Mourning the loss of your Genetic Material

One recipient of donor eggs shared, “I remember when my doctor first started talking about donor eggs. I was devastated. It felt as though someone told me I had a terminal illness. I couldn’t in my wildest dreams imagine anything worse- it was my worst nightmare.” It is an enormous shock to find out that you have to say goodbye to seeing your DNA in your child and to mourn the loss of your genetic material.

The desire to reproduce and have one’s own children is a primary human instinct. For many women it is an experience that drives our very existence. Even when a woman is not desperately wanting a child, when she is advised that she is unable to produce offspring using her own genetic material, the shock and fear can feel like a death, in fact, at some level it is just that. Also of course is the influence and pressure of a male partner, families, friends and society in general – all expecting that conceiving is an integral part of a woman’s life and an expected result.

It is important to understand is that there is a steady decline in a woman’s fertility with increasing age, particularly from the age of 35, but for some woman earlier and for others later. A female is born with all the eggs she will ever have, around 4 million. By the time she reaches puberty and starts ovulating, the number of eggs has already reduced to about 300,000. Whilst only one egg is usually released every month, hundreds of eggs are lost at the initiation of the ovulation process. Besides the decline in the quantity of eggs with advancing age, there is also a deterioration in the quality of the eggs available. In addition to these factors there is also an increased incidence of chromosomal abnormalities with age. Furthermore, embryos are less likely to implant in the endometrium after fertilisation and/or may be unable to maintain their implantation. This means that with increased female age there exists a higher risk for babies born with conditions such as Downs Syndrome, a higher rate of unsuccessful attempts to conceive and a higher risk of miscarriage. These factors often mean that the older woman will have a lower chance of successful pregnancy following in vitro fertilization. Egg quality and quality may be compromised and for woman facing this fact, the recommendation to consider donor eggs will almost always be an unbearable truth.

Our experience has been that most women are under the false impression that, provided they are having regular menstrual cycles, their fertility status is good. The terms “FSH” and “AHM/Ovarian reserve” are foreign to most woman until they are “confronted with what seems like a freight train hitting them head on,” as one recipient put it.

So, how DO you come to terms with needing donor eggs in order to conceive? The absolute reality is that infertility and the need for donor eggs wrenches your heart, tests your relationships, questions your faith and overall is a life altering experience.

As with all life’s experiences, each person’s reaction is different. As we are all unique, so our coping mechanisms are all so different. There is no right or wrong reaction to this devastating news. The time that each woman takes to mourn and sit with the pain is ok.

Some women are almost immediately ready to move past the heartache to find a solution and move forward. Other woman, and/or their partners take weeks, months or years to move onto acceptance and even excitement at the prospect of having a baby. Most women will however identify with one or more of the stages, emotions and reactions we discuss below.

On the initial hearing that you will not be able to conceive with your own eggs, shock is often the first thing to hit you. Absolute disbelief that this unimaginable horror is actually happening to YOU. The numbness, tearfulness, fear and confusion that follow are all understandable and accepted as expected emotions. This is “loss.”

Often woman will say “if only I had settled down earlier I would not be in this situation” or “if only I had not put my career first…” Self-blame is often at the center of the loss of ones fertility, only because it could have been averted with youth, which is now hindsight.

If not immediately, then certainly thereafter, anger is often an emotion that hits you, along with the frustration and irritation that having a baby is not within your control. Woman have become so empowered in today’s world and now here is a “project” that is often as a result of woman taking control and delaying childbearing. For some woman anger is transitory and depression is immediate.  Feeling helpless, without purpose and energy are often part of this awful path.

The reality is just that – reality. Moving backwards is not possible, moving forward to find a way to deal with the reality, a solution, a path that will lead to the yearning that often never leaves a woman until it is fulfilled – that of having a baby. Acceptance, if not of the situation, then have the fact that you long to have a child, is the motivation that leads woman to explore the egg donor route. And so the world of hope restored, of renewed fertility, is born for so many women who find they are facing this challenge.

It is true that you will continue to struggle with questions, emotional seesawing over and over again before, during and for some even after the egg donation process. As a recipient’s husband said to us “This is one of those processes in life where the end justifies the means.” The rewards are life changing for so many couples that choose egg donation as a means to conceive.

There will be a time when you will most likely look at the positive side of the situation, that at least there is a greater chance of conception, that science has progressed to allow this treatment, that South Africa allows egg donation, that being pregnant is a possibility via egg donation. That although one of life’s major hurdles, it is not the end of the world. Then there will be times when your heart will ache at the thought of never seeing your DNA created in a child. That you have been robbed. That life is not fair.

Its true that, in the same way one deals with any loss, only you can find a way to process your loss and to look forward to this possible “second chance” at having a baby.  We recall so clearly a recipient saying “once a got to the bottom of my need for my own genetic baby, I realised that the need came from my own ego. My view was that my genetics were superior. When I got over my own ego, I was able to move forward with egg donation.” She is now a content mother of her baby via egg donation.

Those egg donor recipients that have had one baby via egg donation and return for a second or third child will tell you of the absolute love, devotion and bond that they have with their child and often how much they appreciate motherhood after all the heartache.

We have worked with couples that have a child or more via natural conception and then a baby conceived via egg donation and how there is no difference. They do not feel that the child is not their own. They feel no difference in love, bonding or commitment given the difference in the means of conception.

Couples share with us that they could not love their child more, even if he/she had been conceived of her own egg.  The renewed hope and excitement comes once you decide to move forward and go ahead with creating your family. As one recipient of egg donation said “If Angelina Jolie can love adopted children as she loves her own biological babies and keep adopting more, why cant I see a beautiful side to this?”

Whether you have arrived at the decision to use donor eggs after years of fertility treatments or within days of being advised that this may be the only option available to you to conceive a child, it may still be hard to come to terms with the idea of using someone else’s genetic material to to produce a child. You and your partner, if you have one, may feel differently about the realities of donor conception. Sometimes one partner is less comfortable than the other with the idea of conceiving and raising a child with whom you have only a part, or no, genetic connection. Especially as this is a choice no one would choose to be making,, these feelings can seem insurmountable.  Deciding to use donor eggs to conceive involves, at its very core, letting go.  Letting go of the pain, the ego, the control. One of our recipients shared “I had to decide what was most important – being a mother or passing on my genetic material. For me being a mother was the ultimate driver in my decision to move forward with the assistance of an egg donor.”

The practical advise that we can give you, dealing with recipients everyday, would be:

–       You are not alone. Because most couples choose not to disclose that they have used donor eggs to conceive, this reality is know by very few.

–        It is ok to fall apart. Not only is it ok, its expected and a part of the mourning process.

–        Talk about the pain and the possibilities of using donor eggs. Confide in someone you trust implicitly. If you don’t have a confidant, seek the assistance of a psychologist that deals with egg donation.  It can only help to process the emotions and thoughts that you are having.


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