Posted by: katedaphne | October 5, 2008

All about genes

My friend Kami writes about donor gametes for  Bridges, and her last post asks some thought-provoking questions. I have addressed some of this here before but not all at once, and my thoughts also have a tendency to change or evolve over time.

  • Why do genes matter in building a family? What would be hard for you? What was hard for you if you have faced this question?

To me genes have always been about connections. It is not so much that I want a child that looks or acts like me, or looks and acts like my husband. It is that genes provide an actual, physical link between persons. I know there are other kinds of bonds that connect us, emotional ones. My interest in the genetic bond doesn’t minimize those (who could minimize love?!). It wants, well, it wants both. It has been hard for me to accept that to have a family, which I have always imagined for myself, I would have to give up that physical connection. I like knowing that my ancestors are PART of me. I always pictured myself like in one of those paper doll chains, linked on both sides to countless other people. It is hard to explain why this matters to me. The best I can say is that the idea makes me feel connected to humanity in some way. It makes me feel connected to the planet, Earth. It makes me feel grounded. I may not know who all these ancestors are. Heck, I don’t even know a lot of my cousins — but knowing they are out there and share my grandparents, or my great-grandparents, or my great-great-grandparents… I am not alone. I know where I came from, and who I came from.

That’s one thing that makes me sad about a donor gamete child — I feel bad that this most beloved child will not have the ability to know his or her genetic makeup. So, part of my job as parent of a child with donor gametes will be to help him/her feel connected even without that knowledge. It will be hard but I can do it.

Further, the genetic connection does not just extend backward: It goes forward, too. At least, it is supposed to. It will for my husband, and it already does for my brother. But for me — it stops. I am so sad to be the last one in my chain. I am the broken link. I know that I have lots to give to the world through my actions and my love. But I didn’t want to be the end. I wanted to be in the middle, connected to my child and then having my grandchildren come after them, and so on, forever.

I can live without these connections, obviously. But their loss is real to me. Not a deal-breaker, not “if i can’t have that I’ll take my bat and ball and go home and not play this stupid game.” But not nothing. Not “just genes.”

  • Why do they not matter? Was it or would it be easy for you to let go of genetically related child?

Why they don’t matter — I am sure my answer to this is the same as everyone else who has used donor egg or sperm or donor embryo or adopted. A family can be created with love. Love will bind us just as strongly as DNA ever could. I believe that with all my heart. I mourn a genetic link, but I don’t mourn a missed chance at love because I won’t be missing anything. Any child of mine, genetic or not, adopted, however he or she shall come, will be dearly wanted and fiercely loved.

Also, I am not sure how much genes control who we become. I do think they are important — yet when I look at my own family I see many many differences among us. My temperament, skills, emotional makeup, and to a certain extent my looks are all very different from both my parents and are different from both of my sibings. So there is no guarantee that even if I did have a genetic child that s/he would be “recognizeably” mine.

Nevertheless, it was not easy for me to give up the idea of having a genetically related child. But it was because of the above-mentioned reasons, not because I thought I might not love a child without my genes. 

  • How do genes matter? How much of an impact do you think genetics has on a person’s behavior, interests and aptitudes?

Ok, I touched on this just above. I think genes are everything — and nothing. They make us WHAT we are, but not WHO we are, perhaps, if that makes any sense. I think our genes provide us with opportunity, and then our environment, our upbringing and our own choices take it from there. As an example — I did not get the genes necessary to be a great pianist, or musician of any kind. I do have great hands for the piano, they are wide and flexible with long (and shapely I might add) fingers. But I have a total tin ear. My parents provided piano lessons, and in high school I took band for a couple of years (French horn), and I had fun but was never more than barely competent for my experience level. I coupl practice until my fingers fell off and it wasn’t going to happen. So I think genes can have an effect on our lives. However, playing piano has helped me in other ways (logic, spacial thinking, relaxtion, etc.) and it was in band that I met my best friend Patty and had many wonderful high school experiences. Those events also shaped my life. So environment counts too. I expect there are other people born with the possibility of great talent in one area or another but do not exploit it for various reasons.

