Tag Archives: egg donor

Genetically Predisposed to be an Egg Donor?

New research says that “niceness” may be part of our genetic make up, that we are predisposed to be kind and generous because our DNA contains genes that control the function of oxytocin and vasopressin receptors, receptors for hormones that play a role in our maternal instincts, attitudes about civic duty, and responsibility to others.

I say we because this article makes me wonder if sperm and egg donors like me, and like those mentioned in the article that were more likely to be “giving blood, working for charity or going to PTA meetings,” were genetically predisposed toward donation. More than one chapter of my memoir addresses why I chose to become an egg donor, and for me, the underlying theme was generosity. I saw it as “one level up from” giving blood, with even greater impact in someone’s life.

Photo by Duncan on Flickr.

If I take my Wilde 🙂 speculation one level further, are children conceived from donor eggs and sperm statistically “nicer” because they got half their DNA from these generous people? And if so, are our populations slowly evolving toward kindness and generosity? Gosh, I hope so. I guess only time will tell.

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Parental Rights in Unwed Lesbian Relationships

When it’s still not legal for lesbian women to wed in many states, how can courts decide about their parental rights in a “divorce?”

This Los Angeles Times article, Both Lesbian Moms Have Parental Rights, Florida Court Rules, presents a dramatic family saga, no less disturbing if it were a heterosexual couple.

A lesbian couple fell in love. One womans egg was fertilized by donor sperm and then implanted in the womb of her partner of many years. Because the birth certificate has only one space for “mother,” the birth mother’s name was the only one on the birth certificate, while the biological mother’s name was omitted. Jump to years later when the couple breaks up and are fighting over custody. While the initial Florida court regrettfully sided with the birth mother citing current Florida state law, a state appeals court overturned the ruling on Dec. 23. The article states, “The 5th District Court of Appeal ruled that the U.S. and Florida constitutions trump Florida law and give parenting rights to both women. State law, it added, has not kept up with the times.”

But this situation has long-term implications for the rights of gay and lesbian couples. I am curious to see how this case might set a precident in future decisions.

This situation also has all the makings of a movie-of-the-week. The birth mother had fled with the child to Austrailia without the biological mother’s permission, but has since returned with apparently no legal repercussions.

Who would have thought that all this reproductive freedom we now have access to could be misused so terribly? Of course, we don’t know the circumstances within the couple’s relationship, but we definitely seem to be tromping through a gigantic gray area regarding parental rights in same sex couples. Let’s hope the muddiness is cleared soon.

(illustration courtesy of The Guardian)

One Donor, How Many Siblings?

My hubby sent me an article, One Sperm Donor, 150 Offspring in today’s New York Times (thanks Mike!). It highlights a problem I worried about when I became an egg donor twelve years ago and when we chose to use a sperm donor eight years ago. When I became I donor, I stipulated that I donate only to people from out-of-town. I didn’t want to see my offspring in the grocery store or worry about them going to the same high school with my children. As a result, I only donated to families from Canada and other counties in the state.

We chose our sperm donor from a bank in California. At the time, the clinic only noted that at least one child had been born by our donor, not how many. But I saw it as a positive, demonstrating the sperm’s efficacy. I assumed the sperm would be sold to a few locations throughout the country, making the odds that my children would bump into one of their few half-siblings statistically unlikely. But ten years ago, I didn’t realize that sperm could be frozen indefinitely, that more and more people would take advantage of the advancing fertility technology, and I trusted that the sperm bank would use good sense and limit the number of offspring produced by any one donor. But reporting of births by parents is voluntary and as this article points out, this area of the fertility industry is not well-regulated.

My boys already have half-siblings that we know about: twin girls born from my donated eggs, Ruby and Raven, who live two counties away and our unique relationship has formed the basis of my memoir. The boys also have a non-biological half-brother born in my husband’s previous marriage. But what about the unknown half-siblings born from their sperm donor?  What if the sperm donor had children of his own? Is it important that we know of their existence? Their geography, sex, and age?

When I asked these questions of our sperm bank, they directed me to their sibling registry. We’re listed there, but as of this writing no other siblings appear there for our donor. A search of the Donor Sibling Registry shows no other siblings by our sperm donor either, but the site has an annual fee of $75, so it’s still quite possible that my children have many other half siblings across the country.

Will my children yearn to meet their unknown half-siblings and donor someday, a situation happening all over the country and chronicled in the forthcoming documentary about which I blogged, Donor Unknown? If they do, I hope that we’ll handle the situation with the grace and understanding that our children deserve. But let’s face it, we’ll probably make some mistakes, because we’re human, and we’re slogging into uncharted waters.

