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The Parents Via Egg Donation Organization: August 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Donor Porn

By:  Marna Gatlin, Founder, PVED with Carole Lieber Wilkins, MFT

Controversial title wouldn’t you say? When I first heard it and then wrote the words down it made my face turn red and giggle like a school girl.

Some of you are wondering where this is going and the mere title of this blog post is making you shift uncomfortably in your chair and looking around to see whose looking, right? Yeah, I thought so.  But you know what?  That’s the way it is when you engage in donor porn.

What the heck is donor porn you might ask?  Well, hang on; I’ll get to that in a minute. But first I want to set the scene (my guess is this could be any of you).   

You’ve decided to make the leap and build your family through egg donation. It’s taken a while but you are truly at a place and you’ve said to yourself “I can do this! I am ready!  Let’s go!” And while you might be excited, scared and hopeful the reality of selecting an egg donor has hit you right between the eyes and frankly, it’s overwhelming. So what do you do?  You do what any resourceful person does when they are practicing their due diligence – you do your research and begin looking at egg donor agency donor data bases, or if you are lucky your clinic has a nice data base that their patients got you to look through.

It may start innocently enough – you have kind of an idea in your head what you are looking for in an egg donor as you being your search.   The first egg donor looks lovely; you may like the shape of her eyes, and her smile.  However, as you scan her profile you see she’s only 5 feet 2 inches tall and the shortest person in your family is 5 feet 8 inches tall.  How would you explain to your extended family a really short child? So you pass on her and you go to the next donor. 

The next donor is the right height but her nose and the shape of her face is much different than yours, and you really wanted an egg donor who was attending college as that’s important to you.  Time has passed and before you know it, its midnight and you’ve looked over twenty egg donor profiles and you are just as unsure as you were when you first sat down. The smart part of your brain tells you to turn in for the night and you do – before you know it, it’s time to wake up and face the day and with a fresh set of eyes you find the right donor for yourself and before you know it you’ve called your clinic reserved your egg donor and you are well on your way to cycle.

Or are you?

All day long you feel really great about your choice.  You can’t wait for the two of you to begin cycling, taking medication, your donor to have her egg retrieval and you to have your transfer!  This is really going to happen and you are so excited! Until for some ungodly reason you decide to take one more peek at the donor data base you selected your donor from and before you know it you are in the data base pouring over egg donors again and you see another donor that you think you might like better.  The wheels begin to turn and you begin to second guess your choice, and what if yourself.  Your partner may even see you at the donor data base and might even say “Hey what are you doing? I thought we already agreed up our egg donor.”  And you feeling a tad sheepish may just smile and say “Oh of course we did I was just looking…”  And you both go to bed still feeling good about your egg donor choice, but in the back of your mind you might be wondering….

This goes on for days --- The overwhelming desire to continue to look at your clinic or agencies data base and pour over donors especially after you have made your donor choice and committed to your donor selection.  There’s a term for it – it’s commonly referred to as “Donor Porn”

Why do we do it? 

We ask ourselves as we continue to go back and look at the donor data base over and over looking and possibly hoping for that new special, perfect donor that our clinic or agency might just have.  Some days we can’t help ourselves as we fret, worry, and pour over donor profiles like we would a legal contract, or our medical files. For other’s it’s a powerfully heady experience – One mom said to me “It’s like window shopping to the extreme, to try on someone else’s genetics is a really big deal, and I wanted to be really sure.  This isn’t like buying a car you know.”

I commonly refer to this as “The Grass is Always Greener” syndrome.  You know the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side” I think some intended parents get caught up in that through the chase of the perfect donor. When in reality their donor choice is probably the best choice for them.
Because this topic is so fascinating to me I contacted my friend and colleague Carole Lieber Wilkins a therapist based out of Los Angeles, California and this was her take on “donor porn”.

"The question is:  How do you choose someone to replace yourself?  The incessant searching for the perfect DNA replacement is a donor search gone awry.  Can there ever be a perfect candidate?  Even if you find a donor whose genetic makeup does not have many of the flaws yours has (diabetes, cancer), she doesn’t have your essence.  Put simply, she isn’t you.

