I’m keeping a very big secret from my kids, and my biggest fear is that once they find out, they will want nothing to do with me.
My preschool-age twin boys were born with the help of an anonymous egg donor. I’ve never second-guessed my decision to use IVF via donor eggs as my path to becoming a mother, but as my children get older, I’m more and more afraid of how they will react to learning the truth about their origins.
After trying and failing to get pregnant on my own in my late 20s, a preliminary blood test revealed my hormone levels were that of a post-menopausal woman. An internal ultrasound confirmed what a team of reproductive endocrinologists suspected: My ovaries had only four follicles them, and none of them were healthy enough make IVF a viable option. Devastated as I was, I took comfort in the fact that the rest of my reproductive system was perfectly healthy and more than capable of handling a pregnancy. All I needed was some donor eggs.
We looked into adoption, but in the end my husband wanted to share a biological connection to our kids, and I really wanted to experience pregnancy and labor. So after some long talks that lasted until the wee hours of the morning, a hard look at our finances and a bit of research into how much Ramen the human body can actually handle eating before it gives out, we decided to pursue a donor-assisted pregnancy.
Leafing through a binder of headshots and short biographies to choose a woman who will provide half of your children’s DNA is like a very high-stakes episode of The Bachelor. It’s bizarre to listen to your husband discuss other women he finds attractive while you try to balance any jealousy with the idea that your own children could inherit those good looks. In the end, we decided on a beautiful donor who looked nothing like me but whose application indicated she had similar interests and a personality close to my own.
We were lucky, and I became pregnant with twins on my first attempt at IVF. Through some quirk of genetics, neither of my kids inherited the donor’s red hair or hazel eyes. One favors his father’s coloring, and the other has my lighter locks. When we’re out as a family, the comment we receive most often is how we have “his-and-hers twins.”
Because we memorialized my pregnancy with tons of photos and videos, and because on the surface my children look like they could be my own, if I wanted to I could probably never tell the children the truth without them suspecting otherwise.
The idea of doing just that is tempting. Although my infertility story had the happiest of endings, the emotional pain of coming to terms with my diagnosis and undergoing the IVF process still lingers, and there’s a part of me that would love to lock it all away in a box, never to be spoken of. Not telling them would let me forget about that chapter of my life. It would also eliminate the risk of my being rejected by the kids or them feeling I’m somehow not their “real” mother in spite of carrying them and caring for them their whole lives.
But not telling them the truth is selfish. From a practical standpoint, they need to know about the donor’s medical history so they can be aware of any potential family hereditary issues. And it might be a plot line out of a soap opera, but I still want them to know they could have half siblings out in the world before they start exploring love and sex.
Knowing that telling them they were conceived with the help of an anonymous egg donor is the right thing to do doesn’t make it any less terrifying. I love my children completely. Even on the days when they are doing everything they can to push my buttons, I look at them and am struck by how beautiful and smart they are. I’m humbled by the reality that I get to be their mother. I love them more than I can express using words, and the idea that they may reject me because we don’t share DNA scares me.
I’ve done my research and learned the earlier you tell children about their unique conception the more likely they are to see it as simply a part of their narrative rather than something negative. The second they have questions about how babies are born, I’m ready with the answers. But each time I pass the donor egg storybooks that sit waiting on the shelf, I feel a little knot in my stomach. Will they understand how wanted they are? Will they still love me?
The only thing that provides a small measure of comfort is knowing that having a genetic relationship to your children doesn’t guarantee a healthy relationship with them once they become adults. In spite of the saying “blood is thicker than water,” there are many adult children who have little to no relationship with one or both parents for a variety of reasons.
Among the friends I have who don’t have a relationship with a parent, the reasons why the relationship is troubled varies but finding out that they were adopted or conceived via a donor has yet to come up as the cause for the breakdown in the relationship. This gives me hope that my actions as a mom will count for more in my children’s minds than whether or not they inherited my unsightly feet.
As much as telling my kids that they were conceived via an egg donor scares me, I’m optimistic that knowing the truth won’t change how they feel about me. But I still worry, and maybe it’s the fact that I worry which means I shouldn’t be concerned at all. Perhaps all this fear means I’m doing right by them by caring so deeply. Regardless of how I came to be a parent, I’m still their mom and I hope they see it that way too.