I started telling the kids about our gestational carrier when they were 13 months. When they were 18 months, I bought a children’s book about donor conception and started reading it to them. I don’t know if they understood what I was saying but I continued reading it to them and telling them that mommy’s eggs were not working well and a nice lady gave us eggs that made them. Then a few months ago, I purchased another book called “What Makes a Baby”. This is when we really started talking about the different parts of conception: egg, sperm, and uterus. It gave me a way to explain things to them without being graphic. Recently when I read the book to them, I start to feel that they can really grasp the concept. When asked why we couldn’t use mommy’s eyes, they’d say because mommy’s eggs were broken. When asked why we needed Auntie Annie to carry them, they’d say because mommy’s uterus was sick. They know about the egg donor as a nice lady. I think that it is a good time to introduce her to them more solidly by showing them a picture of our donor. For the life of me, I couldn’t find the our donor’s profile and photos either on my computer, on my iCloud account, or as a hard copy. I remember that I showed the first page of the profile to my friend Maddie who used to have a blog. I searched through our chat conversation and found the picture. The first page of our donor’s profile actually contains four pictures of her. One of them was a childhood picture. I would say it was when our donor was about 8 or 9? She was dressed in soccer gear with a half pony tail on the top of her head. Once I saw that photo, I exclaimed and had to go show my husband. He also exclaimed and said, “Wow she looks so much like Bunny!” That is what I have been saying all along, that our daughter Bunny looks exactly like our donor. Her facial structure, her eyes, her nose, her chin, the shape of her face, and her dimples. You put the two pictures side by side, you’d think that they were of the same person, or they were related like sisters. DNA is an amazing thing. Bunny looks a lot like my husband but also very much so like our donor. How is that possible? On the other hand, my son Okra does not look like anybody to me. I can’t see my husband or our donor in him at all. If you put him and me together, people may say that he is definitely my son because he looks more Asian than Bunny. Honestly, looking at the photos of Bunny and our donor side by side gave me a tinge of sadness because it was a reminder that my daughter will never look like me. That is what comes with using donor eggs: the reminder of the long and hard journey of having these kids and losing the genetic connections and the ability to brag about the likeness of our kids’ facial feature to me or my parents or my brother. That sadness was short lived though. I can’t help but feel tremendously blessed that this generous person gave us the chance to have our own children. These children are precious and gorgeous and bright and every good thing in between. So what if Bunny looks exactly like the donor and nothing like me? I chose this donor so of course the chances of the kids looking like her were high. I am so glad that our donor’s physical beauty is manifested in Bunny. How Bunny looks doesn’t diminish my love for her. I sometimes look at her and her brother and can’t fathom how lucky we are to be called their parents. Now I just have to find an opportunity to show the kids our donor’s photo and explain further that this was the person who generously donated a part of her to make them possible. I hope their understanding of this complicated matter continues to deepen and their identity of who they are is secured because they know our undeniable love for them.
One day my sister-in-law came to join me and the kids at the play gym. At the end while I was putting the kids in the stroller and giving them some snacks, my sister-in-law suddenly said, “I need to apologize for something that I said; I made a mistake on your behalf.” At that moment, I half-guessed what she meant, and it wasn’t far off from my hunch. She and my brother had dinner with a mutual friend, and the topic of our twins came up. This mutual friend asked, “How come the twins looked nothing like Isabelle?” My sister-in-law wasn’t thinking much and blurted out that it was somebody else’s eggs, or something to that effect. Our mutual friend thought that it was our gestational carrier’s eggs, but my SIL clarified that it was someone else’s. Once my SIL said it out loud, she knew that she had made a mistake from seeing the horror on my brother’s face. She made our mutual friend swear that she won’t tell others, but she didn’t feel good that I didn’t know that this mutual friend knew. She explained that she was caught off guard at that moment. When this topic comes up, she usually would say that Bob’s genes are very strong and the kids just look a lot like him. But this time she just told it without thinking about it. Afterwards, my brother was more mad at the friend than my sister-in-law because he felt that she shouldn’t have asked, as the question puts people on the spot. My SIL was horrified that she had told someone without consulting with me first and she was sincerely sorry about it. I told her that it is okay because this is not some dark secret. But I have been working on telling the kids about their genetic origins and before they have the cognitive ability, language, and maturity to tell people about it, I do not want those other than our chosen friends and family to know.
