I probably make a lot of people cringe on Facebook. Judging by how few Likes I get, much less actual comments, on posts I share or write about infertility, particularly egg donation, it seems most people just don’t know what to say.
So they do the worst thing possible: they say nothing.
It’s not like I clutter my timeline with infertility-related content multiple times a day—or even multiple times a week—but I am always disappointed by how few people interact with me on a subject that is very close to my heart. A recent post in which I said I was happy to answer questions about creating a family via egg donation fell on deaf ears. (Or blind eyes, as the case may be.)
I wonder if my friends who have shared posts about cancer, or Crohn’s disease, or autism, or racial inequality, or discrimination, or mental illness have also felt this groaning silence. Our culture isn’t very good at holding up a conversation if there’s any personal discomfort. People shy away from difficult subjects, but don’t we owe it to the people in our lives to show up to the conversation? Even if it’s to say, “I don’t know much about this, can you tell me more?”
I’ve lost count of the number of people with whom I have briefly and joyfully (but at first, timidly) shared how V got here and who have said nothing. I guess it’s easy to ignore an email. It’s even easier to scroll past a Facebook status update. But, sorry, not sorry, it’s just as easy for me to lose interest in someone who puts their personal comfort above holding space with someone who’s travelled a trickier path.
I’m not looking for pity.
I don’t need a shoulder to cry on.
I’m not confessing a dirty little secret.
I’m looking for a conversation that I think is worth having.
I’ll back up. Last Spring, I scoffed at the number of celebrities in their mid-40s or older who gave birth and implied their fertility had a direct correlation with how young they looked. OMIGOD, I rolled my eyes. They so obviously did donor egg IVF, I wish they would just ‘fess up. What’s the big deal? They need to lead by example, by showing that infertility is REAL and that it’s okay to build your family in a non-traditional way.
I was annoyed by the celebs at first. Then I cut myself a huge slice of humble pie. Um, Lauren, that’s rather hypocritical!
And that is when I decided to be 100% open about the fact that we had the help of an egg donor to create our family. Since ‘coming out’ I have had some wonderful responses. One person wrote that she was grateful to know she’s not alone. Someone else was relieved to know that she could still become a mother if she didn’t meet Mr. Right in time. Others are more at peace with the idea of doing DEIVF. My godmother found a quiet moment at a family gathering to let me know she supported our decision and was interested to learn more about it. I could tell she wasn’t sure how to broach the subject, but I was so delighted she did.
But these wonderful souls who showed up to have the conversation are outnumbered by the number of people who scrolled on by, presumably cringeing that I would share something so private or are embarrassed because they don’t know what to say or fear saying the wrong thing.
To them, I say this: When you’re trying to raise awareness, it hurts to be ignored or swiftly told to move on. Like the homeless person with a cardboard sign on the side of the road, it hurts when people pretend not to see you. If you can’t help, I’ll take a thumbs up!
I’m not trying to be the poster mom for egg donation. I’m inviting people to join in a conversation that is worth having the same way that I imagine parents via adoption had to 40 or 50 years ago. There are great parallels.
Did you know that until the 1960s adoptive parents hushed up their child’s birth story? It used to be that the child was adopted and never told about their genetic origins. The whole thing was swept under the proverbial mat. Sometimes people wouldn’t learn they had been adopted until they discovered the paperwork after their parents died. (Can you imagine being 50 years old and learning that your parents had hidden the truth from you your entire life? Talk about having an identity crisis!)
That is a far cry from today, when many adoptions are open – meaning the family has ongoing contact with the birth parent/s. Parents are open with their child about how they joined their family; and kids are raised knowing their birth mother isn’t their “real mother” but the woman who gave birth to them and placed them for adoption.
I said “placed for adoption.” People used to say, “She gave up her baby,” and now we say, “She placed her baby for adoption.” It’s not political correctness, it’s making a conscious decision to use positive language. Slowly, slowly, it’s finding its way into common parlance. I might be wrong, but everyone knows what adoption is—even if we don’t always get the terminology correct—and I’m guessing that most (?) cultures are comfortable with it, presumably because at some point people made the active choice to be open about adopting their child/ren.
This is why I want people to know what it means to have a baby via egg donation. To date, some five million babies have been born via IVF, and approximately 500,000 (N.B. my own research, compiled from multiple sources) have been born via donor egg IVF. That’s a sizeable minority. Chances are, you know a family created by egg donation but, like the adoptive parents before us, we parents via egg donation don’t usually discuss it.
But I think we should! We parents via egg donation, our children, and our friends and family shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the generosity of another woman’s eggs, or the marvels of modern medicine, or what makes our families a little different. So the more awareness I can bring to this alternative method of family building, the more normal it becomes and the safer the world will be for my daughter and other kiddos who came to their families via egg/sperm/embryo donation and/or surrogacy.
My Christmas wish this year is for the people in my life not to be afraid to talk about egg donation. Even if it’s just to say, “Hey, how great that this method of family building was available to you!” I would really love that. (My next post is about what to say.)
Thank you to all the people in my life who have shown interest and shown up. Whether or not you are reading this, I am more grateful to you than you know.
A version of this post first appeared on On Fecund Thought and is republished here with permission.