How I processed my feelings about using an egg donor
Support for moving through the thoughts and feelings you have about egg donation
Most of us don’t expect to use an egg donor to have our child. Like with anything in life that doesn’t turn out how we planned, accepting and feeling good about this decision can be a process that takes time.
When my husband and I started trying to conceive, we had no indications that we would have trouble. When the months went by and we weren’t having any success, I started to feel more and more anxious. I had a sinking feeling that this wasn’t going to happen for us - at least not easily.
After a year of trying, we went in for testing, and everything came back normal. No one could give us a reason for why this wasn’t happening, so I tried to keep my hopes up.
Deciding to use an egg donor
Fast forward one more year. We had gone through five rounds of IVF at two different clinics. We had no embryos, and still no explanations. With no clear reason why, we had the option to keep trying with low chances of success, or to try something else.
I had been thinking about egg donation for several months. The doctors assumed we had an egg issue, because my husband’s sperm always looked good. At first, I couldn’t imagine using an egg donor. But now, this feels like exactly where we’re supposed to be. Keep reading to see how I got to this point - and how you can, too.
People turn to egg donors for all kinds of reasons. You might have a diagnosis or physical circumstance that means your eggs are not viable. Or maybe there is a fertilization issue, or another reason why your eggs and sperm are not able to work together. Perhaps your relationship doesn't include someone with eggs, or you're pursuing parenthood solo and you don't have eggs. Or like me, you might not have a reason to point to, but you believe that donor eggs will give you a better chance at having a child.
Whatever your path is, if it has brought you to donor eggs, it’s important to process the thoughts and feelings that come with this way of having a child. It makes perfect sense that you might have worries, fears or grief about the way your path is unfolding. At the same time, it’s possible to find happiness and peace about what lies ahead too. It can take some time to adjust and arrive at this new reality. Let’s go through this together.
5 steps to processings your feelings about using donated eggs
Because we are all unique, no two people will have the same journey to accepting our donor eggs decision. This process might not be linear, and you might find yourself circling back to some of these steps time and time again.
But these steps are a starting point to help you work through the different things we might think about when using donor eggs.
1. Make space for feelings about losing your genetic connection
Comments from other people
It’s common for people to comment on how similar children are to their parents. People love to exclaim, “He has your nose!” or ask, “Which of your parents do you look like more?”
The assumption that children are genetically related to both of their parents leads to comments and questions from both strangers and people you know. When you choose to use donor eggs, you might worry about how it will feel to see unknowing people squint at your child to try to see a resemblance, or say things like, “Your child has your eyes!”
It can be helpful to recognize that people don’t usually care that much about resemblances. It can be fun to connect the dots, but mostly it’s just something people say, similar to talking about the weather. Plus, it’s common for even genetic children to not resemble their parents, or for two siblings to look completely different from each other, so the world is already prepared for children to not look like their parents.
You probably wouldn’t have strong feelings about your genetic child not looking like you, so the pain point here likely isn’t only about resemblance, but also about your journey to parenthood being different from what you thought it would be. We’re usually triggered by things we haven’t healed ourselves. So if you are able to work through these feelings - the resentment that your path looks different from others’, the loss of a genetic connection, etc. - then people pointing out a lack of resemblance between you and your child might not bring up negative feelings in the end.
Your own feelings about genetics
Beyond what other people say, you might have had your own expectations for seeing a genetic link. In my case, my brother walks just like my grandfather, and I wondered if my child would walk like him too. I also have a distinct nose that I got from my father, and I thought my child might have our same nose. Now that we’re using donor eggs, I am having to accept that I won’t pass on the personal and family traits I thought I would.
But the truth is, a donor-conceived child might still have your laugh, or dance like you, or even look like you. Between nurture affecting children’s behaviors and expressions, and findings in the field of epigenetics which point to a connection between birth mothers and babies from donated eggs, it’s possible that your child will resemble you more than you think. But again, even with genetic children, any resemblance is out of our control and a game of chance, so it can be freeing to let go of those expectations altogether.
Plus, there are so many things you can pass on to your child outside of your DNA. You can teach the life lessons you learned from your grandmother, share your passion for cooking or sports, and bring your family traditions to your own home.
Even still, this path is probably not what you expected, and it’s okay to feel sad about losing that genetic link. It’s common to wish that you could conceive your child the way so many others seem to: easily, and with their own DNA. The sadness and resentment you feel are understandable, and it’s important to let yourself feel these feelings so you can move through them.
You can talk to a therapist, your partner, or a trusted friend or family member about how it feels to be pursuing parenthood without your eggs involved. If it feels right to do so, you can do a ritual or ceremony to grieve your genetic connection, making space for you to be open to this new step in your journey to conception.
2. Prepare for questions and input from friends and family
If you share your process of using donor eggs with people in your life, they might have all kinds of questions and comments.
Some people might not understand what this means, so you could face some ignorance and insensitive comments. You can decide in advance how much energy you’d like to put into educating and discussing the topic with these people. You can always share podcast episodes or articles (like this one!) so they can gain an understanding without you having to explain yourself.
People who are genetically related to you, like your parents and siblings, might have their own feelings about you using donor eggs. In some cases, talking about your feelings together can be healing. When I talked to my parents, I asked them how they felt. I said to them, “If this works, you might feel sad that your grandchild doesn’t share a genetic link with you, and I would understand that.” I was filled with relief and gratitude when they reassured me, “Any child you have will be our grandchild, 100%. We don’t give that a second thought.”
