2 years ago, my sister-in-law (my husband's sister) and her husband
decided to start trying to have kids.
They were young, healthy and didn't think they would have any issues.
Little did they know, how big their journey would end up being, or that
they would require an egg donor.
Here is Jane's side of the story of being involved with Egg Donation -
next week I'll share my side, as the donor.
Q: How did you come to be involved in egg donation?
I went off the pill after a decade and we started trying to get pregnant. My period didn’t return, and after a few different tests ordered by my excellent GP (a women’s health specialist), my husband Evan and I were referred to a Reproductive Endocrinologist at Melbourne IVF. I was eventually diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure (aka Premature Menopause), and we were told in no uncertain terms that while I could carry a baby, we would need an egg donor. Needless to say, it was a shock! One positive we took from it all was that the diagnosis was made early and was relatively cut and dry. We didn’t spend a long and stressful time trying to conceive like many others I know, and that was something we could be thankful for. We started looking into The World Egg Bank, where anonymous donor eggs are brought in from the US.
Iss is like a sister to me, so she was in the loop about what was happening from the beginning. One random day after the diagnosis, she messaged me something along the lines of - “you can have my eggs, if you want”. Yep, she’s a pretty direct kind of woman. After the initial shock wore off (!!!) she followed up with a text saying she was deadly serious, she’d thought about it a lot and she didn’t want to put us on the spot, hence the message!
Q: What was your biggest fear?
Oh I had a few!
Initially I was worried that Iss hadn’t considered the enormity of this amazingly selfless gesture – that she had just automatically offered to help because that’s the kind of person she is. In particular, I was scared that she didn’t know what she was signing herself up for in terms of the medical procures and risks involved. At one point she did show signs of developing Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome and, in cahoots with my husband, decided not to tell me to save me from the worry! Still not sure if I’m angry or glad about that.. !
I was also concerned that Iss’s family might not be on board, which would make things difficult for her. In retrospect I don’t know why I worried about this; both our families have been fully supportive, which has been really lovely.
Q: Pros and cons of knowing the donor?
There are lots of advantages to knowing your donor - having a full medical history, being able to discuss the relationship they might have with any donor-conceived children and for us, arranging the legal side of things was relatively straightforward. Neither Evan or I could think of a single downside!
Q: Would you do the process with anyone else?
That’s a tough one!
Honestly, it’s difficult to imagine doing this with anyone else. Knowing that, as family, Iss and Poss (my brother) would always be in our children’s lives, it became a much easier decision. Both Evan and I always say that although this was a challenging thing to do, for the most part it went as well as it could have, and I think that’s because of the relationships between the four of us.
Q: What was the counselling process like?
Great! Melbourne IVF required us to meet with a counsellor in separate couples’ sessions. The aim was to ensure that both couples’ views on the whole process was compatible and that we had the tools to be able to continue to communicate about it in the future, given the somewhat unusual situation that our children were going to be born into.
As a psychologist (me) and a social worker (Iss), it’s safe to say that us girls entered into counselling feeling somewhat more comfortable than the boys! However, both the boys and our counsellor were amazing. In the end we didn’t need a combined session as the counsellor felt we were on the same page.
Q: What was the physical process like?
Gruelling is the word that springs to mind.
For me, it was a rigorous regime of estrogen tablets, blood tests, more tablets, thrice-daily progesterone pessaries (look it up!), more tests, ultrasounds and a whole lot of hormonal side effects. This in itself was exhausting, but trying to do it all covertly, often whilst at work, made it all the more stressful. Logistically, I was at the mercy of blood test results, meaning I’d often be sent to have another test or procedure at short notice, requiring more time off work. My very supportive manager was an absolute godsend during this period! And for anyone about to undergo IVF, I’m sorry to say that the actual embryo implementation procedure was more painful than I expected, though it was quick.
However, I felt this was nothing compared to what Iss had to do! I felt extreme guilt about knowing she had to inject herself with hormones (Inject! Herself!), undergo a general anaesthetic and just generally tolerate the risks associated with these procedures – all for us. It helped that these were relatively separate processes; Issy underwent the egg retrieval procedure first then I started my part, meaning we could support each other through it. We were lucky enough to end up with multiple viable embryos and after three IVF cycles we were successful. Fate played a nice old trick on us and we fell pregnant with identical twins (unusually, the one embryo that was implanted had split. Our IVF doctor lost her usual calm demeanour when she saw it on the ultrasound!).
Q: Any advice for people considering or needing to go through this?
Obviously it’s different for everyone and every situation, but I’d say being 100% sure about your relationship with your donor is fundamental to a positive outcome. Good communication between donor and recipient, as well as within and between their respective partners is also essential. It’s important to remember that it is not only an arrangement between two people, but something that can affect partners, families, existing children and obviously, any future donor-conceived children.
Remember the aim! It can feel like your entire existence revolves around blood tests, pills and more blood tests (we joked that our IVF doctor was a vampire as we were never able to leave her office without her sending us off for another bloody blood test!). But once we were pregnant, all the heartache and stress faded away into the background once (or maybe it was simply overshadowed by the stress of a high risk twin pregnancy!).
Self-care is vital. I’m biased ,because I am one, but see a psychologist for yourself, outside of any clinic-appointed sessions. I started seeing a psychologist who specialised in fertility issues once I was diagnosed with Premature Ovarian Failure, to work through the grief and loss associated with infertility. Then, whilst we underwent the IVF cycles, I continued to see her for support, which helped immensely.
Q: What things did you have to consider, that you didn’t think about before the process began?
I had looked forward to being pregnant and always knew I wanted to be able to carry my children, but not being able to use my own eggs have never crossed my mind. Once I was forced to think about it, I realised the genetic side of things just wasn’t that important to me, as long as I could carry the baby. (I’ve since learnt that some people exactly the opposite, go figure!). I knew I would still feel like they were 100% my children, although I was a bit worried that they would come out looking exactly like Iss! (They didn’t!).
Q: Will/how will you tell them?
From the beginning, there was never a doubt in our minds that we would be open with any children we had about how they came to be (whether we knew the donor or not). Once Iss became involved, we also had to consider her and Poss’ wishes regarding transparency, particularly given that their two (soon to be three) children would be ‘extra-close’ cousins to any kids we had! Secrets about identity can often foster feelings of shame, and that’s not something we want for our children, so our plan is to be as honest as possible about how the twins’ ‘special aunty Iss’ helped us make our family. We’ve also been very open about it to people in general; it’s amazing how many people have similar stories and how common issues with fertility are.