In my 25 years of working in the fertility field, it’s rare to find anyone, let alone those in the public eye, who is willing to admit that the path to their family started with an egg donor. And why should they? Most of my clients have already been through emotional trauma due to months or years of infertility treatment. Coming to terms with needing an egg donor is an intimate, personal choice and not necessarily something that they want to share with others. There may be cultural reasons for not revealing that their child was born via egg donation or gestational surrogacy, or this type of assisted reproduction may be illegal in their home countries.
But that is changing. It started with more openness around gestational surrogacy. Some of the first to be open about this were Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman and Kim Kardashian who announced that she and her husband had children via surrogacy after her difficult birth with North. This seems to have ushered in a new era of openness, empowering people to talk openly about their infertility. Now, more and more celebrities are being open about their need for a gestational surrogate as a way to parenthood.
I was lucky enough to meet Camille Guaty, who is not only a mom via egg donation, she’s also an actor. She has taken the brave step of being completely transparent about how she became a mom and the struggles she faced.
“One of the reasons I’m very outspoken is for his future. I’m normalizing the situation. I want to help change that so that it’s not something that is a stigma – it’s about something that is beautiful,” Camille told me. I applaud her in her decision as this is so very important. It may seem at the time to be something just between you and your partner but the story of how your family came to be is your child’s story, too. And it should be a happy one.
When those in the public eye speak candidly about their struggles, it helps others to feel that they’re not alone, that they don’t have to go through this pain by themselves, and that there are others who understand.
This openness stands in contrast to celebrities who have children late in life and don’t acknowledge that they used a donor. The average person holds the celebrity up as an aspirational figure and may think, “If they could have a baby at 47, so can I” when, in reality, after the age of 40 women’s fertility declines precipitously, making having a baby using their own eggs a rarity.
Openness with one’s own family is important, too. There was a time when fertility patients who needed donor options would be told “There’s no need to tell anyone; there’s no need to tell the child..no one will ever have to know.” Unfortunately, much of that advice has been shown to be detrimental, not only to the mental health of the parents who have that child but, more importantly, to the children who came into being via egg donors, surrogates and sperm donors.
We encourage our clients to start early with a plan to tell their family’s creation story. We recommend that they create a book with all of the players: the father, their partner and the child are the stars of the story. The donor, surrogate, doctor and other family members are the supporting cast that leads to the happy ending of a beautiful family. It’s so heartening for me to hear that people are sharing their family-building stories because it is such a positive step for all involved.
Two decades after I started in this field, intended parents are also more open to seeking counseling and allowing themselves to resolve issues to reach a point of acceptance. Intended parents now are more likely to seek counseling, talk to friends, or join support groups. They are less liable to make decisions in isolation. It is still a complicated process but they now realize they are not the only ones.
Talking to their children regarding how they became part of the family is an important and beautiful true story that they can share proudly. Society is slowly learning from the painful fiction that encouraged secrecy long ago with adoption and sperm donation. It was assumed that they would not discuss the details of their families origins, never realizing that secrets have a life of their own and their presence is always lurking in the family’s subconscious. It is better for children to hear their story from their parents, rather than by accident some day through another source such as 23andMe. While a couple is trying to conceive with an egg donor, it’s their story but once they conceive, it’s their child’s story too.
Infertility is a deeply personal pain and no one should feel that they HAVE to share. But by hearing the stories of celebrities, like Camille, who talk openly about their pain, helps tear down the stigma that is often associated with donor conception. It gives a glimmer of hope for those who are not celebrities, who may be feeling alone in their struggles to say to themselves ‘ok. if they can do it, I can do it too.’
Gail Sexton Anderson is one of the fertility industry’s leading innovators. She founded Donor Concierge based on the principle of putting intended parents’ needs first, helping them sift through the myriad of decisions to be made when building a family through donor conception and gestational surrogacy. Gail is the Co-Founder of TULIP Fertility, a simple do-it-yourself online platform, empowering intended parents with vast egg donor choice, expert knowledge and coaching support.