Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Question of Genetics

An original post for Bridges:

As someone who has had to personally come to terms with never having a genetically related child, I often ponder how much of an influence genetics have on a person's behaviors, interests and aptitudes. It is the old "nature vs. nurture" debate although I think that is a poor phrase given that it is pretty well established that it is both nature and nurture. With the current study of epigenetics - how a gene's activity is influenced by environment - the issue becomes even more muddied.

It is an important issue when it comes to alternate means to family building - whether it is through the use of donor gametes or through adoption. I think most of us would prefer our mutually (if there is a partner) genetic child. How easily an individual or couple is able to accept or choose this alternate path depends a great deal on how they (and sometimes the extended family) feel about the importance of genetics.

Since I follow many donor egg blogs as well as a few donor sperm and donor embryo blogs, I have seen this question answered many ways. From the couple who decides no children is better than a child that is not the product of their genes to the couple who jumps right on the adoption or donor gamete bandwagon at the first sign of trouble to everything in between. I am always fascinated by the reasons behind these decisions.

As time goes on, I hope to bring together varying opinions and personal choices from the donor egg and donor gamete community to present here on Bridges, but first I would like to hear from our readers.

  • 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?
  • Why do they not matter? Was it or would it be easy for you to let go of genetically related child?
  • If you have both a genetically related child and an non-genetically related child, what is the same? What is different?
  • How do genes matter? How much of an impact do you think genetics has on a person's behavior, interests and aptitudes?
  • How do your thoughts on the last question influence your thoughts on the previous ones?
If you have read this post, you know that I struggled with the choice to use donor eggs. In a nutshell, I feel that genes play a very big role in who a person is. It was (is?) hard for me to let go of having that kind of influence on our child(ren). But that's just me. What do you think?

Kami is the contributing editor for Donor Eggs. She writes daily at The Other Side where she covers life with her new daughter, LB, the little butterfly.


Leslee said...

My husband and I are currently doing donor inseminations in attempts to become pregnant due to azoospermia. We have done 5 dIUIs at the RE's and 2 fresh cycles at home (we're using a known donor).

These are such thought provoking questions.

I don't believe that genes matter, but I feel a little hypocritical saying that. As I mentioned before, we're using a known donor. More specifically, it's my husband's twin brother. I think that having that familial connection has been the reason we've pursued dIUIs. It's almost like the "next best thing" for us. I'd like to say if my husband wasn't a twin, or if he had declined to be our donor, that we would have gone to a bank, but it isn't our reality.

I was thinking about this recently. I've never really thought about how my child will have my eyes, or my kin tone or whatever people want to see in their children. What has been most important to me is to be able to see my husband in them. Weird, I guess. Maybe it's because of the situation we're in... I want my husband to feel connection to our child despite the fact that it will not be his fully genetic child.

I think that genes have say in how a child may turn out, but I also believe that the environment has a large part to with who the child becomes. Hence my feelings that the absence of a genetic connection isn't an issue.

Hope that made sense!


Ryan's Mommy said...

We're currently pursuing DE to have a second child. Our son is the result of IVF with my own (now useless) eggs and my husband's (almost useless) sperm.

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?

What's hard for me is this: I (like all parents) think my son is the bomb. He's cute, he's smart, he's got a fun personality. He's just great. And he's the result of our genes. I know his bio-sibling wouldn't be the same kid, but it would be nice to think that a second kid made of our genes would turn out equally great. Using a stranger's genes feels like kind of a crap shoot. On the other hand, so is using your own genes - the kid will be what the kid will be. I'm sure I'd think my second kid was perfect if he had two heads and fur, so I just don't know.

I think having a bio kid and then going for a second, 1/2-bio kid is difficult for this reason. You love your first kid so much, and it's normal for any mom to fear she may not be able to feel the same way about a second, or that she may not be able to spend as much one-on-one time with the second kid as with the first. Add in the fact that the second kid will not be genetically "yours" and it's just that much more complicated.

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

It's hard to accept that your kid won't have a genetic bond with you. But after $50,000 and six years of infertility treatment, I'm (almost) ready to let that go. My family is way into geneaology, so we're planning to disclose because it WILL come up.

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

This is a tough one. Our son looks like a mix of myself and my husband, but personality-wise he's very much his own person. He's only 3, so hard to say yet, but both DH and I were mellow, shy kids, and my son is super-active and outgoing. We have no idea where he gets that from. So I tend to lean toward the idea that genetics don't matter so much in terms of behavior/personality.

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

Believe me, I've given all of this a lot of thought. We're proceeding down the DE path, but I'm not 100% convinced we're going to do it. I don't think I'd regret it if we do, but mentally I'm just not sure if I'm there yet. The economy is also kicking my ass - I'm scared to spend the money now. We'll see.

Anonymous said...

For me it wouldn't make a difference. To me being a parent is important, thus in my minds eye it would be the same as adoption ONLY in this case the resulting child would be looking back at me with perhaps my husbands eyes.

