Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Motherhood as a shade of grey: could my sister be my egg donor?

Several of you guys are really good guessers! Much better than I was at this game! When I'd imagined the acceptance rate for egg donors at the Denver clinic, I'd guessed something like 20%, which I thought sounded really strict...but turns out is really lenient, or more lenient at least than the Denver clinic people are. So a shout out to those who guessed the true number: Only 5% of people pass the screening process to donate eggs at the Denver clinic. Kudos to Nikki, Strong Blonde, and Anonymous for their correct guesses.

Now, when I think about this 95% rejection rate, I wonder just who are these people who are applying? I fantasize that like maybe half of them really have no chance in the world of making it anywhere (sort of the medical/genetic analogue of someone with a C or D average applying to Harvard). Like maybe many of them are 37-year-old chain smokers, or were born with six fingers on each hand, or have parents or siblings with medical histories longer than mine... probably not, but maybe...

We've started looking at the Denver in-house donors, but seriously? Kind of slim pickings there. And then the photos of these women as two to seven year olds - 1987-1990ish vintage, usually small and dark and grainy - make it impossible to tell what each donor might have looked like as a kid, let alone get a sense of how their features ended up later. So we aren't ruling this avenue out and will keep checking back on Thursdays, but we weren't really drawn in so far, despite these women's obvious genetic, medical, and fertility superiority to me and the general population.

In the meantime, we are moving forward with my sister as a possible donor. She is 31 years old and single, and lives about four hours away. I'm going to call her Marina here, which is something I used to call her when she was about three years old, when her favorite story was Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid.

My sister looks remarkably, incredibly like me, including features, posture, mannerisms, voice. As in, when I went to see her while she was studying abroad in Europe, people in the neighborhood where she lived set eyes on me for the first time not knowing I was coming or even that she had a sister and said, "You must be Marina's sister." At her recent graduate school commencement, a professor came up to her and asked if her sister was there. She said she saw me from behind and heard me speak and just from that was absolutely certain that Marina and I must be closely related. We have even been asked if we are twins (although this seems like a stretch). Not in a while, mind you, but very heartening when you are 8 years older than your sibling. Probably tough for her to hear, though! We also share a similar sensibility, similar wry sense of humor, similar ways of speaking and moving through space and waving our hands in front of us when we talk. We aren't identical by any means, but definitely sisters through and through.

Perhaps having someone who is so similar to me physically and psychologically is part of what has made it hard to go the third-party reproduction or adoption route. I like this added connection, enjoying looking back through old family photos and seeing various family members' features reflected in ourselves and our relatives. You are guaranteed to share 50% of your sibling's genes, and our child (Will and mine with my sister's egg) would have the same grandparents, and same relations throughout the extended family, which seems good for the child from a "Who am I?" perspective. The child would in fact be at least 25% related to me and so if you think of relatedness and parenthood as a Venn diagram, both Marina and I would share relatedness to the child, which is a comfort to me, and seems like it wouldn't be so hard to adjust my mental image of what immediate family is and include her in the genetic parenting picture. Sort of a "motherhood as a shade of grey" rather than a black or white you're either the genetic mother or you're not.

Because she's my sister and will always be close in our lives, using her as a donor would also be more complicated than using an unknown donor. We would want our child to know from the beginning that Marina played an important role in bringing them into our lives and realize they might feel a stronger attachment to her for it than they otherwise might.

Which often feels wonderful, and occasionally feels a little scary. One of the scarier 3:00 am thoughts is: What if my child prefers Marina over me? She is after all, younger and definitely the cooler, more fun, more dramatic, more artistic, let-it-all-hang-out sister. I'm the overachieving, overresponsible, more subdued one (and who in the world would prefer that?!). Whether she donates her eggs or not, Aunt Marina is likely to be the favored Aunt. And I reassure myself that alas, my child would be stuck with me, and be rewarded with visits to Aunt Marina on a regular basis. I am joking about the "stuck with me" part. Mostly.

Marina has no children yet and is unsure if she wants them. We've offered to pay for her to do a cycle, freezing her eggs if she would like, and at least for right now, she is not very interested. She thinks if she does decide to parent, she'd probably like to adopt. Which is funny, right? That a genetic connection is so important to me and here she is likely able to have such a connection and really doesn't care? The world is an ironic place.

We've thought of using her as a donor since she approached us and offered us her eggs a couple of years ago, but I always held off because of all of my "What Ifs." Being the older sister, I worried that her giving us this gift might somehow cause her suffering later, or maybe she'd regret it, or maybe it would complicate our relationship in some negative way. We will explore all these areas with her and with a mental health professional, but somehow it doesn't seem so difficult to imagine anymore or so fraught with danger. Maybe opening our hearts to E. as a donor has made us more open to alternative paths in general, I'm not sure. I am sure that this seems the right path to take at this moment in time.

