The Evolution of Choosing an Egg Donor: A Character Building Experience

Few things in my life have shown me what I’m made of quite like choosing an egg donor.  Between the beginning of June and the end of August, I found myself in a position of playing God as I struggled day after day to locate a donor that I deemed “suitable” to be the genetic mother of my future children.  As I think about my thought process over the summer, I find myself feeling ashamed: ashamed, shallow, and short-sided.

Note: Every woman has the right to choose her donor according to her comfort level.  This is my story, but our experiences are all different and challenging in their own ways.

Before this post starts to sound like we’re delving into Debby Downer territory, please let me share that once you reach the end, the warm fuzzies I hope to communicate should radiate right off your screen and attack you with a big metaphorical hug.

In the beginning of June, my husband and I created a list of characteristics we would like to see in a donor, i.e. characteristics we hoped would eventually reveal themselves in any children born of this process:

  • intelligent,
  • witty,
  • athletic,
  • creative,
  • family oriented,
  • master of at least one instrument,
  • spotless medical history,
  • attractive.
  • Brown hair, brown eyes, tall.
  • Siblings all equally accomplished.

Then one day in July, something occurred to me: I was using my own misfortune, (kaput ovaries) to justify the opportunity to create a human being that I am not, nor have I have been. I was improving upon myself, and then some!  This struck me as being problematic.  A few things had been thrown in the ol’ wish list that could reasonably describe me:

  • intelligent,
  • witty,
  • family oriented,
  • brown hair,
  • brown eyes.

That is all.

If I wanted to be really honest with myself, the list should really have included features such as this:

  • impatient,
  • unable to pick towels up off the floor,
  • short,
  • blunt,
  • demanding,
  • intolerant of dry material on my hands.  You know, like flour, or really dry dirt.  It’s icky and I hate it.  I do like mud though.  Mud is fun.

In other words, what was I doing trying to create a super baby when I, with my many flaws, lead a happy and blessed life.  Is mastery of the oboe a requirement for personal happiness?  Will I love my child more if he/she excels in rugby instead of limping their way through each sport they try with average achievement, at best?  If they develop a medical condition, will I love them a little less because they didn’t live up to the genes I so painstakingly chose off a checklist?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to have a relatively serious conversation about what you are hoping to gain from your genetically engineered baby.

Overwhelmed by over a thousand profiles of potential egg donors, I decided to step back to regain some perspective.  As I lay in bed at night running each of them through my head, I began to wonder, Do I really want to know these things about the woman who will provide the genetic make up of my child?  If I know that she excels in math and science, will I constantly monitor my kids for emerging mathematic brilliance?  If they don’t, am I going to question what happened to that particular strength and wonder if she made it up on her profile?  And if she made it up on her profile, what else did she lie about?  You can see how this can quickly devolve into a paranoid frenzy of nonsense and the goal to avoid that all costs.

Sidenote: My brother is a mathematical genius.  I am not.  Not even close.  Neither are our parents.  My mother is a brilliant artist and my father is a history buff.  My strengths lie in the humanities, literature, and writing.  Genes are what they are: mysterious, unpredictable, and overall one big crapshoot.  Also, I look nothing like my brother.  Neither of us look like our parents.  These lack of commonalities has not influenced our close relationships as a family unit.  Surprisingly, my brother the genius decided to love us all anyway, even though our collaborative math skills are enough for us to balance a checkbook, nothing more.

Near the end of August, my mother made an interesting comment.  “I hope this doesn’t offend you,” she began.  As we all know, comments that being with preemptive statements absolving one of what is to come next have at least a 97% chance of being offensive.  So I sighed deeply and resigned myself to what was coming.  “When you do select a donor,” she stated, “I don’t want to know anything about her.  I don’t want to see a picture.  As far as I am concerned, YOU are the only mother of this child, and I don’t need to know anything else.”

Hmmm. Mom surprised me and fell into that remaining 3%, prefacing what she believed was an offensive comment with one that was actually a brilliant revelation.  Well done, Mom.  Hearing it was a touch shocking, but it the most thought provoking way possible.  Over the next week, I considered her words.  I realized that was she was needing as a grandmother, was the same thing I was needing as a potential egg recipient mother.  Did I need to know whether my egg donor enjoyed painting in her free time?  Was it important that she considered herself a city girl and felt most at peace during her daily subway ride?  No, twas not.  And that is how I came to revisit my list from June:

  • healthy medical record
  • brown hair
  • brown eyes

All donors have to be FDA approved, regardless of what clinic you choose.  This means they have been vetted as being very healthy and very fertile, and they are the unsung superheroes of countless women who could not have children if it were not for them.

