There is a poignant and powerful blog entry on the We Are Egg Donors (WEAD) website that I recommend to DSR readers. In it, 31-year-old Leah Campbell writes of her journey from two-time egg donor to Stage 4 Endometriosis patient to infertility patient to single mom through adoption. Along the way she experiences feelings of “kinship” with the women she donated to and attempts to contact the two families for a combination of reasons — to let them know about the Endometriosis, which has a genetic component, to connect with them as one infertile woman to another, and simply to bridge the unnatural gap that continues to exist between egg donors and recipient families. Her efforts to reach them are sadly thwarted by the donor agencies, which she describes as being at one time so solicitous of her well-being and now, when she is no longer a donor, unresponsive to her efforts to connect with the families she helped. Indeed, her agency seems committed to keeping donors and recipients estranged from each other.
As an infertility counselor who has long believed that donors and recipients should meet and have ways of remaining in touch and as a DSR board member, I read Campbell’s piece with a great deal of interest. She has a lot to say and she says it well. I would like to comment here on a few parts of Campbell’s blog and again encourage others to read it in its entirety.
First some comments as an infertility counselor...
Campbell’s blog is accompanied by two photos, one being the photo that the donor agency used to “market” her, and the other a photo of her and her baby. I was struck by the difference between them. In the photo with her baby she is a beautiful, bright-eyed, natural-looking woman with a warm, inviting smile. Just the kind of person I’d be drawn to if I were looking for a donor. By contrast, the agency “marketing” photo has her looking sexy, a bit provocative, and somewhat edgy. Interesting that this is what someone thinks people want in donors?
Campbell’s blog moved me most and was so “right on” when she spoke of the “kinship” she feels with the women she donated to. Wendy Kramer and Naomi Cahn’s magnificent book, Finding Our Families, surely speaks to the ways in which donor families are redefining kinship. Campbell speaks directly and effectively to one dimension of this — the kinship that exists between the woman who donates and the woman who receives eggs. After all, what could be a more intimate connection? Again, strange that physicians and donor agencies so often work so hard to deny this very tender and human connection. Campbell adds that her feelings of kinship deepened when she ironically and unexpectedly found herself an infertility patient.
Working in the fields of donor conception and adoption, I am so aware of the challenges posed by language. They usually come in two forms: absence of the “right” language and loaded wording. An example of the absence of the “right” language occurs often. What, for example, does a single mom through sperm donation say when someone says, “But who is his ‘dad’? He must have a ‘dad?’” Loaded language comes when someone says to a mom through adoption or via egg donation, “Did you meet her real mother?” Or they simply leave off “real,” endowing the word “mother” with a loaded meaning.
All of the above is familiar but Campbell encountered a new and for me very surprising predicament: She was criticized for using the phrase “my eggs.” I share her bafflement at why it was a problem for her to say “my” in reference to the eggs she was donating. She didn’t say “my child” or “my baby” or “my embryo.” As Campbell notes, had she donated a kidney and said, “my kidney,” no one would have objected. I wonder if this is an example of the ways in which parents through egg donation and those considering this path can feel threatened by donors. Assuming so, I do believe that people would feel a whole lot less threatened if they knew each other. Which brings me to the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR)....
In an ideal world — or at least, my ideal donor world — donors and recipients meet; stay in contact from time to time; and keep each other up-to-date on medical events, on the birth of new children in either family (including “donor first cousins”); and connect with other families created or expanded with the help of the same donor. However, my ideal donor world doesn’t seem to exist — and in its absence, the DSR is surely the next best thing. The DSR provides a way for donors and recipients who want anonymity or have been convinced they want it or paired with someone who seeks anonymity to be in touch.
Reading of Leah Campbell’s frustration and sadness in her efforts to connect with the families she has helped, I wondered if she is among the over 1000 egg donors who have registered with the DSR. I hope so. Some DSR members wait a long time for a match, but reading Campbell’s despair I want to encourage her to “hang in there” — as of this writing, 11,625 matches have been made, with 44,300 donors, parents, and offspring on the website. If for whatever reason she has not signed on with the DSR, then that should surely be her next step. Until we all arrive at the long-overdue time that agencies and physicians celebrate kinship in donor conception, the DSR will remain the place to launch and maintain connections.
So to circle back to where I began, I encourage others on the DSR to read Leah Campbell’s blog. She does a lovely job of capturing the fact that a donor’s connection to a recipient family does not end with donation. It begins there.