How did/do I feel about it? It has been a few days and I am still processing my feelings. I am not mad at my SIL at all. It IS a difficult question to answer and I felt that I should have prepared my loved ones better by giving them an answer to give people who ask. I am a bit mad at our mutual friend. What gives her the right to question why my kids don’t look like me? I mean, plenty of people do not look like their parents. If their parents did not use a gestational carrier to carry and give birth to them, I doubt that their friends and family would ask why they don’t look like their parents. The fact that our family building path involved a gestational carrier makes people feel that they can question the origin of my kids’ genetics. Just because I didn’t get to carry my babies, the chances of encountering difficult to answer questions are so much higher. At the same time, I did use donor eggs to create my family. And again, this is not some dark secret, so I feel that I *should* be okay with these questions because I should own up to my decision proudly. I don’t know. Like I said, I am still processing my feelings. One thing I am sure is that my SIL probably won’t blurt out donor eggs easily in the future. And, I should think about how to prepare my family better in the future because I am sure this question is going to come up again.
Back in October last year I wrote about my cousin Jeannie who struggled with diminished ovarian reserve and finally got pregnant via egg donation. She was due mid-June. Throughout her pregnancy I had kept in close contact with her, and had been so happy for her that her pregnancy was uneventful. Although her pregnancy was healthy, she was anxious about it. I can’t blame her because I had the same thoughts. Everyday when she got up in the morning she’d wait for the baby to move before she could relax a little bit. I think many of us have been so traumatized by infertility that stillbirth is a big fear. It is no different to my cousin. And I had the same fear when I was waiting for my kids’ birth. Jeannie’s due date came and went, and baby did not show any signs of coming out. Jeannie is a small business owner and started her maternity leave two weeks prior to her due date. I told her to enjoy this down time a bit before the craziness of a newborn began. She said that she was so uncomfortable that it was hard to enjoy her time. She just felt like she was wasting her maternity leave. Anyhow, a week after her due date was when her doctor started induction because baby was just not coming on his own. Induction started on a Monday late afternoon, and she was only 1cm dilated 24 hours later. Throughout this time, she was still very anxious about losing the baby at the last moment, because, you know, we as infertiles just have those crazy/not so crazy thoughts. Being induced for 48 hours didn’t bring her closer to her baby so a C-section was done. My cousin finally became a mother! I am so happy for her but at the same time have been feeling bad for her for all that she has had to endure with this birth. It has been quite rough for her physically and emotionally. She is entirely swollen and is puffy everywhere. She could not bend her legs. The crazy hormones make her cry all the time. Basically she is a mess. But she will eventually come out of it and did I mention that she has a baby now??? And he is so precious and perfect, and is so healthy and doing so well. It’s hard for me to believe that after all these years of wanting a baby and trying for a baby, she is finally at this point. She is holding her baby. I can’t wait to see how motherhood unfolds for her. During her pregnancy, Jeannie mentioned to me how she was envious of me having my mom here with me and so wished that her mom would still be alive and have the joy of being a grandmother. I feel for her and it makes me cherish my mom even more.
I continue to read my old blog posts.
Now that Bob and I have our boy/girl twins, it has been quite surreal to read the posts I had written about the possibility of pursuing egg donation. Even when we were banking day two embryos with my own eggs, we were already mentally, emotionally, and financially preparing for future potential donor egg cycles. There were quite a few posts back then about my thoughts and feelings regarding egg donation. This particular post stands out to me. My friend who struggled to get pregnant had just given birth to a baby boy. I signed up to deliver a meal to her. When I arrived, I was overwhelmed by the sight of everything new mom and newborn. This was what I wrote:
“I commented on the abundance of his dark hair. Anna exclaimed at her surprise of his dark hair because both she and her husband were born bald and later on grew blonde hair. I couldn’t help but wonder if I would feel the loss of the privilege of making such a comment in the future if my children are conceived with donor gametes. Maybe by then I’ll just feel so lucky to have a baby that it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Now that I am mom to my babies who were conceived with donor gametes, I don’t have to wonder anymore. I can tell you exactly how I feel. There is still a sense of loss of not being able to make such a comment about my own children’s hair, or skin color, or nose, or other physical parts of them. During the weekdays when I am by myself with the kids out and about, I get asked many times by strangers where my boy’s curly hair comes from. That whole head of curly hair definitely comes from my husband, which is usually how I answer it, but it does serve as a reminder that the kids and I are not biologically related. Is this sense of loss constant? Not at all. I’d say it is not a part of my everyday life. I love them so much and only want them and not other kids, so this sense of loss comes occasionally and goes away quickly. Most of the time the last statement of that blog post was true. I feel so so so lucky to have (these) bab(ies) that it doesn’t matter anymore. The fact that I can come back here in this space 4.5 years later to address a question I had prior to becoming mom of kids made with donor eggs? Now THAT is a privilege that I won’t/don’t take it lightly.
