Third Party Impolitics

“Should I use an egg donor?” is the debate for women dealing with rotten eggs. Approximately a 47 quadrillion threads on PVED and other donor egg forums address some version of this question, and the rhythm of the comments goes something like this:

Concerned poster: Will it be the same?
Super sweet poster: Yes, it’s exactly the same. I never think about it.
Well-adjusted poster: I have both own-egg and donor-egg babies, and I always forget which is which.
Social worker poster: What does your husband say? Could you talk to friends or family?
Therapized poster: Maybe you should see professional. My shrink helped me so much.
Defensive poster: My kid is my kid. Period.

Pretty much all the comments you’ll read on DE forums will be comforting and reassuring because (duh), you’re asking parents of DE babies. And even though third-party reproduction would be the worst possible choice for some people, no one on those forums is going to say, “Horrible option. Don’t do it. If you’re having doubts, trust your gut. Go childfree.”

But childfree is what infertiles want to google to find out what life would be like after deciding against raising kids that aren’t genetically related. And it’s well-worth the search (for childfree blogs, in particular), because you aren’t going to find that range of perspectives on PVED. Folks who’ve decided against DE have long since left those forums and are now writing about travel, learning Portuguese, or their new careers.

I mention all this now because I’m coming up on a year of raising my donor egg baby (what?), so I’m doing an emotional inventory (post to follow), and in reflecting on the path that got me here, it strikes me that I could have just as easily taken a different route, and my musings might have looked more like these:

We’re {Not} Having a Baby
Childfree Me
Real Life & Thereafter
No Kidding in NZ
The Not Mom
Childfree Corner
Life without Baby
Those are the ones I think are most worth checking out, but there’s also any of these other accounts on The Stirrup Queens’ list of childfree blogs.

And then there bloggers who are going through the DE question now. If you’re interested in infertility blogs, then you already know that every woman who’s cried into her box of tampons is blogging about infertility, but The Empress and the Fool is the only one I follow. She stands out to me because she’s honest (understatement), because she’s a true writer (severe understatement), and because there’s something about her that reminds of me of me — or of who I might have been if I’d been a true writer.

She’s still very much blowing in the wind with all this stuff (grief, hope, life), so who knows where she’ll end up, but one of her recent posts is as true as any ramble you’ll find weighing the donor egg option. So if you’re curious to read one woman’s reasons why she doesn’t plan to use an egg donor, check her out.

The Empress and the Fool: The Epiphany, No Histerionics

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Lemonade

OK, so my daughter’s marks are not from neurofibromatosis.
They’re from lemons.

It appears that her skin was exposed to lemon juice before going out into the sun, and it caused chemical burns all over her face and legs. It’s called phytophotodermatitis, which is also known as Lime Disease (not to be confused with Lyme Disease). The burns should fade in 6-12 months.

Lemons.

I’m still so in shock that I can’t even be happy yet. I haven’t exhaled. My heart is still stuck in the terror that she’ll be severely deformed and forever shunned from society. I can’t yet extricate myself from the maternal fear whose depths I couldn’t fathom until now. And I just made a donation to the Children’s Tumor Foundation whose mission it is to end NF because of course I did. I mean, jesus christ, what those mothers and children and families must be going through. I just lived through the tip of their iceberg, and I still can’t begin to imagine what lies beneath. They have to deal with neurofibromatosis, and all I have to watch out for is lemons.

It’s possible that I’m overstating this, but I doubt it: the experience of eluding this sickness might be the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. She could have had NF, and it’s sheer luck (or grace, if you lean that way) that she doesn’t, and so now’s my chance to quit planting seeds of regret. I want so badly to kiss her with all my heart and to love her without reservation, and so for fuck’s sake, I need to tear down the last of this ridiculous barrier that’s keeping me from bonding as fully as I can with my baby.

