Earlier this year I wrote a post about how I wish more people would be open about egg donation – both the people who did it, and the people who didn’t, and anyone who avoids mentioning it or responding when I bring it up in conversation (thankfully not many).
Positive Language Choices
Even though new research shows that a mom via egg donation passes on her DNA, I am not the genetic mother. Such a title could technically be bestowed on our donor, but the word “mother” carries too much emotional weight for someone who gave us some of her eggs so that I could be a mother. Unfortunately, there is no neutral word in English that denotes someone who supplies the gametes but doesn’t carry the pregnancy and raise the child. I avoid “genetic mother” because it is confusing for little kids, people unfamiliar with infertility and/or third party reproduction, and the willfully ignorant.
Let’s get some terminology straight:
Our donor gave us the building blocks of life, but I was the one who was pregnant for 37 weeks. I am her birth mother.
My body continues to nurture her as it has done, one way or another, for almost two years. I am her biological mother.
Or, as I am usually called, Mama!
So if you refer to our donor as the “genetic / real / birth / other / [or just] mother” I won’t be mad, but I will correct you. Making a choice to use positive language is important, especially if you know my daughter. If you’re worried about putting your foot in it, you can call her “your donor” or by her name, if I have shared it with you. (Which, if we are friends IRL, I almost certainly have.)
Here Comes the Science
As a mom via egg donation, I did not pass on my genes. That means my kids won’t inherit any physical features from my genetic family.
Epigenetics is the study of gene expression. I may not share DNA with my kid, but my body influenced which of her genes were switched on and off when I was pregnant with her. If we go with the “bun in the oven” theme, I don’t have the ingredients but I do have the oven. (That’s a pretty important piece of equipment!)
V’s dad and our donor supplied the ingredients, and the embryologist was responsible for putting them in a bowl. But it was my body that adjusted the amount of flour, sugar, butter, and chocolate, and then baked the scrumptious little cake for 37 weeks.
So with a green-eyed donor and a blue-eyed husband, I knew my child wouldn’t inherit my brown eyes. The genetic ingredients aren’t there. But at 21 months, she is over 35″ tall — another inch and she’ll be half my height. I attribute her height to epigenetics because neither my husband nor our donor are tall enough that would explain a child who is consistently in the mid-90s for height percentile.
But What Can We Talk About?
If I refer to our donor or show you a picture of her, I’d rather you acknowledge my openness than actively avoid talking about egg donation. Because it’s not an issue. I want V to know that the people in our lives are comfortable talking about the fact that she was conceived via egg donation.
I know that a lot of people are not open about the fact they did donor egg IVF. (I am in a minority of people who are.) I realize this means that you might not know (or know you know) a family created via egg donation, so maybe you’re not sure what to say even if you do want to talk about it or learn more.
So, ask a question! Ask two! Anything you like! Your questions show me you’re curious and interested in my family.
You are welcome to ask me…
…why we didn’t choose adoption.
…how much DEIVF cost.
…what it’s like to pick a donor.
…if you can see a picture of our donor.
…what we know about her.
…how you choose someone to represent your genes.
…what it’s like to inject yourself in the belly.
…what it’s like to be told that your donor has produced 41 mature eggs.
…what it’s like to get the embryo report every morning for five days.
…what it feels like to be told there are two little embryos developing ahead of the rest.
…what it’s like to hope that one of them is going to be your baby.
…what it feels like to stare at a TV screen with a Petrie dish in it and hope-know your future kid is in there.
…what it’s like to be pregnant after miscarriage and infertility.
…how it feels to finally hold the baby you struggled to have.
…what I say when people comment on my daughter’s red hair, which didn’t come from me.
…how I tell V about how she came to be.
I probably talk about my infertility journey a lot IRL with my friends I most trust. I’m still processing all the emotions (and currently re-visiting quite a few now that I’m back at the clinic for our September FET). But know this too: I need to talk about my infertility also because I can. A lot of people cannot, and I hope that by me talking about egg donation I’m doing my part to normalise it. Like parents via adoption had to do in the 60s and 70s. And, yeah, I talk about my infertility because I’m not ashamed of it. I’m proud of how my family came to be.