Over the years of our practice, we have seen scores of couples struggling with infertility. In some , all the pieces of the IVF jigsaw puzzle fall in place and they get the baby they crave to have, while in others a missing piece or two do not allow them to complete that picture, and their family in the way they had planned. This is a dejection point, not just for our patients, but for us too. After all, it’s our aim to get all our patients pregnant.
When a patient fails multiple IVF cycles with her own eggs, she always wonders whether it’s the end of the road and whether she will have to cope and live with the idea that she will never be able to have babies of her own.
A Difficult Decision
The fact is that we do consult our patients about all the possibilities and limitations of IVF treatment. As part of the initial consultation, they are also informed about other options available to them, such as donor eggs in case their IVF cycles fail (based on what the reason for the failure is).
But if and when they actually come face-to-face with this situation, most patients struggle with the decision of using donor eggs. Some couples embrace the idea willingly and move through the process quickly, while there are some who aren’t really ready to entertain the thought at all. As their IVF doctor, I do counsel these couples and help them recognize as well as focus in a more concerted manner, on their overall ultimate goal- to have the baby they want.
A Change of Heart
In most instances, it becomes a journey of transitioning through various unsuccessful treatments which eventually leads to the donor egg option. This also means that along with the dejection of failure, in some cases, there is also an increased sense of desperation. However, it’s imperative to understand the implications that are associated with choosing this option. In addition to getting consulted for it, it’s also important to communicate with other couples that have gone through the same situation.
Through this process, some of our patients eventually move ahead and accept this option- in many ways the desire to have a baby supercedes any of the biological issues; over time many couples do begin to welcome the idea. For many of these couples, they are finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
And so, with the first major hurdle being navigated; it may seem like the rest of it would be easy, from an emotional perspective. The truth is that there are some other inhibitions and concerns that patients have when it comes to using donor eggs to have a baby.
Most couples that I consult worry about whether they will actually feel connected to their baby if it doesn’t resemble them. I hear a lot of patients talking about the lack of any genetic connection and the manner in which it will affect their child’s life; the questions that crop up in their minds are:
Will this baby really be mine ? Will she/he have anything at all from me? Exactly how am I going to feel towards this child? Will I be able to love her ? What will she look like ? Whose personality will she have ? Will she talk and smile like me ? Or will she resemble the egg donor - someone who I have never seen or met. As you can guess, this can be a scary proposition, and lots of patients will have nightmares and fantasies about their donor.
Will anyone guess that I have used donor eggs ?
I always suggest that my patients go in for professional counseling before they make a decision. In fact, it's always the ones who worry a lot about making this decision who end up making the best decision.
Nature, Nurture and Epigenetics?
After birth, the child picks up her parent's traits and mannerisms - after all, if you speak Hindi at home, so will your child. And your child will mimic your smile and your laugh. Even as regards the genes, while it's true that the genes come from the egg donor and not from you, please remember the key role of epigenetics. This is the mechanism via which various non-genetic factors influence gene expression . This means that even if the baby does not have your DNA, you do play an important role in how the genes of your child will be expressed in utero. In many ways, this can be a big comfort to couples who are considering the use of donor eggs. What eventually pulls the trigger so to speak is a person’s attitude, lifestyle and environment; this despite the fact that genetics loads the gun.
The Thing that Finally Matters
One of my patients who had eventually opted for donor eggs after several years of vacillating between her emotions of wanting to have a baby and not wanting to have one using another woman’s eggs, recently came to meet me. She told me that her moment of awakening was when she realized that there was nothing so special about her genetics. Many people feel that genes are immutable; the truth is that the notion of selfless and unconditional love is the only thing that’s truly unalterable.
And this is the love that parents have for their children- whether biological, born using donor eggs, adopted or otherwise. At the end of the day, the path you take to become a parent becomes inconsequential and the only thing that matters is your baby.
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