Donor Conception

How to Find Acceptance Using Donor Eggs or Sperm for Fertility Treatment

Eloise Edington  |   11 Apr 2022

As anyone having fertility treatment knows, it’s a roller-coaster of emotions.

The chances are, you’ll have wondered what your general wellbeing would be like if you weren’t experiencing fertility difficulties but have you ever considered how your (in)fertility diagnosis plays a role in your ability to overcome challenges on a fertility journey?

At FHH, we’ve reached out to the Director and Founder of Wijnland Fertility Clinic, Lizanne van Waart, to understand the psychological factors of infertility; how to cope with egg or sperm donation for fertility treatment; and important questions to ask your fertility specialist. Wijnland is a fertility clinic and egg and sperm bank based in South Africa, that prides itself on being a Centre of Excellence. Visit Wijnland’s profile here and their website here.

Over to Lizanne

An emotional journey

Trying to conceive and having fertility treatment can be a highly emotional journey; IVF cycles may be cancelled as a result of having too few or no eggs to retrieve, eggs or sperm may fail to fertilize, or the embryos may not develop normally. 

The journey is often accompanied by a torrent of emotions, such as depression, anxiety and a sense of being hard done by – similar emotions people experience in mourning. When having fertility treatment, patients grieve the end of their reproductive stage of life and the loss of the expected or imagined plan of creating a family.

The importance of protective and harmful cognitive factors

While we all differ in how each of us experiences infertility and fertility problems, our emotional responses may depend on the type of infertility treatment we have. There are three main reasons people need infertility treatment: female-factor fertility issues, male-factor fertility issues and idiopathic (unknown) causes. These different reasons for infertility can affect a couple’s psychological wellbeing so it’s important that your fertility specialists look at psychological risk factors throughout your fertility treatment. Risk factors can include pre-existing conditions such as anxiety, depression and maladaptive thought processes (like having uncontrollable, intrusive thoughts). Alongside assessing for risk factors, your fertility specialists should also seek out protective factors like resilience and general wellbeing.

In 2009, I conducted a study with colleagues whereby we investigated common psychological risk factors and protective attributes that play a role in fertility treatment. We studied patients’ general state of health, satisfaction with life, happiness, hope, thought processes and psychological wellbeing. We wanted to find out how protective certain mental attributes were (and how harmful maladaptive thought processes could be) when patients were undergoing fertility treatment. From our findings, we hoped to build a case for the importance of offering vulnerable individuals and couples additional, personalized support during fertility treatment.

We found that psychological interventions can have a significant difference in infertility treatment with a patient’s general psychological wellbeing at the start of treatment being an important factor for successful treatment.

What are the psychological impacts of infertility in men?

Men may not show how they feel but they still have feelings about fertility and family planning! Males can perceive themselves as less of a man if they cannot get their female partners pregnant the traditional way, and for some men, the diagnosis of male-factor infertility comes as a shock. If infertility is seen as an assault on a man’s self-esteem and self-image, a couple’s relationship could be in jeopardy. In fact, one of two marriages that experience male-factor infertility ends in divorce.

What are the psychological impacts of infertility in women?

The research shows that women handle male-factor infertility worse than their husbands. From a young age, women are socialized to prepare for eventual motherhood and when this plan is shattered on account of a woman’s male partner, she finds it harder than him to cope.

In general, women have a higher risk of general anxiety before they start fertility treatment and also fare worse psychologically the more infertility treatment. they have. However, women tend to develop better protective factors than their male counterparts during fertility treatment.

Fertility counselling is so important when having fertility treatment because protective factors can determine the resilience of the patient and could possibly indicate how they will react to infertility treatment.

How can I come to terms with using donor eggs or donor sperm in my fertility treatment?

When a fertility specialist recommends a couple uses donor eggs or donor sperm for fertility treatment, it can be emotionally challenging to deal with the loss of biological connection to a child. At Wijnland Fertility Clinic, we work closely with our patients, providing counselling support to provide a sense of closure.

But what is “closure”? Closure means finality: a letting go of what once was and feeling fully accepting of what has happened. Closure honours the transition away from what’s finished, towards something new. In other words, closure describes the ability to go beyond imposed limitations in order to find possibilities.

In the case of fertility treatment, and fertility treatment using donor eggs and sperm specifically, closure involves grieving the loss of passing on a genetic legacy to offspring, accepting this and appreciating the new path of parenthood. For women specifically, there may also be feelings of grief surrounding the loss of experiencing pregnancy.

During fertility treatment, we need to realize and take note of the grieving process and give couples a chance to go through this psychological process of closure. Closure usually implies resolutions, which may not be possible with the prolonged nature of infertility and the treatment process.

At Wijnland Fertility Clinic, we spend a lot of time with our patients, navigating this process of closure with them. We validate this loss, acknowledge and empathize with patients and help the couple to reframe what parenthood can mean. Often in these sessions, we help men to understand that a genetic link is not the most important part of building a family by talking about the experience of fatherhood and the meaning of family.

