A while ago, I decided to donate my eggs. I’ve written another post on that here. I chose to keep this mostly private, but I told a few close friends and family members.
The reactions I received were varied, but there was a very clear split. While a few seemed sceptical at first, my friends who know me extremely well all responded positively. Most have known for years about my lack of desire for children of my own, and know my personality, priorities and ways enough to agree that that almost definitely isn’t going to change. So they understood the reasons why I was choosing to donate, and fully supported me in it. My friends were impressed with the act they viewed as altruistic, they thought me selfless and courageous in the situation.
My family, on the other hand, could not have thought more differently. My twin sister was the first person I told. She has children of her own, so found the idea mostly just a little weird. Nothing more, nothing less. After explaining my reasons to her, and trying to make her imagine a life without her children, and without the ability to have them, she began to understand. But she never seemed entirely sure. My mother thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever and told me not to be so stupid. For some reason, she seemed to think it affected her personally. As though it was her eggs I was giving away. I pleaded with her to think about where all the children born through IVF (she has no problem with that) using egg donors came from – somebody has to donate. And why not me? I’m healthy, I don’t have terrible genes – it’s all relative but they’re pretty good in comparison to some others. She just couldn’t get her head around the idea. It was as though I was doing something so totally absurd. My grandmother was simply horrified. I think my sister said she cried about it. She took it further than that, though – she was embarrassed about it, she couldn’t possibly tell her friends about it (not that it was her business to tell her friends about it anyway! Respect for privacy? None here.). This was absurd to me – I was doing something good! To them, though, I was giving away something sacred.
I have cousins that were born through IVF. I don’t know the details but my grandmother treats them as she treats the rest of us. She doesn’t think of them as not really her grandchildren. Nobody in the family (except maybe their parents occasionally) ever wonders about the donor that was used. And yet, they kept telling me that I was going to have a child somewhere in the world and not know about it. I was giving away my eggs. Part of me.
I sit fairly heavily on the nurture side of the nature vs nurture debate anyway. Maybe that’s because my twin sister and I, despite having the same genes and the same family life, had very different lives outside of the home – we were not together at school, had entirely different friends, hobbies and now are entirely different people with entirely different lives and values. Maybe it’s because I have a friend who was adopted and yet in her I see so much of her non-biological family, the traits and morals of those who have brought her up. Regardless of why, placing more importance on nurture without a doubt makes the thought of donating eggs a lot simpler.
The difference between the reactions of my friends and family was really fascinating to me. Was it a generational thing? Was it because my friends were just naturally more open minded? Maybe that’s why I’m friends with them in the first place. Or would they have reacted differently had it been their sister or daughter? When they feel as though it’s a part of them that’s being donated too (although it isn’t, really). Equally interesting to me was that it seemed as though my family wouldn’t have cared if I was a man and it was sperm I was donating. But not eggs. The only difference, surely, is that it’s a more complicated process. That’s all. But they were incapable of seeing it any other way, even after having the facts and the benefits to all listed in front of them. They were unable to tell me specifically what it was that made it seem like such a terrible thing.
I can only conclude that it was the mother-instinct myth. The myth that as women, we all want to have babies, and though we may take a while to realise it, our true calling is motherhood. We are made to breed. It’s unnatural for us not to want children. Unnatural for us to do anything out of the ordinary with any part of that process. Unnatural for me to be donating eggs. Unnatural for me not to want those eggs and the child one of them may turn into for myself.
And that’s what I really want to talk about here. We have moved ahead light years from when women were unable to vote, unable to work ‘masculine’ jobs, unable to be board members or, hell, anything other than a housewife. However, we still have so far to go. Every day in my company, I still struggle to be taken seriously because I am female – despite performing better than males in the same role, I am consistently overlooked. There is still a huge gender pay inequality. And we still have to live with being catcalled on a daily basis, and being insulted when we ignore the abuse as though we have offended them. I don’t want this to turn into a feminist rant, so I’m going to stop there, but in my opinion, society is to blame for much of this. Although women are striving to achieve incredible things, society is still portraying us as shallow little things who just want to look pretty, cook well, find a nice husband and have a family.
And it’s the last thing I have the most trouble with. Society pushing this mother instinct myth. This illusion: you are women, you are made to have babies. This is the way to live. You grow older, you get married, you have children. And all before 35. And if that isn’t what you want, give it time, it will be. If not, something is not right.
Somehow it’s acceptable to be a man and not want children. Almost – dare I say it – admirable. It evokes an image of a strong, confident, intelligent man, too caught up in himself and his work and his love of ladies to settle.
But what about the women who don’t want children? And there are a lot. I read a statistic recently that stated around 30% of females over 25 did not want children. We experience the same thing, again and again, when we vocalise it. It usually starts with a patronising, ‘You’ll change your mind. When you meet someone’. As though we are incapable of imagining what our thoughts may be in a different scenario. Give us strength! Too many people possess an unblinking, flat out denial of the fact that we do not want and will not have children. People just think they know better. But we aren’t all made for it – and it’s so refreshing when I meet somebody who knows this.
Of course not all mothers are guilty of this, but often, it’s women with children who are the most judgemental on those of us who don’t want them. They find it insulting when we don’t want to hear every tiny last fact about their new baby – but they would never dream of going into as much detail with a male friend. As women, we are supposed to care about this, because we are so desperate to be mothers ourselves. The look a friend with a recent baby gives another women who doesn’t want to hold, or simply acts indifferent, to their baby could kill. It’s like a personal insult, because as a women, there is this preconception that you are not normal if you aren’t fascinated by the baby and overcome with a desire to mother it. I am sorry, friends. I came to see you, not your baby. I am happy you are happy, but please do not force me to hold or feed your baby because that is what is unnatural.
30% of females over 25 is a pretty significant figure. So this number is growing astonishingly and I guess society is going to have to stop promoting this idea that a normal woman is one who has an innate desire for children. Because it isn’t true. A lot of women want to have children. As do a lot of men. But a huge amount of us are quite happy without. And we should not be criticised because of that.
And, we may change our minds. I know some who have. But that is not a given.