(By the way, yesterday, June 2nd, was my 6th blogoversary, and this is my 520th post. I sure hope to be able to keep this blog up for many years to come. Thanks for stopping by!)
I was listening to a podcast the other day about DNA testing and how people are excited about connecting to their relatives through a DNA database. I paid particular attention at one point when egg and sperm donors were mentioned. With this technology, egg and sperm donors who wish to keep themselves anonymous will not be able to keep their identity under wraps. That means people like my children who have been conceived with the help of donor eggs have the means to find the people to whom they are genetically linked. They will be able to see who contributed to 50% of their DNA and those that share their DNA. I have never wanted to keep my children’s conception story a secret. I want them to have a complete picture of who they are and not to have to find out about the donor conception part of their life through a test or anyone other than me. I recently purchased a book called “You Were Meant To Be” and started to read it to the kids. Bunny is a book worm and frequently requests to read this book. She calls this book “Be”. She fills in the blank for certain words of the story. Okra likes the book too but he is more into trucks and trains. I explain to them that a piece of me didn’t work so I needed help from our donor. The book itself is simple enough to explain a very complex situation to toddlers who are not even two years old. This is my first step to make this part of their life a normal part so it will not be a surprise in the future. I do not want them to be like those who are tremendously hurt because they find out about their biological origin well into their teenage years or adulthood. If my kids want to find out who the donor is through a DNA database, I will have no problem with that. They have the right and the freedom to explore who they are. When we first pursued egg donation, our donor did say she was open to meeting with us. So maybe this will come true and the kids can have a even more complete picture of who they are. Then we will connect with our donor so they don’t even have to find her through a database. We will see how this all will unfold.
I have been taking an online course aiming at helping women come up with the best business idea for their season of life. (Eventually I will start bringing in an income again but I will wait to write about it at the appropriate time.) One of the things that the instructor talks about is imposter syndrome, or a feeling of inadequacy or incompetence, or an utter failure or a fraud for a person’s own ability or accomplishment. Many people don’t feel that they can or will be able to start a small business to bring in money, or doubt that they are good enough for others to use their service or buy their products. I don’t actually feel like that with the business idea that I came up with because it is well within my professional field. But this word “imposter” came to my mind the other day. I have been attending a weekly bible study with my kids. I get my me time during discussion with my group of ladies and get fed spiritually with the truths that a teaching leader imparts to us. The kids get their precious time to learn about God, be loved on by their teachers, and play with their friends. Last week prior to the lecture, a video was played to us to show the importance of the children’s program to the existence of the adult bible study class. Afterwards, the lecturer asked all the mothers with little kids in the program to stand up so that the crowd could show their appreciation for their dedication in bringing the kids. I hesitated for a few seconds before I slowly rose from my seat. I felt a tiny bit uneasy and didn’t look back at the rest of the people in the sanctuary since I sat quite close to the stage. The lecture started after that and I went on with my day. However, during the quiet evening hours when I reflected back various moments of the day, I thought about the moment when I stood up as a mom to my kids and I started analyzing my emotions. Why did I hesitate and why did I feel uneasy when the leader asked the moms to stand up? Maybe sometimes I still feel like an imposter. Not all the time, but sometimes. I know that my kids are mine and I am their mother. I love them to the moon and back, and will do anything for them. BUT, the fact that I didn’t get to carry them or share my genes with them still haunts me. Not all the time, but it creeps up at moments like this. At times I do still feel insecure about it and wonder how the kids would feel about their unique history when they are teenagers or adults. I wonder if my love for them is enough for them to feel secure about their special situation being children born out of the tremendous love I and their dad have for them. Deep down, at rare moments, I do feel like a fraud, as if someday someone would come and take them away from me because I am not their real mother. This is all silly talk when I am sane and busy with a beautiful life full of chaos of raising twins, but at times this silly talk is not too silly and consumes me and makes my heart ache for the journey that I had to take in order to become my babies’ mama. Fortunately, I feel secure as their mother 99% of the time, but when that rare moment comes at an unexpected time, I am almost surprised at having these feelings. I guess these emotions will probably never completely go away.