But not everyone will have that reaction. For some people, it might be better to encourage them to process their feelings on their own, and not share any concerns or sadness they have with you. You might want to share about your process via text, or at a distance in some way, so you have some control over how you receive people’s reactions and don’t have to have the same conversation over and over again. It all depends on what feels right for you and your relationships.
Remember that this is your journey to having your child, so whenever possible, prioritize your needs above any perceived obligations to other people. It’s okay to keep things to yourself, share things on your own timeline, and have boundaries around what you’re open to discussing with others.
Though if you do have a child, it’s important to consider their perspective. It is highly recommended that your child knows about how they were brought into the world, and that there is no shame around the story of using donor eggs. So in the long run, it can be a good idea to make sure the key people in your life know this information, and that there are no secrets that your child could one day receive as shame.
3. Consider what it means to you to be a parent
A common concern for people using donated eggs is if the child will feel like it’s theirs. It’s completely understandable to worry if you will feel connected to the child, so it’s okay to let yourself feel these feelings.
I have a cousin who was adopted, so I grew up seeing that parents can love a child who is not genetically related to them wholeheartedly. But I still had a concern that if I do get to have a child through donor eggs, it wouldn’t feel like mine, and I wouldn't feel like a parent.
I found so much reassurance as I read both personal accounts and research on donor-conceived children. Everything I read showed that parents of donor-conceived children feel incredibly connected with their children.
One study even found that “egg donation mothers were found to represent the relationship as higher in joy, compared with sperm donation and natural conception mothers.”
Now, I’ve come to understand why that could be the case for some people. I have gone through so much to have a child, so if I finally get to hold my child after all this, I can imagine feeling a different kind of joy and connection from what I would feel if this had come easily. To me, being a parent means showing up for your child physically, emotionally and energetically, and I can do that regardless of what’s in my child’s DNA.
Of course, that study doesn’t mean that all parents of children who are genetically linked to them don’t feel as connected to their children as parents of donor-conceived children. It’s just helpful to see data that counters my fears that I won’t feel like my child is mine.
4. Recognize that this is still the same journey you’ve been on
As I mentioned above, at first, I was not interested in pursuing donor eggs. I thought that my path to parenthood would be using my own eggs, so I was determined to keep trying with my eggs, or accept childlessness.
Then, I bought the book Let’s Talk about Egg Donation: Real Stories from Real People, and followed some Instagram accounts of people who did egg donation. While I had my doubts, I was allowing myself to consider alternate paths to parenthood.
Eventually, I arrived at a visualization that really helped me feel great about pursuing this path. It feels like my husband and I have been looking for our children in a house. We thought they would be there as soon as we opened the door and stepped inside, but they weren’t. We spent a few years going from room to room, more frantically as time went on, thinking, “Surely, they must be here somewhere!”
My fifth failed IVF round was like looking through the same rooms over and over again, expecting my child to be there even if they weren’t there before. And for some people, maybe they find a hidden room in the house and their child is there.
But our children weren’t in that house. So now we’re going to look somewhere else. Officially deciding to use donor eggs was like finally stepping out of that house that I’ve been stuck in for years. I breathed in the fresh air, and felt a renewed energy as we walked away from the house and into the garden, or a different house, or somewhere completely new.
We’re still looking for our children. We’re still on the same journey. We’re just looking somewhere different from where we were looking before. And from what I’ve read about others who have donor-conceived children, if this works for us, we will have the baby we have been looking for all along.
5. Allowing yourself to have hope
As you probably know all too well, hope plays a tricky role in infertility. It slips away slowly, and sometimes all at once, as the months pass by with no success.
It feels silly to hope when the odds are against us. It feels impossible to hope after so many failures. It feels scary to hope when we know it can all come crashing down.
Choosing to use donor eggs brought me a lot more hope than I’d had in a long time. At first, I basked in the feeling, enjoying this new sense of: “This could actually work.”
But after a few days, I backed away from it. I realized that it was a similar feeling to what I had when we were going into our first IVF round. “We weren’t having success, but now we get to try something that will give us a much better chance!” Recognizing that IVF didn’t work for us, and that feeling was built on sand the first time, I realized that I had to be careful with how much I took on that same feeling this time.
But the thing is, failure hurts whether we allow ourselves to hope or not. There are already so many negative feelings associated with infertility - we don’t have to block out any good ones that show up.
So as we are getting ready for our first ever embryo transfer, I’ve decided to embrace the hope that comes with deciding to use donor eggs. After all, this is the best chance we’ve had throughout this whole process. I can recognize the reality that this might not work, while also enjoying feeling hopeful for the first time in a long time.
You don’t know what will happen. There are still a lot of steps between where you are now, and having your child. But that doesn’t mean you can’t feel hopeful that you will get there. Try welcoming any feelings of hope, gratitude and joy that show up for you, because with everything you’re going through, you deserve to experience those positive feelings too.
Maya Maria Brown, M.A., is an infertility mental health expert. She has a master’s in Counseling Psychology, and has worked with individuals and couples on infertility and relationships. She also has personal experience with infertility and is currently in treatment.
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