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Will This Baby Really be Mine?
a blog by Ellen Glazer, July 1, 2013
This is a question I hear often from people thinking about egg donation. They wonder if a child that is not connected to them genetically will truly feel like their baby. Here I’ll try to put this question in context.
Let’s begin by reminding ourselves that all parents have ideas of what their children will be like. Most base these expectations on their own appearance, interests and abilities. Tall parents expect tall children, engineers expect little engineers, women with curls expect babies with curls, and neatness is expected to beget neatness. Rarely, if ever, do parents get the children about whom they fantasize. Almost always, parents come to accept and often celebrate the ways their real children differ from their fantasy children.
Now how is this different—or is it—with egg donation? Women who know their donors inevitably assume that their children will resemble the donor in some way. After all, if you didn’t expect the donor’s appearance, intelligence, personality and health to express themselves in the child, you wouldn’t care where the egg came from. But you do care and you do expect to see the donor in your child. If she is your sister, this will generate one set of feelings, and if she is someone you found through a donor agency, selected from her pictures and questionnaire and met only once, other feelings will arise.
What if you never meet your donor? Never speak with her by phone? Although openness is becoming increasingly common, there remain many women who carry babies created from the eggs of strangers. If the donor is a stranger, you may wonder if the baby, also, will feel like a stranger. Fortunately, this question, which can be torturous for some, seems to diminish over time. In the words of Sandra, 38 and an expectant mom: "Mother has taken on a whole new wonderful meaning for me. It is not about conceiving anymore. It is not about genes. It’s about nurturing a child, it’s about my blood supply, what I eat, how my body takes care of the child growing within it. Yes, this will be my child."
I hope that the flurry of recent articles on epigenetics are a source of comfort and encouragement to you if you are pursuing egg donation. Epigentics confirms that if you are pregnant through egg donation, you are not simply the oven. You play an active role in shaping who your child is in ways that seem to go beyond what you eat and don’t eat, drink and don’t drink. Your child will be influenced by the sound of your voice, your smell, your feelings. Knowing this, together with knowing that cells from your body cross the placenta and live on in your child and that cells from your child cross the placenta and live on in you (through microchimerism), should help to solidify your sense that this is your baby.
The Chinese have a belief in “the red thread.” They believe that there is an invisible red thread that connects people who belong together. When people comment that your child looks like you, they are saying, as much as anything else, that you belong together. I have seen this in my work with adoptive parents. I have had Caucasian parents with Chinese children who tell me that people comment on how their daughter looks like them, and I can remember one fair-haired mother of a dark- skinned child from Colombia who said that other parents in her daughter’s third-grade class were surprised to hear she joined their family through adoption. “But she looks just like you,” this mom remembers them saying. What these comments do, we believe, is reaffirm the bonds of family and the “rightness” of particular people being together.