The kids’s comprehension has grown exponentially in the last month or so, especially Okra. He was the one who did not understand as much as Bunny in the past. Now he has caught up and even surpassed her in some areas. It has been a lot of fun and a joy to see that they make connections and associations with concepts and ideas. They do things like following two-step directions (e.g. Go pick up the carrot and give it to mommy) or turning a book right side up when I tell them that it’s upside down. About a month ago Okra showed interest in the pictures of our maternity shoot that are hanging on the nursery wall. He pointed at the photos and I’d tell him that Annie Yee Yee (Auntie Annie in Cantonese) and mommy are in them. From then on, whenever I ask where Annie Yee Yee is, he points at the photos. I figure since the kids know body parts such as tummy, I started telling them about who Annie Yee Yee is. I say, “See Annie Yee Yee’s big tummy? You guys were inside of her when she was carrying you both for mommy. There is Okra, and there is Bunny.” I said that a few times when they were standing in the cribs after listening to their nap time and bed time stories. I didn’t expect them to understand or remember what I said for a while. To my surprise, these kids actually know what’s going on. A couple of days ago, after I changed Bunny’s diaper, I asked her where Annie Yee Yee was. She pointed at the photos. I asked her who was inside of Annie Yee Yee’s tummy. She patted on her own chest and smiled! Wow I was impressed. I thought it was a one off, so I tried it later again, this time with Okra. After their nap time story before putting them down, I asked both of them who was inside of Annie Yee Yee’s tummy, and both of them patted on their own chest. I don’t think Okra was copying Bunny. I feel that they both knew what I was talking about. At a few days shy of 16 months, that was not bad at all! I told Annie about it. It was so heartwarming for her to know that the kids are learning about her. This is our first step of telling the kids about their conception story. By about 18 months, I’ll gauge their comprehension skills and start talking about their egg donor. Hopefully by the time they fully understand the world around them, their conception story of egg donation and surrogacy will be a part of them as natural as breathing in air.
Sometimes Bob and I discuss about our donor; topics such as when to start telling the babies their birth stories, whether Bunny or Okra reminds us of the donor, or how the donor feels about children conceived with her eggs. I am thinking about starting to tell the babies in a couple of months just a very abbreviation version of their donor conception and gestational surrogacy. Sometimes Bunny and Okra sit with me in the rocking chair in their nursery and I would point to the maternity photographs on the wall and tell them about the time Auntie Annie was carrying the both of them inside of her tummy. They seem to start to comprehend my words and would point to the pictures when I ask them where Auntie Annie is. I have yet to start saying something about our donor, and will need to consider how to make the point across in simple terms for toddlers. As for our donor’s feelings about children conceived with her eggs including our children, we would have no way of finding out unless we reach out to request for a meeting with her like we had originally planned for, until the cocaine incident. I had lost my desires to meet with her after her breach of contract and trust. I had always wanted to complete the babies’ conception story by telling them about our meeting with their donor, so we will see if we change our minds in the future. Yesterday I did get some insight from my dear friend who actually donated her eggs to another couple in her 20s. She was in town for the holidays so we met up for coffee. I asked her for her perspective. She said since she donated such a long time ago, the children that were conceived with her eggs rarely crossed her mind until she saw our struggles and our decision to use donor eggs. Because of how it had enabled us to start and build our beautiful family, she felt a tremendous sense of privilege to be able to be a part of a story that completed a family for a couple in need, and felt that she had done the right thing. I know that this is just one donor’s perspective, but it was nice to hear about it. Maybe someday we do get to ask our donor herself about her perspective.
I am more into documentaries these days than feature films. So when my friend urged me to watch “Private Life” on Netf.lix, I was a little hesitant. One day last week I finally started watching it, but within the first six minutes I already complained to Bob multiple times about medical inaccuracies. My friend kept on telling me to ignore these and focus on the movie itself, I obliged and eventually finished the movie. I actually liked it. If you are going to watch the movie and don’t want a spoiler, come back to this post after you are done. This can wait.