Very frequently we mistake selecting a donor for selecting a child.  Your child will not be a clone of a donor anymore than your child would be a clone of you.  But we imagine if we select someone beautiful, our child will be physically attractive.  We mistake SAT scores with general intelligence.  How do you evaluate a donor’s EQ, her emotional intelligence, vs. her math scores on standardized tests?  We can’t.  So we keep going back to look again.  And again.  And again. "

The first step to recovery is what?  Admitting we have a problem right? So just admit it -- We’ve all engaged in it.  We’ve all done it.  And really don’t shake your head at me, we know you have. So how do we stop and become secure in our choices?

"Grieve your losses first.  Say goodbye to your imagined child because that’s the one you are hoping this fantasized donor will help you create.  Let go of the perfect embodiment of your partner and you.  Look for a donor you think you’d like to hang out with at Starbucks.  Try to select not a replacement for you, but someone you might be proud to know as your daughter (because, let’s face it, most ovum donors are of an age that they could be our daughters).  Select agencies that provide you with complete enough photos and profiles that you feel a sense of her and seem like you’d like her.  Many intended parents opt to meet their donors and discover they very much like these women as people.

You would most likely not select a porn queen to hang out with at Starbucks (with no offense at all to those in the adult film industry!)   So why choose her to help give you the material you need to complete your family?  Once you have grieved, and re-set your priorities, you’ll find you have lost the need to constantly keep going back to the Internet to look for the “perfect one.”"

Now we realize this is easier said than done.  But hopefully after reading this blog post a time or two you will get where we are coming from.  You will come to understand that there really is no replacing you.  There just isn’t.  You are unique and special in our own right.  And while we totally understand your why you might second guess your choices please don’t – believe in yourself, believe that the choices you are making regarding your donor selection are the right ones to make for you family.  And if you take anything away from this blog – remember this one small but important piece to all of this:

The baby you are meant to have is indeed the baby you are meant to have.

So in closing – Just close the page and just say no to donor porn.

About Carole -- Aside from being one of the most talented and brightest therapists on the planet Carole loves what she does, she takes the scary out of all things third party, and is the go to person regarding disclosure issues and having honest conversations with with you to help you have honest conversations with your child's origins.  Carole has written several pieces about talking to kids about egg donation, and has aided many many individuals become comfortable, and make peace with infertility issues especially revolving around third party reproduction.

Personally we at PVED think Carole is the bee's knee's and find her knack for helping others out of this world.

If you are in the greater LA area and would  like to contact Carole for a therapy session you can find her here: http://www.lafamilybuilding.com/index.html

Her official bio below.

Carole Lieber Wilkins is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in West Los Angeles, providing individual, couples and group counseling. specialist in the field of reproductive medicine, adoption and family building options since 1986, she became a founding member of Resolve of Greater Los Angeles in 1987 and served on the Board of Directors in various positions for the next 14 years.

Ms. Lieber Wilkins is well known for her work regarding disclosure of information to children, having helped hundreds of patients feel comfortable about talking with their kids about how they built their families. Many clinics and practitioners around the world distribute to patients her groundbreaking article, Talking With Children About Their Conception. She has lectured locally and nationally, on many subjects related to infertility. She has been the keynote speaker at several Resolve symposia, and a presenter at the professional meetings of the American Psychological Association, The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, Organon Nurses Symposia and Kaiser Hospitals.

Carole is a member of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine Mental Health Professional Group, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a professional member of both Resolve and AFA. In addition, her own experience creating a family through adoption and ovum donation deepens her understanding of the challenges others face when exploring these complex family building options.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

5 Steps to Finding an Egg Donor

5 Steps to Finding an Egg Donor by Gail Sexton Anderson   

If you are one of the thousands of intended parents who are trying to conceive (ttc) via egg donation, you may be feeling overwhelmed. Your reproductive endocrinologist (RE) has probably given you a list of egg donor agencies to contact and you may not know where to start.

I have worked with intended parents for nearly 14 years, helping them find egg donors and/or surrogates. I take the time to hear each intended parent’s story and act as a guide help intended parents avoid common pitfalls as they move toward finding the right egg donor. I work with over 60 agencies across the country and have access to their egg donor databases (14,000 egg donors). I am completely independent and therefore, I have no vested interest as to which agency you choose to work with since my goal is to help you reach your goal. The following are the steps I help intended parents move through.