My sweet, sweet, sweet, lemon-stained baby with the crooked smile that I love more today than ever, but which I hope to love even more tomorrow.

~~~

PS: To those of you who got in touch after reading my last post, I am deeply grateful for you. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much.

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Alone

The best piece of advice I’ve received from other parents is to leave well enough alone. If your baby is quiet, don’t give her a toy. If she’s happy with her toy, don’t sway her rocker. If she’s happy being swayed in her rocker, don’t pick her up. Just leave well enough alone.

I think of this advice now, and I wonder if it’s something I should have heeded before having a baby. Yes, I was depressed at the prospect of being forever childless, and I felt distraught when imagining decades of family holidays with no brood in tow, but I wonder now if I could have eventually wrapped my head around it. Surely I’d have quit spiraling in anguish by 2020 or so. Wouldn’t that have been better than this?

What’s this “this,” you may be wondering?

Here’s where my fingers begin to stutter. Type. Delete. Type. Delete. Heart breaks. Eyes close. Tears fall. Tissues. Deep breath. Ok.

At my daughter’s 9-month check, our pediatrician pointed out these unusual marks on her skin. Several of them. They’re light brown and oddly shaped — very thin, very long ovals. Two on her face and several on her legs and arms. I’d noticed them, of course, but I thought they were bruises or something. Nothing to worry about.

Not so.

They’re called cafe au lait birthmarks, and although it’s possible that they’re just birthmarks and nothing more, quite often they’re an early symptom of a neurological condition called neurofibromatosis, which is probably the worst thing I’ve ever heard of.

Clusters of small tumors that grow all over the skin to the point of being significantly disfiguring. Skeletal deformities. Brain tumors that can lead to hearing loss, vision loss, or worse. Seizures. Learning disabilities. Other things, too, that I can’t quite remember right now. (Tip: Do not do an image search if you’re eating.)

In Wikipedia, entries often have a Popular Culture section where they talk about personalities or characters that relate to the subject being discussed. I haven’t read the Wiki page for NF (yes, I’ve already got the shorthand down), but Google search results have pointed to the Elephant Man and the Hunchback of Notre Dame as known characters with the condition.

So, yeah. I’m pretty much losing my mind.

And I keep thinking: does this mean that I’ll only get to have 9 months of parental bliss before being flung into a lifetime of parental hell? Because if that’s the case, then I kind of blew it because I spent most of these 9 months questioning whether I made the right choice in using an egg donor. Hardly a day went by when I didn’t wonder what my own genetic kid would look like and if I’d have felt differently about that imagined offspring … loved her more or better. Of course there’s no way to know how things might have been, which for a normal person would mean that they’d have put these questions out of their minds, but for me meant that I had to work 77 times as hard to find the answers.

So now I’m loaded with profound regret for not having left well enough alone these past few months. If I had accepted each of those moments for all the sweetness they held, I could have looked at my daughter with a heart full of love 100% of the time instead of just 94%. I might have appreciated every one of her funny, crooked smiles without being reminded of the donor. Or perhaps I wouldn’t have blown in her face out of frustration that time when she wouldn’t stop crying.

But that was then, and right now, I’m losing my mind.

Losing my mind because I can’t think about the past without feeling regret, and I can’t think about the future without being suffocated by fear. My stupid therapist would tell me to just feel the emotions of the present, but there is no present. Just the weight of what’s behind me and the emptiness of what’s in front, and me balancing on the edge of a tissue waiting for the Xanax to kick in.

~~~

That was last night. The Xanax did work, but now I feel like I need another. Something to keep my mind occupied until our appointment with the pediatric dermatologist later today. It took a week to get in because the referral was delayed. “It’s not urgent,” said the nurse, “because even if she has it, there’s nothing you can do.” Oh, good. That helps, you fucking cunt-hole.

In the meantime, I’ll publish this scattered post. But first I need to create a new tag: neurofibromatosis. I can’t tell you how deeply and profoundly I’m hoping that this is the only time I’ll use it.

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Fuck You, Katie Couric: A Love Story

For those of you living under a rock or some other place where no one gives a shit about egg donation, Katie Couric recently did a segment about a donor egg conceived child and her family who met their donor for the first time on her show. The program went as one might expect: some nervousness, lots of sweetness, and tons of positivity.

Afterwards, however, the tenor of the donor egg recipient community turned a vivid shade of fury because the language used on the show was different from the language we prefer. Whereas PVED uses “donor vs. biological mother” to differentiate the roles of the women, the people on Couric’s show referred to the donor as the biological mother. Gasp.

The outrage went something like this: donors aren’t mothers, and Katie Couric is an asshole.

