One of the most special moments in The Mummy Project history is the birth of a baby.
I had always hoped that The Mummy Project would be of service to local families. But I never imagined that it would bring together two local families to create a new life. Back in December 2014, I wrote an article about egg donation. In this article, I featured a local reader Louise* who was searching for a donated egg to give her daughter a sibling. After the article was published, I was contacted by another reader Shannon* who wanted her details passed along to Louise.
The result was a baby girl born earlier this year.
I followed up with Louise and Shannon to find out more about their experiences.
I first asked Shannon why she immediately reached out and contacted me after reading about Louise’s need for a donor egg on The Mummy Project website. She explains “When I started to read your article, I actually never thought I would donate again after my first donation and I never ever thought I would donate to a couple who had a child. By the time I reached the end of the article I was planning an email to you in my head.”
Shannon had previously undertaken IVF to provide an egg donation to another couple. I asked her what made her choose to donate her eggs. She explains that she was inspired after seeing an ad in the paper two years ago from a couple looking for an egg donor. She immediately replied and wrote them an email detailing her life, family and marital status and offered her eggs. (This couple has also recently had a child using Shannon’s donated egg).
Shannon explains that she’s married with two young boys. Her husband completely supports her decision to donate under one condition. That is, that the recipient family always disclose to their children that they are donor conceived. This is due to Shannon’s husband being adopted and feeling that the best and most important thing his parents did for him was tell him from a young age that he was adopted. For Shannon, her conditions include also being a “known” donor. She wants to know that recipients are pregnant, meet the child and stay in contact with the recipient family.
After exchanging email, Louise and Shannon met up with their kids at a local library to discuss egg donation and what each was looking for in the egg donation process. They discussed issues such as how much contact are you expecting as well as how do you feel about being open with the child.
For Shannon, meeting Louise in person cemented her decision to donate an egg. She explains “when I met her daughter, I knew immediately that I had to donate so that she could have a baby brother or sister. So as much as I donated to Louise and Rob, I actually donated for their daughter and I would do it again in a heartbeat”.
After undergoing mandatory counselling session to consider the various issues involved in egg donation, it was time for the IVF procedure. Louise explains that it was a textbook perfect cycle – very unusual for IVF. During the IVF cycle, Louise and Shannon were involved in each other’s procedures. “On the day of egg collection, I picked Shannon up and looked after her. I invited her to the embryo transfer (where they put the embryo in me) – not everyone does this but I thought it would be nice for her to see how it happens and I was happy to have her there.” After the transfer, they kept in touch with Louise sharing the news that she had gotten pregnant on the first cycle. Nine months later, a baby girl Lana* was born and Shannon visited the hospital to meet the child she helped to create.
I ask Louise if there’s any difference in her connection to Lana having no genetic connection. She responds by explaining that “there’s no difference in terms of feeling she’s mine, since I did carry her for 9 months and she came out of me. I actually love her a lot more than I did my first baby early on, because she is the perfect baby! (my first was what people like to nicely describe as the “difficult” baby, but it really was a nightmare!) Lana slept a lot and was happy when she was awake, and she hardly ever cried – she is truly a miracle baby.”
Louise explains that it took her husband a while to be comfortable with the idea of egg donation and he was reassured after meeting their egg donor Shannon. She admits that he is more concerned about privacy though. “He’s not as comfortable just letting anyone know about us using a donor. I suppose he just doesn’t want anyone judging him if they don’t agree with egg donation, and he feels it’s none of anyone’s business. Though I agree it’s no one’s business but ours, I am still so amazed by the whole process I am happy to tell just about anyone!”
Louise also wants to use her story to inform other women about declining fertility for women in their 40s. “I am conscious of not wanting to send a message to young women that it’s possible to have kids in your 40s, because it’s not really. Anyone over about 42 that you see pregnant in the media most likely used an egg donor, but no one talks about this and I think it sends the wrong message to young women”.
I ask Shannon how she feels when she sees the baby that she helped create. “Lana is the very first baby to come from my donations. When I met her it was very surreal, I was totally in awe of her and Louise and what I helped them do. It was like my sister having a baby and me getting to dote on her. My favourite part was seeing with her older sister.”
Louise admits that describing egg donation to her daughter is a bit challenging. “Research shows it’s best to be as open as possible about donation from as early age as possible, so yes we try to explain it! But at her young age, I am not sure how much she gets it. I pretty much used normal words to describe everything. “Shannon gave us a egg to make Lana.”
Likewise, Shannon is open with her young kids even though they may not understand. “The twins are only two and a half so it’s hard to explain to them what I do, so we explain it as we have special cousins and special aunties and uncles who mummy helps. I have started to tell them mummy is growing eggs for our special friends because they see me do the injections and are curious as to what I am doing.”
Louise’s advice for other local couples wanting to conceive through egg donation is to just go for it. “It has been a great experience for me once I found a donor and things started happening. It takes a while to find a donor, so be prepared for that. It didn’t happen for me until I started telling everyone I knew that I was looking. I also had to start thinking creatively about how I might find a donor and asked you to consider writing an article on The Mummy Project.”
I ask Shannon what advice you would give to others who may be considering becoming an egg donor? ‘Join Egg Donation Australia for support and guidance, talk to other donors, think about what deal breakers you have and talk to your partner. Get involved you won’t regret it! Personally I have never for one second regretted being a donor. I love my recipient families, they have enriched my life and made me feel overwhelming pride within myself. My grandmother gave me a plaque years ago with a quote from mother Theresa which read We do no great things just small things with great love and that for me is egg donation.’
As for me, I’m truly touched by what my article achieved. Thanks to Louise for sharing her story and for Shannon for responding and sharing the gift of her eggs.
To learn more about egg donation, visit the Egg Donation Australia website.
*All names changed to protect the identity of families.