I have a number of writing projects on the go at the moment – a booklet for DCN on having a child by donor conception when you already have one (or more) conceived without the help of a donor and another on the ‘why, when and how’ of talking with family and friends about donor conception, the idea of this being harder for many families than talking with their children. I am also due to write a chapter on ‘telling’ when an egg donor has been used as part of surrogacy, for the organisation Surrogacy UK.
Something shared by those using egg donation in surrogacy and single women who have a child by double (egg and sperm) donation is a reluctance to mention the egg donor. Maybe in each case it is because there is already something ‘different’ about the way a child has been brought into the world – having grown in the womb of a woman other than the intending mother in surrogacy and having been conceived (obviously) by sperm donation into a lone parent family for single women – that makes it feel uncomfortable to have to mention that there is yet another element of difference to accommodate. Both single women and parents by surrogacy have little option but to explain to their child and significant others about part of their method of conception, but the egg donor element seems to feel much more difficult. However, if this contribution to a child’s make-up remains unknown then parents can find themselves in a similar position to families who decide not to say anything about using a single donor, leading their child and others to assume a genetic connection to both parents when there isn’t one. The consequences of losing trust within a family when this secret emerges are well documented.
The only research I know in this area is by the Centre for Family Research at University of Cambridge. Vasanti Jadva and her colleagues presented a poster at the recent European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology conference in Stockholm called Surrogacy Families Ten Years On: Relationships with the surrogate, decisions over disclosure and children’s understanding of their surrogacy origins. Forty-two families took part in this research and by age ten all the families had told their children about the surrogacy. Of the 19 families who had also used a donor egg, 11 had told their child about this, 6 planned to do so at some point and 2 were planning not to tell. There is no research specifically on single women who have used double donation to create their family.
There is a great need to understand more about the difficulties of disclosing use of a donor egg (in addition to either surrogacy or donor sperm). The answer MAY lie in parent’s attitude to difference generally, what this means to them and their experience of difference in their own lives. Those whose past experiences have not been positive may have more difficulties than those who perceive difference in a more positive way…even to the extent of encouraging a celebration of it. There are also likely to be challenges to a woman’s sense of self at not being able to fulfil the ultimate womanly role of being the provider of an egg that can create a child.
If anyone reading this post has experiences of these situations or views to share on it, I would love to hear them.