Most people do not envision starting their families with the help of a gamete (egg or sperm) donor. And yet, for many infertile couples, after often grueling tests and assessments, perhaps trial and error, maybe failed attempts with one’s own gametes, there comes a realization that the only thing left to try is to include a third party in the conception. For various reasons, not everyone is eligible or makes a good candidate to adopt a child.
The use of donor embryos and gestational carriers is also considered third-party reproduction in the fertility treatment world. However, there remain significant differences between the first and second set of options.
For starters, a gestational carrier can be described as a sort of prenatal foster mother. The arrangement is temporary, and the child, once born, will not have the sort of identity questions that children conceived with any of the other options may have. True, the couple–especially the mother–misses out on the experience of pregnancy and childbirth, but in the long-term, most people don’t dwell on the first nine months of their relationship with their mother or child.
When it comes to donor embryos, many would in fact use the term embryo adoption to liken the situation to traditional adoption. Unlike a couple using a sperm or egg donor, neither of the parents is genetically related to the child born from embryo donation. There is an even playing field, in a sense. The associated loss of a genetic link to one’s child is something the couple shares with each other.
On the other hand, the use of an egg or sperm donor by a heterosexual couple is something quite different.
While the use of donor sperm and donor eggs may at first glance appear to be equivalent, in reality it is not. For one thing, women bring two crucial elements to the table when it comes to having a baby: the egg and the womb. Men, on the other hand, only bring the sperm. Therefore, even if a woman needs to use donor eggs, she can still provide the other half of her equation: the womb. What’s more, no one questions the motherhood of a woman who births her child.
While there remains a cloud of oblivion surrounding male factor infertility, with many people automatically assuming that an infertile couple has female infertility, it is infertile men who can expect insensitive comments that may lead them to question their fatherhood. “Shooting blanks” is a common derogatory phrase used to refer to male factor infertility. The existence of this metaphor and its military undertones go to show how a man’s fertility is associated with his prowess. Therefore, a man without healthy sperm is pegged a powerless man–an insult for sure. A non-genetic father may be entering a relationship with his child already from a defensive stance, as if having to prove over and over again that he is indeed a “real” parent, since he doesn’t have a visible pregnancy or an adoption decree that establishes his role as the father.
When it comes to cost-effectiveness, however, there is no contest between the use of donor sperm versus the use of donor eggs. The former can even be done in privacy, with an at-home insemination, possibly with no more than a careful tracking of the woman’s natural ovulation. The latter, on the other hand, necessitates the meticulous scheduling of the egg donor’s and mother-to-be’s cycles, which is not only very pricey, but also invasive and time-consuming as well.
Finally, since women and men approach their fertility differently, since they grieve the loss of a genetic link to a child differently, and since they are up against different societal pressures and expectations, the use of donor sperm and donor eggs cannot simply be merged together into a single consideration. A couple discerning one option will go through a very different process than a couple discerning the other option.
In the end, the decision must belong uniquely to the couple directly affected by the choice. Utilizing a third party in the conception of one’s child is a lifelong decision not to be taken lightly. There are deep-rooted emotional and identity concerns that affect both parents and the child. What it comes down to is this; both hopeful parents must be able to say, without a doubt, that they would rather use a gamete donor than not have a child at all, and that they are not ashamed of this choice. Only when the couple agrees on this can they confidently go forward and be proud of the way their child entered their family.