On a regular Tuesday night, among the chaos of dinner, homework, swim, soccer, 4 kids, two full time jobs and an endless cycle of dirty and clean laundry, my husband and I chatted about an unrealistic but oh so needed vacation to Cabo San Lucas. The thought of warm sandy beaches and lapping waves temporarily drown out the bickering pre-teens in the background. An hour later, I am scrolling through social media and there are dozens of travel ads, time shares, all-inclusives, adult only resorts, all in Cabo San Lucas. Brilliant marketing? Yes! A little creepy? Yes!
The thought of “Big Brother” used to be one of folklore and espionage. In the 21st Century, however, we have less and less concern about who is watching and what personal information we disseminate. We put daily pictures of our lives, our kids, our political thoughts, out into the social media abyss. We give out our addresses and phone numbers and email addresses daily to order everything from baby wipes to vacation homes. Our privacy was a trade we made in order to be more globally connected; to increase the pace of life and live digitally. Along with privacy also went anonymity.
For almost 40 years, women have been donating their eggs under the veil of anonymity. Anonymous donors worked with clinics and agencies to aid in the IVF process, much like their sperm donor counterparts. First names were exchanged, genetic history, medical screening and donation. There was limited contact, if any, between parents and donors. Donors were not updated about live births that followed. Parents were not contacted when donors moved, became ill or died. At the time, it was thought that donor conceived children were better off not knowing about their genetic origins, not having access to their donors, not feeling as though they were “different”.
And for a time, anonymity worked, most of the time. There was the occasion when Uncle Adam would get drunk at Thanksgiving and spill the beans or little Tiffany would snoop through her mom’s computer to find an email string, but for the most part, family secrets stayed secret. Donors remained unaware of children that had been born using their DNA . Donor conceived children remained unaware that their DNA varied from that of their mother. And then, with one $100 invention, anonymity vanished for good.
Genetic testing has long been available in labs and clinics to test for anomalies and potential health risks. That data was disseminated only to the patient and was protected under privacy laws. Data bases were privately owned and not interconnected. In December 2007, everything changed. 23andMe had its very first “spit party”. Participants interested in knowing more about their genetics spit into tubes, mailed them off, and received genetic information via email several weeks later. No doctor or lab needed. As an addition to the same process, a company called Ancestry.com, offered to analyze your genetics and trace your lineage. Direct to consumer genetic testing took off and millions and millions of Americans spit into tubes, learned about their genetic make up and traced their family tree.
As the data base of Ancestry.com grew, the sampling of the population was rapidly growing. Millennials continued to pour into the database, interested in the past and their present family. Grandparents uploaded war memorabilia and pictures of their parents for future generations to see. Long lost cousins were found. And the data base kept growing. As the sampling grew, pieces became easier to connect. The more the pieces were connected, the easier the picture was to see. Donor’s information was connected to their donor conceived children. Half siblings were introduced. Decade old family secrets were told and lives were changed forever.
In 2019, the unfortunate practice of “anonymous” donation is still being falsely advertised. Clinics and agencies continue to promise secrecy and privacy. The truth, however, is that the information is already available, unable to be locked inside a medical cabinet or lab computer. Donor conceived children are connecting with their half siblings, their donors and their biologic relatives. Pandora’s Box has been opened and there is no way to conceal the truth going forward.
Working in the fertility world during a time of such change has handed us an opportunity to celebrate egg donors, intended parents and donor conceived children like never before. In 2019, Roots Surrogacy and Egg Donation opened the first Known Egg Donor Agency of its kind. Inspired by the connective relationships that exist in surrogacy, Roots built an egg donor program that is based on relationships between parents and donors. Information is exchanged. Birth stories are written. Donation and donor conceived children are celebrated. The veil of anonymity, lifted.
As I sit on my couch, still daydreaming of warm beaches and umbrella drinks, I can’t help but think of my own family. A blended mix of donors and surrogacy, step-parents, marriages, divorces, bio kids, and private adoptions, I can’t imagine wanting to hide any of it. Our big, loud and varied stories of life have created so much joy and will continue to connect in the ever-growing world of friendship and family. Going forward, it is my hope that by reshaping the egg donation industry through known donations, some day in the near future, everyone’s birth story, varied and beautiful, is something to be proud of.