Here's hoping my sister can be in the Denver's 5% - or at least be deemed suitable to donate to me. They've already approved her family medical history, despite the fact that we all have six fingers on each hand and her older sister Mo has a medical record a mile long.


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  1. While I can't even begin to imagine everything that is going through your head I can tell you that even if your sister was not your donor there is the chance your child will "like" her better.

    My mom (who was very young when she had me) has a twin sister and I feel horrible about how many times growing up I told my mom that I wish I lived with her twin. She was by far my favorite person, but she spoiled me and didn't have to disciple me.

    So try not to let that one seep in too much at 3:00am!

  2. Sounds promising! Here's a question: does she need to be in Denver's 5%? Or does she just need to pass muster in terms of her ability to stim (day 3s and such)? Denver isn't taking her on as one of THEIR donors, and if you're okay with her, why shouldn't they let you proceed?

    My sister would not have been a suitable donor for many mental/physical health reasons (and she's only 3 years younger than me) but if she'd been healthier, it's something I might have considered as well...

    I know things change quickly, but I'm glad to see you pursuing your options!

  3. For me, I am a lesbian and my wife's brother was our sperm donor. I found that having a family member be our donor was nice. As you said, the child has the same grandparents and can answer the biological and genetic questions, but also what I liked better was that our child has a defined relationship to her donor. He is her uncle. He is a special uncle, but still, we all have some notion of how the relationship will evolve. There is not the family member by choice but not really by blood person that I call uncle but is not really a bio uncle. Also, for holidays, she gets to see him as part of the rest of the family at holidays, we don't have to work our holidays around additional members. Although your situation is different I thought it might help that in our case, having a family member has worked really well so far. Our dd is 4 1/2.
    Melissa in Durham

  4. I know I can't relate or can't imagine everything you are going through. I do however think you sister is a great choice for a donor. I had always said I would use my sisters if needed. Easier said than done, I know. I hope things continue to more forward for you.

  5. One of the things that surprises me (and it surprises me that it surprises me!) is that I am utterly my sons mother(s). They are in a huge mama love and fear of losing mama phase right now, and no matter what they learn in the future about their genetics, I am the one who was here for that. I hope that your sister is the key. You need a way out of this terrible revolving door of hope and loss!

  6. Both my sister and sister in law offered to be gestational carriers and/or egg donors for us, and while we did not in the end need that the offer was incredible. So selfless and loving. I can try and put your mind to rest a bit on your child preferring your sister. My son is 100% as happy to be with my sister as he is with me. She get s welcome from him at 19 months that rivals returning armed forces receptions. Full on flat out joy and running and not giving the SLIGHTEST damn that I his mother, am nearby. I am his everyday and she is his 4th of July parade. And I love it, it is wonderfully reassuring to have someone he loves that much not just in case something happens to take me away from him, but also because when I get the flu his world keeps right on turning. I have zero doubt that he will want to run away to her junk filled tv and cable filled anything goes Auntie Mame house. I don't know if that helps to know, but I hope so.

  7. We were faced with the same decision and chose to proceed with using my sister as our donor. I am currently pregnant using her eggs.
    There have been A LOT of crazy feelings about it. I thought I had dealt with them all, but once that test came back positive it brought a lot of them back - and some new ones. I have absolutely no regrets, but part of me still mourns the fact that our daughter will not be all "mine." I would likely have felt this way regardless of whether or not the donor was my sister or not. I have a lot of other 'worries' and I am not sure that they will ever go away completely.
    My sister (and yours) was willing to give us the most precious gift ever, and I will always be thankful to her for it. She will be a very special "auntie" to our little girl - but I will be her mommy, and that is even more special.

  8. Mo.
    Such complex issues. I can only begin to imagine. Your sister sounds lovely for her willingness to do this and I can see the draw in how much you two are alike, but you are right that is is complicated. Yet, in general, I think all these choices are complicated as is life in general. There are few people I can imagine being more equipped to managed these issues than you, especially with your knowledge/ access to mental health professionals.
    Its good to have options either way and I am curious to see if she passes the screening. much love to you....

  9. Wow...5%...that is low! Sounds like you've really thought through all of the angles with having your sister as a potential donor - I hope she fits in the 5%!

  10. I used an agency donor because CCRM and the Denver area does not have many Asian donors much less my exact ethnicity. But, here's what I know about that 5%. That number is quite skewed because the 100% includes candidates who (started but) never completed their applications. I believe over half of them fall off for that reason.

    The rest are due to things like age, how long ago they had unprotected sex or a tattoo, whether they were adopted (CCRM won't take people who don't know they're full family health history), recreational drug use.

