Can I love a child I am not genetically connected to? Will that child love me once they know?
These are the two fundamental questions that make many women contemplating egg donation anxious. Perhaps even more so when there is already one child in the family conceived without the help of a donor.
Although everyone is different, our experience at DC Network is that these worries are common and very normal and do not indicate that a woman is likely to reject or find it hard to love a child conceived by egg donation. They are simply part of the mixed feelings that donor conception raises…on the one hand grief at not being able to have the child you hoped for and on the other, relief and pleasure at knowing that modern medicine has provided another way to become a mother or add to your family.
Genetics are rarely the basis for people loving one another. Our love for our partner may have foundations that link with experience in our family of origin but does not have a genetic basis. What children need from their parents is love and security and the provision of these is not dependent on sharing genes. Many women say that the experience of carrying a donor conceived child inside them for nine months and contributing to their welfare by the decisions they make about food and environment, makes the bond very easy and very natural to make. We have heard several women say that they would not now want a child conceived with their own egg, because they cannot imagine not having the child they do have and love to distraction. Most parents by donor conception say that they cannot imagine having different children.
Loving the child you can have does not mean that there are never any feelings of sadness at times for the child it was not possible to have. This is very normal and does not mean that you feel any less love for the child or children you could have.
Whilst egg donation conceived children are highly unlikely to reject their mother because of the emotional attachment made early on, it is possible for them to go through times of sadness or uncertainty…particularly around late childhood or early adolescence. These feelings are unlikely to have a lasting impact if they are met with acknowledgement and understanding by parents.
Of course it is always possible that an older child or teenager may use donor conception against a parent at a moment of great anger, but it is normal for any young person at this stage of life to reach for any weapon to hand to hurt a parent. In our experience very few donor conceived young people do this, but if they do it is important that parents respond with confidence and authority. Pushing against the boundaries is the job of this age group and sticking to them (with flexibility when appropriate) is the job of parents.
The first child to be conceived by egg donation was born in 1984 but the procedure did not become widespread until the late 1990s. The oldest egg donation children in DC Network are 20 (2014). We do not yet know if the experience of young people and adults conceived by egg donation is going to be different from those conceived by sperm donation.
Our highly regarded Preparation for Parenthood workshops are a fantastic space to explore things in a safe and intimate environment. The feedback we get is always hugely positive, people often saying they didn't realise how valuable it would be in terms of building confidence in making a decision that feels right.
What else can help –
- Join DC Network in order to be in touch with the many mothers by egg donation we have as members.
- Read Letter from Rachel to Would-Be Egg Donation Parents for the thoughts and feelings of three mothers by egg donation.
- Read What is a 'real' mother? – Text of Alison Cobb’s Talk to a National Conference for an account of uncertainties by a child and how the family responded
- Buy or borrow a copy of the second edition of Having Your Baby Through Egg Donation by Ellen Sarasohn Glazer and Evelina Weidman Sterling, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishing 2013
Contemplating becoming a mother by sperm donation can be a see-saw of emotions. There is both delight that there is a way to become a parent and huge sadness because any child will not have a chance of looking like, or inheriting through genes, the characteristics of a much loved man.
I have written about the thoughts and feelings I experienced when finding that donor conception was the only way my husband Walter and I could add to our family (I already had a child that Walter was step-dad to) and included experiences from many other women whose partners were infertile. Although Letter from Olivia to Would-Be DI Mums was written some years ago now, I don’t really have much more to add, other than to say that our children are now 30 and 27 (2014), living very happy and fulfilled lives and still with exactly the same attitudes to their origins as they had when I first wrote the pamphlet. And of course they have inherited an enormous amount from being parented by their Dad, who is hugely proud of them.