This is the fifth chapter of my Embryo Donation Guide. Read an introduction and get a table of contents, with links, on the Embryo Donation: A Practical Guide page.

“In our house, who would you say is the ‘head of household’?” I sweetly asked my husband, Nathan.

“What do you mean?” he asked, suspecting ulterior motives. (He was right, by the way.)

I shrugged. “Just in general. Who’s the ‘head of household’?”

He paused a moment: “You.”

I smiled. “Okay, good. I just wanted to be sure you wouldn’t get mad if I wrote that in the guide.”

+++++++++

In my house, it’s pretty clear who wears the pants. It’s me: Mama Lydia.

Big decisions are my territory, and they have a sameness to how they unfold.

A play-by-play: I decide I want something. I make sure he’s OK with the general idea. He grumbles, particularly if it costs money, but usually acquiesces. I do all the research, shopping, comparing, more research, and select my top choice. Then I run my selection by him for a stamp of approval.

Next, I get angry because he undoubtedly gives a halfhearted approval. I am disappointed (or annoyed) by his lack of interest. I sulk for a spell.

Eventually, logic returns. Why would he be emotionally invested in the big decisions like I am? He’s neither involved nor interested in being involved. He hasn’t invested any time, worry, or energy.

Buying our house is a perfect example. We were engaged to be married and looking for our forever home (or at least our “good enough for now” home). We had showing after showing, walking through everything from 100-year-old farmhouses to new construction ranch homes. Something bothered me about every single house. The bedrooms are too small. The upkeep would be too expensive. The street has too much traffic.

Nathan’s reaction to each house was the same: “I could live here.” *shrug*

As I did a ton of hand-wringing, my husband barely noticed. Finally I decided we should put in an offer on a house, even though it was missing a few things I really wanted. I could live without them. I presented Nathan with this momentous decision: I was ready to make an offer.

He shrugged again. “I think you’re being silly, since it’s not what you really want, but okay.”

We’re in this together… sort of

Once we came to the decision to donate the embryos, my husband cared about just two things: 1) Ensuring neither of our children would ever accidentally sleep with or marry their sibling, and 2) Making certain that none of our embryos would go to a family that’s our polar opposite. (More on that in Chapter Four.)

Beyond those two concerns, Nathan wasn’t interested in the rest of the process. As usual, he left the legwork up to me, and I dove right in.

I called our clinic and got the lowdown on anonymous donation, and had basically already made my decision when I called him with that information, and he agreed: known donation was a better fit for our personalities.

Next, I looked up the small embryo donor/recipient matching agency I knew about, and looked through her entire website. I researched other agencies extensively, and eventually decided on which agency I wanted to use. I filled Nathan in on my choice and the reasons for it. He was in agreement.

Then we started receiving recipient family profiles. I started to feel awful, and I went to my husband for moral support. I wanted to bounce ideas off him, brainstorm about who we wanted to donate the embryos to… things like that. But instead of reassurance or eager participation, he merely shrugged. “If you’re freaking out, just take a break,” he said nonchalantly.

I was furious. I didn’t want a break from choosing recipients. I wanted a partner in the process. But he was completely disinterested.

Turns out, I’m not the only woman this has happened to.

Hayley B. is a donor from California whose husband was equally checked out. They had 18 embryos to donate, and decided to split them into lots of six. That meant locating and selecting three separate recipient families, which is a huge emotional burden. She explained how it all played out in an email:

After we made the choice to donate, it has pretty much all been left in my hands. I think the hardest part about him not being as invested as I am has been not having a partner. For most all major life events and choices, I’m used to having him as a partner. He’s always been there for bouncing ideas off of, brainstorming with, and so on. But, this time I’ve felt so alone. He just doesn’t seem to really care about much of it. But luckily, he’s not “anti” donation…he rolls with the punches, and he was great when we met one of our donor couples.

“We did try having him more involved for a little while. I was struggling being so alone in it, and he said he “wanted” to. But after only about 2 days of him reading (and helping compose) every email, he was  starting to say: “screw it, let’s just do this anonymously”. So, I essentially kicked him out of the process. Then I only invited him back in when I had decided on the final “contenders”.”

Going it alone—but not really

Donating embryos isn’t an experience you should face alone.

If your support structure doesn’t exist at home, you must find it somewhere else, and it might not be the people you usually go to for emotional support. For example, my mother had zero grasp of what I was doing, despite my trying to explain it. She kept calling the embryos “eggs”(1)Even after all this time, she still does. So does my grandmother. *facepalm* and although I could tell she was trying, she couldn’t fathom what we were doing. So I had to look outside my normal circle.

I was lucky to have an established therapist, and I think it’s a good place to start (they don’t even need to specialize in reproductive issues, but it’s helpful if they know the vocabulary). She helped me get perspective on tricky parts of this process, including coping with an uninterested husband. If a therapist isn’t an option, find a friend who’s interested enough to learn the process and can be your Number One Helper.

Even if you do get a therapist and find a supportive friend, you shouldn’t stop there. We’re lucky to live in the era of Facebook and social media, where communities are easy to find even if their members are scattered around the globe.

