Having Diana: Robin's story
Egg donation makes daughter possible
Monday, September 21, 2009
This is Robin's story about having her daughter through an egg donated by her friend, Emily. To read Emily's story, click here.
My daughter Diana has the most amazing eyes. Liquid, like a reflecting pool, they change color: brown, hazel, green, blue. Up until a month ago, I wasn't quite sure where she'd gotten them-my husband's are blue and mine dark brown.
I learned the answer in Mississippi as I swung with Diana, who turns 1 on Oct. 5, and my friend Emily on the front porch of her Tupelo home.
"They're just like my dad's," Emily told me.
"Huh, that's interesting," I said. "I thought your dad had green eyes."
"Nope, they change. Like when he wears a green shirt, they look really green. But sometimes they're just hazel."
Interesting, yes. Surprising, no.
Throughout the nine months Diana grew inside of me, my blood facilitated her development and the food I ate nourished her. But as she grows from baby to toddler to kid to teen, I expect she will exhibit many more of Emily's traits.
After all, it was Emily's genetic material that helped create my little girl.
It was not an easy decision to choose Emily as an egg donor. It was not an easy choice to use a donor.
But my husband and I are nowhere near alone in making it. According for the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention's Assisted Reproductive Technology Report, in 2007-the most recent data available-donated eggs resulted in 7,484 live births.
For many women, egg adoption is the remedy to infertility due to advanced age. For others, like me, it provides the opportunity to have a biological child free of the risk of inheriting genetic disease.
But simply getting to the point where egg adoption and reproduction were feasible was a struggle my husband Joe and I fought for years.
We confronted the same complicated issues as most when we decided to have a baby: Did we have enough money, was our home big enough, were we ready to surrender our youthful independence?
But for us, those questions were a series of lesser issues leading up to a more profound hurdle: How can we have a baby who's biologically connected to us while sidestepping the very real possibility that our child would inherit a disease that killed my father and very nearly killed me in 2005?
Within my own genetic code lies a mutation that causes a host of problems, among them bone marrow failure and a slew of blood and lymphatic cancers. Called Dyskeratosis Congentia, or DC for short, the average sufferer lives into their late 30s. My father made it to 43. I would have died at 28, if not for undergoing a stem cell transplant to fix my defective bone marrow.
That mutation, which was only recently identified, is passed along 50 percent of the time. If a child of mine would inherit DC, there's no guarantee he or she would develop bone marrow failure. However, having gone 10 rounds with death and witnessing my husband, siblings and mother watch helplessly as I slowly knocked down the disease intent on killing me, I could not chance the possibility I would propagate it.
I would not allow DC to burden the life of my child and her family as it has my own.
Adoption is the obvious choice for many couples intent on having a child free of a flawed genetic heritage, and for more than a year Joe and I discussed it in earnest. However, we kept running up against two main impediments.
Domestic adoption agencies do not readily place babies into families in which one of the parents has an extensive medical history. Correspondingly, we couldn't ethically bring an unrelated child into a family where there exists the chance that at too-early a date it would become a single-parent household.
A biogenetic link-biologically mine and both biologically and genetically Joe's-was crucial to give us the assurance that no matter what the future held, the connection to our child would be unbreakable.
Even if my baby's eyes, hair, fingers, toes and laugh weren't genetically mine, my biological functions would enable her being. My blood would fuel her development in the cocoon of my womb. My breasts would produce the milk that nourished her after she was born.
Indeed, the sheer power of my love enabled her existence.
More than my love, of course, contributed to Diana's being. Every woman we knew-sister, mother, cousin, friend-offered in some way to help us reproduce. So when it came time to choose an egg donor we had many, many options.
There are many benefits to choosing an anonymous donor: We'd be able to choose qualities we wanted our child to have and the donor walks away after the process $5,000 to $7,000 richer, leaving us free from potentially uncomfortable moments surrounding child-rearing and ownership.
But for me and my husband, two journalists endowed with an insatiable lust for knowledge, anonymity made little sense. At base, we'd be in the dark about our child's medical past. More importantly, our child would be left empty-handed when and if he or she wanted to pursue a relationship with his or her genetic mother.
Looking at women we knew as potential donors, Emily stood out as the best candidate. A friend for more than a decade, Emily has dark features like my own, is also a writer, enjoys a similar bohemian lifestyle, was in a strong marriage and, most importantly, already had a son.
