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Surrogacy and Donor Egg Disclosure

family kids in sky.jpg

by Dena Fischer, Jan. 15, 2010

I have an older cousin who was adopted and the family joke is still that whenever we mention his name we immediately whisper “he’s adopted” – almost as though that were his last name. When I was a kid way back in the 70s, there was still shame and secrecy attached to adoption – the kind that led to so many heart-wrenching stories of adults having the rug pulled out from under them when they learned their background later in life. Thankfully, the shroud of secrecy has been lifted from adoption and, along with it, the shame that went along with it for the kids and the parents.

But what about egg/sperm donation and surrogacy? Little bits of nature and science that aren’t readily identifiable as non-genetic family the way, say, an Asian child with Caucasian parents is? Do you tell your children if they don’t necessarily “have” to know?

When we were expecting our twins -- who were the product of an egg donor and a gestational carrier -- my father kind of offhandedly said we needn’t ever tell them. When I pointed out that everyone else in their world would know and explained how awful it would be if they found out accidentally, he reconsidered.

The experts all say to share what is “age appropriate” – answer your child’s questions simply and directly, without adding more info than they really need. When one of my boys’ little pals was getting ready for a baby sister, the question came up about whether or not they’d been in my tummy. I told them I’d been sick when I was little and so I couldn’t have a baby in my tummy but their dad and I wanted them so badly that we found someone to help us.

That satisfied them for that night and every once in a while they ask more questions. Now they know our surrogate’s name and they know someone else helped too – just the basics: that babies come from a little of mommy and a little of daddy but I couldn’t do that part either so someone else did.

My boys are six years old and so far it’s been smooth sailing on the subject; just a natural part of who they are. Nothing extraordinary about it. But a couple of weeks ago I was hunting for something in my safe deposit box and out popped the photos of our egg donor. I hadn’t looked at them in years and I was struck by how much one of my boys (the one people always say looks like me) actually looks like her. You can read back in these columns to read about the private giggle I get from that and the inner high-five I give myself for choosing so well.

Hmm. Think again there, Mom.

Seeing her looking up at me all these years later – jealousy reared it’s ugly head. Yes, I was jealous. Plain and simple. It’s not that I wanted to be her; I just didn’t want him to be more like her than like me. I’m his mom, for sure, but there’s no denying he looks like her. For the slightest split second I thought about tearing her photo up – the boys know about her, no need to ever actually see her. If they want to meet her when they’re 18, we’ll track her down. Why see her looking back at him looking so much like him before that?

But could I really destroy her? Ripping up her picture wouldn’t change the fact that she’s a part of both my boys. And it won’t change the fact that I’m lucky. So lucky that a little bit of her and a little bit of my husband sat in a dish and then, in someone else, turned into these two.

I don’t love them any less for it – in fact, perhaps I love them more for the journey I took to become their mother.

The urge passed – a moment of ugly selfishness. I put the picture back – no need to show them now or even soon. It’s there and someday, when we’re all ready to go to the next level, I’ll show them the woman who gave me the greatest gift imaginable.


Dena Fischer is a literary agent with Manus & Associates Literary Agency, Inc. and a freelance writer. In addition to working and raising her children, she is actively involved in education in her community and is a founding member of The Potrero Residents Education Fund whose mission is to improve public education in her San Francisco neighborhood of Potrero Hill. She lives with her husband of 15 years, Brad Rothenberg, and their twin boys Henry & Sam.