By REBECCA SPARROW
It had been a long time since a letter shocked me. But this one did. It arrived, unassumingly, sneaking into our house earlier this year amidst the ‘Congratulations! It’s a boy!’ cards, the phone bills, the Big W catalogues. It took me a while to notice it … I had a newborn in my arms and opening mail was the last of my priorities.
Eventually, I did. And as I opened the letter and read each handwritten line the world slowed down. A woman in her sixties was asking me for my eggs. For her single daughter.
This woman – lets call her Marg - read in the newspaper about the birth of my son Fin (as a columnist for the paper, they’d done a big ‘good news spread’ when Fin was born).
So in a last ditch desperate attempt Marg wrote to me. About her thirty-something single daughter. About her daughter’s desperate desire to be a mother. About how hard it is to find donor eggs. About how maybe, maybe, with a newborn in my arms, I might feel some compassion for her daughter. And be willing to help.
And I did. I do. But could I donate my eggs? No. I just couldn’t. And even writing that now makes me feel heartless.
Last month, a moral dilemma segment on the ABC’s Life Matters program centered about egg donation. A 44-year-old woman with no children had written into the program asking for advice. She wrote:
I am 44 and have been trying to fall pregnant for the last ten years. A year ago my husband and I began IVF but after a few unsuccessful attempts we’ve now decided to try using donor eggs. The younger the donor the better quality the eggs, we’ve been told, and so I am considering asking my 21 year old niece if she will donate her eggs to us.
(You can listen to that full transcript here.)
On the panel was author Kylie Ladd. Kylie’s written many posts for Mamamia, one of which was about her decision to become an egg donor.
“Why was I doing this? At the most basic level, because I could. Our own children had taken a while to conceive; my husband’s cousin battled infertility for over a decade before giving up after she miscarried twins at six months; a number of friends had been through IVF with varying success. I knew the ache of empty arms, the hunger that made Rachel, Jacob’s wife, demand of God, “Give me children or I will die.”
My husband and I had been lucky. I had a bad case of endometriosis, but it was diagnosed and then treated. The drugs had done their thing and in due course a son and then a daughter had arrived, whole, vibrant, impossibly perfect. Now though I had no more need of my eggs. Month after month the supply ebbed away, the clock ran down. It seemed such a waste. I’d given blood since my teens, was on the organ donor registry. Why not offer these also?
Egg donors are hard to find, and under Australian law cannot be paid for their services. Though already in my mid-thirties, and with my eggs thus at the outer limits of their viability I was quickly snapped up. Detailed investigations ensued: my current health, my medical history, my genetic makeup.
Then followed two mandatory counselling sessions, the first to discuss ethical and moral issues around egg donation, the second (after an obligatory month’s thinking time) to complete the legal consent forms. My partner, I was told, would need to accompany me to the latter appointment, as given that we were married my eggs were deemed to be joint property, and he would also need to sign them away.
I was given the option of being informed of any “live births” resulting from my donation, and my husband and I discussed the issue during counselling. In the end, though, I knew that if all six embryos had amounted to nothing I would feel disappointed, maybe even that I’d wasted my time.
Conversely, if any had taken I also knew that I would wonder about the child. Did he or she look like me? Was he healthy? Was she loved? There would be no answer to any of these questions, and thus, it seemed, no point asking them. It makes me happy to think that I gave someone a shot, some hope, and maybe, just maybe, a baby of their own. But I don’t need to know any more. My balloons have flown. I hope they are soaring.”
Anyway the whole conversation as well as the letter got as thinking about egg donation and lines – what would ours be if we were the person asking or the person being asked.
Who would you ask if you were in need? Would you ever donate your eggs? What lengths would you go to to have a child?