The short list above is what I know about my chosen donor, and that’s enough.  The important stuff is covered, the healthy part.  The hair and eyes are a bit of vanity just for me.  I’m not a saint, you know. Our donor/recipient relationship is completely anonymous, and will remain that way unless genetic health problems arise on either side and necessitate the need to share that information both ways.

I feel much more in control of this process.  I feel good about myself that I took the time to develop the insight needed to proceed with this process with a clear conscience.  This child/children will develop and grow exactly the way they are supposed to; unpredictable little blank slates that may develop a little from nature but a whole lot from nurture.   Even then they will surely grow up to be unique wee beings with their own interests and goals.  They don’t need to be like me, or their father, or this amazing lady who is donating her eggs.  They will be who they will be, and that is exactly the way is it supposed to be.

Blowing the Lid Off Pandora’s Box to Discover the Hope Inside: CNN, Egg Donors, and the Science of Chance

On Sunday, October 12, my family and I will be part of an episode featuring the evolution of infertility on a new show on CNN. It is called This is Life with Lisa Ling and airs at 10:00 pm PST. The title of this particular episode is “The Genius Experiment.” The goal of our participation in the documentary is to begin chipping away at the wall of secrecy surrounding infertility, particularly donor IVF.

If you feel, as I do, that infertility needs to be a subject discussed often, and without shame, you can help by doing the following:

1) Reblog this post to get the word out about the upcoming episode. This is where the conversation begins.

2) Share this post on Facebook or Twitter to reach a broader community of infertile men and women, as well as their friends and families.

3) Send this post directly to anyone you know who suffers from infertity.

Please note: I do not, nor will I ever, benefit financially from my participation in the documentary. The same is true of my blog. There is one goal: encourage and educate my brothers and sisters in infertility as they have done for me time and time again.

On June 2, 2014 I learned that if I wanted to conceive again, I would need to use an egg donor. We had been lucky the first time; against all rational odds we were successful at our first IVF attempt in 2011, when I was 32. Our reproductive endocrinologist was amazed three years later, when he reviewed our first cycle in detail, hoping to understand why three subsequent attempts had failed. He concluded that statistically, all four attempts should have failed. Our son, a particularly stubborn embryo who didn’t give a damn about statistics, hung on anyway and grew into the baby we had dreamt of for so long.

Lightning was not going to strike twice. My crappy numbers had become even crappier in the three years that had passed. Immediately after being appraised of my diagnosis, I began mining the internet for the information and support I desperately needed to make heads or tails of my new reality. I very quickly found a tremendous website,, that was full of answers for every single question that I had bouncing around in my overwhelmed brain. PVED is one of the most comprehensive and well respected websites on the topic of egg donation/reception. If you have been told that an egg donor cycle is in your future, go check out this site.

While on the organization’s website, I saw a post inquiring if any donor egg recipient patients would be interested in speaking with a documentary team about their experience. Now, as an introvert who does not strive to be the center of attention, my expected behavior would have been to move right along to the next post. However, infertility journeys are hallmarked by the unexpected; true to that concept, I behaved uncharacteristically and emailed the producer. I simply stayed that that if my story could be of use to anyone, he could give me a call. And he did! In this struggle, this enemy-less fight, my husband and I felt emboldened to venture outside our comfort zones and reveal to this gentleman what six years of heartache and elation truly look like, from the perspective of a perfectly ordinary couple who has been there.

Who is there.

Who will be there as long as necessary.

Who may remain there indefinitely because we will never give up.

Because if even one couple who is ready to throw it in feels like they can press on after hearing what we have to say, then the intrusive high beams of the spotlight in my photosensitive eyes will be worth it. Figuratively and literally (production lights blaze with the luminosity of a thousand suns).

Much to my great surprise, the producer I had been speaking with for weeks informed me that the production company would like us to be a part of the documentary. Us? As in, on camera, in our home, discussing the most intimate details of our lives with Lisa Ling? It got real, real fast. It is a great credit to Nate, the producer, that I accepted this opportunity. Throughout our conversations it was clear that he genuinely cared about our story. He educated himself about the egg donor process, in between our conversations, and truly demonstrated his commitment to accuracy and integrity in his work. Consequently, that is how it came to be that at the end of July of this year, my husband and I welcomed a production crew into our home for two days, to learn about our story and to investigate how exactly a couple goes about selecting the woman who will provide the genetic material of their future offspring. That will be detailed on the show, as well as explored in depth in another post, coming in the next day or so.

There are many brave souls who have already taken up the mantle of infertlity awareness. Please join me by participating in their ranks and work together to put an end to the idea of infertility as being off limits.