Thursday, July 12, 2007

O. Henry Conception

Dear Jane:

Eight years, $90 thousand dollars, five lost babies and I am crazy enough to want to try again. Months after finding out that our previous egg donor has a rare genetic defect and all frozen embryos needed to be discarded, the donor agency has finally come up with another potential donor for us. She's not an ideal match as she has hazel eyes and both my darling husband and I have blue eyes, but she is a proven donor with a fairly good track record. We are also currently on the waiting list for donor embryos through our RE and have moved up to number 6 on the list. A few more months and we will have first choice on embryos as they become available.

Here's the question part: Should we try one more time with the egg donor and have the chance of having a baby who is biologically related to at least one of us or should we just wait for a donated embryo to become available? The RE is waiving his cost of either procedure but there is still a significant difference in cost. The egg donor process will probably be close to $10,000 while the donated embryo will only cost us the meds to get ready for transfer.

I'm struggling between wanting a baby who at least is related to my husband biologically and feeling like it might be easier if the child isn't related to either of us. I had the long night's grieving over the fact that I will never look at my child and see my mother's eyes or my father's smile. Is it selfish to feel it isn't fair for my husband to have that connection when I don't? That somehow the baby will belong more to his family than to mine? Don't get me wrong, I will LOVE any child who comes into our lives and will never doubt that they are mine in my heart. I'm just feeling so conflicted about which way to go at the moment. What would you do?

Mourning My Genes

Dear Mourning:

At its root, your question isn't really about donor gametes (about which Jane would have shook her head in confusion--poor Jane, woefully ignorant of the leaps in medical knowledge that will take place in later centuries). It's about marriage and the negotiations that take place between couples. There are the small ones that everyone does--the often-quoted one involves toilet seats that are left up or down. And, unfortunately, you've entered a realm that few ever reach--decisions that will define not only the rest of your own life, but that of generations to come. There are great books out there such as Mommies, Daddies, Donors and Surrogates by Diane Ehrensaft that can help you sort through your feelings. But because it is outside most people's base of understanding and experience, the decision requires you to be trailblazers, cutting out a new path. As I've said before, take only my advice that speaks to your heart and disregard the rest--these types of decisions are extremely personal and while others can help you sort through the pros and cons of the choices, only you can know how you weigh each reason on the list.

But back to marriage.

In Mansfield Park, Jane writes on the topic of marriage, "...there is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry. Look where I will, I see that it is so; and I feel that it must be so, when I consider that it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves."

Negotiating life with another person requires us to sometimes make choices that we would never make on our own. They're not necessary dishonest in the sense of lying, but dishonest in that they don't really represent what we are thinking or feeling. They're necessary because we compromise out of love for another person. A spouse or partner is that ultimate love that makes us transcend our selfish impulses and consider the other person first.

That's what Jane would do.

Now what should you do?

Everyone in Jane's novels has a series of confidantes, and I deserve a few too when I'm thinking through your questions. I put my head together with the brilliant and beautiful Perspicacious Babe. We both read between the lines of your question and came to the same conclusion--your heart wants to go the donor embryo route but, at the same time, your heart doesn't want to want to go the donor embryo route. There are two main reasons I can see for why you wouldn't want to admit that desire outright.

I suspect that one reason is that you feel yucky having these thoughts--these thoughts about biology and belonging and ownership that are completely natural. I imagine there are few people in this world who are mourning the fact that they are not passing along their genes who don't pause to think about the inequality this situation could create (emphasis on the could because from what I've observed in life and read, it doesn't actually seem to be the case the majority of the time).

The second reason is that you want to know definitively that your husband made the decision with you instead of because of you. If he were to read this question, he may pick up on your wishes and go the donor embryo route not because it is the route that sits best with him, but because he wants to make you happy.

You have three sound reasons for wanting to do donor embryo: timing, cost, and equality. The timing is a bit better, the cost is definitely better, and the equality that donor embryo creates is possibly the peace of mind you need at this juncture of your journey to parenthood. Donor egg felt right at some point (and maybe it still does), or perhaps it has always felt a bit wrong but you did it for the same reasons you fear your husband would act if you admitted your own feelings. However you viewed donor egg before, donor embryo has since become the more enticing option. That's not to say that you're anti-donor egg. You state the benefits of remaining on the same path. I think you will ultimately be okay with whichever path you end up choosing. But having to make the choice is excruciating. Especially when you want to make sure that neither of you will have any regrets or doubts.

