It's officially autumn here in the Pacific Northwest. Each night the sun drops behind the West Hills of Portland a little earlier than the night before. Every October, I am reminded that this is actually my favorite season. Our CSA is filled with all kinds and shades of squash. The air is crisp, but it's still warm enough to be in a T-shirt.
My attention shifts to fantasies about future Octobers with our kids. Images of corn mazes, harvest moons and Halloween costumes rush through me, as if they are memories of a life that I have yet to live. My heart is filled with so much love for this dream that I am all at once joyful with hope and terrified that it may never happen.
There are so many steps and decisions to make before we even begin trying to get pregnant. The biggest one right now: we need to choose an egg donor.
This hasn't been an easy process. It's an ongoing conversation, and we change our minds often. There are a variety of things to consider when selecting a donor, but what we find ourselves thinking about the most is our future children. We wholeheartedly want them to have access to their entire story. We want them to have opportunities for connection with the women who help to bring them into this world. We don't know exactly what this will look like. But it feels important to us that they have some contact with these women.
We need to decide whether or not to choose a known or unknown donor. In a lot of ways, this is similar to the concept of an open or closed adoption. Choosing a known donor would mean that we would work with a woman who is either a friend or a woman who would agree to some degree of future contact with any children born from her donated eggs. With an unknown donor, although we would have access to some background information and the possibility of meeting the donor once all of legal paperwork has been signed, our children would not have the option to contact her in the future.
Our days of being surrounded by friends who are in their 20's are over.
Almost all adoptions in the U.S. are now open to some degree, with birth mothers agreeing to some kind future contact with their children, the use of known donors in third-party assisted reproduction is still a somewhat novel idea. When we asked the fertility clinic about an open-donor option, we were told that it can be a little tricky when it concerns contact with any future child. Given that many of their pre-screened egg donors are relatively young women in their early- to mid-twenties, they don't typically feel comfortable signing a contract that will obligate them to being available for future contact. Understandably, it's difficult for donors to imagine what their feelings or circumstances might be 18 years from now.
If we were to identify an egg donor who agreed to have future contact, the legal contract would say that she agrees to be contacted but would not guarantee a future meeting with the child. There are resources such as The Donor Sibling Registry, which helps to unite children who are genetic half-siblings, that could provide some degree of connection in the future. But we believe that everyone should have access to their story. We truly value openness.
If we were only considering the statistics of live births from donated eggs, then a pre-screened egg donor chosen from the fertility clinic's donor bank would be the best chance we have for success. But potentially limiting our future children's access to their biological connection is a difficult stumbling block.
It is all too easy to imagine either one of them as a biological part of our future family.
The best way that we can ensure our children have access to their whole story—and some degree of future contact with the women who helped create them—is by choosing a woman we know to be our egg donor. The average age for egg donation is 23, and fertility doctors do not recommend egg donors who are over the age of 30. Indeed, if a woman is in her mid-30s when she gets pregnant, her pregnancy is labeled as "geriatric." Not only are women in their mid-30s medically considered more at risk when they become pregnant, so too are any eggs that she might donate as part of an assisted reproduction process.
Our days of being surrounded by friends who are in their 20s are over.
We are, however, blessed to have two loving and supportive friends who have offered to donate their eggs in order to help us become fathers. They have both agreed to create some type of future relationship with the resulting child. As you can imagine, this is an emotionally intensive decision. They are both unique, wonderful and stellar human beings that we already consider among our extended family. It is all too easy to imagine either one of them as a biological part of our future family. If we ultimately choose to work with one of them, she will need to undergo several costly screenings and tests to determine the number and quality of her eggs, which will help to guide our final decision.
The changing season reminds me of the natural cycles of life. Deep wet moss and crunchy leaves nourish the earth. We slow down and grow inward. It is in this place of reflection that life unfolds its mysteries.
We have a lot of decisions to make, and we're taking this journey one season at a time.