My Open Egg Donation Became a Family Secret
“Don’t you understand? Every time I stare into her eyes I see a part of you.”
I’m sitting in an old leather chair in a small town in Northern Europe. My aunt and her husband are sitting across the table, and he is holding his hand over her side of the sofa, almost guardedly. My therapist gives me an encouraging smile as she pours up some coffee, we’ve practiced this appointment together for weeks now.
No one points out the obvious: it is two against one here.
My hands shake as I hold a letter that explains why I am here today. I take a deep breath as I focus on what I want to say. They have begun to distance themselves from me ever since their baby was born. A baby born from my eggs.
We had planned to have an open connection. We had planned to tell the baby the truth of her origins. Now we’re in my therapist’s office, untangling the complicated question: Why don’t they want to see me anymore?
* * *
I was a junior in college when I donated my eggs to my aunt; my biggest worry was if I was going to pass my accounting class that semester. Looking back, maybe I was naïve to the whole process of egg donation -- I said “yes” immediately, long before knowing what egg extraction would entail.
My only requirement before donating was that the baby would know how he or she came to be. My aunt and her husband quickly agreed and so we began our journey to conceive their baby.
I gave myself hormone shots twice a day for three weeks, my hormone levels and egg growth was monitored by vaginal ultrasounds. During the egg retrieval the doctors didn’t give me the right sedative, it only worked on my right ovary, so when they moved on to the left one I was in pain. I couldn’t communicate the searing pain to my doctor, though; the morphine had made me drowsy. They only realized I was in pain after my aunt asked why my closed eyes were crying.
I woke up in the retrieval room several hours later with a morphine hangover, with a single thought in my mind. No one had prepared me for this. No one had told me it could hurt -- I was told I wouldn’t feel a thing. So, you see, the pain came as a complete shock. I cried for hours, lying in a fetal position grasping my aunt’s hand while she stroked my hair. She kept whispering, “I’m sorry” over and over again. Those hours are still blurry to me, but the entire experience of my egg retrieval shook us both.
Looking back, maybe I was too young to go through something like this. I was twenty. I thought it would be simply a gift and we would move forward with our lives. I had no idea how much being an egg donor would come to shape who I am today.
Or what it would do to my family.
My aunt became pregnant on the first try. We were overjoyed. She had been through so much that her pregnancy, understandably was nerve-wracking. She had had several miscarriages before and she was very worried that something might happen to the baby. I never wanted to burden her with my own concerns, so I said nothing. But looking back, there is so much we should have talked about. My therapist calls them “the conversations that never were.”
The baby was born on a beautiful spring day. She had my eyes, and the same heart-shaped face as my sister and I. My grandparents and I had driven five hours that night to see her, and when I got to hold her I couldn’t stop staring. I was afraid of what I might feel, holding a baby conceived from my eggs, but I was relieved to find that I had no secret maternal feelings towards her. I loved her the way any cousin would.
She really was beautiful.
My aunt was tired. I figured it was from the c-section. She seemed happy, though. I held her daughter in my arms and it was the happiest day of my life. I felt so proud of what I had done, that I helped create this little life. Before I handed her back to my aunt, I whispered in her tiny ear that I would always love her, and I would always be there for her.
In the months that followed, phone calls became less frequent. My aunt no longer responded to my texts as she had during her pregnancy. I figured she was busy being a first-time mom.
But when it was time for the baby to be baptized, it became obvious that something was wrong. The role of the godmother had never even been up for discussion, because it so obviously belonged to me. Or so I thought. She had mentioned it, in passing, but never formally asked me. I know I was naive, but this is genuinely what I thought. The symbolic role of “godmother” would be perfect for me, especially when the day came that her daughter would come to me with questions. I wanted her to feel comfortable calling me something other than her cousin, which almost seemed bizarre, but still did not intimidate my aunt.
When I got to the church, I slowly realized that the role of “godmother” had been split between myself and the sisters of both the parents. I felt really cheated.
I walked out of the church that day thinking, I need help. I can’t do this on my own. I have to figure out why I feel this way and what I can do to reach my aunt and her husband. I want to feel happy for them, but there is something I can’t put into words. I don’t want to feel cheated. I want us all to be happy. I knew it was time to contact someone professional, someone who wasn’t part of the family that could help us understand our roles in this new family.
I started going to therapy, and it took me six months to work up the courage to ask them to meet me for two sessions to talk about the future.