Here are my top tips for coping with using donor eggs or donor sperm in your fertility treatment:

  1. Take responsibility for yourself and take necessary action to help you forward. Does holding on truly makes you happy? Are you using this “holding on” as an excuse to stay stuck and unresolved? Dwelling in the past takes you away from moving toward your future families. Are you trying to avoid dealing with the loss of your imagined family and the void that this loss creates? If you’re willing to let go, what does this really mean? Ultimately, what do you believe will happen to you if you let go?
  2. Grieve the loss. Take plenty of time to do this and don’t let anyone tell you to “just get over it.” However, grieving should not go on for years. Incomplete grief may contribute to making poor choices so work with a fertility counsellor to rebuild your ability to trust and be honest. This is essential for a new start during and beyond fertility treatment.
  3. Gather your strength. Focus on the positives, surround yourself with people who understand and assess where you can make proactive changes. Define what is needed to build your new reality.
  4. Make a plan for the immediate future, with your partner if applicable. Allow yourself to explore different possibilities and include your partner in the decision-making process to strengthen your relationship.
  5. Create a ritual – this is a powerful tool to help gain closure. Be creative and use your intuition in order to bypass mental blocks and move forwards.

Important considerations when choosing an egg or sperm donor

When speaking with your fertility counsellor, you will also discuss different donor options. Choosing between a known and unknown donor is the most challenging decision some couples will need to make on their path to parenthood.

There are questions you can ask yourselves (or discuss with your fertility specialist) to help you to decide what you are looking for in a sperm or egg donor and to choose a donor who is right for your fertility treatment.

  • Is it important to you that your donor has a familial connection to your child? Is this biological connection for you important, or is a genetic link more important?
  • Do you want your child to have a relationship with the donor? A known donor offers the opportunity for a relationship with a child before they reach the age of 18. If a relationship between the donor and your child is important to you, then a known donor is likely to be more suitable for your fertility treatment. If you are certain you don’t want your donor-conceived child to have a relationship with your donor before they are 18 years old, consider this carefully. There is no right or wrong answer but this is an important decision to discuss with your fertility specialist. Bear in mind it is possible to use a known sperm or egg donor and have an agreement in place where there is no relationship between the donor and your child.
  • Are you concerned about the cost of using a sperm or egg donor? There are no legal fees associated with terminating parental rights for an anonymous donor.  If you opt to use a known donor, there is generally no cost for the egg or sperm donor themself, but there are legal fees to ensure the parentage of the offspring is clearly defined.
  • How important is a thorough medical and psychological background of the sperm or egg donor to you? At Wijnland Fertility Clinic, we do not discriminate between known and unknown donors in terms of medical and psychological screening – it is important that both these screenings happen. We also take this opportunity to fully inform gamete donors of their legal rights and what it means to have a genetic or biological link to offspring conceived with their donation. 

The best way to protect all parties having fertility treatment with donor eggs or sperm is to ensure you have asked and addressed all the relevant questions. Speak with your fertility specialist about medical testing, an attorney knowledgeable in assisted reproductive therapies and a fertility counsellor.

 Attachment and bonding

After shortlisting possible egg or sperm donors, patients at Wijnland speak with our fertility specialists about attachment and bonding to each donor profile. 

Patients must form an initial bond with a profile before the couple can go ahead with the donor egg or sperm fertility treatment cycle. At Wijnland Fertility Clinic this session is very important because when donor-gamete recipients are not given the chance to consider or discuss the bonding with a sperm or egg donor, there is a chance the parents could struggle to bond with the child.

In our experience at Wijnland, we find that fathers tend to have greater difficulty bonding with a new baby. With donor-sperm conceived children, this is even more potent. This is why we provide fathers with tips for bonding with their babies before birth.

Learn more about attachment

Attachment is an emotional bond with another person. Bonding refers to the special attachment that forms between the mother or father and donor gametes (their potential baby). This bond can sometimes be immediate or can take weeks or months.

In 1969, British Psychology John Bowlby presented a theory of attachment – that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. There are different forms of attachment, and this can play an important role in human connection. These bonds we have with our parents can guide and shape the attachments we develop with friends and romantic partners later in life. 

It is possible to become emotionally attached to people even without romantic or sexual attraction. Simply feeling close to someone helps you bond and increases your sense of connection.

Understanding the ways infertility and fertility treatment impact men and women differently, particularly dependent upon the reasons for having fertility treatment allows fertility specialists to make a more complete diagnosis of infertility to create an optimal, personalized treatment plan.

Wijnland Fertility Clinic understands the emotional complexities of fertility treatment and, as a result, provides excellent, holistic care.

When you’re ready to take the next step in your fertility journey, book an appointment with Wijnland’s fertility specialists. 

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