After explaining all of this to her in the spring of 2007 and asking if she would be willing to supply Joe and me with an egg, she replied, "I would be honored."
And, in true, altruistic form, Emily added with a chuckle, "I'm not using them anyway."
Before we could use Emily's eggs, she and her husband, Todd, and Joe and myself had to undergo psychological evaluations-as individual couples and as a group-by behavioral health specialists affiliated with our reproductive endocrinologist at Northwestern Medical Center. This step ensured we knew the complexities of the relationship we were about to enter into. It also allowed us to share our goals about future relationships with the child. Among the issues we discussed were to tell or not to tell, when to tell, how to tell and the role Emily would play in our child's life.
Next, we had to enter into a legal contract. This document laid out the terms of the egg donation: once retrieved, the eggs were our property; we would not re-donate any unused embryos; Emily relinquished any parental rights to the child; and several other issues that have been subject to litigation for other couples.
We had to buy a separate insurance waiver to cover Emily should she suffer any side effects, such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can occur as a result of the ovary-stimulating hormones and involve severe water retention and swelling of the ovaries.
Finally, Emily had to self-administer hormone injections for several weeks, relocate to Chicago for two weeks so medical professionals could monitor the egg maturation rate through vaginal ultrasounds and undergo mild sedation for the invasive retrieval process.
While all of this might seem daunting, especially to someone who had agreed to donate her eggs altruistically, Emily was excited.
As we sat around our Evergreen Park dining room table one evening in July two years ago and talked about the future, it became apparent that it was a hopeful eagerness shared by her husband-they were about to embark on an endeavor that would not only grow our family, but their own. With any luck, their son Lucas would become a big brother and they would bear witness to a new life whose very existence was rooted in them.
The first time I looked at my daughter, I was filled with wonder. She was a 6-pound, 7-ounce dream made real, the embodiment of possibility, an unrelenting hope that persisted despite overwhelming physical restrictions.
And the fact that my spirit and body brought forth this life produced a proud satisfaction that surmounted any of my other physical accomplishments.
This grateful joy fuels the love I feel for Diana. Its intensity is frightening and the thought of not having her in my life causes my throat to tighten.
Which is why it's so difficult to imagine my little girl one day wanting to be a part of her genetic mother's life. But it's a reality I will most certainly face.
The majority of couples who have babies using an adopted egg decide never to reveal their decision. Those watching a pregnant mother's belly swell with life and deliver a pink-skinned infant would never think to question its origin. No one did in my case.
Message boards dedicated to pregnancy and motherhood via an adopted egg contain numerous posts from women who have chosen not to tell.
But as the bearer of a potentially deadly genetic mutation who has suffered for years with hormone therapy, blood transfusions and ultimately received a cutting-edge, life-saving procedure, secrecy isn't the answer.
I want my little girl to know the circumstances behind her creation. I hope she understands the reasons we made the choices we did. I pray she appreciates she will never suffer the same physical problems as her mommy.
As our baby grows, Joe and I will tell Diana her special story. At 1, she's too young to comprehend genetics, but within the next few years we will begin the delicate task of explaining her creation.
Early on we'll talk about trees and acorns. We'll tell her that all trees have them, but sometimes those seeds don't grow. Mommy is like a tree with seeds that didn't grow, so she needed another tree's acorn to have a baby. Or we'll tell her mommy's like a potter but didn't have enough clay to create a beautiful pot, so she had to borrow some.
The details will become more specific and scientific as Diana matures but she will always know that more important to her creation than a borrowed acorn, clay or egg was her mommy's love.
That love accompanied me as Joe, Diana and I traveled to Emily and Todd's home, where they met for the first time.
It was an essential meeting because I feel that Diana's comfort with the fact that she shares genes with someone other than her parents depends on knowing Emily. She will need to understand that her family tree extends beyond Illinois, south into Mississippi.
As Emily held my daughter for the first time, I did not experience any feelings of inadequacy that I was somehow lacking as a mother or Diana would be better off with the woman with whom she shares a genetic heritage. Instead, I felt grateful that she would never feel unloved because she has double the family looking out for her.
And later that night, almost exactly two years after Emily and Todd and Joe and I sat around our Evergreen Park dining room table talking excitedly about the future, we sat around theirs in Mississippi and talked jubilantly about the present.
Members of Diana's family all, through the miracle of my daughter, we are now inexorably linked. We are more than just friends. By definition, we are family.