Hayley B., the donor from California, found salvation in the Facebook groups for embryo donors:

“I do have to say though, what has really helped offset his lack of interest was discovering the support groups on Facebook, and connecting myself with wonderful people (like you and Lauren). Suddenly I don’t feel so alone anymore. Quite the opposite in fact; instead I am part of an entire community!”

The groups are easy to find. Search “Embryo Donor” or “Embryo Donation.”

Personally, I couldn’t stand the groups that were mixed among donors and recipients. Frantic recipients tended to pounce on new donors entering the group (understandably so), and recipients who were unsympathetic to donors’ emotions gave all recipients a bad name, which made me (and others) second-guess the choice to donate.

It’s a universal truth, however, that there are rotten eggs in every chicken coop (though on Facebook, it seems the rotten eggs are the ones who speak up the most, which skews your results), and you can’t paint all recipients with the Crazy Brush.  One recipient with the nerve to call anonymous donors “baby abandoners” is an exception, not the rule.

I found it too difficult to ignore the crazies and psychos, so I left the mixed groups and joined a “Donors Only” group. I felt safe there sharing my most embarrassing feelings and reactions. It felt like a community of my peers, which I liked.

If you’re not sure, join mixed and donor-only groups, and try them out. You can always turn off notifications, leave the group completely, or go a different direction if it’s not your thing.

The checked-out spouse is definitely a thing

Hayley B. was the first donor I met with an absentee husband, but she wasn’t the last. She explained it best:

“…Of all the recipients I’ve been in contact with (about 30-40), in every case but one, it’s been the women I’ve talked with. Even with the few lesbian couples I was considering, I communicated with still only one of the partners. In every case, it would have been nice to hear from both partners, but interestingly, it never happened. There was one time I did talk with only the husband, and while I found it refreshing, I have my suspicions that it was more of a “male head of household” type situation, and they were a very conservative religious family with different family roles than we have.”

If you find yourself in the absentee-spouse shoes, don’t feel alone. Far from it. And if you’ve got an engaged spouse, count your lucky stars.

How we moved forward

There were tears, and some pleading. Lots of explaining where I was coming from, and what I was feeling, and what I needed from him. While I couldn’t make Nathan interested in the process, I could tell him exactly what to do, and let him do it if he was so inclined. He did try harder from that point on, but I only commissioned his assistance if it was important.

I gave him the rundown of the families whose profiles I didn’t like, to be sure he was on board with my reasoning. We were on the same page.

And when The One crossed our path, I read it to him excitedly. Just like when we found The House, his reaction was nowhere near what I had hoped, but at least it wasn’t negative.

He just shrugged. “Sure. Those two sound fine to me.”

It wasn’t passionate agreement, but it was agreement. Your spouse might be the same way. They may have zero emotional investment in the embryos, and not give two shits who receives them. A response of “sure, whatever works” is the best you can hope for. We can’t expect our spouses to manufacture excitement for our benefit.

Sometimes, you have to take what you can get.

+++++++++

Thanks for reading my incomplete Practical Guide to Embryo Donation. I am hard at work on the next chapters, including one about boundaries (how much to share while you’re in the contract stage, before any embryos have changed hands) and another about the contract (what should you include and what should you leave out?). It may take me a while, so sit tight. If you’ve got specific questions, head on over to the Contact page and shoot me a message. I check that email account daily and will get back to you soon. Thanks for reading!

+++++++++

Looking for more?

Check out my blog entries written as we went through the process, including:

Why stop now? Keep reading, friend.

  • Chapter Three—Finding RecipientsDecember 1, 2016 Chapter Three—Finding Recipients Once you're certain about donating, how do you start? This chapter explains how donors can get started finding recipients. You can seek on your own through word of mouth, put out a “call” on social media, or use an agency. We discuss the […]
  • Chapter One—The Biggy: Deciding to DonateDecember 1, 2016 Chapter One—The Biggy: Deciding to Donate The story of how we came to the decision to donate, including how we ended up with leftover embryos. This chapter explores the tough questions of how we knew when our family was complete; why we wanted to donate to an infertile couple; […]
  • Chapter Four—Match.com for Genetic MaterialDecember 1, 2016 Chapter Four—Match.com for Genetic Material This is where the process of donating can get unpleasant for donors. What kind of questions should you ask potential recipients? How do you deal with telling couples they're not a good fit? Should you tell them at all, or just cut off communication?
  • Chapter Two—The Alabama Lottery: Known vs. Anonymous DonationDecember 1, 2016 Chapter Two—The Alabama Lottery: Known vs. Anonymous Donation The Alabama Lottery is the irrational fear that our genetic children might meet, hook up, or get married without realizing they were siblings. It’s unlikely as winning the lottery, yes, but that doesn’t make the fear any less real. This […]
  • The Donation is FinalSeptember 19, 2015 The Donation is Final Five days ago, my husband and I signed the final contract to donate our embryos. The contract was the last and final step in a process we started over 10 months ago; three little embryos in a freezer are officially no longer ours.

References   [ + ]

1. Even after all this time, she still does. So does my grandmother. *facepalm*