What I like the most about the movie is its realistic portrayal of the emotions of this 40-something couple who started trying to have a baby later in life. Of course there were exaggerations for the sake of storytelling such as the accelerated timelines of TESE, donor eggs, etc. I ignored all of that, and found myself nodding constantly when the characters expressed their feelings as well as when seeing the disapproval and insensitivity of those around them. At a few points, I felt a little weepy as I saw parallels between my life (prior to my twins) and this couple’s lives. The couple was pursuing adoption simultaneously with fertility treatments. They were describing to an adoption social worker about a failed adoption which involved a birth mother who was matched with them but disappeared. It wasn’t clear if she was actually pregnant or was just pretending to be, but something that the social worker said stuck with me: “The emotional scams are really, really tough.” I found myself nodding nonstop. It reminded me of our experiences of our second donor disappearing after meeting with us, and about our current donor who was tested positive for cocaine during our cycle. It was already such an emotional roller coaster for us, and to have others kick us when we were down was almost unbearable. Watching this part made me relive that time of our journey. After the couple failed their first IVF, their RE pragmatically suggested egg donation as an option for financial reasons. The couple’s fight outside the clinic brought out a very common concern of female partner of losing their genetic material vs. the male partner’s ability to conserve his genetic link to their child. I wish the movie did go more in depth about the struggles and emotional turmoil a woman may experience before she says yes to pursuing egg donation, as the wife almost immediately dove into the world of donor profiles online after her initial struggles. But you know, some people get over that part quickly and some don’t, so it could still happen in real life. Regardless, I was almost teary-eyed when the wife scrolled through the donor profiles on her computer screen and read the details aloud to her husbands. That was us when we were trying to decide on a donor. We looked at countless profiles and tried to pinpoint what traits were important to us for passing on to our child. I remember how difficult it was to decide how to choose. I can’t say I totally understood the couple’s choice of donor, as I don’t know if I’d choose a family member myself if I had the choice, but nevertheless I was really rooting for them to finally have a baby. No such luck with that transfer as the fertilization rate was low and the niece was trying to be helpful and increased the drug dosage on her own. I could just see the numbness of the husband and the wife going through the motion of everyday life. That night, the couple had a conversation in bed. The husband expressed that he was actually relieved that it was over, that he didn’t have it in him to do this anymore, and that he didn’t even know if he wanted a kid anymore. He knew that he should console his wife, but he just didn’t have the energy to do that himself. I feel that it was heartfelt and realistically depicted how one would feel after trying so many things for so long without success. It also shows that IVF or DEIVF is not foolproof. Often times both of these fail and leave people with an empty bank account and no baby. As sad as I was for them, there was a glimmer of hope at the end of the movie when the couple got a phone call regarding an adoption and sat in a diner to meet with an expectant birth mother. It showed how the husband who originally sat across from the wife crossed to the other side to sit next to her and hold her hand. They were in this position and waiting expectantly facing the door of the restaurant. That was the end, and I love it that we don’t get to know what happened next. We don’t know if the expectant birth mom was going to show up, but it was so encouraging to see that 1) there is a chance that they will become parents and 2) regardless of the outcome, this pair who has gone on this incredibly difficult path together will be okay, as they are in this together. That was me and Bob, that regardless of the outcome, we were in it together. That has always been such a comforting thing for me, and I hope that those who watch this movie and are walking the same path of infertility also find comfort in that.
It’s been interesting to support my cousin alongside her on her fertility journey. Although she has been trying for more than a couple of years, she hardly ever reads any blogs or joins any online groups. In those 5.5 year of trying to become parents, I was on many online forums, joined many FB groups, and was a regular reader of many many blogs. Because of that, I feel that I have a lot more knowledge regarding things like the IVF process. Many of the questions that she has asked me are ones to which she’d know the answers if she had been following infertility blogs. I am happy to answer them. It is just interesting to see the differences in our approaches dealing with our fertility issues. And now that she is pregnant, it feels even more obvious that she doesn’t know much. Every time she gets her beta results, she’d ask me if they numbers are good. I have to reassure her that the numbers have been beyond good. Here is the lowdown:
Second beta on 10dp5dt: 577
Third beta on 16dp5dt: 5582
Those are crazy numbers, aren’t they? When I saw that her second beta was over 500, I couldn’t help but wonder if the embryo had split. This value was even higher than Annie’s second beta of 464 on 10dp5dt, and Annie was carrying twins for us. Dr. E, my RE, said that there is a 1% chance that the embryo would split, so it could still be one very strong embryo. One day my cousin was scaring me though. She messaged me to ask if she should do an injection of progesterone in oil that evening. It was already 11pm her time. She was supposed to insert one progesterone suppository in the morning and two in the evening. She only had one left in the evening. A shipment was supposed to arrive that day but didn’t get delivered on time, so she ran out of the suppositories. She still had PIO at home from previous cycles so she asked if she should inject some. I asked Dr. E who answered me right away (you got to love her for her fast response). Dr. E said that missing one dose of progesterone could cost her pregnancy, and urged her to inject the PIO right away. My cousin did. Then she told me that she wasn’t too worried about not receiving the shipment since she still had PIO at home. It was just that the suppositories were not covered by insurance and would cost $1100, so she asked around and someone was willing to order some for her and ship them to her. Of course the shipment was messed up. And now knowing that skipping a dose could cost her pregnancy, saving that $1100 doesn’t sound like it’s worth it at all. I just told her to always have progesterone around until her placenta takes over.
It does look like her pregnancy is going well. I can’t wait to see how many babies they see on her first ultrasound!