Step 1: Determine where you are in your fertility journey. The newer you are to the egg donor process the harder it is to choose an egg donor. The biggest step in moving forward to choose an egg donor is to grieve the loss of your biological child or, if you are the husband/male partner, the loss of having a child that is biologically related to the person you love. The key is letting go (Egg Donation and Mourning)

Step 2: Think through what is really important to you in an egg donor. For most, it is that the egg donor and her family are healthy, both mentally and physically. You will want to make sure that there are no inheritable diseases in the donor’s immediate family such as cancer or mental illness. The ‘immediate family’ usually includes her parents and siblings. It is difficult to avoid all illnesses when the immediate family extends to grandparents though mental illness should probably still be avoided. Breast and ovarian cancer in a maternal grandmother age 40 or over is less of a concern. Beyond health, most intended parents want someone who looks like they fit into their family: reasonably bright and reasonably attractive(Do’s and Don’ts of Donor Selection).

Step 3: Have realistic expectations. You can find almost anything in an egg donor but you can’t necessarily find every criterion desirable all in one person. The most important thing to remember is you can’t find yourself. You are a unique individual and so is each woman who is willing to be an egg donor. Look for someone who you can like for who she is and not for who she cannot be. There is always a certain amount of compromise in finding the best egg donor for you. There is no such thing as a perfect egg donor; the only perfect donor is the one you can [have a child with]. When it comes to fertility (and most things in life), we are not in control. If you can accept this difficult but simple truth, you have won half of the battle. (The Beautiful Epic of How a Family is Created)

Step 4: Have a back-up plan. That is one of the big advantages my clients have in working with Donor Concierge. Since I find my clients many (20-30) candidates who are currently available to cycle, I recommend that they choose their top 3-5 candidates. Then, once they have narrowed their list, contact the agencies directly to make sure their top candidates are still available. Appealing donors go quickly but, when you have access to over 14,000 egg donors as Donor Concierge does, there is no reason to get on a waiting list for an egg donor. Agencies will commit egg donors to a future cycle and donors may have every intention of doing a future cycle, but no one can predict the future (What Happens if an Egg Donor Changes Her Mind). I have seen intended parents have their hopes dashed when the donor of their dreams chooses not to do a cycle after the intended parents have waited for several months. This leaves the intended parents devastated, having wasted valuable time waiting for the help of an egg donor who is no longer available. That loss can throw intended parents back into mourning all over again, unless they have a back-up plan (Three Practical Tips for Egg Donor Selection).

Step 5: Use the resources that are available to you. When at all possible, stay with your reproductive endocrinologist (RE). You have built a relationship with your RE and the staff at your clinic and most egg donors can travel (What is a Travel Cycle and How Does it Work? ). Working with Donor Concierge can save you time and stress and I often function as a supportive friend who you can count on to support you. I have counseled hundreds of intended parents over many years and can be a great sounding board. If I don’t have an answer to one of your questions, I usually know where to find the answer through my extensive network of professionals in the fertility industry. I can also refer you to mental health professionals, genetic counselors, and attorneys who all specialize in third party fertility. And, if you are in need of an RE, I can help you with that as well.

I started Donor Concierge after years of working within egg donor and surrogacy agencies. My goal has always been to help intended parents find what they are hoping for with realistic guidelines rather than be limited to the options within any one agency. I learned long ago that no one agency can have the right egg donor for every intended parent. I show my clients as many options as possible so that they can than narrow their choices and move forward with the least amount of stress, usually within a couple of weeks. (About Gail Sexton Anderson)

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Thursday, August 18, 2011


A recent survey of parents via ovum, sperm and embryo donation conducted by Britta Dinsmore, Ph.D. and Carole LieberWilkins, M.F.T. has yielded responses indicating family preferences when using language about donor conception.

204 respondents answered questions about how they refer to the person who contributed gametes to help them create their families.  The survey also asked how parents refer to the children being parented by donors, as well as the children that may have been created through the donor’s contribution to other recipients.

