Ask Me Anything is a collaborative series featuring individuals and families that are facing challenges or are unique in some way. People can ask them anything they’d like to know about their story as long as it’s respectful.
The goal of this series is for people to gain a better understanding of those in unique situations. Open communication is key to understanding one another. If you would like to be featured in a future post, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other topics in this series include: Postpartum Depression and Transracial Adoption
This post was written by guest blogger Joanne W.
Our Children Were Conceived with Donor Eggs
After 10 years of trying and 5 failed IVF cycles, this was our option.
My husband and I started attempting pregnancy when I was 29 and he 31. One year after our wedding. Not old by my standards. My mother had 9 kids naturally, with her last at 42, and my sister had 3, so I assumed my fertility would turn on when I decided.
I had been on birth control pills for 10 years due to severe menstrual cramps. They allowed me to carry on a normal life. It had been suggested that maybe I had endometriosis, but I never had it tested. So I went off the pill and we had married sex. That’s what people do. Have sex then get pregnant. This carried on for close to a year when we decided that we should look into why we were not getting pregnant. I did some basal temperature and ovulation timing stuff. No go. It was time to see a specialist.
I was a Labor & Delivery nurse and hubby a physician, so we checked in with a fertility doc we knew. By this time (life carries on) I was in my early 30’s. After a thorough evaluation, it was suggested we not waste any more time and go right to In-vitro Fertilization (IVF). So we did.
Our Attempts at IVF
IVF is a complex medical experiment. They tell you up front that they cannot guarantee anything because there are so many factors that go into successful pregnancy and birth. They can give you best-case statistics and you go from there. Being a nurse, I felt ready and willing to do this to start a family. My husband was right at my side.
This is not a story about IVF, so I will give the shortened version of that. Tests, shots, appointments, needles, IV sedation, and more shots. Over a 6 week period. All to get many eggs out of my ovaries—called an egg retrieval.
The goal is to mix his sperm with my harvested eggs, get fertilized in a petri dish, and transferred back into my uterus a few days later. Once this is done everyone waits 2 weeks to see if pregnancy is achieved. For us, no go. So we hopped right back on that horse and tried IVF #2. Cycle, rinse, and repeat. Again, got eggs, got sperm, but no pregnancy.
At this point we felt we should seek a second opinion. We did our research and transferred to a new office. IVF #3, got eggs, got sperm, no pregnancy (it should be noted: When we showed up for this embryo transfer, all the power blew out in the building when we walked in the door. A superstitious person would take this as a sign from the universe, but we snubbed our noses at the universe and waited for the power to go back on).
With 3 failed IVF attempts, we got off the horse, caught our breaths, and life carried on. We found a 3rd doctor, highly rated, right in our backyard. So we started again.
We put our trust in this doctor because we had to. He wanted a full, complete workup redone. So I did it. He found a few things that turned up that could cause infertility, but were not absolute reasons for it. 1) A mild uterine septum and endometriosis, which I had surgically corrected. 2) MTHFR, which is a genetic marker that could raise your risk for blood clots. So I took blood thinners.
No one could find a true reason why I couldn’t get pregnant, but he offered a treatment of these findings to give it the best shot. IVF #4 proceeded as expected, but no eggs. No eggs means no pregnancy. “Let’s do this again,” we said. So IVF #5 proceeded. Got eggs, got sperm, no pregnancy.
By this time I threw up my hands, said enough is enough. We gave it a good college try. Time to move on in life. And we took a break. We looked into adoption, but never felt like it was the right choice for us. So we carried on.
Deciding to Use Donor Eggs
For some reason we decided, when I was 37 or 38, to go back to our 3rd doctor and find out our other options. He kindly told us at this point donor eggs were our best bet for conception. So donor eggs it will be.
We embarked on a journey of obtaining eggs from another human being, and what a journey it was. My doctor’s office pointed us in the direction of an outside agency that coordinates these things. Here’s how it worked for us:
–Private agencies form to connect egg donors or surrogates with egg wanters. You are usually directed to one of these agencies through a fertility clinic. People who have some sort of healthcare or fertility background usually start donor agencies, but there are no legal standards for opening one. It is essentially a dating service for eggs (or surrogates).
Choosing the Donor
As an egg recipient we are given a password to log into a database of faces and profiles to try to pick an egg donor that most resembles you or your family. “Someone that looks like they’d fit in the family photo,” we were told. You see pictures and stats (height, weight, age, education; medical, social, psych. and family history).
If you think scrolling on Pinterest is time consuming, try finding the person whom you would like to get genetic material from.
