THE GOOD EGG
I was in a dark place this time last year. After a miscarriage and years of unsuccessful infertility treatments, I was imagining life childless and trying to figure out how to come to terms with quiet holidays, never seeing my husband have a daddy-daughter dance, and even more awkward moments with my friends who are moms. I was trying to convince myself that all of the traveling my husband I could do would be enough. And maybe I would have gotten to a more positive place with considerable time and effort, as I hope other individuals who find themselves childless by circumstance do. But frankly, I don’t think I would have ever completely come to terms with being childless, and that is why we chose to use donor eggs to complete our family.
We carefully poured over the donor profiles looking for just the perfect match. My husband let me take the lead, feeling like I should have more say since I was the one giving up my genetic connection to this child. We chose to use banked eggs – eggs that were frozen and could be thawed in coordination with my menstrual cycle. Since we both work fairly demanding jobs, this seemed easier to manage than syncing my cycle with a donor’s and making last minute plans when she was ready for trigger and retrieval. Little did we know that months later, one of our most stressful but also most comical and most told stories from treatment would revolve around just that.
When we fertilized those banked eggs we never thought we would end up empty-handed. We had been told to expect to have about half of the eggs to become viable embryos. The clinic told us they would not be in contact until three days after fertilization, so when the phone rang on day one, and I saw the clinic’s number on my caller ID I knew something was wrong. The donor coordinator informed us that most of the eggs fertilized successfully, but they all degenerated overnight. The conversation was short. She told us she was sorry. She was kind. She did not seem surprised. She told us to call her when we were ready to discuss next steps.
It had never occurred to us that this was a potential outcome. Logically (mathematically), we knew it was possible that some of the eggs would not fertilize or that we would end up with just a few embryos growing to blastocyst stage. But to have all of our dreams dashed overnight blindsided us. We were totally unprepared. We wondered if our journey was over before it really even began. We grieved. We felt like we had lost eight babies. It was our rock bottom.
I felt guilty – an unexpected emotion that it took me months to verbalize. I felt as though we had “wasted” those eggs, that we had taken them from another potential recipient who may have been successful. Since my own eggs had failed me, I recognized the precious commodity they were and struggled to come to terms with why things ended up the way they did. It’s a question we’ll never answer.
When we were ready, we reached back out to the clinic, who strongly suggested that we plan on using fresh eggs. Back to the drawing board we went. In the end, we chose a new donor who was available to do a cycle for us in just a few months. She did not come easily to me like our first donor had. She didn’t stick out as an obvious choice. I wasn’t immediately attracted to her profile, but when I asked the donor coordinator to help me narrow it down and gave her our “must haves,” she was the first woman on the list and suddenly made the most sense.
A question we often field is how one goes about choosing an egg donor. There is really no right or wrong way to do it, I suppose. But what we learned was that they all have “something” — mental health issues, a history of migraines, breast cancer on the maternal side, diabetes on the paternal side. Looking at egg donor profiles is, as we often joked, the highest form of online shopping. I did a lot of comparing profiles, making pros and cons lists, second-guessing myself, and obsessing over details that we ultimately determined probably didn’t matter too much. Everyone is different, but for us, we narrowed down the physical characteristics that were important to us. We focused on donors that either had children of their own or who had successful donor cycles, keeping age in mind but also recognizing that as a donor develops a history of live births, she also gets older.
Once our donor started a new cycle, we were updated periodically on her progress as she prepared for retrieval. As we got closer to retrieval day, we realized my husband would be traveling for work right around when we needed to have him available to provide a fresh semen sample. We could use one of the samples we had on ice, but we were, pardon the pun, putting all of our eggs into this basket. We wanted no regrets. While the clinic assured us that current technology remedied the difficulties we faced on my husband’s part, we did not want to wonder for the rest of our lives if it would have been different if we had used a fresh sample.
In a flurry of activity on the day the clinic determined our donor was ready for trigger and retrieval in two days, we managed to rebook my husband’s flights to leave his out-of-town meeting early and be present the morning of our donor’s retrieval. It was risky. He landed just after 10:00 am, and the clinic pushed our donor’s retrieval back as far as they could to accommodate estimates for him getting off the plane, into a car, and to the clinic. Any delays in travel would create a domino effect we may not be able to recover from.
He made it. And then we waited.
On the day after fertilization, we learned that five of eight eggs fertilized. On day three, we had four embryos looking well and one straggling behind. We had a choice to freeze them all, freeze some of them on day three, or push them all to day five. Day three embryos are less predictable, but if we let them all go to day five we could end up with none. We decided to freeze two and let the others grow. On day five, two more were frozen. One was a good quality embryo (4AA), and one was fair (3BB). The two 3-day embryos were fair.
A Good Egg
That 3BB embryo would become our son. It wasn’t without heartache. We prepared for and transferred the 4AA but were not successful. We changed up the protocol and transferred both 3-day embryos together. That attempt ultimately failed even though I saw a faint line on an HPT a few days after transfer. We took some time to recover emotionally and financially and considered our options for having laparoscopic surgery to inspect my uterus for endometriosis.
A few months later, I transferred that little embryo on a seasonably warm morning. I spent that afternoon and evening watching movies, napping, and snacking on my favorite comfort foods. Six days later, I saw a faint line on an HPT. A few days later, blood work and ultrasound confirmed the pregnancy, and we held on for the ride of our lives. This winter, we delivered a healthy little boy in the midst of a pandemic. He will always know how loved he is and how much we wished for him – it was one of the first things I told him on his birthday, that we had waited so long for him.
I’ve decided to share this story as an anonymous poster, not because we are at all ashamed of or second-guess our decision to use an egg donor. But because it is his story to tell, his privacy to protect. We’ll tell him the story of his conception openly and honestly, and our closest family and friends know how special he is. Medically, it’s almost irrelevant, only coming up on occasion. Legally and financially, it’s irrelevant*. Emotionally, I continue to work through my own emotions around using an egg donor.
I was nearly paralyzed the first time someone asked me if he looked more like me or more like his daddy. When I was pregnant I worried so much that our friends and family wouldn’t bring up who he resembles because they would be afraid it would hurt me that I had not thought about how I would handle comments from those people in our life that don’t know we used an egg donor. So when an acquaintance mentioned how much he looked like me, I didn’t know what to say. (Nothing at all, it turns out. Just “thank you.”)
But mostly, I am just a gushing, proud momma who loves to show off her little boy to her family and friends. Adjusting to life with a little one is really, really hard some days; but I am encouraged by those quiet, private moments we have as a family of three. We tell him daily how much he is loved and tell him he’s a good egg. Humor has always been one of our coping mechanisms, and we use the term endearingly.
I hope his donor knows how grateful we are for the decision she made to give of herself so that I could give of myself and experience pregnancy, labor and delivery, and breastfeeding. It’s not the only path to parenthood, but it was ours.
*Laws vary by state. In my case, he is legally our child because I gave birth to him, regardless of his genetic origins.