Selecting an egg donor (!). Interested in your feedback

This has been by far one of the strangest experiences of our lives.

“It’s like going on a dating website,” said my dating-website-savvy husband yesterday (he dated healthily and thoroughly before I reeled him in with my guitar and “Miss Ohio”). “But instead of looking for someone to date, I’m looking for…I don’t know what I’m looking for…what are we looking for?”

I stared at the screenful of donors and sipped my second espresso and ate a bite of dark chocolate cake in a nearly deserted coffee shop far away from our home (DH is a little, ahem, paranoid about our privacy right now and didn’t want to research too publicly).  I said, helpfully, spacey from an overwhelmed heart and jittery from the caffeine: “Ummm….”

One article advises: “Try to find someone you’d be happy to call your daughter, or your friend.” It was sort of like that. But it was also looking for certain key bits of a person that resonate with who we are, who I am—but not just looking for the key bits, seeking overall impression resonation. It was complicated. I wanted to go with my gut, but my gut kept telling me different things. DH started out slow, but then he became quicker.

First of all, there were a lot to choose from. Friday afternoon, I got into the database (finally–yeah, they really, really shouldn’t make that access-in-24 hours promise), and Friday night, I started marking favorites while DH studied for his licensing exam. My first feelings were of incredible tenderness and gratitude. I wasn’t expecting to feel so connected to these young women so suddenly. But their heartfelt explanations for why they were donating their eggs, their words to me and DH and to the future child, brought tears to my eyes. I hadn’t expected that level of compassion, introspection, articulation, and encouragement. One donor actually said: “These are not my eggs, they are yours,” and I whispered aloud in reply: “Thank you.” Quite suddenly, the whole operation became less abstract and absolutely blood-and-bones real. I adapted to the change almost instantly and devoured their words, felt their personalities.

But that night, as I fell to sleep, I had some uncomfortable feelings. I kept seeing images of the donors’ photographs in my mind. I would do a mental slideshow, shuffling in photos of myself as a baby and young girl. I felt…wrong. Like I was in the wrong place, the wrong skin, the wrong nightgown, the wrong mind. It didn’t last long and wasn’t terribly upsetting, but it was some sort of rejection of the experience, followed by a mild surge of bereavement. I didn’t cry.

When I woke up Saturday, my mind was immediately trying to figure out how I was going to be. Was I going to be peppy and eager? Quiet and thoughtful? How was I going to approach the remainder of this process? But then the most bizarre thing happened. I have a narrow esophagus and have had many instances in the past of getting food caught in there (had to go the hospital once) which causes the most attractive spasms and projectile vomiting you can imagine. So that happened with my granola and prenatal vitamin—and I aspirated! I yanked DH out of the shower in a panic. Naked, his face half-covered in shaving cream, he called 911….but then soon I was breathing okay and we called off the paramedics. I retched off and on for a couple of hours, unable to swallow my own saliva (this has happened before). Yay! I would have been laughing at the timing if I weren’t in shock from the feeling that I’d almost died.

“Sorry I’m being weird,” I joked with DH throughout the day. “But I almost just met my maker.”

The event had this funny effect on me. Made me happy I was simply alive. But it also awakened my ancestral shadowy superstitious mind. Was that The Universe telling me not to do this? Or not to do this right now? Not to do this this weekend? Was it a sign? Of what? I may as well have started shaking a maraca and sprinkling locust water on my flip-flops. When I got raspberry sauce on my favorite summer dress, that superstitious mind perked up again: See, it said, we keep trying to stop you, but you keep going ahead! Your perfect donor won’t be added for another few days–wait!

Yah.

