How I think about DE

Originally I wanted this post to be about why we chose to pursue donor egg (DE) for now as opposed to adoption or child-free living.  But then I realized I couldn’t really explain that without talking a lot about how Mr. Nishkanu feels about it.  And Mr. Nishkanu did not ask to have his private thoughts and emotions posted on the internet.  So instead I will talk about how I personally orient to DE.

This is an assvicey kind of blog generally speaking and to fit in with the theme maybe I should have titled this post “How you should think about DE.”  But with this topic it is even more obvious than with my usual blog fodder that this is not going to be a one-size-fits all decision.  Nevertheless I thought it might be useful for other people who are thinking about pursuing DE (or DS) to hear the stages I went through on the way to finding a positive orientation to DE.  I want to emphasize that everything I say in here is purely about how I think about DE  for us and is not meant to be a commentary on what other people are doing or how they should approach this family-building method.

To be honest, when I started TTC, DE was not even remotely on my radar.   I went to an elite university and was turned off by the ads in our school paper from (in my eyes) rich people who were willing to pay big bucks for beautiful young women with high SAT scores, athletic abilities, etc. to donate their eggs.   That left a really bad taste in my mouth about the politics of DE and how they tie to our ideas of what makes women valuable.  It seemed kind of like prostitution, using young women’s bodies with no respect for their feelings and taking advantage of an income difference to coerce a woman to do something she wouldn’t normally do.

So my initial orientation to TTC was that we would try with our own gametes, and if that didn’t work, we would adopt internationally.  Once our first RE gave up on us, we started talking about further options – a second opinion, DE, or adoption.  At that point I was pretty much ready to go to international adoption (aka “saving a poor young child from a lifetime of poverty”), but then we got our optimistic 2nd opinion and lots more rounds on the IVF Hamster Wheel of Doom instead.

The advantage of this postponement was that, being a “Let’s Have a Plan B” type of person, I had a lot of time to think through the implications of various alternative family-building methods.  I read through a big pile of books about adoption and about donor gametes.  And in doing this reading and thinking about what these options might mean for us, my thoughts about how these family-building methods would work with us really started to change.

My attitude about what kind of adoption  would be right for us changed a lot after reading about the implications of different kinds of adoption for the adopted child.  I can’t go into all the details without talking more than I would like to about Mr. Nishkanu’s situation, but it basically came down to the fact that after a lot of reflection about our personal situation, what we thought was ethically justifiable, and what we could offer a young child, the kind of adoption that made the most sense for us was domestic open adoption of a Caucasian infant.  And what was clear from that was that, far from “saving a poor child from a life of poverty” as I had initially thought, we would be joining an enormous queue of parents who wanted to adopt a Caucasian infant.   This was the true zero-sum game, for if we adopted a particular child, another couple would not.  That made the morality of the situation much less clear-cut than I had initially (rather naively) anticipated.

At the same time, Mr. Nishkanu became an advocate of the DE approach.  The first time he brought it up, I looked at him like he had sprouted an extra eye in the middle of his forehead, and then said, “I will only do it if we do not pretend that it is my genetic baby.”  I don’t know why this is the first thing that occurred to me, but I felt strongly about it then and still do, that for me it only makes sense to do DE if we are going to be totally open about it, not only with the child but with everyone around us.  Initially I thought about this in terms of the weirdness of having people comment “Gee, her eyes look just like yours” or “What do you think he has from you and what from your husband?” and then making up some kind of fake genetic connection.  I’m not interested in living with a big lie at the center of my life.  Later on I thought more and more about the true gift that is DE, how unenlightened people are about it, and how happy I would be to share my joy about what it had brought us (assuming it works for us… another story).  To me DE is kind of like half an adoption, and we fortunately don’t hide adoption any more, so I don’t see why we should hide DE.  Though I intellectually understand the arguments about letting the child decide for him/herself who should know, that’s not what feels the most right to me.

In any case, I started to read about donor egg and realized that the situation was much more complex than I had initially thought.  There is a lot about the way that donor egg is organized in the US that I still really don’t feel comfortable with; it is crazy how unregulated the business is and how all kinds of sleazy things are perfectly legal (e.g. paying a young woman $50,000 for her eggs – in my opinion there is no way we can talk about true informed consent when so much money is being paid).   In one of the countries where I have lived, donor egg is illegal, and whenever they talk about donor egg on TV they immediately show websites in the US of egg donation programs which are marketing donors like some kind of weird Miss America contestants – e.g. The Egg Donor Program: ” Our Los Angeles based egg donor clinic has the most beautiful and accomplished donors in the country” .  And frankly, I think they are right, that stuff is embarrassing to me (note I am not saying it is necessarily bad to use such an agency, I am just uncomfortable with it myself).

