by Robin Silbergleid
Before I took the plunge into becoming a single mother via donor gametes, well-intentioned friends (and strangers on the internet) told me that once my son was born being his mother on a day-to-day level would eclipse DNA. My doctor, on the other hand, cautiously warned me she had a patient who never managed to bond with her baby born of donor eggs. Both these scenarios seemed unfathomable to me. And, indeed, even as I loved him ferociously from the moment the second line came into focus on the home pregnancy test, for the first years of my son’s life, there wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t think about the years of fertility treatment and anxiety-ridden high risk pregnancy that followed, that I didn’t wonder about the egg donor who provided her DNA.
At some point that mental-spinning stopped. It’s hard to know when. But I suspect now, looking back, it was around the time my son turned four, after the fog of hormones and sleeplessness faded, when I published a book about IVF, started participating regularly with the ART of Infertility, and offered to donate my remaining embryos.
My son is now five, and daily I run the gamut of emotions that go along with being a mother to a preschooler. Impatient that it’s taken a good fifteen minutes to get him into the bathtub. Anger that he’s thrown his shoes (for reasons only understood by small children) up to the ceiling to crash down on the lamp in our entryway. Delight at helping him climb into a crabapple tree. Pride that he gives his only dollar to the homeless woman at the entrance to the highway. Nostalgia for those days I rocked him for hours in glider, at once grateful he existed and desperate for him to sleep. Our relationship, as all mother-child relationships, is both extremely complicated and pure.
I have not yet told him about his origins, as he’s barely begun to ask about ‘how babies are made’ in the usual sense; using his best preschool fantasy, he’ll talk about how he was alive when I was a baby in grandma’s tummy. In a more immediate way, we’ve needed to address the fact that he doesn’t have a father, although because we’re not at the sperm-meets-egg part of the story, even the term ‘donor’ hasn’t made it into our lexicon.
It’s not a big deal. And, indeed, I rarely have the moment that I think about the fact that my relation to him is different than my relation to his sister, conceived the ‘easy’ way via unmedicated IUI. But I am still caught off guard when someone who knows something, but not everything, of my story observes that this fair-haired boy looks a bit like me (huh?). It’s in that moment I remember the kind-eyed woman smiling at me in the clinic waiting room for one of those too-early morning ultrasounds in the week leading up to IVF retrieval, the woman I’d never seen before in all the months I’d been there, the woman, as I remember, who, in fact, looks a great deal like my son.
I will never know who she is, as I deliberately worked with an anonymous donor and declined all but baby pictures. She is not part of my family, although her generosity made it possible. As my son grows, as that sperm-meets-egg moment recedes in its significance, I continue to rewrite our family narrative. On my son’s birthday this year, the friend who accompanied me to embryo transfer and–exactly 37 weeks later– his birth, presented me with a black and white photo taken in the recovery room, where I held my swaddled newborn and my then seven-year-old daughter looked on with a soft smile.
This is not an argument for why you should do a donor egg cycle if you’re thinking about it, or even acknowledgment that those well-intentioned strangers were mostly right. My thoughts on having a child via egg donation have changed many times, and I have no doubt that they will change again, as my son grows and asks questions and as working on ART of Infertility continues to reframe my own infertility story. Now more than five years out, I can say the gift of infertility is in the relationships it made possible, and for that I am eternally grateful.