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This blog addresses various emotional aspects of experiencing infertility. It is written by a clinical psychologist who specializes in infertility counseling. Thank you for reading, and best of luck with your journey!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Getting "the donor egg talk"

For a women undergoing infertility treatment, hearing that her only or best chance at pregnancy is donor eggs is usually a fairly upsetting experience.  Many times, she senses it is coming--repeated poor response to follicle-stimulating medication lets the realization sink in over time.  In other instances, it comes a shock.  Testing reveals that despite her youth and health, she is entering menopause early.  In either case, getting "the talk" from the RE is a dreaded and painful event.

Of course, learning that one cannot be biologically related to her child is a huge loss, one that takes time to process and to grieve.  In addition to this, I often hear women blame themselves for their situation.  The refrain of "if only I had known" is a common one, even though of course there was no way to predict the situation.  Perhaps more damaging, I also often hear confessions of shame and self-loathing.  A woman may feel terrible that she can't do what other women do effortlessly, and hate herself for being unable to easily give her partner a child.  Again, as it is a completely uncontrollable situation for her, there is no "solution" for these types of feelings.  Using another, presumably more fertile, women's eggs can feel like a slap in the face.

In addition, if the woman decides to go forward and use donor eggs she is now faced with the prospect choosing an egg donor, which is never an easy decision. She must decide whether or not to use an known or anonymous donor, and deal with the complications that result from either decision. Further, she must manage a complicated treatment cycle with many players, including the egg donor, her agency, a couple of attorneys, and of course, the IVF clinic staff. She must also figure out how she is going to pay for the donor fees and for the treatment, often not covered by insurance.

All in all, this situation is pretty overwhelming for most people.  If you are faced with the prospect of using donor eggs and are feeling upset and stressed out, I'd say that most likely, your response is normal and indicative of good mental health.  I often tell my clients that if they were in a difficult situation and were not upset by it, that would be a big red flag for me.  The main thing is to try to deal with your upset feelings in a helpful and productive manner. To that end, I have a few suggestions for how to navigate this complicated emotional situation. 

1.  Give it time to sink in.

Usually, the first reaction to the donor egg talk is often shock and intense emotional distress.  Even though you might see the writing on the wall, it still hurts to hear "officially" that the chances of having a genetically-related child is small.  It is important to give yourself time to be upset about this, and cry if you need to (and you probably will).  Don't expect yourself to go back to work right away, or see people with whom you don't feel comfortable expressing your true emotions.  This is one of those situations in which you may need to press the "pause" button on your life in order to give yourself time to react and recover.

2.  Watch out for denial.

A common reaction to this sort of news is to deny the severity of the situation.  I have often seen women, upon hearing this news, get very angry at the doctor who delivered it, feeling that he or she may have ulterior motives.  Since they might be getting their period every month and otherwise feel normal, they question why donor eggs would be necessary.  Although it is possible for doctors to be wrong, to be honest I have never really witnessed a case where an RE suggested donor eggs unnecessarily.  I suspect that most RE's dread giving the "donor egg talk" as much as their patients dread hearing it, because it feels bad to have to deliver disappointing news to people they want to help.

Sometimes, a women in denial about her fertility potential, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, persists on, trying to find a doctor who will perform IVF with her own eggs, or pursuing alternative treatments in the hopes of a miracle.  While miracles can happen, they often aren't likely, and pursuing them for too long can exhaust a couple's financial and emotional resources.  This can make the process of infertility treatment even more traumatic and depleting.

3.  Be kind to yourself.

Being faced with the decision of whether or not to use donor eggs is a traumatic event.  It usually prompts what I have come to call an "infertility meltdown".  There will be a period of grief and mourning, as well as times of anger at the situation.  As it is a time of crisis, it is very important to treat it as such and to take good care of yourself emotionally.  Allow yourself time to cry, and to think about your feelings.  It will most likely be helpful to discuss them with a partner or a close confidante.  Recognize that things like going to baby showers or being around pregnant women may be especially painful right now.  In this difficult time, it may be necessary on a temporary basis to protect yourself from events and people in order to cope with your feelings.  Also, keep an eye out for negative self-thoughts.  Try to remember that producing a quality egg is an involuntary act, and that pregnancy is only nine months out of a whole lifetime of parenting.  I feel we cannot judge ourselves just by what we cannot do.  Rather, we also need to take into account all of our strengths and accomplishments, not the least of which is sticking it out in infertility treatment in order to try to create our families.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. I am coming to this crossroad soon and expect to get the "talk" in a couple of weeks. I've been processing all of this for several months and have gone through all of the emotions you describe. It's exhausting work.

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  2. Thank you so much. I just got "the talk" a few days ago, and I am devastated. This whole blog is so helpful. I have been trying to find a professional to talk to with some knowledge or experience dealing with infertility but have been unsuccessful. It's a comfort to know that sources like this exist.

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  3. Very nice and interesting topic, i really, i am quite sure the idea you share is more useful for me.

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