Over the many years that Carole and Marna have helped intended parents with their family building journey, grief has been a common denominator with most intended parents. Making peace with the loss of your genetic link to a child can be extraordinarily difficult.
In Chapter 6 of Let’s Talk About Egg Donation we explore grief, loss, letting go, and moving on.
”The sadness we feel over the loss of our genetic offspring is grief. But unlike the grief we feel when a real person dies, infertility grief means saying goodbye to someone who was never really here. When there is an actual death, we have ritual around it. Sometimes we have funerals and wakes and make social calls. We go to church or temple, and we often light candles. But when we are told that we need genes from someone else in order to conceive—when we need to confront that our child may not look like us, be like us, laugh like our grandparent, or have our partner’s intelligence—no one brings us a casserole, and no one says they are sorry for our loss. There is no name to give to a person whom we never got to meet, even though we feel like a real person has passed. We feel that way because the person has been so real to us for so long, even if we didn’t realize it.
Delilah felt very connected to her genetics. Letting go of having a child genetically related to her was very difficult, as she shares below:
“There was huge grief for me. My family has great genes (healthy, long-lived, kind, smart, good-looking people), and it really hurt to think I would be losing that connection. My husband was sad about it too. He didn’t want to be much involved in the donor search—he left that to me, and then we discussed the ones I’d tentatively found. I spent almost a year searching for an uncannily good match in a donor who was also proven and finally found one … there were several we were interested in, and once I saw that there were a lot of good donors, it felt better.”
Marna was very proud of her Native American history. Letting go of that piece of her genetics was difficult as we see in her vignette below:
“I belong to a Native American Indian tribe. When I had my son, I approached the tribe to see about having him registered with my tribe. I was very transparent and honest about his conception and the egg donor piece. The tribe was very kind and left it up to me to decide if that was something I wanted to do. After thinking about it for a very long time, I decided that I would not have him registered with my tribe because he truly is not a Native American Indian. He’s English, Norwegian, Italian, and Irish. That’s his ancestry. Will I still share my Native roots with him, pass down stories from my family, and talk to him about the Indian tribe I identify with? Absolutely. But the reality is he’s not Native American. And he never will be. And that part was difficult for me to let go of.”
Genetic loss also affects partners. Here is John describing his feelings about not being able to have a child with his wife’s genes.
I didn’t want to create a life with another woman. I wanted my wife’s genetic child for all the reasons I love her. But in the end, the mother she is to our daughters are proof that we did indeed create a child together, just not with her DNA.
Not everyone experiences the sense of grief and loss described above. A few, like Jayne, feel disappointed if their child does not receive the positive attributes for which a donor was chosen.
“I have a nearly five-year-old OE (own egg) daughter and a just-turned-two-year-old DE daughter. I’ve honestly never mourned the loss of my genes with [my] DE daughter, perhaps because I already have an OE daughter. Yes, I worry about the complexity of having a daughter who is not genetically related to me and what that might mean for her, but I’m not upset for myself that we don’t share genes.
Yet I think I’m disappointed—not disappointed in my DE daughter but disappointed for her because it doesn’t appear that she has inherited any of those things that I admired in the donor and thought were so much better than what my gene pool had to offer. In my mind I had already played out conversations I would have to have with my OE daughter, where I would be apologizing that she didn’t get the beautiful/clever/interesting gene pool of the donor. And now I’m realizing that perhaps my genes weren’t that second class after all, as my OE daughter is every bit as beautiful and clever as [my] DE daughter.”
For more sneak peeks from our book, stay tuned to our blog Let’s Talk About Egg Donation-available everywhere books are sold.