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Genetic Loss and Donor Conception: A story of grief, hope, and moving forward
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Genetic Loss and Donor Conception: A story of grief, hope, and moving forward Carrie Eichberg, Psy.D. Licensed Psychologist, Boise, ID. What is donor conception?. Sperm Egg Embryo Known Open Identity Anonymous. It’s a whole lot of families!.

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What is donor conception?

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What is donor conception

Genetic Loss and Donor Conception: A story of grief, hope, and moving forwardCarrie Eichberg, Psy.D.Licensed Psychologist, Boise, ID

What is donor conception

What is donor conception?

  • Sperm

  • Egg

  • Embryo

  • Known

  • Open Identity

  • Anonymous

It s a whole lot of families

It’s a whole lot of families!

  • In 2010, 5,501 people were born as a result of ART cycles with donor eggs. And, that number has been growing steadily in the last 3 years.

  • Families created through donor sperm=?

  • Families created through embryo donation=?

  • Between1995 and 2007 51,223 children had been born through fresh ovum donation

Source: http://www.cdc.gov/art/ART2010/section4.htm,

Source: American Fertility Association: Fact Sheet, Talking to your kids about egg donation, Mendell, P. and Benward, J.

Percent of donor c ycles by age of patient

Percent of donor cycles by age of patient

Source: Center for Disease Control, http://www.cdc.gov/art/ART2010/section4.htm

Psychological impact of infertility

Psychological impact of infertility

  • Frustration

  • Anger

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Isolation

  • Relationship conflict

  • Sexual dysfunction

Reproductive loss

Reproductive loss

  • Loss of a child

  • Loss of a part of oneself

  • Loss of a life with the child

  • Loss of the fantasized child

  • Loss of hopes and dreams of the family to be

Six p rimary l osses of i nfertility

Six primary losses of infertility

  • Control

  • Genetic continuity

  • Jointly conceived child

  • Physical expectations of pregnancy and feeling the power to impregnate

  • Emotional expectations of shared pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding

  • Opportunity to parent

Source : Patricia Johnston, Adopting after Infertility , 1994

Why don t you just adopt

Why don’t you “just adopt”?

  • Older patients

  • Not selected

  • Same sex couples

  • Singles

  • Failed adoptions

Reasons people choose to use a donor

Reasons people choose to use a donor

  • Desire to experience pregnancy

  • To have 50% genetic connection

  • Control of intrauterine environment

  • Avoid failed adoption

  • Long wait

Family preparation

Family preparation

To create healthy families, we all must try to help patients be as prepared as they can for lifelong issues, differences, challenges, and blessings experienced by donor conceived families.



From the very moment a baby is born, the comments about physical appearance begin.

  • Oh, she has your eyes!

  • Who does he look like?

  • He’s very tall!

  • Where does she get her ___ hair?

  • You were so lucky to get pregnant at your age.

  • Does her father have blond hair?

  • Did you know the real mother/father?

I ssues and blessings

Issues and blessings

  • Deciding with whom and when to share information about DC

  • Answering your child’s questions

  • Helping them to understand donor conception

  • Helping them with feelings of anonymity/possibility of never having information about one’s genetics

  • Managing the triggers of infertility

  • Knowing how to talk with kids about your family building story

  • Or, living a life with a secret

Disenfranchised grief

Disenfranchised grief

  • Grief that is not publicly acknowledged

  • Invisible loss, invisible sadness, invisible process

  • No body, no name, no ritual; no wake, Shiva, or memorial

  • No one brings casseroles to your house

  • No one says: I am so sorry for your loss

Isolation happens

Isolation happens

  • When others don’t know about the loss

  • More commonly, others don’t understand the loss

Gender differences

Gender differences

Marriage problems that arise after a reproductive loss are often the result of:

  • Different ways men and women respond to loss

  • Different ways each expresses grief

Men have feelings too

Men have feelings, too

  • Men frequently think about the lost child, the unfairness of the situation, have difficulty concentrating, and experience periods of anger

  • Men feel as if there is no room for their feelings because they view their role as only being supportive of their female partners

  • “We can’t both fall apart.”

Janet Jaffe, Ph.D. “How Do You Grieve a Reproductive Loss” February, 2008

The hardest part about reproductive loss

The hardest part about reproductive loss

Saying goodbye to someone to whom we never said hello

The fantasy child

The fantasy child

  • Most people have a very concrete image of the child that they have been trying to bring into the world.

  • Gender, age, personality, looks, talents

Healing exercise

Healing exercise

  • Write a letter, or painting, or book or…

  • Bring the child to life

  • Say goodbye

Create a ritual

Create a ritual

Do something with the letter

  • Plant a tree or bush and bury the letter under the plant

  • Put it in your favorite shade tree where you hike

  • Read it to the ocean and feed it to the fish

  • Attend a place of worship, light a candle, say a prayer

  • Purge it

  • Share it with someone

The release

The release

  • The relief is usually palpable

  • Patients feel better

  • Not a panacea, but helpful to give words and meaning to the painful feelings that they have been experiencing

What staff can do to help

What staff can do to help

  • Acknowledge the loss. Don’t diminish or dismiss.

  • Understand it is similar to a death in the family, but the loss is invisible

  • The patient does not have the words to describe the feeling, or doesn’t believe anyone will understand

  • Don’t try to fix it

  • Refer to mental health professional for educational consultation and/or counseling for all genetic or gestational losses

Postpartum help

Postpartum help

  • Understand there are unspoken expectations and fantasies of the baby and connection to the baby

  • Normal developmental processes and stumbling blocks are questioned

What not to say

What not to say

  • Once you hold your baby, you won’t even think about it.

  • No one needs to know.

  • You will have another baby.

  • It will look just like you.

  • You’re still young.

  • Maybe it will still happen. You never know…

  • It is all for the best.

  • It is God’s plan.

  • Don’t feel that way.

  • You’ll get over it.

Experiences of adolescents and adults conceived by sperm donation

Experiences of adolescents and adults conceived by sperm donation

  • Age of disclosure is important in determining the feelings of donor-conceived persons about their donor conception.

Golombok, S., Kramer, W., Freeman, T. and Vasanti, J. The experiences of adolescents and adults conceived by sperm donation: comparisons by age of disclosure and family type: Hum. Reprod. (2009) 24 (8): 1909-1919.

To tell or not to tell

To tell or not to tell?

  • Family secrets are destructive

  • Importance of medical history

  • Right to know one’s own genetics

  • Risk of accidental disclosure

Healthy families

Healthy families

  • Are created by people who know and understand the ways in which non-genetic families are the same as, and different from, families created the easy and cheap way

  • Understand how donor conception is similar to, and different from, families formed by adoption

  • Have said goodbyes and resolved grief

  • Are created with pride and excitement

  • Understand the difference between secrecy and privacy

They don t stay babies forever

They don’t stay babies forever…

  • Parents need to understand how to address long term issues

  • Difficult to envision a child as an adult

  • Needs change over time



  • PVED-Parents via Egg Donation; www.pved.org

  • Donor Sibling Registry; www.donorsiblingregistry.com

  • American Fertility Association; www.theafa.org

  • Resolve; www.resolve.org

  • Donor Conception Network; www.dcnetwork.org

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