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Your Gamete, Myself

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Tuesday, November 13, 2007 | 0 comments

Two years ago, when Catherine was in sixth grade, she was given a school assignment that would have been unremarkable for most kids: make a timeline for history class in which half the events occurred before she was born and half after. For a while, she worked quietly at the dining-room table of her family’s rambling Northern California home. Then she looked up.

“Mom?” she asked. “What was the year that you and Dad met our donor?”

Sitting with me in May, Catherine’s mother, Marie, a 59-year-old therapist, smiled wryly, remembering the incident. The crinkling of Marie’s eyes gave her a passing resemblance to the actress Anne Bancroft — but not to her own daughter. Marie, who asked me to use only her middle name and a family name for her daughter to protect their privacy, is dark where Catherine is blond, olive-skinned where Catherine is fair, brown-eyed where the girl’s are hazel. There is no similarity to their jaw lines, their cheekbones, the shapes of their faces. Of course, lots of kids don’t look like their mothers; few people would consider that odd, though they might — often incessantly — comment on it in conversation.

“So, what’s going to happen with this project?” Marie recalled responding to Catherine at the time, being careful to keep her voice neutral. “Is it going to be put up in the hallway? In the classroom?”

Catherine shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. And later, “Mom, this is my timeline.”

“I got the message,” Marie told me. “But in essence, I was outed on the wall of the middle school. It was there in black and white for everyone to see. They’d all know we used an egg donor. We’d been committed to openness from the beginning, but my first reaction was, ‘No!’ ”

If Marie and Catherine are unusual, it is only because of Catherine’s age. In 1992, the year she was conceived, there were just 1,802 attempts by women to become pregnant using someone else’s eggs, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Three years later, there were more than 4,738 such cycles; by 2004, the most recent year for which data has been published, there were 15,175 cycles, resulting in 5,449 babies. By comparison, some 22,911 children were adopted from abroad that year, and although there are no official figures, one survey estimated that at least the same number are conceived annually via donor insemination. Donor eggs are now used in 12 percent of all in vitro fertilization (I.V.F.) attempts, making it among the fastest-growing infertility treatments.




Despite the portentous hype around women like Frieda Birnbaum, a 60-year-old New Jersey resident who in May used donor eggs to become the oldest American to give birth to twins, the bulk of intended mothers are in their 40s. The birthrate among women ages 40-44 has risen 62 percent since 1990, while the rate among those in their late 40s has more than doubled. Among those who used I.V.F. in 2004, about a third of the 43-year-olds used someone else’s eggs; by 47 years old, 91 percent did.

With egg donation, science has succeeded in, if not extending women’s fertility, at least making an end run around it, allowing older women who, for a variety of reasons (lack of money, lack of partner, lack of interest, lack of partner’s interest) didn’t have children in their biological prime — as well as younger women with dysfunctional ovaries — to carry and bear babies themselves. It has given rise to the mind-bending phrase “biogenetic child,” meaning a child who is both biologically and genetically related to each of its parents, by, for the first time in history, separating those components.




In that way, it is fundamentally different from sperm donation, though it also levels a certain playing field: mothers can now do what fathers always could — conceal the truth about their blood relationship to their children. And as with any new reproductive technology, it has provoked a torrent of social, legal and ethical questions about the entitlement to reproduce, what constitutes parenthood, children’s rights to know their origins and the very nature of family.

I first became interested in the implications of egg donation because I tried it. After five years of repeated miscarriages and invasive, futile infertility treatments, a 21-year-old friend offered to spot me her gametes, the cells containing half the chromosomes necessary for reproduction. It wasn’t something I ever imagined I’d consider — it seemed so “Handmaid’s Tale.”




Then again, with a donor egg, I could feel a baby grow inside me, experience its kicks and flutters. I could control — that sweetest of words — the prenatal environment, guard against the evils of drug and drink. I could give birth to my own child, breast-feed it. After a year of discussion, my husband and I decided to go ahead, only to find that, when placed in a petri dish, his sperm and my friend’s eggs refused to tango.

Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/15/magazine/15egg-t.html?_r=2&ref=health&oref=slogin&oref=slogin





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Catherine

About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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