it was, to date, the most amazing thing I had ever done in my life. Prior to that experience, nothing else that I had taken “action” about had given someone as much joy as a positive pregnancy test. It was a landmark in my life, helping a couple’s dream come true. So much a landmark that it became my life’s work. Since becoming a part of this industry, I have not spoken to one donor who has undergone retrieval who has regretted her decision. The overwhelming feelings are those of joy, excitement for the couple, and the desire to know that her efforts have been successful.
Will the donor want to contact the child in the future? Will she think of the baby as her child?
A big concern for many recipient parents is whether or not the donor will consider their baby to be “her” child. The fact is this: donors rarely want contact, much less a continued relationship. The most open donations I’ve seen have always been initiated by the intended parents and agreed upon by the donor. On the rare occasions that donors do request future contact, it is along the lines of wanting to know the child is healthy and free from any noteworthy medical problems, not to know the child him or herself.
With the worries of parenthood ahead, there are so many additional reasons why this should not even be a concern for recipients. Donors are not the birth moms and simply do not have the bond to the “egg” they way they would if they initiated the process for their own family. There is a disconnect and they perceive their eggs as "genetic material" they are willingly donating to another family. It's the same reason a blood donor would not seek out the recipient of that gift.
Additionally, an egg donor understands that she has plenty of eggs to fuel her future desire for a family. She will have many more cycles and opportunities to have her own children. She would also rather have her future children with the partner of their choice than ever seek out the children of her recipient family. How will the donor feel several years down the road?
As with anything in life, we make the decisions that are good for us in the moment and hope for the best possible outcome. Donors have a tendency to view their gift as something that will benefit them now and in the future. For donors who don’t yet have children or know whether or not they’ll have children, they feel confident in their decision to help recipient parents achieve their dreams of family. For donors with children, they are in the midst of their own parenting experience and are thrilled to share it with others. In either case, you have a young woman who views the future outcome as something positive.
For those of us who have donated several years ago (myself included), the experience isn't at all regrettable. While I haven't yet had children of my own, I feel grateful every day that there were recipients who could expand their family as a result of my donation. There are no feelings of guilt, longing or desire to see or meet the children. I think about my recipients from time-to-time with a smile on my face, though. Other women I’ve talked to have a similar outlook on the experience, stating that their donations are something about which they will always feel a great deal of pride. Several women I spoke to specifically said that unless someone else brings it up, they forget about the donation altogether. Most donors have an amazing experience, bring great joy to their recipients and then move on with their lives - better for having been a donor with the most unique of memories possible.
My goal with this essay was to couple my personal experiences as an egg donor with my expertise in coordinating hundreds of donor cycles, creating a go-to resource for the most commonly asked questions by donors and recipient parents. Naturally, each journey toward family differs, but you can find comfort in knowing you are not enduring your journey alone.
What’s important to remember is that, as with many things in life, there is a leap of faith associated with the decision to move forward with egg donation. While I can’t promise that everything will go smoothly without adding a few more bumps along your path, I can say that this is a journey well worth the challenges along the way. The gift of family is waiting for you and I hope I've helped comfort, clarify and encourage you that the path you travel is one you'll never have to walk alone.
In my early 20’s I donated my eggs to an amazing young woman who was in remission from breast cancer. After seeing the opportunity that was given to her by the technological advancement of reproductive medicine, it occurred to me that this was the single most amazing experience of my life to date.
Ever since, I have committed myself to the field of assisted reproduction still going strong nearly a decade later. I graduated from the University of Washington in 1998 w/ a degree in Speech Communication, spending several years doing competitive speech and debate at the national level. I’ve used my public speaking skills at many assisted reproduction evens and symposiums to speak with intended parents and potential donors about family building opportunities.
With the support of several IVF clinics, doctors and staff members that I had become close to throughout the years, I was encouraged to start my own egg donation agency. From this support, Gifted Journeys was born. I plan to continue spreading the word about Egg Donation and the opportunities that are out there for both recipients and donors. Implementing my belief that all loving people who want a chance to start or grow their family, without judgment or bias, and with equal opportunity and support, should have that option.