How we made the decision to use donor eggs

Now that I’m nearly 27 weeks pregnant(!), I’ve gotten a few private messages lately from women in the infertility trenches asking me things like how we made the decision to use donor eggs, how we decided between anonymous and known donation, and how the process compared to non-donor-egg IVF. I actually love getting these questions, because if I can help other people by sharing our experience, it honestly makes it all worth it. (Well… almost worth it… I’m no masochist.)

So for those who are currently considering donor eggs themselves, or those who are just curious, I thought I’d write a series of posts attempting to answer these questions. I’ll start by sharing how the decision process went for our particular case, with the acknowledgement that each case is different, and therefore our case may not mirror yours.

How did we make the leap to donor eggs?

I’m one of those people who researches the hell out of everything, so as soon as we learned that I had premature ovarian failure, I basically already knew that we would end up using donor eggs. To be clear, our OB-GYN here in Holland didn’t actually use the phrase ‘premature ovarian failure’… However, she told us that I had the hormone levels of a menopausal woman despite being 34 at the time, and then once we confirmed how my ovaries were responding to IVF (i.e., they weren’t), I put two-and-two together.

Of course, we still tried my eggs three times, which took quite a bit of effort — we had to talk the infertility clinic we’d been referred to into even doing a second IVF attempt after only getting a single egg the first time. This may be surprising to some people (‘Isn’t helping people get pregnant sort of the whole point of infertility clinics…?’), but the way they explained it is that with such a poor response, the risks of IVF start to outweigh any potential benefits.

That second attempt, we got three (poor-quality) eggs and transferred two — neither of which stuck.

Then we had to switch clinics (and countries) to get to a third try. The new clinic had me on different medication (both for the hormone therapy and for sub-clinical hypo-thyroidism), and I had also drastically altered my diet, so I was kind of hopeful that we’d get a better outcome. With that said, we went into it knowing it was likely our last shot, and the clinic suggested that we do a 5-day embryo transfer instead of 3-day like my other attempts, with part of the reasoning being that this might help us get ‘closure’. Indeed, when the single egg that fertilized (of a measly two retrieved) didn’t even survive to transfer day, that did help us close that chapter.

Was that an easy decision?

No — obviously that was still devastating. Just like normal, fertile people (lucky bastards…) can’t truly understand what it’s like to go through infertility/IVF, I think that those doing ‘regular’ (non-donor-egg) IVF can’t understand what it’s like to ‘give up’ on your eggs. (The same holds for the use of donor sperm, donor embryos, surrogacy, and etc.) For my husband and I, making the leap to donor eggs was a far bigger leap than ‘just’ doing IVF in the first place.

If undergoing ‘regular’ IVF was the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree, accepting that we needed donor egg IVF was the equivalent of writing a doctoral dissertation.

With that said, I knew that I just really wanted to experience being pregnant, and if it took donor eggs to get me there, I was willing to make that leap. Luckily, my husband felt the same way.

Considering the whole spectrum of cases, I can imagine that making the decision to use donor eggs or not would be harder for those whose ovaries aren’t as geriatric as mine apparently are. When you’re only getting a tiny handful for poor-quality eggs each cycle, like we did, the decision basically makes itself for you. If you’re getting a larger number of eggs, or the reason behind the failed implantation is less obvious, the decision is much less clear-cut, of course. If this applies to you, then my advice would be to talk to your clinic and decide ahead-of-time if a non-donor-egg cycle will be your last one. That way, you can grieve appropriately during the cycle.

How are we feeling about it all now?

So now that we are finally pregnant through donor egg IVF (i.e. DEIVF), how are we feeling about our decision? The short answer is that we feel super excited and ridiculously grateful. Before it worked for us, I used to worry that any eventual DE pregnancy would be bitter-sweet, with each exciting milestone marked by an equal amount of grief for the lost opportunities. (I’m clearly not at all dramatic/prone to melancholy.)

Now that we have made it to the other side and things appear to be going well, I’m happy to report that I am just thrilled to be pregnant, and I don’t even care that it took donor eggs to get us here. Obviously, it being a donor egg pregnancy does raise unique issues — which I will continue to explore in this blog — but the important thing is that my husband and I are 100% happy with our decision. If anything, it just makes us both even prouder of what we’ve endured to get here.

xx

The contents of my uterus

You know those people who talk about the baby like it’s a person before it’s even born? As in, ‘Bradley just loves when I eat ice cream’. Or, ‘Bradley’s nursery will be complete as soon as I hand-stencil the Desiderata on the wall’?

Well I’ve always found this behavior sort of odd, which is part of the reason I didn’t want to tell anybody the name before the birth.

That’s right — we have a name. Some people are surprised we have one ‘already’, but they really shouldn’t be. We’ve had YEARS to figure this out, guys. And actually, we had the name before we even started trying, and well before all this infertility nonsense started. My husband and I both distinctly recall discussing the name as a given already 10(!) years ago*, which means we’ve had it for at least that long.

The only thing we weren’t sure of was whether the gender would fit, because for some reason, we only had a female name. But at our 20-week scan we found out that it will…because, as luck would have it, it’s a girl.

To tell or not tell?

Everyone keeps asking if we were hoping for a girl or boy, and honestly — after years of infertility, failed IVF attempts, and ultimately egg donation — we’re still just over-the-moon that we’re pregnant at all. Our main excitement over learning it was a girl was realizing that we could finally use the name we’ve talked about for so long.**

My husband was so excited he wanted to immediately tell everyone the name, whereas I wasn’t even sure about revealing the gender at first. I admit the initial excitement almost swayed me. But in addition to finding it weird when people refer to an unborn child by a name, I’m also suddenly feeling a little…private?…about it all.

Saying that may seem at odds with the fact that I’m doing so on a public blog — raise your hand if you’ve heard me talk about my uterine lining! — but it’s actually pretty logical. I still believe strongly in raising awareness about infertility and egg donation, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a naturally private person. Infertility steals so much from you — my husband and I couldn’t conceive without getting literally dozens of people involved — and now that we are finally pregnant, I’d like to keep something back for just the two of us.

It’s an…it

In the meantime, my husband and I continue to refer to the baby not by name, or even by gendered pronoun, but as an ‘it’ — including in private. Maybe this will change as the pregnancy progresses further, but for now we’d like to ask our friends and family to do the same.

In addition to my newfound (& somewhat surprising) desire to keep the contents of my uterus private, I think part of it, for me, is that it seems somehow presumptuous/overly familiar to refer so intimately to a person we’ve never met. Another part of it may have to do with the fact that it’s a girl, and I’d like to delay society’s expectations (why is everything so PINK?!) for as long as possible. But I’m also no dummy, and it’s likely that a major part of it has to do with the trauma we went through to get here, and a natural tendency to shield oneself in the event of a loss.

So until this baby makes its grand debut, we will continue to refer to it as an ‘it’, and we hope you won’t mind following along.

xx

*We know this conversation took place exactly 10 years ago because we were trying to adopt a deaf corgi with the same name after we’d already decided we liked it for a kid. When that adoption fell through (and we wound up with our current neurotic fluff-ball instead), the silver lining was knowing we wouldn’t have to choose between finding a new kid’s name, or naming a kid after our dog.

**Ironically, the name we chose over a decade ago on the US is quite popular here in Holland. I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed, but least it will be easy for people here to pronounce…