Even in 2016, women who choose donor Eggs as a way to start or expand their families still seem to face an onslaught of judgment and scorn from a society that’s not quite ready to talk about it. Advanced as we may be, our modern culture hasn’t yet learned to shed light on infertility or embrace new paths to motherhood. Women who choose to use donor eggs carry their babies in their wombs and labor through the all the same pains of birth and parenting as “normal” mothers do…yet they still suffer from the stigma that surrounds the conception of their child.
In an effort to avoid revealing a choice that many see as taboo, many donor egg mothers closet themselves in secrecy and silence – even from their friends and family who may not understand or accept their decision.
Pregnancy and the Hierarchy of How
Amongst women fighting against infertility, there seems to exist what Amy Klein, journalist and donor-egg recipient, describes as the hierarchy of how. In her article, Is that my Baby?, Amy describes a totem pole of acceptable fertility methods: from “just plain sex” at the top, IVF treatment, and finally “third-party reproduction” all the way at the bottom.
On that lowest rung are options such as adoption, sperm donation and surrogacy, which have achieved mainstream acceptance and considerable air time in Hollywood films. But what about women who use donor eggs? Far from the spotlight, these ladies tend to shield themselves against society’s stigmatization and the harsh wrath of those who simply don’t understand.
Tackling the Taboos of Choosing Donor Eggs
The fear and frustration of infertility often leaves a woman feeling emotional raw, stripped of the spiritual armor that would otherwise protect her against the snide and backhanded remarks of others. That is why it’s so important to shed light on these myths and misconceptions, so that, as women, we’re all equipped with the truth and compassion we need to reclaim our experiences and our rights to motherhood.
“Less than a mother”
Far too often, women who choose donor eggs are shunned as second-class mothers. Thankfully, even science disagrees with this argument. In fact, scientific studies continue to reveal that unborn babies feel, learn, perceive emotions, and form interpersonal bonds during the 9 months that they are in utero. Epigenetics (the study of how environment shapes gene expression) teaches us that donor egg moms shape everything from the child’s health to his or her temperament, in addition to forming fierce attachment and mother-child bonds over the course of 40 gestational weeks.
Unfortunately, because our society tends to value a genetic connection more than an emotional one it’s up to the mother to know better.
“It’s weird or unnatural”
Shrouded in complex medical procedures, many are quick to label donor egg fertilization as weird or unnatural rather than taking the time to study what the process is really all about. Even adoption – in which the new mother does not share any genetic link to her new child – is more culturally couth than receiving assistance from another woman to conceive a baby.
Many fail to realize that a fertilized donor egg contains half the parents’ genes and is carried by the mother, who also passes on some of her DNA to her new child. More importantly, while egg donation may not be the most traditional path to pregnancy, no woman should be made to feel abnormal for choosing this option.
Donors are carefully screened and selected by a couple and are often chosen for their pristine medical history, superior intelligence, and attractive appearance. And while this freedom of choice is not something we hold against adoptive parents, couples who choose donor eggs are often criticized for creating a “designer baby,” rather than rolling the dice the natural way.
“It’s your fault. You waited too long.”
Fault and blame land with the subtlety of an atomic missile on the already sensitive landscape of a woman who is struggling with infertility. Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent others from judging women for putting off pregnancy until later in life.
More than other fertility treatment options, donor eggs are strongly associated with aging – even though women facing infertility at any age may turn to donor eggs. Naysayers may silently or openly shame women for prioritizing other life goals over pregnancy even though our society openly propagates misinformation about the correlation between diminishing fertility with age. Contrary to the slew of celebrities participating in the over-40 baby-boom, by age 45, women only have a 3-4% chance of having a baby naturally and to many women the realities of diminished fertility come as an all too unexpected shock.
How to Have a Conversation with a Mother who Used Donor Eggs
If you’re having a conversation with a new mother about her choice to use egg donation, ask questions rather than assuming. If you don’t understand something, express your genuine curiosity. Approach the mom with compassion and try not to project upon her the stigmas that society has passed onto you. Do your best to create a space in which the woman feels supported and encouraged to share her truth openly and honestly.
Adoption, sperm donation, and surrogacy have each made their way from the stigmatized sidelines and into mainstream acceptance, but it is a process that takes time and requires brave new conversations. The difficult decision to receive donor eggs can be a lifeline for a woman eager to start or grow her family, and she is counting on those closest to her for compassion – not criticism.