Earlier this month I had the honor of speaking at the local Resolve seminar, a day for people who have been challenged in their family building journey to educate themselves about the various options. I was speaking as a patient and not an ob/gyn physician, although my experiences helping create families via non-traditional options certainly had an impact on my presentation. For those of you who may be new to my blog, a bit of background. I started writing because of my personal experience with non-traditional families as well as my work as an ob/gyn physician both in the US and abroad. My immediate family is comprised both of biological and adopted children. My extended family involves three children who were created thru my egg donation to a friend. All of these children are now young adults, ages 19-29, and we recently had the pleasure of adding our first in-law when my son was married.
Walking into the Resolve conference brought back numerous memories from my brief time as a patient in the infertility world. Countless pieces remain unchanged… the injections, uncertainty, invasion of personal space both physically and mentally to name just a few. However, much has changed with improved technology. No longer do you need to find a friend/sister if you are in need of an egg donor, as technology has advanced to allow for the freezing of both eggs and embryos (fertilized eggs). Young women can donate their eggs just as men have been able to donate sperm. Surrogates or gestational carriers are available if a couple is in need of a person to carry their pregnancy.
I was asked to speak not only about my experience as a known donor, but more importantly about the experience of an “open” donation where all of the children were aware of their biologic relationships. Traditionally the majority of couples that have used either egg or sperm donation to create a child have kept that part of the infertility journey secret from their child and family. Research has shown that open adoption, or the knowledge from an early age about how you became part of your forever family, allows for development of better self confidence and identity. Due to the advent of genetic testing thru such services as 23andme, it is believed that anonymous sperm and egg donations will soon be a thing of the past.
Eight children connected thru both nature and nurture has had few drawbacks in our families. Our agreement early on in this process was that any children created thru the donation of my eggs would be made aware of their origins, as would children that were raised by my husband and myself. My husband and I chose to tell the story to our children individually around age 10 at a time when they could understand the biology involved. Our families had remained friends and it was often uncanny to see the close relationships between the children despite only seeing each other every 1-2 years.
As I spoke, I realized one of the most important lessons I have learned during this journey. Although there were four adults involved in the decisions that were made to create our “intended families”, our children are required to navigate the family bonds and stories behind their origins. These stories involve loss of biologic parents and culture in international adoption, living in a multi-racial family that often draws unwanted attention and vying for parental attention and resources as a triplet. It is not my story to tell any longer as these children are the individuals that will write the remainder of the book as they live their lives.