Once you find said person, then you have to find out if they are available. Not always the case.
We found out that a young woman (18-24) can register to donate, have her photo and stats put up, and wait to see if they are contacted. When you pick someone from a database, they may have submitted it 3 or 4 years ago. As we found out, that 21 year old is now 24 and in graduate school, or touring Asia for 5 months. It means that not every donor is available on your timetable. The egg donor has to do an IVF cycle to produce eggs for retrieval. This requires time and travel. Some donors are not readily available.
Failed Donor Attempts
So we picked one, who we liked, who was available. “YEAH, this is going to happen” we thought. Legal paperwork signed, appointments set. She never showed up. The nurse from our doctor’s office called and said, “this does not usually happen”. We had already paid some $7000 to the donor agency. They said pick again.
So again, we picked someone. At this point it was less about picking someone that looked like me and more like someone my husband would pick if he were dating. You come to these terms because once you commit to having kids with donor eggs you make decisions you never thought you would.
Our second donor was available, willing, and ready. Contracts signed, appointments set, plans made. About 3 weeks into the 6-week IVF cycle, I get a call, again, from the nurse. Turns out this donor had donated through another agency in the area and upon having a workup was found to not be a successful candidate. This was not known until some medical stuff was being worked up. So, again, we were let down.
The agency apologized up and down, repeating that this does not usually happen. They screened so well they don’t know what happened. We asked for all our money back and they agreed.
Now, most people would take this as a sign from the universe to abandon this idea and move on. But my husband wanted to be a father and I wanted to create our family, so we kept going.
Finding a Donor Match
We found a new agency, picked a new donor. She was ready, willing, and available. We found out that she had donated before and was successful. In our state (IL) each agency is supposed to limit how many times a donor is used to reduce the genetic redundancy in the population. It’s something like 5-6 times in a 50 mile radius. Some mathematical probability thing. But we knew she had success so we saw that as a positive. (I know there are other people out in the world with the same genetic line, but I don’t have a problem with it. It doesn’t cross my mind unless I think long and hard about it). Appointments were made, legal papers signed, and again, we tried.
- Each party (egg donor, egg recipient) needs their own legal representation. We were provided a list of attorneys in the area who specialize in reproductive law. It is a real specialty and we are grateful there are those who made it a specialty.
- In my state (IL) we have some pretty strong laws protecting both parties. Eggs are considered property. The donor is trading her genetic material for an agreed upon price. The contract usually prohibits either party from seeking out the other party for any reason. If some major medical finding is discovered that has consequences for either party, the lawyers act as the go-between.
- The person, or couple, receiving the eggs is called “the intended parents”. Intended parents pay for both legal sides and all medical care for the donor.
- Before going through with a final donor cycle, each intended parent couple must have an evaluation with a licensed psychologist who specializes in reproductive issues.
During this evaluation we learned that it is in everyone’s best interest (kids, family, etc.) to know how the children were conceived. We knew we did not want this to be a secret. We know we wanted it to be an early discussion, as part of the fabric of our children’s lives. The psychologist was able to assist us with finding children’s books that address them being conceived from donor eggs. Also, our fertility doctor told us he has never had a client who regretted using donor eggs. They are your kids.
On our first attempt using donor eggs, we obtained 6 fertilized eggs. 2 were transferred into me and 4 were frozen. We chose to have 2 placed to increase my chances of having a child. Our doctor had to take my health and age into consideration when agreeing to the possibility of twins. I am tall and healthy, so twins it was.
Using donor eggs allowed me to conceive a pregnancy on our first attempt. I carried a healthy twin pregnancy up to 36 weeks, when I was 39 years old. I had no problems and our twins were born healthy. This showed me that with enough medication my body could do pregnancy. I have no answer as to why my own eggs prevented it.
Genetic similarity between our children and their donor
When someone has a baby it is very natural to look for familiar features in her face. Whose eyes does she have, a nose like Grandma, etc. I knew I wouldn’t see my traits so I didn’t look for them. And it didn’t bother me at all. I’ve never expected to have children with my features. I am pale white and my husband is African-American. I knew any children I had, with my own eggs or someone else’s, would inherit beautiful tan skin and some version of dark and curly hair. We just hoped they would be tall, since we are both tall. The donor we picked is my height.
We have a folder containing numerous photos of our egg donor. From her birth to adulthood. Pictures of her parents and siblings. A few times in the early months and years I would pull this file and look for something. Maybe my brain couldn’t see it, but I cannot see any resemblance between my children and the egg donor. We see traits of my husband. We’ll see how they grow and if this changes.