So I ended up with a very sore stomach and a bleary head, but I was determined to rally and go to the cafe. Even while I was still holding a paper towel to my mouth, just in case I had another “episode,” I was back in the database, printing out some profiles. Right before we left for the cafe, I ventured outside of the Caucasian donors, and that’s when I saw her: a half-Korean, half-Caucasian young woman who matched some of my important physical characteristics, capacities, and interests. She looked very, very serious in her two photographs, but she was quite a pretty little girl and I could see a little bit of me in one photo. I printed her out immediately and told DH about her. He once said definitively that he did not think it was a good idea for me to choose a full Korean donor (an idea I had once), but he says he is open to a half-Korean, half-Caucasian donor. Plus, her Caucasian heritage matches mine . Plus she is a writer, artistic, musical, very smart, a performer, very athletic and healthy, petite, and 22. I had a feeling about her right away—just like I’ve heard happens—although I was slightly concerned about her serious expression and something that registered as a perfectionistic/uber-ambitious lack of warmth. But then again, there were statements here and there that spoke of generosity and a deep love of friendship, adventure, travel, and being social, even while she described herself as reserved and calm, patient and logical and level-headed. She kind of sounds like DH, actually. I love most of those qualities, but reserved…it’s not my favorite quality in a person, I have to admit. I am not reserved (in case you hadn’t noticed!). But how much of temperament is learned? How much is cultural (she was raised by a full-Korean mom)? Does temperament even matter, when choosing a donor?  How much of my child’s temperament will come from being around DH and me, and how much will come from her genes? Plus, this girl is obviously social, a leader, she loves the Beatles and the color red, she loves throwing her coins into fountains in Rome and imagining traveling back to that same fountain someday.

Once we were at the cafe and we’d had something to eat, I felt a little better, and then I tried layering myself with caffeine products. Sitting side by side at a high table by the window, we scrolled through the whole list, getting an overall sense of the selection. Then we started clicking on specific profiles, including some of the favorites I’d marked on Friday. We wound up with 10 donors.

10. That’s a lot. Here’s the thing: I am flexible about the physical (to an extent). Because of DH’s super-strong dark Korean traits, I feel I can go with anything from dark-brown to blonde hair, brown eyes to blue eyes, darker skin tones to lighter. I don’t feel attached to me: fair skin/light brown hair/blue eyes. Which is a relief. It opens a lot up to us.

DH, who is an Excel Master, whipped up a table in five minutes that helped us keep the bits and pieces about these lovely ladies straight in our brains. We went back through the profiles on the database and I jotted down our important Pros and Cons for each donor on scrap paper, including our gut feelings. Then I read my scribbled notes aloud, while DH added those notes to the Excel sheet. I felt like we were entrepreneurs, brainstorming our business plan, and I wondered if that’s what it looked like to the group of friends playing a wood-stacking game at the low coffee table behind us.

Then we drove home. I had to admit to DH that I felt like I had the flu, perhaps from all of the projectile retching earlier (which I would occasionally theatrically reenact to make him want to have sex with me). He babied me by ordering me soup from a Thai place and we indulged in Six Feet Under. And then we got back to business with the scribbled notes and the Excel sheet. DH averaged some of our “scores” and we wound up with 5 donors, which we quickly narrowed to 4. Then we just sat there looking at those 4 young women. DH pointed to his 2 favorites. I pointed to the other 2—my favorites.

Oh boy.

DH’s 2 favorites were incredibly awesome people, people we’d like to have dinner with, psychologically-minded, extraordinarily smart, articulate, healthy and super-athletic, with social work and psychology and psychotherapy and social advocacy and fiction-writing and singing and theater all in there, such fitting qualities they make us ache, and written so thoughtfully and interestingly. But one just didn’t look all that much like me—every time I saw her photo, a part of me went: Nah. And the other, a lesbian, was large-boned, only 5 foot 5 herself, but with 6-foot-tall lanky giants in her immediate family. Plus they were both on the older side of the spectrum. If either of them had had physical characteristics just a wee bit closer to mine, I might have chosen them.

But I chose the half-Korean, half-Caucasian donor, who has all the qualities I listed earlier, and whom I feel so very safe about. I think, in this scenario, that safe is good. She is so young! Her mother has 9 siblings. She is obviously bright and gifted and loves to have rich experiences. She is my height and there are other small people in her family. Her Korean-half really makes me feel like I am not trying to replace myself in the least—which is an important thing for me to feel in this process.

The other donor I chose is a wavy-haired young woman with brown eyes, dark brown hair, and a very, very cute face. She reminds me physically a great deal of an old friend of mine from college, a beauty—it looks like it could be her baby picture. This donor really caught my attention by mentioning mindfulness (swoon) and Oppenheimer (okay, you’re killing me) and Andrew Bird (you have got to be kidding me!) and with the warmth she expresses when describing her family. She is super-smart, also artistic and musical, is short and small and has small people in her family. She teaches yoga (hello!) and is going to school for public health. Our only reservations with her have to do with a certain pensive darkness—“darkness” really might be too strong of a word—that comes across in her photos and in some of her (very brief) responses to questions, and again, her statement that she is quiet. Yes, I have an attachment to finding outgoing temperament and lots of sweet smiles in the photos. But I’m letting go of that! And her reasons for donating knocked me down–a story of witnessing infertility first-hand in a loved one and wanting to help.

