Back sometime before the last Ice Age, we’d made the decision that we were going to try to conceive with donor eggs. OK, maybe it wasn’t that long ago, but it was pre-pandemic, pre-accidental-natural-unexpected pregnancy, pre-totally-predictable miscarriage, and so as a result it does feel like aeons ago. Even if it was only just over a year ago. Because since then we found (or rather the agency found us) the Mary Poppins donor who wasn’t, and the Mary Poppins replacement that didn’t fill us with joy. And then two days after I’d had it confirmed that I’d definitely miscarried, the agency got in touch with a suggestion of someone else.
In that way that your brain tries to make sense and patterns out of random nonsense, my brain thought that this suggestion was going to be The One. The consolation prize for a really shitty miscarriage. (Are miscarriages ever NOT really shitty?) She wasn’t. I really wanted her to be, but she wasn’t. Back in 2017 when I was on my own and looking for a sperm donor, I talked about how “the thought of having to explain to my hypothetical offspring why I chose the 50 per cent of their genes that weren’t mine rather focuses the mind” and this responsibility continues to weigh heavily on me.
When I read over a donor profile, I’m mentally preparing for a conversation / argument in about 15, 16, 17 years time, when my hypothetical teenager screams at me “I hate you, I didn’t want to be born, I don’t feel like I belong in this family, why did you choose these stupid genes for me anyway?” (I think that probably tells you more about what a vile teenager I was than anything else.) And the answer to “why did you choose these stupid genes for me anyway?” has to be more compelling than “Because this was the third donor they’d come up with and we felt like we should probably say yes because time was ticking on, we looked really picky and it was getting embarrassing.” And so we said no to that donor.
I don’t have a long shopping list of must-haves for a donor, but there are some — well two — fundamentals that I just won’t budge on. And I wasn’t going to go into this, I suppose because I worry that you’ll judge me on it. But I kind of think it’s important that these things are talked about. So my fundamentals… the first is that she has similar colouring to me. Me and B are polar opposites looks-wise. And obviously there are no guarantees that any combination of our genes would produce a child that looked like me, or that any combination of his genes and a donor-who-had-my-colouring’s genes would produce a child that looked like me, but I’d like to give it a fighting chance. I suppose if I delve deep into it, it’s because I think it might be easier for me to feel that a child that had my colouring was mine. (Not sure if you recall but my concerns about using donor eggs boiled down to that I doubted my ability to be a good parent to a child that wasn’t genetically mine, and maybe this strand of thinking basically relates to trying to kid my subconscious that this hypothetical baby who looks a bit like me actually is genetically mine. Are you following? Because I’m not sure I am….)
Anyway, that was the first, and the second was that they have some form of higher education. This isn’t intellectual snobbery. I’ve looked into the nature/nurture debate on intelligence — because of course I have. I think it’s more that while higher education doesn’t guarantee anything (and nor does lack of higher education), I felt that higher education meant there was a greater likelihood of the donor having thoroughly explored and thought through the implications of being a donor. I never want any donor to look back and feel exploited, to regret their choice, or resent it. For them, obviously, but also because if, in 18 years time, a child of mine wants to track down their donor, I want that to be a positive experience.
So that’s my thinking. And that donor didn’t tick any of those boxes. I was going to say feel free to tell me I’m wrong, but actually don’t. And don’t misconstrue the framework I’ve created for myself as any reflection on these women. I think every single donor is amazing. I think their altruism is beyond admirable. I feel almost guilty dismissing them when they are being so generous of body and spirit. But I also know that I set parameters within which I felt OK with using a donor egg and I have to make decisions that feel like the right decisions for me and our hypothetical future offspring. And I don’t have to apologise for that. (Can you tell I discussed this with my therapist?)
Anyway, there we are at the back end of last year, still without a donor. And then one day, a text from the agency. They had someone in mind if I had time for a chat. Of course I did. And this donor sounded very interesting. I’m wary of scribbling down anything that might identify her (or me, I suppose.) But when I looked through her profile, there was so much that made it feel right. So much that echoed our backgrounds, our families, our interests, our values, in a way that there really hadn’t been since Mary Poppins. I felt confident that if, in 15, 16, 17 years time I had to justify my decision, I could point to at least ten aspects of this donor that made me feel like her genes were the right ones for us…
By the way, I just realised that a number of you are here because you read the piece that I wrote in the Daily Mail back in March about how the lack of transparency about how high profile older women become mothers fuels not only the culture of secrecy and shame about using donor eggs, but also the notion that it’s possible to conceive in your mid to late 40s. So thank you for following, thank you for reading, thank you for taking the time to comment on posts, or email me with your success stories, your reassurance, your insight and your wisdom. It’s all very much appreciated — and that so many women have stories to tell never fails to make me feel conflicted. There’s pleasure in not being alone in all this, but also a lot of sadness, not just that so many women go through this, but also that we so rarely hear these stories. Anyway, thank you.