Donor Conception

Embryo donation – Mother and author of book series ‘You Were Made For Me’ shares her story

Sheri Sturniolo  |   29 May 2020


TRB Founder Eloise has had five children thanks to donor sperm conception, so this is a personal one for us.

Today, we’re sharing Sheri Sturniolo’s powerful embryo donation story and the incredible children’s book series she has created as a result of her own fertility struggle.

Read on as she explains the thought process she went through, whilst tackling the difficult questions along the way which eventually led her to publish the series You Were Made For Me. The series has grown into eight beautiful versions that celebrate the many wonderful ways that families are made.

Over to Sheri Sturniolo.

My embryo donation story

The universe said, coldly, “You won’t be a mother.” I replied, “wanna bet?

I AM a mother of two precious babes born to me through the awesome gift of embryo donation. I never thought I’d get to motherhood the way that I did, but am so grateful that this path to parenthood was chosen for me.

Because of this family building option, two beautiful little souls got their chance at life and love, and my husband and I were given the privilege of being their parents.

The process

The process wasn’t clear for me right away, however. I had the same questions that others walking the path of donor conception are likely to have. “How will it feel to carry a child biologically not mine?”. “Will I love them the same”. “Will they love me?”; as well as questions such as, “How would my husband and I navigate this unusual conversation with our babies to be?”

As I rocked my first born that year, in those quiet moments, my mind began to work through the ways in which I could explain to him how he came to be.

For the first year I basically “sang” to him verses I made up explaining his creation story. With each word I envisioned images of those words.

You were made for me

Two years later, You Were Made For Me was published!

The first time I read my son “his story” in its fully illustrated form, my heart was so full.

He looked at the book as I recited the same words I had sung to him for the last year, smiling as the familiar sounds came to life on the pages.

After publishing the original version of the book, the series has grown into eight beautiful versions that celebrate the many wonderful ways that families are made. From conceiving via IVF, surrogacy, or egg, sperm, or embryo donation, the series You Were Made For Me will help you tell your child their story.

You Were Made For Me

Mourning my genetics

Now, all that sounds nicely packaged right? Wrong.

I’m sure anyone who is “walking this walk”, knows better and knows that I didn’t just END up here painlessly.

At 35, after a year of TTC and one miscarriage, I had some blood work drawn. My OBGYN reported that the levels that indicate ovarian reserve (AKA the “egg timer” test), were “UNDETECTABLE” and a fertility specialist would likely be my next step. We needed fertility help.

I remember sitting in the car as my husband drove us home just sobbing, heavy sobs.

I am a fairly pragmatic individual, so in that moment I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to play a part in my child’s genetic biology. I knew the path was going to be long and hard and the sobs were heavy with that thought.

Even though it wasn’t a physical loss, it was a painful and emotional one. Just as others feel the loss of a pregnancy or the loss of a baby, although different, this was still a loss.

It was a loss of hope for me; a loss of what up until that moment I had always wanted and a loss of motherhood; and grieving that loss was an important part in my journey.

embryo donation story

Our fertility report card

So, as my doctor had predicted, I never made enough eggs to justify an egg retrieval. So, after four IUIs and two more miscarriages, we tried IVF using donor eggs.

Imagine the exhilaration when the donor retrieval provided 26 beautiful eggs!!! Now, imagine the next day when the embryologist calls you to report that ZERO, yes ZERO, eggs had fertilized…

I was driving to work and had pulled over excitedly to take the call. Everyone who has taken “the call” knows what a nerve-racking moment that is, but I had NO IDEA the feeling of devastation that was to come with it. I remember getting off of the phone, still in complete shock.

In that moment I became so angry. Yes, I was in disbelief at the current, horrific news, but clearly ALL the other “moments” over the previous three years were very present as well. I could do nothing except scream and slam my fists into the steering wheel. For hours, literally, all I could do was cry, shake my head, and scream.

Acceptance

This was my moment. This level of emotional trauma was a tipping point. It opened something in my heart and my mind.

That something was acceptance. Acceptance to the path, my path to motherhood, via embryo donation. Not just because it appeared to be my only option, but because it was the option for me.

Because I had been led here to THESE babies. There was only one explanation… They were made for me.

DNA

As, I don’t have any other children, the idea that I might not love a child not biologically related to me was NOT something that I really worried about.

My concerns were, what if the child didn’t feel as strong a connection to me, knowing that we didn’t share DNA?

The DNA aspect is so mind-boggling. On the one hand you know that DNA does not dictate emotional connection and love, but on the other hand you cannot ignore its power of connection.

I mean, up until the last several decades of humankind’s existence, it simply was not an option to birth a biologically unrelated child. Caring for and having a non-biological child in your “clan” probably goes back to our cave-women days. But, growing, nourishing and birthing a non-biological child is revolutionary. I believe our hearts have “caught up”, but I’m not sure our minds have.

This mental conundrum is hard to comprehend fully for us as adults, let alone explain it to a child.

I worried that it could cause somewhat of an identity crisis for my child if I chose this path, and waited “too long” to tell him his story.

So, that’s what I did, I wrote his story and read it to him every night, whilst also making sure everyone important to us knew and respected how he came to be ours.

embryo donation story sheri sturniolo

Talking to donor-conceived children

I know not everyone is as open as me, although I too am not always confident that I am handling it the “correct way”.  What even is the correct way? How do we know we’re doing it right?

My kids are young, but I don’t ever want them to feel that I am in any way “concealing” that truth, which is hard because it might just be an appropriate privacy thing when you “go along” with the statements others make. However, to young children that are able to “sense” but can’t always understand the implications and differences between privacy and secrecy, it can be tricky.

So, I “practice” telling a “version” of their story depending on the asker. If it’s a close acquaintance I usually will say, “yeah, you know I did have blonde hair as a kid but she was adopted as an embryo and grown by me, but amazingly there ARE physical similarities.” Or, “Yeah they don’t look like their daddy since there’s no genetic relation, but they totally act like him!”

If a stranger makes a comment, I usually just agree and then proceed to gush over how sweet and beautiful they are. I know that for myself on this path of maintaining a healthy transparency, I must try to find a balance between being proud and proclaiming how FREAKING AWESOME and beautiful their story is, and just being a normal mom that has awesome, beautiful children.

I do understand and want to validate that the decision to grow your family through egg, sperm, or embryo donation is difficult and comes with unique worries and fears. They are valid feelings. Have them, think about them, feel them.

There are no doubt different kinds of love: different levels, different intensities, different feelings, different connections. Each person you love is unique and the connection you feel for them is also unique.

I’m sure a mother to biological children would say she loves all her children “the same”, but part of me is sure that she loves them differently. Not less, just differently. I know accepting that idea, and not feeling guilty or wrong for embracing it, is a large part of what gives me so much peace. I have no feelings of loss or regret. I feel only love and gratitude for both the donors as well as the journey, as they both changed me for the better.

“I am a mother!”, I shout out, in rebellion, to the universe. She is silent, but with the warmth of the sun on my face, I know she is happy.

Want to get your hands on a copy of You Were Made For Me? Shop the book and see new titles and updates here.

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