The majority of respondents were partnered.

  • 34 were single. 
  • 2 respondents were gay/lesbian; the remainder was heterosexual. 
  • 163 conceived their children through ovum donation alone.
  • 24 with the help of both donor sperm and donor eggs.
  • 13 received donated embryos.
  • 4 received donor sperm alone. 
  • 5 respondents indicated their children were born through surrogacy.
  • The remaining majority carried their own pregnancies.
In response to the question:   By what term do you refer to the people who contributed eggs, sperm, or embryos to you?

  • 76% stated that they refer to the genetic contributor as “donor”, “our donor”, or “egg/sperm donor”.
  • 3 respondents refer to donors by their first names.
  • 1 calls the donor a “helper.” 
  • 2 call the (family) donor “aunt” or “uncle.”
  • 5 people sometimes refer to the donor as the “genetic mother,” “genetic father,” “genetic parents,” or “genetic contributors.”
The survey asked how parents refer to the children being parented by the donor. 

  • 44% said they call these children the “donor’s children”.
  • 10% refer to the children as “half siblings”.
  • 7% call them by their names.
  • The remainder fell into the categories of “genetic half siblings”, “bio sibs”, or those who did not know whether or not the donors had children. 
The survey also asked how parents refer to those children that may have been created by the donor’s contributions to other parents.

  • 7% refer to these children as “half siblings” or “half siblings.”
  • 5% refer to them as “genetic siblings” or “biological siblings,”
  • 5% refer to them as “other children” and
  • 5% are unsure (either hadn’t thought about it yet or didn’t know if their donor had contributed to others).  The remaining responses were divided among “genetic half siblings,” “donor sibling,” or “donor half sibling.” 
The issue of language referring to both social families and genetic families is an ongoing discussion among professionals in the field of reproductive medicine, and more importantly, those of us living with the duality of being family without genetic links.    This preliminary survey confirms that genetic contributors are overwhelmingly referred to as donors and not with vernacular referring to parenthood. 

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

PVED's response: When Our Industry Takes A Hit

In light of recent events we would like to affirm our commitment to the infertility community and support applaud and agree with the American Fertility Association's statement issued here  and below:

Desperate Measures: The AFA's Co-Chairs Respond to Recent Headlines

"This has been an unsettling week in the world of assisted reproduction, and most especially, surrogacy. As two professionals who have worked in this field for many, many years and who have created our respective families through assisted reproduction, including surrogacy, we have been in a state of shock. Not since the "Baby M" case in 1986, has surrogacy created so much media attention.
We have received many questions this past week from patients and professionals in our field. People have reacted with anger, fear, and feelings of betrayal. Whenever a story this salacious hits the press, it is easy to forget that assisted reproduction is, in the vast majority of cases, a process with integrity and humanity.

Many people who choose to build their families through surrogacy can feel secure that the vast majority of professionals, surrogates and parents are decent and honest. But in the past week, we have witnessed an example of what happens when a few professionals act illegally.

This leads to the question that we're hearing, mostly from professionals: "Does this point to the need for additional regulation of surrogacy?" Our feeling is no. Regulation does not necessarily promote good practice. The fact is that there are regulations, policies, and even laws in some states about surrogacy. None of those were followed in this extreme situation. For those already willing to break the law, additional regulations wouldn't have made any difference.

Another question, which is perhaps unanswerable, is: "Why?" We will probably never know the whole story of the motivations of those involved. What we do know at The AFA is that there are desperate people who will take desperate measures to fulfill their dreams of becoming parents - and there will always be some individuals who will take advantage of them if they can. As an organization, The AFA's goal is to try to ensure access to family buildling methods that are safe, informed and legal.

Finally, while this case has involved former colleagues and supporters of The AFA, we want to be perfectly clear that The AFA denounces the practices that have reportedly occurred. Any kind of so-called "baby selling" is abhorrent, and contrary to everything that we stand for.

Though the conversation will continue, let's try to remember that assisted reproduction, including surrogacy, has provided thousands of families with the dream of having a child. At The AFA, we want to make sure that this dream stays alive."

Patricia Mendell
Stuart Bell
Co-Chairs, The American Fertility Association

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