    Acceptance of known donors is much higher. I know this because I initially wanted to use one of my cousins. They are not as picky about age, for example.

    Good luck with using your sister!

    P.S. I'm a cancer survivor too (6 years!) and did the whole chemo thing, hence the need to use a donor.

  11. Wow Mo, such complicated issues. I briefly considered this option as well, until I realized that there was no way my sister (who was older than me) could possibly donate eggs. She did have a child naturally with no problem though (took her 3 months!) so her fertility is clearly a lot better than mine. But I can only imagine the complicated feelings that arise from this - having someone close to you involved is great and difficult at the same time.

    What I'm hoping for you is that one of these options works out, and soon - so my first wish is that your sister gets through Denver's screening process.

    Then my wish is for you to find peace in your decision, whatever it is.

    Best of luck, I am thinking of you.

  12. I have just spent the past 2 weeks reading this whole blog. I am so in awe of you and how strong you are. I sincerely hope that your sister passes the screening and that you are on your way to a baby.

  13. Your sis sounds like a great option. I hope the screening and psych processes don't throw any barriers in your way. Keep us posted!

  14. We considered this briefly, too, but my sister is married with bio children and in the end, her husband couldn't quite get around the idea of her having a genetic child with my husband. And I'll admit, it weirded me out a bit too. In the end we found our answer and never looked back, and hopefully you will get to that same place, where you just charge forward with gusto without too many of those 3 am 'what if' games :)

  15. I love the idea of using your sister. We considered using my sister but due to her being out of the country it would have postponed us about a year.

    Wishing your sister luck in passing CCRM.

  16. Wow, 5%... crazy. I think the idea of using your sister as your donor is amazing! Sending lots of prayers that the path is an easy one and there is great comfort and peace along the way!

  17. I'm in no way qualified to comment on the complex issues you're facing, just wanted to say I do think it's lovely you (Mo) have such a wonderful sister (regardless of the whole donation thing), and that your comment, "we weren't really drawn in so far, despite these women's obvious genetic, medical, and fertility superiority to me and the general population," made me LOL. If that's not ART in a nutshell, I don't know what is ...

  18. I’ve followed your blog for awhile now, and am really rooting for you and Will to be parents, and soon.
    I do want to gently and respectfully mention what I think it is a poor characterization of the donor pool at C.C.RM. (“slim pickings”). If they really do only accept 5% of applicants, then those 60 ladies represent 1200 ladies who couldn’t donate. And you can bet that the average agency might screen out perhaps only half of those 1200 ladies. I first tried to use an agency donor (mostly because I wanted a known donation), but after investing all that time and money, she failed the screening (for reasons beyond question). I quickly realized I was better off choosing among women that could donate, rather than finding my “ideal” donor with an agency and spending the money and heartache to see if she could donate (not to mention the higher fee the “special donors” command)
    When I was 27, I started the process to be an egg donor (way before infertility hit). I found I couldn’t separate “myself” from my eggs and did not complete the application. Today, I am mother to a daughter because another woman did what I could not.
    In-house donors agree to donate for the respected donation fee and often there is at least some altruism involved. I want to honor any woman who wants to donate her eggs, whether she be in-house or with an agency.
    Best of luck to you as you move forward with your sister.

  19. Marie,

    By "slim pickings," I only meant that there are few of them - 58 I believe... not that there is anything negative about them. In fact, in the post, I say the opposite, that they are medically, genetically, and "fertile"-ly superior : )

    So glad you found your happy ending!


  20. Ah, yes, I see I did miss that reference to their qualities. Apologize for that.
    I do think though, as a listing of women available to donate, the C.C.RM. database is pretty sizeable relative any other reputable agency, especially since these are all local donors (no travel costs). Anyway, I suppose like any DE mother, I'm so happy with my donor and my child.

  21. :) i think that this is encouraging. i know that, given your background especially, the implications of a related donor are not simple. i have a sister who is 6 years younger than me (who is often mistaken for my twin) who offered to play a role for us if/when we needed it. i was in the same place that you were. happy and hesitent at the same time. i agree that an unknown donor "cleans up" a lot of the potentially messy stuff that a familial donor would likly bring, but there are so many positives, too. i know that you have thought about this ad nauseum, and i'm not adding anything new. just mostly want to say that you will make the right decision for you and you guys will figure it out as time progresses. that's the wonderful (and crappy) thing about this whole situation: there is never one right answer :)


  22. "You are guaranteed to share 50% of your sibling's genes.." That's actually not true. Full sublings can share anywhere from 0-100% of the same genes, depending on which half of each parent's genome each inherits, which is random. The average may be around 50%, but it is by no means guaranteed. It could be higher or it could be lower.


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