When a fertility specialist recommends that a couple use donor eggs or donor sperm for fertility treatment, it can be emotionally challenging to deal with the loss of biological connection to a child. At Wijnland Fertility Clinic, we work closely with our patients, providing counselling support to provide a sense of closure.
But what is “closure”? Closure means finality, letting go of what once was and feeling fully accepting of what has happened. Closure honours the transition away from what has finished towards something new. In other words, closure describes the ability to go beyond imposed limitations in order to find possibilities.
In the case of fertility treatment, and fertility treatment using donor eggs and sperm specifically, closure involves grieving the loss of passing on a genetic legacy to offspring, accepting this passing, and appreciating the new path of parenthood. For women specifically, there may also be feelings of grief surrounding the loss of experiencing pregnancy.
During fertility treatment, we need to realise and take note of the grieving process and give couples a chance to go through this psychological process of closure. Closure usually implies resolutions, which may not be possible with the prolonged nature of infertility and the treatment process.
At Wijnland Fertility Clinic, we spend a lot of time with our patients, navigating this process of closure with them. We validate this loss, acknowledge and empathise with patients, and help the couple to reframe what parenthood can mean. Often in these sessions we help men especially to understand that a genetic link is not the most important part of building a family by talking about the experience of parenthood and the meaning of family.
Here are my top tips for coping with using donor eggs or donor sperm in your fertility treatment:
- Take responsibility for yourself and take necessary action to help you move forward. Does holding on truly make you happy? Are you using this “holding on” as an excuse to stay stuck and unresolved? Dwelling on the past takes you away from moving toward your future family. Are you trying to avoid dealing with the loss of your imagined family and the void that this loss creates? If you’re willing to let go, what does this really mean? Ultimately, what do you believe will happen to you if you let go?
- Grieve the loss. Take plenty of time to do this and don’t let anyone tell you to “just get over it.” However, grieving should not go on for years. Incomplete grief may contribute to making poor choices so work with a fertility counsellor to rebuild your ability to trust and be honest. This is essential for a new start during and beyond fertility treatment.
- Gather your strength. Focus on the positives, surround yourself with people who understand your journey, and assess where you can make proactive changes. Define what is needed to build your new reality.
- Make a plan for the immediate future (with your partner, if applicable). Allow yourself to explore different possibilities and include your partner in the decision-making process to strengthen your relationship.
- Create a ritual – this is a powerful tool to help gain closure. Be creative and use your intuition to bypass mental blocks and move forwards.
Important considerations when choosing an egg or sperm donor
When speaking with your fertility counsellor, you will also discuss different donor options. Choosing between a known and unknown donor is the most challenging decision some couples will need to make on their path to parenthood.
There are questions you can ask yourself (or discuss with your fertility specialist) to help you to decide what you are looking for in a sperm or egg donor and to choose a donor who is right for your fertility treatment:
- Is it important to you that your donor has a familial connection to your child? Is this biological connection for you important, or is a genetic link more important?
- Do you want your child to have a relationship with the donor? A known donor offers the opportunity for a relationship with a child before they reach the age of 18. If a relationship between the donor and your child is important to you, then a known donor is likely to be more suitable for your fertility treatment. You need to be certain if you are certain that you don’t want your donor-conceived child to have a relationship with your donor before they are 18 years old, so consider the unknown donor path carefully. There is no right or wrong answer, but this is an important decision to discuss with your fertility specialist. Bear in mind it is possible to use a known sperm or egg donor and have an agreement in place where there is no relationship between the donor and your child.
- Are you concerned about the cost of using a sperm or egg donor? There are no legal fees associated with terminating parental rights for an anonymous donor. If you opt to use a known donor, there is generally no cost for the egg or sperm donor themselves, but there are legal fees to ensure the parentage of the offspring is clearly defined.
- How important is a thorough medical and psychological background screening of the sperm or egg donor to you? At Wijnland Fertility Clinic, we do not discriminate between known and unknown donors in terms of medical and psychological screenings – it is important that both these screenings happen. We also take this opportunity to fully inform gamete donors of their legal rights and what it means to have a genetic or biological link to offspring conceived with their donation.
The best way to protect all parties during fertility treatments with donor eggs or sperm is to ensure you have asked and addressed all the relevant questions. Speak with your fertility specialist about medical testing, as well as to an attorney knowledgeable in assisted reproductive therapies, and a fertility counsellor.
Attachment and bonding
After shortlisting possible egg or sperm donors, patients at Wijnland speak with our fertility specialists about attachment and bonding to each donor profile.
Patients must form an initial bond with a profile before the couple can go ahead with the donor egg or sperm fertility treatment cycle. At Wijnland Fertility Clinic, this session is very important because when donor-gamete recipients are not given the chance to consider or discuss the bonding with a sperm or egg donor, there is a chance that the parents could struggle to bond with the child.
In our experience at Wijnland, we find that fathers tend to have greater difficulty bonding with a new baby. With donor-sperm conceived children, this is even more potent. This is why we provide fathers with tips for bonding with their babies before birth.
Understanding the ways infertility and fertility treatment impact men and women differently, particularly dependent upon the reasons for having fertility treatment. This allows fertility specialists to make a more complete diagnosis of infertility to create an optimal, personalised treatment plan.
Written by Lizanne van Waart
Director & Founder of Wijnland Fertility Clinic / ART Counselling
MA. (Psychology) University of Stellenbosch