But just because it can be that way doesn’t mean it has to be.  Given the unregulated state of egg donation in the US, each individual couple has to decide for themselves what they think is acceptable and what isn’t, and how they will go to to work with an egg donor in a way that works for them.  And for me, after a lot of reading and thinking, the following defined “works”:

  1. I wanted to work with a clinic or agency that had high ethical standards, that made sure that egg donors really knew what they were getting into and were fully counseled before proceeding, and that treated egg donors like people and not like a commodity.  It is almost impossible to get reliable information about the ethical standards or medical or psychological screening of egg donor agencies.  Therefore, we decided to work directly with a reputable clinic egg donor program affiliated with the ASRM rather than using an independent egg donor agency.  This also saved a hefty agency fee and reduced the problems of mismanaged communications.
  2. We wanted to find a donor who could be contacted by the child later.  The studies that have been done of adult donor children suggest that many of them feel a real hole in their identity if they cannot contact the donor and know little about them.  This also jives with what is known about adopted children.  Unfortunately, clinics on the East coast do not generally allow for any kind of contact, even if the donor herself would wish it; for example, our original clinic told us they would only release donor contact info if required by a court.  To have the potential for contact with a donor, you have to go to the West coast.  That is a hassle when you live on the East coast, but I felt we owed it to our future kids to make that possible for them.  On the positive side, West coast clinics have a lot more donors available, you can pick your donor yourself, and you do not need to share a donor as you might at an East coast clinic.  (It would have been extra fabulous to find a known donor, but unfortunately my dear friends and family who volunteered all had their own infertility issues to deal with and were not considered appropriate by my clinic).

In terms of the morality or ethics of the decision, what I initially had seen as a black-and-white decision between ‘good’/altruistic adoption and ‘bad’/selfish donor egg turned out to involve a lot more shades of grey.   When looked at closely it is hard to see domestic Caucasian infant adoption as “giving a needy child a loving home” when there are so many loving homes already waiting for these children.  And if pursued under the right circumstances, egg donation could be an amazing gift from a fully informed, consenting donor.  I ended up feeling that the decision between these two was really a toss-up, I could be happy with either.  Two things pushed me to try donor egg  first: (1) Mr. Nishkanu felt more comfortable with it (2) if I had the chance to have Mr. Nishkanu’s child and I didn’t do it, I thought I might regret that later.

And so we decided.

Deciding for DE is not the same thing as being happy about DE though.  That will be the topic of another post.

Please note that I am providing this information to provide one perspective that might be helpful to other people considering donor gametes, not because  I want to make my family-building decisions subject to the peer review of the internet.  Comments that provide alternative perspectives are very welcome, but comments that suggest we are wrong or evil because of how we are building our family will be deleted.

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4 Comments »

  1. clare said

    I loved this post. So much of it resonated with my own journey so far. I also really value my child having contact with the donor down the road. My first cycle was with a known donor who was a friend. That experience didn’t lead to a pregnancy, but taught me so much about why I value a known, or at the very least contactable-in-the-future, donor.

  2. Katie said

    I am so happy that I read this post! I have been struggling with making a decision about a donor while I am still mourning our failed IVF cycle. We now plan to do a cycle with my eggs and a donor cycle at the same time (the name for this has escaped me). It is funny that you mention The Egg Donor Program because I spoke with the owner during our search. It truly felt more like a dating service rather than one that caters to its intended clientele. I didn’t know exactly what I am looking for in an agency, but I think that I found it today. I spoke to a kind woman who owns another Southern California based agency. We spoke for over an hour today. Most of the call was just sharing stories about my journey so far. She didn’t try to sell me on the donors’ beauty and intelligence. She seemed more interested in knowing what I was looking for. She is either an incredible actress or she really did care; I felt comfortable with her. I hope to have this part of the process wrapped up in the next few days. I have my plan, now I want to move forward with it.

    Thanks again for sharing your story.

    • nishkanu said

      Glad you have found an agency with which there appears to be a good match. I do think you can learn a lot from your gut instinct, and in how friendly/polite the people are. Mr. Nishkanu called the first batch of programs for me (his job was egg donor research, mine was adoption) but most of the people he talked to were very short with him – like they thought he was going behind my back or something. The people at the program we ended up with are super, super nice and helpful. And have stayed that way throughout. Good luck!

      • Katie said

        Well…just when I thought that we had figured all of this out. The donor who I picked and gave a deposit to is working with another agency and has committed to another couple as well. Apparently, she had signed an exclusive contract with both agencies. Fun stuff. It’s a good thing that I like the agency. They are being very kind and responsive. I guess the good news is that I gain an extra month of working out to lose the weight from the last cycle. I am heading out to my second spin class of the day right now. I will call this my silver lining. 🙂

        I hope that you’re doing well.

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