It’s probably safe to assume that most couples, before choosing to procreate, do not sit down at the kitchen table and write out a full family medical history and personality profile for each partner. For most of us, the decision to have children is not so much an evaluation process as an instinct to pass along our genetics, with all that entails, to the next generation. It’s a natural desire, and for most families, what you have is what you get.
Choosing embryo donors was an entirely different world. Before we even began looking at donor profiles, we had decisions to make. Did we want a closed or open arrangement with the donors? If open, how much contact did we want to have? Did we want our children to have contact?
We chose an open arrangement. In the end, we both felt it would be important for our child to have access to complete information about his or her biological family and even to have the option of eventually meeting them. Traditional adoption has moved to more open arrangements in recent years, and research shows the adopted children have benefited. It just seemed we would want to be able to answer any questions our child might have about the family whose genetics he or she shared. As it has turned out (and as our counselor predicted), the openness has already benefited us, as well.
Once we made that decision and outlined the type of communication we envisioned, the NEDC coordinator emailed us the first set of anonymous profiles to review.
I don’t know if there is really an effective way to describe the experience of shopping for your child’s biological make-up. How do you prioritize health factors, personality traits, talents and interests? Did it matter if we related to the donors’ taste in music or movies? How concerned were we about a history of clinical depression? What about diabetes or heart disease? We knew the single biggest predictor of IVF success is the age of the mother, so that was another factor.
As silly and shallow as it sounds, I had a terrible fear of ending up with an ugly child. I worried about the same thing before Corin was born. The counselor we have had access to throughout the process suggested it was related to fears about bonding. In any case, I was disappointed that most of the donor profiles didn’t include photos. But perhaps it was for the best. The one profile that did have photos sounded good on paper, but – there’s no kind way to say it – the children were homely. I couldn’t get past it. I felt like an awful person, but I just…couldn’t.
We passed on the first set of profiles, and the coordinator sent us a couple more. We passed on those. And so the winnowing continued. It was harder than either of us expected. There was really nothing wrong with any of these donor families. (Well, there was this one, but I won’t go there.) It was just incredibly hard to look at a few pages of anonymous information and decide definitively whether this was the biology we wanted for our child.
The NEDC coordinator actually had quite a task before she even selected profiles to send us. First, she had to choose from donors whose openness preferences matched ours. Then, she had to consider the number of embryos the donors had available, and at what stage the embryos had been frozen. In order to proceed to transfer, we would need 5-6 embryos. Because few donors have that many embryos, we would likely need to be matched with TWO donor families. To further complicate matters, not all embryos are frozen at the same stage of development. Some are frozen as blastocysts, some as 3-day embryos, and some even earlier. Our embryos needed to be at a similar stage of development in order to all be ready for transfer at the same time. The coordinator also tried to factor in physical similarities, although we eventually told her that mattered less to us than other factors.
There were a couple donors earlier in the process that had potential, but it was maybe on the fourth batch that we found two profiles we really liked. One had two embryos available, the other four, giving us our total of six. Predictably, I was ready to commit and Jon wanted to keep looking, just in case. I emailed the coordinator about more profiles, and that’s when we realized exactly how demanding we were. Her reply essentially said, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it. We’ve exhausted all the donors that meet your parameters.” So, here we were. These were the donors.
I don’t know that I could tell you exactly how we chose these donors. There were factors that weighed heavily, like levels of education, career choices and skills and hobbies. The medical histories were pretty clean. Both couples were relatively young. Aside from the concrete factors (or perhaps because of them), we felt a connection, as if these were people we could relate to. All of this came with a lot of prayer.
Once we made our choice, the NEDC contacted both donor families for their approval of the match. It was a nerve-wracking couple of weeks before both approvals were in, although the coordinator assured us donors approved the match 90% of the time. After they received the approvals, the NEDC provided all our contact information to the counselor, who was responsible for helping us finalize the legal contracts. After speaking to each of the donor families, the counselor was able to tell us more about them: their first names, their children’s names, a bit about their story and a little about how they felt about the match.
I’ll never forget the counselor’s call after her interview with the first family. As she told us about them, I felt an overwhelming connection. I remember thinking, “I love these people!” I don’t know what it was, exactly. Perhaps God was giving us the confidence that these were the people, this was the child He had chosen for us. We named this family as our primary donors. The second family would be our secondary donors; their embryos would be used if needed. We exchanged photos with both families, and I was amazed at how much our primary donors reminded me of us. Their two children – a boy and a girl – were adorable.
We had decided on a January 2012 transfer. All parties settled on the terms of the legal donor agreements pretty easily, and I mailed in the last signed, notarized contract on December 9. That was also the day I began the first step in my medical protocol. The train was leaving the station.