Remembering the Gift of the Other Mother.
I have been reflecting on my infertility journey and how I became a mother.
My daughter, Grace, was born because of the kindness of an egg donor. I know I will never be able to meet her or thank her because she was an anonymous donor. I think a lot about her. Especially as my daughter gets older. She is 17. I knew precious few things about our donor. I know she had the same eye and hair color as I do. She was about my size. That is part of the reason I picked her.
I wanted my child to have as many physical similarities to me as I possibly could since we would have no direct genetic relationship. I wanted my unborn child to look like me as much as possible.
The agency gave us a one-page piece of paper that told me her education level, her job, and some of her family’s medical history. I learned what she did for a living. She wrote that she did this amazing gesture because she wanted a family who could not have a child on their own to have a chance at parenting. This revealed to me that she had a good heart and a generous spirit.
This was all we would ever know about her. I wanted to know so much more. How do you make a life-changing decision about which donor to select with such little information at your disposal? Was I a bad person if I wanted someone with a college degree as opposed to a high school level? My husband and I struggled with these questions that hit at the fundamental core of our beliefs and values.
I worried that my daughter may someday want to know more about her donor too. What would I be able to tell her? How would I answer my daughter’s questions? Would Grace be angry with me for choosing to have an anonymous donor offering so little information? How would Grace react when she learned that limited facts would be at her disposal when she asked specific questions about her origins?
Perhaps at some point I would want to know more too. How do you anticipate how you or your unborn child will feel 10, 15, or 20 years from now?
I imagined what I would say to our donor if we were mercifully successful. How do you thank a total stranger for fulfilling your dreams? How would I put into words what her gift meant to me and my husband? She had chosen to be anonymous. Would she even want to know that her egg donation had been successful? What if she would want to know something about the child she had helped create?
In my imaginary scenario, she had moved on with her life and had children of her own. I decided that I didn’t want to intrude on the life and family she had built for herself. That somehow felt selfish and ungrateful not honoring her request to be unknown. It helped justify my decision to have an anonymous donor. I had to accept the fact that these were questions that could never be answered.
It took three years from the time I started to have a child to the time my daughter, Grace, was born. There were multiple miscarriages. They took their toll on me both emotionally and physically. I had not realized how painful each loss would be. The pain became greater and more overwhelming with each miscarriage. There were only a couple of people I could share it with.
I wavered between being hopeful and hardening myself to prepare for the possibility of yet another failure. I asked myself how much more I could tolerate. How badly did I want to be a parent? What was I willing to risk to get there? What would be at the end of this long and difficult process? There was no way of knowing. No goddamn guarantees.
People in the infertility world call it a journey. That felt false, like it romanticized what was happening. I wanted to be able to tell myself that I had done everything possible before I gave up.
I silently blamed myself for starting to build a family so late in life. But previously I had decided that I did not want to be a single mom. 20 years ago, it was less acceptable to be a single parent and harder to do. The technology was not as good and agencies were not as anxious to work with a single parent.
If I am honest with myself, I have to say I was having too much fun traveling wherever and whenever I wanted to. My work was powerful and rewarding. I counseled people who had suffered catastrophic illnesses and came to the hospital. I worked with my patients and their families to help them cope and adapt to an uncertain future. Their courage inspired and fueled me.
The medical team collaboration we had in the rehabilitation environment helped put them on the path to recovery. Was there some part of me that was reluctant to give my professional goals up if my life took a new direction?
The doctor made it clear, our best chance at having a child was through an egg donor because I started my infertility treatment at age 42. So, to use a bad pun, we “put all our eggs in one basket!” Those eggs from the donor we selected were going to be our only chance to become parents since my husband did not want to adopt.
The embryologist came in and told us we had three embryos that were viable. He would be back in five minutes to find out what we wanted to do and slammed the door. He was brief, cold, and frankly his demeanor pissed me off in my fragile state. What the hell were we supposed to do with that information? We had to decide how many embryos they would implant in me immediately.
I had decided this was going to be my final attempt to get pregnant. I just could not handle any more losses. When he came back, I asked for specifics on the conditions of the embryos. He said, “One was marginal, one was okay, and one looked really good.” We placed our hopes on the one that “looked really good.” I am not a betting person, but thankfully that bet paid off in a major way.
I thought a lot about why a donor would offer such an incredible gesture of kindness. We named her the gift lady when we spoke of her. I described her in the disclosure book I wrote for my daughter explaining how she became a part of our family. This nameless, faceless person, our gift lady, gave us the most precious of gifts.
I chose to have an anonymous donor because I did not want to be making comparisons between myself and her. I was feeling so vulnerable, so helpless, at that time. Infertility does a lot of damage in ways that surprise you. My self-confidence was destroyed. My body was failing to do something all women were supposed to be able to do.
I wanted my donor to know how her gift changed our lives and how amazing our daughter who will always be a part of her is. I wondered if our donor ever thought about her or had any desire these many years later to meet her.
I wanted to take this time to honor the other mothers, or gift ladies as we have come to know them in our household. Your generosity, sacrifice, and kindness does change lives in the most amazing of ways. For those of us who have been on the path of repeated failures in our passion to build our families, you offer hope in achieving our parenting dreams. The meaning of your gesture still leaves me speechless.
Whether you choose to be anonymous or not, you are a part of the children who are born as a result of your action. You will not be forgotten in our family on this or any other day. My daughter, husband, and I, speak of you in the most reverential way because we know how special you are. We will always remember you and be grateful for each and every day we have together as a family.
Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has been a licensed clinical social worker and patient advocate for 40 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. She is the award-winning author of the book Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire and Role Reversal, which earned four major book awards. Her most recent book, How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents, received eight major book awards. She has done freelance writing for 18 years, authoring hundreds of articles on health-related topics. Ms. Waichler also does workshops and speeches on infertility and caregiving topics, and is a regular contributor to infertility and caregiving websites.