How do donors feel after donating embryos? The story of one embryo donor meeting her recipients' son for the first time
When I awoke on July 20, 2017, I knew that the day would be different from any other. I was to meet my 6-month-old genetic son.
I had so many questions. Would I feel a bond with him? Would he sense who I was? Would I see my twins’ faces in his? Would I feel regretful? Joyful? Sad? Proud? Would it feel like I was holding someone else’s son, or like I was holding my own?
I was to meet his mother for the first time in person, too, which brought another set of questions. Would I see a bond between the two of them? Would I like her parenting style? Would I like her?
I had imagined the moment and what it would be like to meet both of them hundreds of times. Today all of my visions would be brought to life. My eyes would witness their world, their interactions, and their love. It was safer to have them in my imagination, but I was ready for 3D and Technicolor.
I spent the hours leading up to the meeting searching for signs, as I often do when I’m feeling uneasy. As I ran through my neighborhood in Southeast Portland, I looked to the sky. It’d been a consistently sunny, hot summer, but this particular day was a mix of sun, clouds, and rain. I couldn’t help but wonder if the weather was symbolic of my complicated feelings. How fitting that it wasn’t all sunshine. How fitting that it wasn’t all rain.
As I ran, it felt like my body was moving through mud. I wondered if the emotional heaviness of the day could really take a toll in that form. I had never experienced anything like that before. I turned up the hip-hop playlist that I’d selected. I’d wanted something hard-hitting and real. Give me Kanye. Drake. Kendrick Lamar. Give me angry, gritty, poetic angst. Give me police brutality and race relations. Give me problems bigger than mine.
When I returned home, I logged on to an embryo donation support group on Facebook that I’d recently joined. I posted a note to the group letting them know that I was going to meet my ‘biological “son”’ that day, and that I was seeking words of advice and sources of strength. One of the comments was unsettling. A woman suggested that if I simply changed my terminology, and called him my recipient’s son instead of my biological “son”, I’d have an easier time. I’m certain she meant well, but her response made me feel worse.
I do call him and think of him as her son. In this particular case, I simply, momentarily, did not. I thought that of all places, an embryo donation support group would be a safe space where I could call him that. I did not want to be corrected. I did not want to be made to feel bad for occasionally slipping into thinking of him in that way.
I took this feeling into the therapy session I’d scheduled for my husband and me right before we were to meet our “son”. I wanted to spend the hour just crying, to deplete my mind and body of all emotion and apprehension. Unexpectedly, however, it was my husband who took on that role. And as I watched him cry, my own need to cry subsided. I reassured him, and I called on my counseling skills to actively listen and reflect back to him what he was sharing.
Directly after the therapy session we drove to the park where we were to meet them. I chose a park over a café as our meeting place because the expansiveness of the grounds felt more akin to the vast emotions I would likely experience. As I scanned the park, I immediately saw them. I felt a sense of peace wash over my body as we took the path to our meeting place. I made a mental note of the fact that people sitting near them had no idea of their proximity to the profound moment that was about to take place. I walked toward them with my heart open and my head held high. I was no longer nervous. I was confident. I was ready.
We walked closer. There HE was. Although I was focused on greeting his mom, he mesmerized me. He is one of the most beautiful babies I have ever been in the presence of. I had seen pictures, so I knew that he was a happy boy, but I had no idea how full of joy he was. I had no idea that his smile could light up an entire park on a now sunny day.
His mom immediately asked me if I wanted to hold him. I gratefully said yes and took him into my arms. As I looked into his eyes, I realized that this was the exact moment I had imagined hundreds of times. This was the moment when I was supposed to cry. But I didn’t. I just sat there with an overwhelming feeling, that I don’t know exactly how to describe, other than to say I’d never felt so many different emotions at once before.
I passed the baby to my husband and watched them beautifully interact. He passed the baby back to his mom. The adults talked. The baby breastfed and slept, then cooed on a picnic blanket. We all marveled at the surreal situation in which we found ourselves, and at how simultaneously beautiful and difficult the world can be at times.
In perhaps the most profound moment of my life, I looked over at him lying on the blanket. He had been looking at me and smiling, waiting to catch my eye. As I made eye contact with him, I had a strong sense that he had a message for me. He looked me in the eyes and told me, simply, “Thank you.” I looked back at him and silently nodded my head and said, “You’re welcome. I’ve got you.”
I’m not sure what he was thanking me for. Maybe it was for giving him the gift of life. Maybe it was for choosing such an awesome mom for him. Maybe I seemed familiar to him. Maybe he could sense how much I truly, deeply care. Maybe he knows how much I love him.
I left the park thinking, I hope he knows. And the tears finally came.