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By Harriet Dolinsky, LCSW
Published in Resolve for the Journey and Beyond, Winter 2009
Using donated eggs or sperm can be a wonderful choice for couples who have been down the difficult road of unsuccessful infertility treatment. Each situation often leaves couples with unfulfilled dreams, intense disappointment and feelings of grief, sadness, anger and exhaustion. Making the choice to use third party reproduction offers the possibility of being pregnant and having a child who has a genetic connection to one of its parents. As in any major life decision, there are issues and feelings to consider.
One of the first steps in this process is grieving the loss of the child and family you imagined having the traditional way. It is important to understand what these unique losses mean to you and to your partner, both individually and as a couple. Some couples are aware that they may need to use third party reproduction if their treatment cycles are unsuccessful, and other couples are upset, dismayed and shocked when their doctors begin discussing this as an option. Grief cannot be hurried and one partner may need more time to do this grief work than the other one does. Taking the time to grieve all of these losses sets the foundation for moving forward in a well-informed manner.
Choosing a donor is a very emotional process for many couples. Couples will want to discuss what characteristics and traits are most important to them in a donor and to understand their feelings about using a donor. Some couples are very focused on finding the perfect donor who looks most like the recipient. However, it is impossible to know how the combination of genes will express themselves in the child. Worries about being able to bond with the child usually occur at the beginning of this process. As a pregnancy progresses, worries about bonding usually diminish. However, feelings related to the loss of and longing for the genetic connection may recur at times. These are normal feelings and do not mean that you are not bonded with your child.
Most clinics use anonymous donors, but in the case of known donors, it is very helpful to explore the unique relationship between the donor, recipient and their families. Understanding and discussing how it will impact all of the people involved, such as spouses, the donor’s children and your child will begin to add clarity to these complicated relationships.
Sharing Information with Your Child
One of the most important and sometimes most difficult issues that couples confront is that of sharing their family building information with others and with their child. At first the information shared is about the pregnancy, but ultimately it is information about your child and your family. Obstetricians, pediatricians and close family members and friends are usually those with whom couples feel comfortable sharing this private information.
Whether to share this information with your child can be a source of anxiety for some couples. Some couples are fearful that if the child knew that donor gametes were used that it would harm and diminish the parent-child bond. Others want to protect the child from the pain this knowledge might cause them. It is important to weigh these fears against the burdens of keeping such an important secret. Sharing this information gives a loving and affirming message about your desire to have this child and your openness and resilience as a family.
Other issues that may arise are the increased chance of having a twin or triplet pregnancy and what that entails, how many embryos or blastocysts to transfer and the possibility of cryopreserved embryos or blastocysts and their eventual use or disposition. The increased risks in pregnancy for women over 40 and the issues involved in being an older parent should be understood. It is important to talk about your feelings and options if the cycle fails, and to explore your feelings about being pregnant. Using donated gametes is expensive, and couples may want to consider how many cycles they can afford and what options their clinic can assist them with financially. The mental health professional at your clinic or in the community is an invaluable resource in helping you explore all of these issues and feelings.
There are many issues and feelings to explore in making the decision to use third party reproduction. Working through these issues and feelings will allow you to make an informed choice and pursue a new vision of building your family with greater ease.
Harriet Dolinsky, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker who has more than 25 years of experience working with couples and individuals in the field of reproductive mental health. She can be reached at 703.471.0744 or firstname.lastname@example.org.