What is it really like being an older mother using egg donation?

Cheryl Lister is a fertility journey coach and has worked with several US organisations, including Donor Concierge, working with Intended Parents since February 2015

She is a mother of two daughters via egg donation, a journey that began for her in 2009.

Cheryl said something that is common is the shame and guilt she hears from the Intended Mother during initial consultations, which she recognises because she has been through the experience.

“Although change is in progress, there is still a stigma around using an egg donor to help create one’s family,” Cheryl says. “We feel secretive. We feel perhaps that it’s weird or messing with fate, or that our female parts are somehow less than, that we as women, and possibly as mothers, may be less than.

“I love being able to share with prospective clients that I used an egg donor to help create my family. Often, I hear a sigh of relief from the Intended Parent, followed by curiosity and questions.”

Here are some of the common questions she receives from intended parents who want the inside scoop on egg donation:

Do you love them as much as you hoped you would?

Yes. I don’t have biological children to compare to, but I have never loved anyone in the way that I love my daughters. As with most parents, I am deeply bonded with them, deeply related. I wouldn’t hesitate to throw myself under the bus for them. Nothing is more important to me than my girls. I am constantly amazed and amused by them. I want all the good things in life for them. I can’t imagine loving them more than I do.

Do they know their story, that they came from an egg donor?

Yes. I’ve been telling them their unique story since they were growing in my womb. I tell what I believe to be an age appropriate version of the story, and it develops as they grow. In present time, their ages being six and nine, this is what I say: “Mommy and Papa waited a long time to decide to have you. By the time I was ready to have children, I was older and didn’t have very many eggs left. We went to a special doctor who can help people have babies. The doctor found someone who had extra eggs that she could share. The doctor mixed them with something from Papa and they put the teeny tiny little spec inside of me. And guess what? That tiny little spot grew into you, inside of me.”
This is currently one of their favourite bedtime stories that they ask me to tell. My six-year-old sometimes chimes in at the end, ‘I’m a miracle’.

Do your children look like you?

My oldest looks like a combination of her father, and my mother. Very odd, since my mother passed away seven years before Sofia was born, but they have the same eyes. My youngest has a similar body type to me, acts like me, looks like me. When I was little, I hummed when I ate meals that I liked. She hums when she eats her breakfast. She likes to perform for us in the living room, making up songs and dances. Guess who else liked to do this, and sometimes still does? That’s right, me.

Does anyone ever wonder if they are not your children?

All the time. I was 48 when Sofia was born, and 51 when Michelle was born, so I am 57 now, with my six and nine-year-old girls in tow. It has happened, at the grocery store checkout counter, at the beach, at the zoo, at the aquarium, at the playground, at the airport, at the elementary school, cinema, pharmacy, at a restaurant. Someone mistakenly thought I was their grandmother. The worst one was the zoo. I was with their father (my husband at the time) and Sofia, when she was two. I stood back to take a picture of the two of them looking at a monkey. An elderly woman shouted out to me about how wonderful it was to take my son and granddaughter to the zoo. I was mortified, shrinking away and hoping that my (yes, many years younger) husband hadn’t heard. Lord help me, I don’t think he heard, or if he did, he was kind enough to pretend that he hadn’t. Once you have been mistaken for a grandma at the store, the zoo, the school, the airport and so forth, one begins to get used to it, get over it and devise great responses that help diffuse the awkward situation.

What if your egg donor wants to come and try to take the children someday?

She won’t, and she can’t. I am so grateful to her for sharing her eggs with me, it is a priceless gift. But in no way, shape or form are my daughters her daughters to have and to hold and to raise. I am their mother. I am the one who nurtures them, nourishes them, teaches them, feeds them, cuddles them, sings to them, disciplines them, shapes them, influences them on a daily basis. The egg donor gifted me with the ability to grow my daughters inside of me, and to give them a template of genetic material to grow from. I would love for my daughters to be able to find her someday, to know more about this piece of their genetic background, but to this point, she has chosen to remain anonymous. I am curious and interested in her, so if she ever changes her mind, I would be happy to know her. But she could never, and would never, take Sofia and Michelle away from my infinitely maternal arms. The law supports this.

Some women often feel overwhelmed by the process and have endured so much loss and disappointments. They wonder if the universe is trying to tell then they aren’t meant to have children.

What I say to them is I can’t speak for the universe, but if you really want children, I can say with a lot of confidence that it will happen. There will be bumps in the road and twists and turns you could never have imagined, but please keep looking toward your end goal. You want children. You deserve to have children.

And lastly, is it worth it?
Yes, they are worth every challenging step you are taking. You are worth it, and they are worth it, too.

Cheryl Lister is enjoys a private practice coaching individuals and families to unpack the knowledge they have to develop a meaning-filled, purposeful life.

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