After all of that, we fell to sleep—I got 3 hours in before my eyes popped open and I was wide awake. I tried to fall back to sleep, but could not, so I found myself looking at the profiles again, and looking up articles online about the heritability of temperament, how to choose a donor, and looking for other people’s selection stories. I looked over some of the donors we’d passed up and reinvestigated their profiles. When I came back to bed, DH and I made love and could not fall back to sleep, so we were up again and looking, talking, discussing. Right away, we decided to go ahead and reserve the half-Korean donor. Then we went over DH’s 2 favorites. The large-boned lesbian donor mentioned a term in her profile that we didn’t understand, so we looked it up—and when we did, we accidentally found the donor’s business out in cyberspace, including an adult photo of her! “Oh my god that’s her!” DH said, and quickly scrolled away from the image.  We were surprised she would mention a term so cryptic/unique in her profile, a term surely many would google—and then so quickly and accidentally find her photo and bio. We wouldn’t have chosen her anyway, but seeing the adult photo really solidified it: her frame is just way too unlike mine.

His other favorite we eliminated for physical reasons, and so we ended up choosing the mindfulness Andrew Bird girl as our second reservation. As soon as we did so, we were both happy with our two selections. “I’d be happy with either,” I said, as DH leaned into me, looking into my eyes with such sweetness my heart hurt. “Would you, baby?”

“Yeah,” he said, and he kissed me so gently, so softly, curling into me and resting his cheek on my shoulder.

We’ll see what happens come Monday. It is entirely possible that neither donor is available, or that one will pop up that feels like a better match. We aren’t locked in yet. But I thought I would share all of the details of our first selection experience, in case it is helpful to anyone who is about the navigate the same. I’d also be interested to hear your feedback.

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12 Comments

  1. Great post! Wow, you guys had your decision-making process DOWN! It sounds like you had a glut of choices, which has to make it hard to narrow down. I found this whole process bizarre as well, but in part because… what comes from the egg? Am I looking at purely physical characteristics, or personality? Does your personality come from your chromosomes or your life experience and how you are raised? I really struggled with these big questions as I went through my own selection process, which was very different from yours. I did not have a database, or profiles to go through, or any pictures whatsoever. I filled out a questionnaire (with the running joke that it felt like I should get an American Girl doll in the mail afterward) with what was important to me, and the medical team and coordinator selected a profile that I could then approve, or not. In a way I felt liberated by the lack of choice on my part, but it also felt like I didn’t have the chance to choose. Ultimately I was happy to be presented with a “best match” and given the option to yay or nay her. I totally yayed her because in addition to being a proven donor with an excellent record (which I have now ruined), she had similar characteristics to me in virtually every way. She’s shorter and thinner than me, which is ok because my husband is way taller than me and skewing skinny can’t hurt any child whose genetics I can influence. A lot of weight issues in my family tree. She’s a nurse instead of a teacher, but both are helping professions and people professions so I felt good about that, too. Isn’t it interesting what comes up as you decide who will provide this very important ingredient? I think your process was excellent and I hope that the donor(s) you chose will be available and ready to go. Thanks for sharing in such detail your experience with donor selection!

    Reply
    • Wow! This is so interesting. Your process was so different from mine. Yeah, at one point, I said to DH: “It’s almost like we have *too much* information about this young women. Maybe it’d be easier if we didn’t know so much.” But in the end I think I had just enough information to make a decision I felt comfortable with. Oh, so much came up, so much! I hadn’t realized how difficult it was going to be. Kept asking myself all of these nature v nurture questions—until I realized that I did not have all of the answers about nature v nurture nor did anyone on Earth, so perhaps I should surrender to not-knowing, already. Yeah, I found myself attracted to nurses, teachers, writers, health care workers of all stripes, musicians, performers. Really makes you realize what your values are, and what you value in a human being.