A second successful pregnancy
When our twins were about a year old we decided to add to our family, and get pregnant again. Because we were 40 and 42 we didn’t feel we had much time to wait. We went back to the doctor and requested one embryo to be transferred. He cautioned us that this next attempt would use a previously frozen embryo and would have a lower success rate. But much like previously frozen chicken, there was not much difference. I took my meds, embryo placed, and I carried a healthy pregnancy to 41 weeks. I was 41 years old. Our 3rd child is happy and healthy.
Having twins was/is a wild adventure. And having 3 kids in 2 years is a game changer. That is another discussion for another day.
I successfully conceived and carried 3 children using donor eggs. In hindsight, I wish we had gone this route 8 years earlier, after 2 failed IVF cycles. I feel we wasted too much time “trying” with my eggs. You don’t know what you’re in until you’re out of it. No one could make that decision for us.
Explaining their conception
In the future I plan on sharing our story with our children. They are currently 5,5,& 3. We have already started reading the children’s books about egg donation so it is a normal idea. I will show them pictures of the donor, if they want to see them. Because their genetic line is affected I want to be completely open and honest with my daughters. This will have implications when/if they decide to have children.
Can a child ever find their donor?
We were told that there are websites that donors and kids conceived with donor eggs can try to link up. The legal parties do not endorse this. This is for those who are curious. One party would put in “I am donor #123 from X agency who donated at this time”. The recipients could put in “I was conceived at this time with donor #123 from X agency”. If both parties want to meet it’s on them. I don’t know that I would encourage my kids to do this when they are older. But each of them will have their own needs on this in the future (think “The Kids are All Right”).
Special considerations about fertility treatments
Fertility treatments and using donor eggs is VERY expensive. Even if you have good insurance, fees paid to the donor, agency, lawyers, etc. is all out of pocket. DO NOT bankrupt yourself to have kids. We had wonderful financial resources through insurance and personal funds. We were able to shell out $20,000 + in cash. Going broke to have kids will put you in a very difficult financial place. It would be hard to get out of it. And having kids is hugely expensive. I do not recommend borrowing from your 401 (k) or anything like that.
I had a part-time job with flexible hours. My husband had a job with flexible shift work, so I was able to fit this in my life. Also, I had no children, so I had a lot of free time. Each cycle takes a lot of planning and coordinating of schedules. Fertility clinics try to work with working couples to fit their schedules.
Going into this process, my husband and I did not have a set # of children we wanted. We went in just to get pregnant. Once we had our twins I thought I couldn’t do that again. The workload and sleep deprivation pummeled us. But I knew I did not want to make a final decision while I was tired. And then we decided to have another child.
Again, big workload and sleep deprivation, but I did not want to make any final decision while I was tired. In fact, after my 3rd I decided I wanted to go back and finish with 3 more kids. To use up all the embryos we have. I am one of 9 kids, so I decided that we could create the fun and loving family that I grew up in. My husband did not share my enthusiasm.
The emotional impact of having unused embryos
My parents had 9 kids over 22 years. We would be trying 6 kids in 6 years. You cannot have more kids with someone who does not want more. This hurts my heart, but I know I cannot do that to him or our family. So, we still have 3 embryos in storage waiting to be dispositioned. We pay $500 a year to keep them stored. To me it feels like having someone in a stable coma with no chance of survival. It’s just up to us to sign the paperwork. We, or I, am putting this off until I am emotionally ready to accept this position.
If you have a problem deciding what to do with left over embryos, do not do this. You do not know how you will decide because you do not know what you will get. What if you have 3 embryos? Can you manage 3 kids? What if you have 23 embryos? Then what? You have to be prepared to make these hard decisions. Nothing prepares you for this. I was raised Catholic but maintain a pro-choice position.
A choice of love
Choosing to start a family using donor eggs is a wide-open adventure. But is also a choice of love. I was willing and able to use donor eggs because I love my husband and wanted to give him children and build a family with him.
I want my children to know that each one of them was very intentionally produced. No accidents here. They were planned, sought out, and worked for. We have our family on purpose. Only time will tell how my children will react to this truth. I believe it will change as they age. We will answer their questions as best we can. I want them to know we did this with good intentions, based in love.
Joanne is a professional registered nurse, wife to hubby of 17 years, mother to 3 pre-schoolers and a dog. When she is not running the household she likes to sleep (undisturbed), read, drink coffee, and converse with adults.
She is trying to intentionally live a life of clean eating and clean living. She exercises regularly and tries to figure out what’s for dinner each night. Her greatest asset is kindness.
Thank you to the following bloggers who contributed questions to this post: