Here’s another guest post by Lauren — who we interviewed previously about being a queer egg donor — about what NOT to say to an egg donor.
Before we jump in, please note that this post explores the stigma that can come with being an egg donor. Much like you wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and ask them how much they weigh, there are tactful ways to address sensitive topics.
And, of course, there are also the less-than-tactful ways…
Enter Lauren H.
Can you think of the last time you saw a character on a TV show participate in egg donation?
Can you remember the last movie you saw that had an egg donation-related plot line? I can’t either. There are virtually no egg donors in mainstream media.
As a result of invisibility and stigma around egg donation, many egg donors struggle to find ways to talk about our experiences with people who are supportive and understanding. Sometimes even our loved ones are at a loss for words when we disclose that we are in the process of donating our eggs or that we have donated in the past.
I asked a group of egg donors about some of the uncomfortable questions and comments they’ve received in conversations about donating. Based on their answers, here are some things to avoid saying when talking to an egg donor:
1. “Um…that’s weird.”
While egg donation may not be a conventional path, no person should be made to feel like they are abnormal by choosing to undergo this medical procedure. There are thousands of egg donors and each person has a valid reason for donating their eggs. Comments about how “weird” egg donation seems only serve to increase stigma about the procedure and personal confusion and shame a donor might feel.
Egg donors don’t necessarily expect their friends to be medical experts, but being supportive can go a long way.
Instead of commenting that egg donation is odd, consider saying something like, “I don’t know much about egg donation, can you tell me a little bit about it?”
Asking for more information may help clarify confusion about what egg donation is and what it feels like to be a donor.
2. “I heard it gives you cancer.”
It’s true that there are potential health risks to egg donation, and it’s true that there have not been studies about the long-term effects of the procedure. However, there is no firm evidence that egg donation causes or is correlated to cancer. The truth is, no one knows. (Related article: Can Egg Donation Cause Cancer?)
Chances are, an egg donor has already weighed the risks involved with the procedure before deciding to go through with it. Bringing up cancer as a possible result of egg donation is pretty extreme, and also scary.
It is okay to be concerned about the health of your friend or loved one. Be sensitive if and when you mention the C-word. Make sure you do so by asking about how egg donation impacts someone’s health, including risks and potential benefits.
3. “Did you do it for the money?”
Everyone donates for a different reason. It’s no secret that egg donors are paid thousands of dollars, so it makes sense that many people choose egg donation for financial reasons. Many are motivated by the ability to provide others with the chance to have a family. Others think the money is negligible in comparison to the emotional and physical duress of the procedure.
The point is, don’t assume the reason why someone donates.
If relevant to the conversation, you might want to ask “what were some of the reasons you decided to donate your eggs?”
Some donors are comfortable discussing the money right off the bat, but others find it rude. Some people may not want to share their reasons for donating at all. It can be a personal, private decision.
4. “How can you donate eggs when the world is overpopulated?”
We should trust that donors and recipients make the best reproductive decisions for themselves and for their families. While we may not all feel comfortable with egg donation, perhaps we can agree that we are not comfortable making health care decisions for other people.
5. “How can you give away your children? What happens when all these kids show up on your doorstep in 18 years?”
While these questions may come from a place of sincere curiosity, donors often interpret them as judgmental or shaming. No one wants to be seen as an amoral, heartless person who abandoned their children. In reality, egg donors think seriously about the implications of donating their eggs.
Many don’t consider their eggs their “children” at all: the eggs are cells filled with genetic material and the people who raise the child will be its parents. Other egg donors do have a relationship with the intended parents and the child, and some seek to establish these relationships at a later time.
6. “How do your parents feel about having grandkids they may never know?
I find that people try to focus the conversations about egg donation around everyone besides the donor. They wonder about the thoughts of feelings of family members, potential children, intended parents, and even themselves (“If I heard that I was the result of egg donation, I would be SO upset!”)
But it’s not necessarily anyone else’s business if someone makes the decision to donate their eggs. Will family members have opinions and concerns? Possibly. Is it impossible to predict how a donor-conceived individual will feel about being conceived through a donor? Yes. The ethical considerations are important.
But this is also true:
Ultimately, egg donors do not need permission to make decisions about their bodies.
So how do we discuss sensitive subjects with egg donors?
If you’re having a conversation about egg donation, center the donor in that conversation. Ask the donor what it was like for them. Some questions might include, what did the process entail? How did it feel at the beginning, middle, and end? What do you think about it now? How did it affect your life?
Open-ended questions allow a donor to describe the experience in their own terms. Create a conversation in which the donor in your life feels supported and encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings with you. As more donors have space to discuss their experiences, stigma around egg donation will decrease.
Photos via Flickr Creative Commons: 1st photo by Benson Kua; 2nd photo by Jing; 3rd photo by Jared Chirrup