The article also mentions the modern sex education a parent must share with their teenagers born from donor sperm. The teen must know and remember their donor number,  and they must assess the birth status of each of their future partners. I think we all remember those awkward junior high/high school conversations leading up to a first kiss. Can you imagine the dialogue a teenager born from donor sperm must have in this modern day?

“So…umm, well…so your parents…umm, when you were born…umm,…so, there’s, like, no chance you were born from donor sperm is there??”

With this extra monkey on their backs, my boys won’t have their first kiss until they’re 25! Maybe that’s a good thing for my blood pressure, but seriously, I want them to be happy, and although the odds still seem in their favor, who knows what the climate will be like in the next ten, twenty, thirty years when they’re searching for a companion? Nowadays, and in the future, the geography that I thought would protect them has been made insignificant by the age of computers and technology. Most of my single friends use web-based dating sites. Will these sites incorporate a check box for “conceived from donor sperm or eggs” as a screening option or conversation starter? Will it be part of their dating profile? Probably someday. It’s only a matter of when.

I’m trying not to worry too much about this dilemma, for their sanity, and mine. My hope is that we, as their parents, will have educated our boys enough, and raised them with enough confidence and openness to approach these new dating experiences with only the usual amount of awkwardness. It will be tough no matter how we prepare them, but hopefully, being born from donor sperm won’t be the factor that keeps them from finding and feeling the love, security, and contentment that we all seek, and that they definitely deserve.

Do you think the number of offspring from each donor (sperm and/or eggs) should be tracked? Regulated? Or should we just print the donor number on our Facebook info page so we can avoid those potentially awkward moments?

Egg Donor Starts a Class Action Suit

According to Courthouse News Service, egg donor Lindsay Kamakahi has sued the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), and the Pacific Fertility Center for conspiring to fix egg donation compensation. Her lawyers are asking for a class action certification.

She alleges that ASRM and SART published maximum compensation rates in 2000 and has not raised them since. Apparently, these rates are part of guidelines put forth for fertility clinics who are members of ASRM. If they don’t follow the guidelines, then they will be excluded from a national directory of providers. This exclusion is where the gray area begins.

Kamakahi’s assertion is also that the illegal compensation maximums were calculated based on rates paid to sperm donors, but because egg donors go through considerably more health risk and inconvenience (injections, exams, etc.) they should be paid more than sperm donors.

If her allegations are true, she’s right. Egg donors do go through a lot more invasive procedures, including anesthesia, vaginal exams, and multiple hormone injections. Although complications are rare, the risk is still present. If women could give up their eggs via masturbation, would we be having this discussion? 

Ideally, this could be settled without a class action lawsuit, but we all know that our world is often less than ideal.

My minor beef with the article is the mention that the surgical procedure for egg retrieval “may require several days of restricted activity to recover.” It is true that it MAY require this much time if complications arise, but they are rare.

This article, granted written on a legal blog, focuses exclusively on money. Yes, I donated eggs so that I could get money to pay down my student loans, but I also donated because I wanted to help people to have the family they wanted.

The legal system and the capitalist system can be so frustrating. Let’s hope for a speedy settlement via mediation…but I won’t hold my breath.

Are the Brit’s Ahead of Us?

We don’t see it in the news here, but the UK seems progressive and organized when it comes to their egg and sperm donors.

BioNews reported last week that Natalie Drew and Ashling Phillips, a lesbian couple who have two children by a sperm donor, set up The Gay Family Web Fertility Centre  in Birmingham, England. The clinic is designed to help gay and lesbian people build their family. They were motivated by their experience conceiving their children at a clinic that catered primarily to heterosexuals. British law dictates however that they cannot turn away heterosexual couples.

In addition, a new documentary film, traveling around European indie film festivals, Donor Unknown, is  making headlines. Cameras follow 20-year old JoEllen Marsh as she searches for the sperm donor father she only knows as Donor 150.

Through an online registry that connects donor-conceived children, she manages to track down a half-sister in New York. The New York Times picks up the story, and, over time, 12 more half-siblings emerge across the USA.

Donor Unknown follows JoEllen from her discovery of her siblings, to the moment Jeffrey steps forward to identify himself as Donor 150, to her decision to travel to California to meet him. We also meet the half-siblings spread across the U.S. Danielle in New York, who was not told by her parents that she was donor-conceived till the age of 14, is uncertain of the kind of relationship she could ever sustain with Jeffrey. His decision to let go of anonymity is a step few donors have taken.

