When Egg Substitute Is on the Shopping List
How do you choose the person you want to make babies with? Everyone has her priorities; these are mine.
After a few inseminations and IVF treatments, I was ready to abandon hope for a genetically-related child and to pursue my fertility doctor's next suggestion: poring through the clinic's donor list and selecting an egg substitute.
It was strange that egg donation had never occurred to me before, since sperm donation has been in the medical mainstream for decades. As you might expect, the process of choosing either one is the same: you identify the qualities most important to you, then you pick someone to build a family with.
You know: online dating for eggs.
And like online dating, you have several categories of qualities to choose from. But before you even start looking, you pretty much have to accept the fact that you'll never find perfection. If you're a Type-A personality who's delayed having a family until everything in your life is absolutely perfect, which you don't realize is never going to happen until you're completely infertile, that's a hard thing to face.
It's an extremely personal decision, and priorities vary for everyone, but after days of perusing profiles, I determined my order of importance:
Appearance tops my list. Some people refuse to look at donor pictures, but photos are my first filter before putting anyone on my short list. Yes, there's height and hair color, but I'm specifically looking for someone who's from my family's part of the world. I'm a first-generation American, with a where-do-you-come-from look, and that's a big part of my identity. While I'm ready to let go of a genetic connection to my kids, I'm not ready to let go of my heritage. But there's another aspect of appearance that's important to me, too: I want a donor who's pretty. People will call me vain, but I happen to believe that attractiveness is an advantage in this superficial world. Everyone has her priorities; these are mine.
Health ties for first, or at least runs a very close second. Medical histories include everything from allergies to birth defects, and you get information on the donor, as well as her whole and half-siblings, parents, and grandparents. I'm ruling out genetic ailments, cancers, and mental health issues, but I have no problem with lifestyle diseases (like adult onset diabetes), small limitations (like glasses), and anything that I also have (like glasses). I have to admit that this part is tricky, since the information is volunteered and could easily be falsified, but what choice do I have? Might as well trust.
Fertility comes a very, very close third. There are only three ways to predict a donor's fertility from her profile: by her age, previous pregnancies, and prior successful cycles. Age-wise, I won't consider anyone older than 27. I'm prioritizing women who have had children and abortions, and weeding out miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. Proven donors cost more than first-time donors, but I believe it's money well spent. And, honestly, I'm already spending a fortune, so what's another grand to better my odds?
Intelligence is fourth by default. I could list it as another tied-for-first quality if I wanted to take months searching for the perfect donor, but I don't. I debated it, though. Intelligence is clearly genetic. In fact, donors with medical degrees and Pulitzer Prize-winning uncles can cost $25,000, so it's obviously valuable to some people. I, on the other hand, am just looking for a 3.0 GPA and the ability to communicate sensible thoughts. It's a low bar, I suppose, but I'm hoping that my husband's brilliant sperm will do all it can, and we'll get a math tutor for the rest.
Personality-related information runs dead last. It includes things like the donor's favorite color, favorite book, and favorite movie, which is invariably The Notebook. I find the questions banal and ridiculous because these qualities are not genetic, but the truth is that I'm in the minority here. Most intended parents want an emotional connection with their donor, which I guess I understand, but I can't help it: I just don't care what kind of vacation she prefers. On the flip side, I have eliminated donors whose answers reveal that they're idiots, so that's been useful.
So that's my definitive list of priorities.
There's actually a super-duper, top priority that trumps everything else: I need a donor who's willing to be known to me and my kids. I believe strongly in the lessons learned from the history of adoption, which include the cultural shift from "no one has to know" to "tell early and often." This means that donor anonymity is a deal-breaker.
After all, if my kids want to meet their ethnic-looking, pretty, healthy, fertile donor, they should be able to. And if they gripe about inheriting her less-than-brilliance or questionable personality, I'll tell them the truth: "Don't blame her. You're my kids, so, let's face it: donor or no donor, you were pretty much doomed from the start."
Tanya Gabbay* is a member of the PVED.org community and one of 15,000 women who will have a donor egg embryo transfer in 2012. She blogs at chickandeggs.com.
*Author's name has been changed to preserve privacy.
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