Which brings me back here, in this small therapist’s office, my shaking hands, the letter. The look in their eyes as I read it.
After I finished reading my letter, I instantly realized that this session was not going to go as I had hoped.
This is all a misunderstanding, she told my therapist, not looking at me. There is no issue here, she said. “This is all a misunderstanding.”
I wanted to tell her that I didn’t mean for it to be this way. That my biggest concern was that I wanted to be part of their lives again. I would never want to take her daughter away, or invalidate her motherhood. Maybe I have no idea what I want. Maybe I want them to see that it wasn’t so simple for me, either.
I just wanted them to let me in on the plan. Let me know how they had planned for the next few years to go? When were they going to tell her, or had they changed their mind? Was I allowed to talk about the donation? Why did my aunt flinch every time my mother commented on all the similarities between the baby and I?
If she didn’t need to see me for a while, so that she could fully recognize her role as the baby’s true mother, I would be okay with that. But the sudden detour -- us not talking anymore, despite what we had planned -- was hard. I had no idea why they were distancing themselves, they were not giving me any explanations. I felt like I didn’t matter anymore. Like my feelings had no place in their lives. She wanted to delete me from her life, and she did.
As I read the letter, my aunt sat quietly scribbling on a notepad. When I was done, she went on to tell me how every single point I had brought up was either a lie to make her and her husband feel bad or a misunderstanding. She looked at me like I was a young child who had made up a story in my head that did not reflect reality. Her husband accusingly asked me how I dared to do this to her after all that they had been through to have their daughter.
At this point, my therapist stepped in and told us we would need to end the session early. They left quickly.
Later, in private, my therapist told me that there is no reasoning with my aunt. She said that my aunt has no intentions of reconciling, and I would be forever seen as the threat. In just two hours, my therapist could diagnose both her and her husband to be both unstable and uncommonly cruel. She said I needed to accept that this would never change, I would never change in their eyes, no matter what I did. I had already done the unthinkable, I had tried to address the issue. This would forever be viewed as the ultimate betrayal, and so she decided I should no longer be part of their family.
The baby’s conception set forth a series of events that eventually led to a widening chasm in my family. Shortly after the therapy session, my aunt contacted my father and told him that I had gone “insane” and was trying to “control all of them.” She said I wanted power. She said all kinds of things and successfully convinced parts of my family that I was trying to “steal their baby.” My grandparents sided with her. I tried to explain; I gave my grandmother the letter I had written to my aunt, but she refused to believe me, or even read it. My grandmother wrote me several letters telling me I was no longer part of her family, she had disowned me and wished I would switch last names, she even said she wished I would move to America so she wouldn't have to ever see me again. Through all of this, my father stood by my side, refusing to believe any of these lies, trying to protect me in any way that he could.
My therapist told me something once that really stuck with me, she said I had to let go of the picture in my head of our ”happily ever after”. For months I was stuck in a rut, if only I could understand their behaviour then maybe I could find peace. But as the months passed, I felt like I was slowly drowning. I realized that I had to burn that picture in my mind, of my own hopes and dreams for the situation, to find that peace.
I had dreamt that one day, I would read that little girl bedtime stories, take her out for ice cream and cheer her on at dance recitals. It hurt to realize this would never happen.
I was surprised to find that letting go of this picture of my aunt was easy after all she had said and done, but her daughter, with my blood running through her veins… that was harder to let go of.
It breaks my heart to know that her parents want to erase her story, our story. It breaks my heart to know that she will grow up not knowing her cousins, who would have loved her so very much, if we would have been given the chance. My heart, somewhere deep down, breaks for my aunt and my grandmother.
My biggest regret through this whole process is that I gave the most precious gift of life, to two people who could not handle it.
I take full responsibility for my actions, no one forced me to do anything, but I can look back now and wonder where were the doctors? Why was I not advised to speak with a therapist before leaping into this decision? If only I had one voice of reason. Someone who have questioned whether a twenty year old girl, with no children of her own, is emotionally ready to go through this process. I might have changed my mind.
They still have my eggs, frozen. I have no control over that. I worry that they will use my eggs to have more children...would they even tell me about it? But I have to let that go, I have to let her go. I pray she will one day find me. I pray that someday, she will meet her half-siblings when I have kids.
Until then, I will live my life, carrying a little piece of her with me in all that I do.