Without communication, the most thoughtful marriages can turn into an O. Henry story a la "The Gift of the Magi". Yet instead of selling your hair to buy him a watch chain while he sells his watch to buy you combs, the modern day donor gamete version of this story would have the wife saying, "I didn't tell you that I wanted to do donor embryo because I didn't want to hurt your feelings or have you mourn the loss of your genetic material as I did!" while the husband replies, "I only went with donor eggs because I thought it was what you wanted to do. I would have been happy with donor embryos and becoming a parent through any path."

Even the most thoughtful partner needs information in which to form all those thoughtful actions. You may be surprised that when you present why you prefer one path over another that he counters that it doesn't matter (or perhaps it does, but at least you can enter into a conversation about it and get to a better place of understanding).

So how do you have this conversation?

Perspicacious Babe points out, "she'll feel better if she doesn't have a reason to feel that she has pressured him into it. So the trick is to arrange a discussion where she gets his honest opinion on the subject. It's harder than it sounds, when you get tangled in this web of 'but are you just saying what you think I want to hear?'"

Therefore, you'll have to exchange information at the same time (and this is a method that anyone can use if they're trying to make a decision without influencing the other person). It obviously won't work if you sit across a table and talk simultaneously, therefore, it's time to take out your pens and a piece of paper.

Each person will answer the following six questions (in complete sentences using proper MLA format...) on a piece of paper. They will fold and seal their answers until both people are finished. Perspicacious Babe has given you the added assignment of this: on a separate piece of paper, each person will write down any additional questions they want to ask the other person directly. They will exchange the paper with the additional questions. Each person will answer the additional questions and fold over this paper as well. When everyone is ready, they will give each other their two sets of answers and separate for a moment to read them. Why separate? Because you need to focus on the other person's words and not their visible reaction (or lack thereof) to your words. Once you have given their side some thought, come back together for the discussion.

This is the time to be as honest and open as possible. At the end of the conversation, you'll hopefully have a path set that both parties feel comfortable walking. And, as said by the ever-perspicacious Perspicacious Babe, "you might be ready to cycle and be pregnant again, but if you're not ready to choose a path, you're not ready." I'm sending many good thoughts to you that you find your peace soon.

The Questions

1. What do you see as the benefits of donor egg?
2. What do you see as the benefits of donor embryo?
3. What do you see as the drawbacks of our current donor egg situation?
4. What do you see as the drawbacks of donor embryo in general?
5. What is your understanding of why we choose the donor gamete path over adoption? Do you still want to be on the donor gamete path and why?--I ask this question because it could reveal that he's tied to the idea of control over prenatal conditions and not the genetic ties DE would afford him. Oh...and cut my "why" out before you put this question on the question list...
6. Based on gut instinct, what do you want to do next?

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Mourning's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Mourning elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.


Kami said...

Dear Mourning,

I don't think I have anything to add to Jane's comments. That sounds like a great way to get your thoughts figured out for yourself (and your husband his) and then be able to communicate them to each other.

Mostly, I wanted to say that you are not alone. I am mourning the loss of my genetics as well. We have also spent some time discussing donor sperm along with the donor eggs (we have MFI and AMA).

I haven't had as many years, spent as much money or had as many losses, but I am close on all three counts. I don't think you are crazy to try again and I wish you success on whatever path you and your husband choose.

Mr. Blackstone said...

Amazing isn't it, how sometimes the way we make a decision in a marriage matters more than what is actually decided?

grad3 said...

I think what everyone has said is insightful, thoughtful, and honest. Honesty is hard to find in decisions and situations like these. However, it is the most important ingredient. The idea on how to get there is wonderful... and very brave of you to not only acknowledge the concern but to give it a voice. I also think it is very brave that you continue to listen to your heart even after the pain of rpl. Simply said, I find you brave, not crazy.

I have had many of the same thoughts as our RE made the same suggestion after the same number of losses. We have not come to a decision yet either... I do wish you and your husband peace on which ever path you chose.

Perspicacious Babe said...

I'd like to hear what Mourning's husband thought of the idea of the exchange. And what did Josh think, too? Since this is a question about communication and decision-making in marriage.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mourning,

I had my first child at 43 with donor eggs and my husbunds sperm. I have never been so blessed I love this child more than life itself. He is the reason my heart beats everyday.Once you give birth and that baby is in your arms you won't even remember the word donor egg. It won't make a differnce it will never be an issue. You will be just so thankful to have all that infertility garbage behind you so that you can begin to truley live and plan your life and move forward. Trust me it won't be an issue. You won't even think about it again. Take your blessings and run with them!! My thanks goes out to all the women who are egg donors. You are special people and you make a difference in a lot of lives. Thank you! I hope this helps you. Ps we are expecting are second baby!!!!