Although I’m tempted to get into the weeds of the discussion, that would require too much tedium, so instead I’m just going to piss everyone off and say that I believe we’re being overly sensitive, reactionary, and irrational because we’re insecure about our roles as mothers.

Or at least that’s true for me.

I’ve written my share of posts about language, and so I know all about the emotions that propel the fervor. Differentiating genetics from biology as if genes aren’t a part of biology. Proclaiming that the donor is not a mother even though the entire history of science has a very clear definition of parent to the inclusion of the source of donated gametes.

Over the last few years, I’ve rallied against these truths, but all the while, something about my cries never sat right. Even in calm settings, these were never calm conversations. I tended to get a little worked up when talking about mine versus the donor’s roles. Defensive. I always wore some layer of I-dare-you-to-challenge-my-legitimacy armor instead of admitting that “yes, as a factual matter of science, our donor is a biological mother to my child. Now how am I going to deal with how vulnerable that makes me feel?”

Because vulnerability is where this dogma comes from. Plain and simple, I’m afraid. I’m afraid that some people don’t see me as the real mom. I lay awake wondering about the effects of my slow bonding process with my daughter and whether our relationship will suffer for it, or how much. I worry that she won’t have enough of me in her, and she’ll navel-gaze her way through adolescence until she ultimately disconnects from me completely. And if all of these questions didn’t haunt me before, now I have to deal with them in the shadow of another mother.

But all of this is OK. I don’t expose my fears to solicit comfort and validation, and I don’t want your hugs. I don’t want to feel better. I just want to feel.

It’s important for me to sit with my grief. I cozy up to my sadness deliberately, and I make myself cry because I want to see my reflection in my tears. The more I feel the truth of my fears, the more quickly I can get through to the other side, even while the darkness makes me forget that another side exists.

I imagine that other donor egg recipients share some of the same vulnerabilities, and I imagine that some women are vulnerable in ways that are wholly different from me. I also imagine that some moms feel only a teensy amount of vulnerability and rarely think about their children’s not uncomplicated (yes, that’s a double negative) conception.

But I’ll stop short of saying that any of us are 100% okay with the world of egg donation because I suspect that we all hang on to some degree of vulnerability. Even for those who are most at peace, at some point someone might say something that will trigger us, and suddenly we need to gouge out eyeballs, which – let’s face it – is not the inclination of a person who’s confident and secure.

Which brings me back to Katie Couric. As it did for most of my fellow egg donor recipients, the program challenged me. I almost didn’t watch it (“biological mother? Come here so I can kill you.”), but then I reflected on my resistance for long enough to muster up the courage, and I clicked play. I was nervous at the start, and as it went on, there were parts that definitely made me uncomfortable (“other grandmother?”). It wasn’t easy, and it raised a lot of questions for me.

What if my daughter will want to meet her siblings? It’s possible that she won’t think about her genetic relatives, but it’s also possible that she’ll feel existentially incomplete until she gets to know this other part of her family. Will she want her donor in her life for milestones like graduations and her wedding, or will she need her around more often than that? And how will I handle the threats of these possible futures without removing anyone’s eyeballs?

But despite my emotional reactions, I can’t deny that Couric did a pretty good job with the subject. She showed a healthy balance of curiosity and support, and she made her guests feel open and safe. Moreover, when all was said and done, I think the segment could potentially help normalize egg donation for people considering their family-building options. And maybe it even helped normalize egg donation for a certain someone who’s already used it.

So fuck you, Katie Couric, for making me feel vulnerable. I hate you.
And thank you, Katie Couric, for making me feel vulnerable. I love you.

Posted in Donor Egg Parenting, My Head, Parenting, PVED | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gray Matters

You know the feeling: you’re starving, and you really want a burger, but all you have is salad, so you eat the salad, and technically you aren’t hungry anymore because the salad was huge and had lots of avocado and sunflower seeds and stuff like that, but it wasn’t a burger, so you aren’t fully satisfied.

I spoke to a friend today who asked for the lowdown on how it feels to be the mom of a donor egg baby. Is it everything that it promises to be? Is it worth the financial cost, the emotional roller coaster of hope-turned-grief, and the risk of having yet another miscarriage? Or should she consider moving forward with her life and live child-free.

She wanted an honest answer, so I gave it to her. It’s kind of like a salad. It’s good, but what I really wanted was a burger. And I’m not fully satisfied.