To get matched with our anonymous egg donor, we had to fill out a form stating our requirements. We could have any requirement (physical traits, personality, skills, etc.) that we wanted. In the end, we chose to make very few requirements beyond the basic health and youth ones. We are both writers/artistic types, so it may have been natural to prefer an artistic donor, or some such. But in the end, we decided only to ask that our donor be a high achiever in whatever field she chose. There’s no guarantee that those traits will be passed on. As parents, we hope to identify and nurture whatever skills and interests our child has, no matter what they are. Our donor will provide our child with some basic aptitudes, but we will have to take it from there. 

  • How do your thoughts on the last question influence your thoughts on the previous ones?

In a way, not at all. Because I guess I think that while genes have an impact, they are not everything. But I still wish i could have that connection anyway.

However, the most important thing to me now is not to mourn the gentic link. I did that for about a year. Now, my focus is not on what i can’t have — but on what is still possible for me, what I CAN have. I can still have a child, still have a family. Donor eggs I hope will make this all possible for me. We have been waiting a long time to our “real llife” to begin. We started ttc-ing five years ago this month.

I am well aware that donor egg is considered the “silver bullet” but that it does not always work. But for now I am choosing to go with hope. If I’m wrong,t here’s plenty of time to be sad and sorry later. For now I will enjoy the chance to look ahead toward the possibilities life could bring.



  1. Kate, that was an amazing post. You said it all, and you said it perfectly.

    I’m so happy for you that you have found your donor and are ready to start the rest of your life.

  2. I really liked reading your responses.

  3. So well said. You are a great writer, but I suspect you know that.

    I really hope this is a magic bullet for you, Kate.

  4. Kate – that was amazing post – and I’ll need to re-read it again and again to grasp its wisdom…If I ever have kids, they won’t know their father, which makes me feel terribly guilty at times…Because I agree that genetics and knowing where you are coming from is important. It does not define who you are but it helps to find your place in this world. Somehow, I came to peace with myself about it, and I hope my kids would chose to enjoy life as it is rather than mourning what could have been had things turn out different way.

    Best of Luck to you!

    P.S. I got my bfn at Corn.ell about a year ago – I guess several days before your article got published… And after a year of thinking, changing jobs and fighting insurance, I decided to move onto Colorado (3rd days of stims now and hopefully ER on the 20th.)

  5. Hi there, this is a great post. The way I look at genetics is very similar. If we are lucky enough to adopt, I may mourn the genetic link but I will have a child – a family – and the opportunity to share a lot of love. Period.

  6. I too had a hard time reconciling using a donor. I spent a full year between being told my eggs were fried and accepting using a donor. I’ve spent almost 20 years on family genealogy. Part of it was the genetic side, but eventually lots of it ended up tracking history and I’ve included step parents etc. I’ve also found, via old church records, family bibles etc that not all people who think they are direct descendents of someone actually are. In many cases the bio mother died in childbirth and the father remarried within a week to a woman who had the same first name (lots of Marys and Anns/Hannahs). Then there are the teenage pregnancies that were covered up and closed adoptions that have been around for centuries.
    I still wish there was a way to have a link. There are some things we do transmit to the donated embryo though. I cant remember the term, but because the wee ones grow in us, some of the genes are passed on during gestatation.

    You post was wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

  7. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from you! Just wondering how you’re doing!

  8. Re Selmada’s post, there are no genes passed on in gestation, but the environment you provide (in gestation and afterwards) has some effect (variable) on how genes are expressed.

    It’s a very interesting post, thank you for reading it. When I had no children, donor egg was definitely something I would have consider, did consider, although I felt a real loss at the thought. Now I have one child but am struggling to have another, it doesn’t feel like the right answer for our family.

    I do hope it works for you, and thank you for the thought-provoking post.

  9. Just found this site, and it’s the first thing i have read, just like to say it is an interesting piece of writing from the heart, and i wish you well; but I was a little concerned about genes for high achievement- Adolf Hitler was a high achiever, sometimes the journey is more important than the arrival.

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