This story is fascinating and the closest I’ve seen to my own. From the film web site:

“Linked by their connection to a single sperm donor – 150 – parents and children are creating and navigating a new set of relationships. They are discovering first hand what a close biological connection to a stranger means for themselves and their identity.  What happens next opens up some fascinating questions about nature and nurture, the responsibilities of parenthood, the moral integrity of the cryobanks, and the hazards of genetic inheritance. As the laws on donor anonymity change in some countries, there are fewer sperm donors and there’s a roaring trade in ‘fertility tourism’, for overseas sperm and egg donation….Now they’re living with the unpredictable consequences of their choice. What impact will meeting this stranger – Donor 150 – have on their children? What kinds of relationship can the children build with their biological father? How will letting Donor 150 into their lives affect their relationships as a family? And how will meeting his biological children change Jeffrey’s life?”

So why isn’t this film showing here across the U.S.? Right now its screening in New York, London, and Poland. I’m excited to see it. I’ll be contacting my local indie film theater, The Pickford Film Center, to see if they can get their hands on it. Send a message to YOUR local indie film theater letting them know you’d like to see it as well. This type of story needs to be seen.

Inspiration in Entertainment

One of my personal vices has always been movies and television. Although some writers think that indulging this habit is nothing but distraction, I’d argue that it depends on how one approaches them. Because there are so many choices and so little time, I’ve been relying for a few years on the wisdom of Entertainment Weekly (EW). When I discover my copy in the mailbox each Friday afternoon, I get a little thrill thinking about when and how I’ll squeeze in the hour it takes me to devour it.

Last week’s issue was particularly inspiring for me as a writer. Or at least I was reading the magazine like a writer, where every page held some message that called out to me.

Instant Fame

You’ve probably heard of the now infamous Ted Williams, the formerly homeless man with a radio voice from heaven who was discovered on a street corner while holding his cardboard sign. EW noted that his now legendary You Tube video first appeared on-line on January 3 and by January 5, Williams was on The Early Show and had a job with the Cleveland Cavaliers. On January 6, Williams appeared on the Today Show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and on January 7, he reunited with his estranged mother and his first commercial appeared on-line. That was one busy week. As a reader, I was blown away by the pace at which TV moves. As a writer, I focused on the ideas that the media are just dying to find a sensational story and that if you happen to be part of that story, your professional career could move fast, and perhaps faster than you’d like.

 I’ve heard similar stories about authors who have been fortunate enough to get into the Oprah loop. I, of course, have entertained several fantasies of appearing on her show, and soon her new network, OWN. But I never really believed it could happen to me until the day almost exactly three years ago when I received an e-mail from one of her show’s associate producers. Although I didn’t end up on her show (she aired a show on Feb. 8, 2008 about sperm donors that met their biological children), I did do a 1-hour phone interview with the producer and I was sure I heard elements of our conversation worked into the show. I haven’t given up hope of appearing on her show someday, and that hope is reinvigorated when I read about the kind of story-book success that happened to Ted Williams.

Assisted Reproduction in the Mainstream

I recently blogged about the first mainstream movie with assisted reproduction as a major theme to reach financial success, The Kids Are All Right. Now, I’m happy to report that the film’s stars Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo have all been nominated for acting awards, the highest of which includes the coveted Oscar.  The film has at least 4 Oscar nominations, and as of today, Annette Bening is a frontrunner in the best actress category. Its considered a long-shot for Best Picture but to me that’s less important than the fact that the films critical success has helped it find a wider audience and increased awareness about families built with the help of (egg and) sperm donors. It can only help with reception of my book with mainstream audiences, if I’m so lucky to be in that position some day.

The movie’s success also gives me permission to fantasize about the movie adaptation of my book. I’ve met one Bellingham children’s book author, Royce Buckingham, who successfully penned and sold the screenplay and movie rights to his children’s book. Although it has not yet been made into a movie, he’s still enjoying the annual payments that go with that sale. To me, success as a writer takes many forms, and Buckingham has definitely earned his.

New Directions

Good bye vampires, werewolves, and wizards. Hello… refugee teenage aliens. The movie, I am Number Four, is an adaptation of a young adult sci-fi, due out Feb. 18. Hmmm, I wonder what kind of books will be getting hot deals at this year’s writer’s conferences?

The Beauty of Brevity

To me, good writing is often not about what is said, but how it’s said; finding the most simple and perfect words, as if there could be no better or clearer way to accomplish an idea. With that in mind, I really admire how EW can say so much in so few words. Case in point, last week’s EW presented the movies expected to be released in 2011. I will continue to strive toward this kind of succinct perfection: “Transformers: Dark of the Moon, due out 7/1. Cars are robots.”