I’m not sure who these women are who say that a donor egg baby is the same as an own-egg baby. That they never think about the donor again after getting a pee-stick positive, seeing the heartbeat, feeling a kick, or whatever other milestone is met. I guess these women exist because boundless baby bliss is all I ever heard about, but all I know is that I’m not one of them.

I think about the donor all the time. She’s who I see when I look at my daughter’s smile or wonder how I’m going to tame those crazy eyebrows. She’s the person I think about when my husband talks about the family that we’ve built. She’s what comes to mind when I see that my kid should have met some developmental skill and I wonder what consequences there’ll be from being deceived about my donor’s smarts on her profile.

This haunting motivated me to meet today with a therapist who specializes in infertility and third-party reproduction. I love my long-time therapist, but I’m not sure if she can help me with what I’m going through. As I mentioned in my last post, when I asked her why I’m feeling disconnected, she said that the why didn’t matter and that I just needed to work on connecting with my kid. You know: “process my intimacy issues.”

She’s wrong, I think. I think it does matter. If I’m uneasy about qualities in my donor that I see in my daughter, I need to work through that. If my involvement in the donor egg community is making me think too much about my baby’s conception, then I need to find a new distance with that world while still respecting whatever responsibility I owe my daughter. If there remains a shit ton of grief at the loss of my genetics, then I need to resolve that, too. And yes, process my intimacy issues blah blah fuck you.

So was my baby pursuit worth it in the end? I think so, but it’s not exactly black and white. Raising my daughter is a million thousand times better for me than being childless, but it hasn’t been easy. She isn’t a burger, but she is pretty damn good, and what I hope is that this work will turn these salad days into salad days.

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Eat, Play, Love

Eat.

I have video footage of my baby crying while nursing my left tit because I have almost no milk. She had better luck on the right, but not much. I won’t go into the details of how awful breastfeeding has been, but suffice it to say that it’s been both physically and emotionally painful for both me and my kid.

Now at 5 months, she’s almost exclusively formula fed. I have one last bottle of breast milk left, and I think I’ll cry when I feed it to her. The few successful breastfeedings were profoundly sweet. In those moments, I felt like a mom. But still, quitting will be a relief. But also sad. But also a relief.

 

Play.

The truth is that I don’t know how to interact with infants. Don’t get me wrong: I took great care of her and held her almost constantly when she was teeny tiny, but infants are incredibly stupid, and playing with an infant isn’t much different from playing with a bale of hay. You get about as much reciprocity: no eye contact and none of that cuddling that you imagine happens between mother and child. I tried to play with her as best I could, but really she was just a lot of noise and shitty diapers.

This changed over the last couple of months, and the 5-month mark was a special turning point. She laughs freely now, and it’s easy to get her to smile. We spend a lot of time dancing around and roughhousing; she likes getting thrown in the air, getting tickled, and when I fling her upside-down. Sometimes our games make her throw up, but bales of hay don’t throw up, so we’re moving in the right direction. And I’m having fun.

 

Love.

For these and other reasons (hello, 5 hours of sleep!), parenting has gotten easier, but to be honest, there remains a bit of discord in our relationship: I’m not sure if I’m fully bonded with my kid, and I can’t help but feel that it’s because of the egg donation thing.

I don’t know how parental love is supposed to feel, and maybe this is it. You hear about rainbows and unicorns popping out of women’s vaginas together with their spawn, and all that came with my baby was blood and slime, so it’s hard for me to tell.

It’s possible that this emotional barrier is just a part of my psychology because of my broken upbringing. My childhood had a good bit of neglect and some physical abuse, so I might feel this way no matter how my child came about. I tried to flesh it out in therapy, but when I asked my therapist why I was feeling this lack of connection, she said that the why didn’t matter and that I just needed to work on increasing my capacity for intimacy. (Intimacy issues? That’s real original, Therapy. You fucking whore.)

I do really like spending time with the kid, but as often as not, I look at her like I’m not sure who she is. But maybe that’s normal. Or maybe it’s not. What the hell do I know? I still can’t believe that the hospital let me take her home, to be honest. I mean, they don’t even know me.

Hell. I don’t know me.

Posted in Donor Egg Parenting, My Head, Parenting, Things Past | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments