Last month Dustin Lance Black revealed that he and his husband Tom Daley want their baby son, who was born through a gestational surrogate and using a different egg donor in June 2018, to have a relationship with the woman who donated her eggs. While recording a podcast for BBC Radio 5 Live about the process of bringing baby Robbie Ray into the world, Black said his eyes had been opened to "the potential benefits of having an even closer relationship with our egg donor". The couple will be taking their son to meet her this year.
The number of women donating their eggs in the UK is on the rise, according to the latest figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA); at the same time, the number of women having IVF using donated eggs has risen markedly. Between 2006 and 2016 there was a 105% increase in women having IVF using a donor egg – from 1,912 to 3,924 cases.
In the UK, a woman needs to be between 18 and 35 to donate her eggs to other women or couples who are unable to conceive naturally. The donation is done through a physical process that's the same as the early stages of IVF, involving hormone injections and removal of the eggs under general anaesthetic. While egg donors have no legal rights or responsibilities to children born from their donation, it's not possible to do it anonymously, and when the child turns 18 they will be able to learn who their biological mother is and, if they desire, try to contact her. But many parents, like Black and Daley, choose to involve their egg donor in their child's life from the start.
Emily (not her real name), 33, has donated her eggs twice. The first time was to a couple whom she has never met and it resulted in the birth of twin boys.
Her second donation, almost three years ago, was to a same-sex couple and it also resulted in twins, a boy and a girl. One half of the couple is Emily's best friend of 20 years, and she plays a significant role in the 2-year-olds' lives as their 'auntie'. The unusual situation has engendered some emotive moments, moral dilemmas and will generate plenty of future questions.
She told Refinery29 what it's like being an egg donor and having a close relationship with children who are unaware they are biologically hers, and what this might mean for her going forward.
"I was about 26 when I signed up to be an egg donor and I still have a profile on an egg donation website. I donated my eggs to my best friend of two decades and his partner just after my 30th birthday. They always wanted to have children. I haven’t had a baby myself yet but I was more than happy to offer them my eggs. My eggs were just going down the toilet so I didn’t think anything of donating them. I just gave my friends a helping hand.
The twins are almost three now and we all live nearby. They call me 'auntie' and I’m very involved in their lives. I see them once every couple of weeks – just as most people would see their friends and their children. I don’t view them as my children and never have, but they do look like me. The little girl looks like a spitting image of me as a child, which freaks my mum out. But they haven’t got my personality, it’s their dads' personalities that are coming through. It’s a very weird situation and a weird feeling.
What worries me the most is that they’re going to want more from me, not that I’m going to want more from them.
My friend and his partner didn’t enter into it lightly. I offered and it took them a very, very long time before they accepted because they wondered whether it would be difficult. They would often ask, 'Are you sure about this?' and we talked about the impact it might have on our friendship. Eventually, they decided that they were going to have to explain who the kids’ biological mother is anyway – they’re two men bringing up a child – and they wanted me involved in their lives. We haven't yet decided whether the kids should consider me or the surrogate as their biological mother, as they still have some contact with her. As the twins get older, we can get deeper into explaining how they came into the world.
It petrifies me to think about how my relationship with the twins might change when they find out the truth. What worries me the most is that they’re going to want more from me, not that I’m going to want more from them. It sounds cruel, but I don’t want to be their mum. That was never the plan. I don’t think it would be a problem if they said, 'This is your mum, by the way,' but I don’t want that right now.
I wouldn't donate my eggs to friends again, because now all these questions are coming up.
I still don’t know if I want children myself. I never wanted to be a single mum and I’ve not met the right person yet. If I meet someone and it happens then I’d love to be a mum, but it’s not something I’m going to rush into or am desperate to do. If I do have children of my own I’d want them to have a relationship with the twins – I'd want them to grow up together – but I don't know how I'd tell them they were half siblings. A million different things could happen in the future. But right now, as well as the twins, I’ve also got lots of nieces and nephews in my life, so I’m surrounded by children already.
The future worries me – the things they might ask for and expect of me – but I do not regret donating my eggs for one second. Seeing my best mate and his partner as parents is amazing. They’ve got the children they want, they’re brilliant parents and the children are being looked after. But I wouldn't do it for friends again, because now all these questions are coming up. One day the twins are going to find out the truth and I don’t want to disappoint them by saying, 'But I’m not your mum'. We’re already very close and I tell them I love them."