I’m wishing you all overnight success, mainstream audiences, and concise prose.

Lorraine Wilde

“The House of Hope and Fear” by Audrey Young, M.D.

I just finished reading another memoir, The House of Hope and Fear: Life in a Big City Hospital, by Audrey Young, M.D.  My book club is reading it for January. It was a quick read because once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. The book follows the good doctor through her job as an attending physician at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, WA. She describes the medical cases that walk through the door on a daily basis, none of which are sensational like on a television show. They’re simply real people arriving with standard issue diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart failure. What makes this book very different than a TV show is that it covers with greater detail the fact that our health care system is profoundly flawed.

Harborview is a public hospital, meaning it is one of the few that takes people that certainly can’t pay, while the other seven hospitals within a 5 mile radius accept only a small proportion of those with no insurance. If you’re homeless, poor, or otherwise downtrodden, Harborview is your only shot at health care.

Before reading this book, I had no idea how ambulance services decided to which hospital one should be transported. This book explains that both where you go and the level of care you receive are very dependent on your health insurance. For example, even at Harborview, but also more so at the other hospitals, the emergency room doors can be closed due to overcrowding, with people turned away or transported to a different hospital further from their homes, all while people sit in large private rooms on the upper floors because they have great insurance that pays for expensive surgical procedures. There are big rooms with space for beds, the hospital is just not putting beds or people in them.

According to Young, health care in the U.S. is still about making money, even at Harborview. Departments that make the most money, like surgery, have the most beds, the most space, and well laid plans for expansion and remodelling, while departments that cater to the homeless, even when they are at capacity on a daily basis, like detox and dialysis, have no plans for improvement.

Due to cutbacks at my husband’s work during the latest recession, I have had only catastrophic insurance for over a year. The idea that I could show up at a hospital and receive lower quality, or less heroic health care compared to someone else seems criminal.

I’ve been a socialist at heart for some time (since birth?), but this book reinforced my feeling that health care should not be allowed as a capitalist venture.

I definitely enjoyed this book, despite my frustrations with the reality of the subject. It often made me feel one of two emotions. I either felt like a) our health care system is screwed up and I am not doing enough about it or b) that it was too overwhelming for me to fix so I was tempted to put my head in the sand. I’m sure Young was hoping for the former.

Since reading this book I’m definitely planning to spend more time looking into single payer health care, which means that there is basically one insurance company that everyone pays into and fees come out of. If used properly, it would eliminate the idea that the quality of care is dependent on your insurance or socioeconomic status.

I also learned from this book as a writer. Young included technical descriptions of medical conditions and their diagnosis and treatment. In my memoir, I have included technical medical descriptions of procedures related to assisted reproduction including egg donation, artificial insemination, and in vitro fertilization. I noticed that my descriptions of medical procedures tend to include more detail or elaboration, but in a way that helps the lay person compare it to every day things, whereas Young simply states that she ordered a CT scan and blood cultures and hopes (or assumes) that the reader understands why or how those will help in her diagnosis and treatment. I am very comfortable with medical terminology and don’t need much explanation, but I’m curious to hear how the non-technical members of my book club feel about the technical medical aspects. Maybe TV shows like E.R., Grey’s Anatomy, and House have made it easier for the everywoman to understand this stuff?

This is Young’s second book on the subject, her first covering the life of a medical student. I’m very tempted to read her first as well. This book did a couple of things I aspire to: it kept me interested despite it’s technical nature and my desire to avoid reading about the travesty that is the U.S. health care insurance system, and it was written with a voice that would never be called literary. Sometimes I worry that my voice is not flowery enough because my background is in science instead of literature, but this book proved to me that not every successful book has to sound like it was written by an English poet.

There was one aspect of the book that I noticed so I’ll be careful in revising my own. Young uses (fake) patient names throughout the book and occasionally, because there were so many, I would forget who she was talking about. I’ve read and heard from other writers that characters should only be named if they are significant enough, if they are worth remembering. But now I’m wondering if those names need to be reinforced when they recur. Young occasionally would write something like, “Jason Smith, the patient with the blood clot in his leg,…” to jog the memory, but at other times she would leave off the condition, and for those I’d have a hard time figuring out the context for that person.

Reading this book made me want to investigate and possibly send my manuscript to her agent, Max Gartenberg. His web site says he only takes query letters, so I need to work on my query. Check!

Check out this book and let me know what YOU think.

Lorraine Wilde