      Reply
  2. Wow. This sounds like an incredible process. Incredibly difficult and intense and magical and wonderful. I don’t think I have any feedback for you, except to say that it sounds like you both went with your gut. And your gut agreed. And that sounds like an awesome gift.

    And these women you chose sounds like the kind of people anyone would be proud to have as friends or family members. The kind of people you would want to be around. They sound like perfect fits within your family unit. I know it’s not set in stone yet. Someone new may pop up on the radar tomorrow. But wow. These are AMAZING options. And I’d venture to bet that you have gotten yourselves through the hardest part of choosing a donor. I know because I can hear the excitement and optimism in your voice. :)

    And finally, I’m so glad you didn’t die on Saturday!!! Holy cow! That sounds terrifying!

    Reply
    • I know lentil, they really were amazing options. I was incredibly impressed by the quality of profiles, the thoroughness of the questions, the way personality was revealed through those questions, and the thoroughness of all of the medical and genetic information. Embarrassment of riches sort of thing. I’m gonna write more about it tonight. Thanks for being glad I didn’t die. Life is weird!

      Reply
  3. I’ve really enjoyed reading how your journey is going thus far with the donors. Thank you for sharing. It’s so nice hearing from you.

    Reply
  4. lisa

     /  July 22, 2013

    Firstly, I would like to thank you for writing your story with so much honesty and clarity. I am going through a similar process now and it can be a gut wrenching experience. Lack of control and fear consume this process, and my gut gets confused, while the clinics and staff seem so nonchalant. Lucky them. I think if I had chocked, my reaction would be fear, and then a feeling of lossing control and possible death. Once I realized I did not die, I would wonder aloud, “hey body, what’s up? Why are trying to kill me?” My belief is that our bodies don’t always behave according to our subconscious rythum because sometimes our bodies revolt to tell us something our mind cannot convey consciously. It’s not the analytical mind, but the metaphorical one that needs to be heard. I believe Gut wrenching experiences call for elimation/choking (rejection) because just like the brain, the gut houses grey matter where thoughts and feelings are tangled, processed and stored and right now, the gut is telling you something, it is working really hard to sort through all this information. No food required. It is like you said, seeing the donors made it more, “blood and bones real.”
    While it is more real, is also becomes more necessary to allow for the shallowing (acceptance) that this is where you, your body and DH are headed. I believe in trusting your gut, because overcoming fear, and lose of control, are really the only two things any of us need to do so that life and love can take over. Good luck, and I am right behind you, reading and learning from your story.
    Thanks, Lisa

    Reply
    • You say such profound, insightful, and intriguing things, yes, yes, maybe it was my body telling me something, rejecting the experience—I can’t believe I never thought of that. Of course! Yes, working hard, working overtime, to “digest” everything. How wise of you to say. And feeling rushed. Expelling. You are also so wise to point out that trusting the gut, and losing control, allow love/life to come on in. I can’t thank you enough for this beautiful comment. You’ve helped me understand things on a different level—it’s good to go there. And thank you for being behind me, I feel you there!

      Reply
  5. I enjoyed reading this. It reminds me a lot of my experience, especially the not being able to sleep part! I was up so many nights reading, making charts, comparing, re reading, going through photos, etc. What ultimatly matters is that you feel good about your decision. Your husbands opinions matters, but I do believe it should be your (and my) choice ultimatly. Only thing I will add to your process, is how much did you care about family health history? Since we get to pick this in the weird DE scenario, we made sure to pick someone who did not have the same issues in her family as my husbadn has in his (anxiety, alcoholism, and autoimmune issues) so as to not double the risk. You are smart to not narrow it down to just 1 (although you clearly have a favorite!) because as you say you never know who will actually be available. Keep updating us.

    Reply
    • Thanks as ever for the comment NGE! I didn’t mention the family health history just because it was a bit cumbersome to write about, but yeah, we looked at that carefully and were quite impressed by the level of detail in the profile. Of course, our favorite young woman has a lot of relatives in Korea whom she does not know that much about, so that was a tiny bit of a drawback. Gonna write an update now.(:

      Reply
  6. Oooh ooh oooh! So excited to read this! I’m glad you found two donors who really feel right. When I saw our donor, I knew it too.

    Can’t wait to hear how it ended- hopefully one or both were available!

    Reply

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