I see it also with a friend who had a child from a previous relationship, and then went on to have two children with her current husband. Their 3rd child was a boy, and at his birth she said to him "You finally have your son" and he said "No, I already have him now I have two" He is the only father Nathan knows, and to both of them genetic is irrelevant.

Like I said, a simplistic view since we are not even delving into the IVF pool...but if we were, at least from my point of view it wouldn't matter because at the end of the day I am the one the child would call Mommy....

Smiling said...

I am in the middle of my first attempt to conceive - DE with a known donor. I kidded myself for years thinking I was trying, but my chances to have a child with my own genes problem ended in high school...

I think environment plays a huge part in how someone turns out. Everything from what you are exposed to en utero to which mannerism you learn from others. I sometimes wonder if even more biological things like facial structure is more related to experience than we realize as our muscles react to repeated facial experiences we learn from others.

That said, I really did want to be able to see my mother's face in my child. I look so much like my mother that I was hoping I would get insights into both of us by watching the next generation growing up before my eyes. I love looking a family photos and comparing the generations at similar ages. But perhaps I will at least get that from my husband's side and about my donor as well - two people I know little about their childhoods, whereas mine was very well photographed both with film and in my own mind.

I also work with many children with genetic and chromosomal disorders. Some of them have very limited resemblance to their family members. My own cousin had muscular dystrophy, his parents marriage feel apart over the 'blame' of who passed on the devastating genes. It is one of my donor's biggest fears is that she would unknowingly 'give' me problematic genes. So I also know that there is a flip side... people often feel a sense of responsibility about the genes they passed on - both guilt and pride.

It probably helps that I know my donor. I know her kids well. I love their feisty and unique personalities. I am pretty happy to add their genes to my family. Her kids respond well to the environment I provide when I am in charge with them. When I think back to it I have had more of a 'test' drive of the genes than I had with my own as I would be the first in my family to have kids. And really I just want to have a go of raising kids.

And as my dad points out, go back a few generations and there are way more similarities than differences in our genetics. I was really hoping for funny recessive things to pop up in my kids, like red hair from my great grandfather or the blue eyes and dark hair that one of my great aunts had, but that falls into the category of dreaming about what my first date would be like. I also did some soul searching and realized that all the talk in my family about family history actually was much more about the stories of surviving wars, bribing you way out of internment camps, living through more wars and tough times, and having a few good adventures too. It wasn't that my blood relation worked for a King and then nearly was killed for it, it was that it was someone I knew was part of the history I read in books. I guess in my family genealogy is more about the stories and less about the blood being passed down.

There is a side of me that realizes that I haven't thought through ever aspect of the genetics... part of me knows it won't change my decision to go ahead with the cycle and all of me knows I'll be able to come to terms with it. I've known since I was 19 I might not have any eggs, I only recently realized that just because I didn't have any eggs, didn't mean I couldn't do something in the sperm, egg, and uterus to make a baby equation. I didn't spend much time in my life dreaming or assuming anything about getting to pass on my own genes. I also didn't grow up near my extended family. My brother and I look nothing alike. Maybe this all helps me with down playing the genes a bit.

Then again when I babysit for my friends identical twins I begin to wonder how much genes really might influence strange things.

I am really curious to hear what others say on this one. My donor and I always agree that this topic has a powerful way to trigger interesting conversation and thoughts. Most of the time I only get to engage in that conversation with her - I always love a chance to hear a few more views from people who've really thought about it (rather than a few of the initial gut-reactions I occasionally hear from people when they first hear that there is something like donor eggs).

- clare circlesbecomeme.wordspress.com

Kami said...

Wow! I love these thoughtful comments.

Leslee - I asked my sister to donate eggs. Sadly, she refused, but if she had I think I would have thought of them as my genes, just through a circuitous route.

Ryan's Mommy - I understand not being 100% ready, but continuing on the path just the same. Thanks for your interesting thoughts.

FamilyofTwo98 - I know (for me at least) it is better to parent a non-genetic child than to not parent at all. I still throw the occasional "I wanted both!" pity party. Fortunately, they are now very short and mild pity parties.

Smiling - It just goes to show how complicated the issue is. I don't think we will ever know - at least in our lifetime - how genetics and environment work together. I believe environment can change how we look as well - as long as it doesn't go outside of what the blueprints provide potential for.

Lisa said...

While I truly believe giving birth to a genetically-linked child has nothing to do with being a parent, I am still very much hoping and praying that I will still conceive with my eggs.

For me, it's actually less about having that genetic connection than it is about continuing the genes of my family. I have a sister and brother who will likely never have children and have no 1st cousins on my mom's side. On my dad's side, I have 2 first cousins, but, neither seem overly interested in having children. While I in no way say anyone is putting any pressure on me, it's something I think about all the time.

My family survived the holocaust and, those that did, made the journey to America. It saddens me immensely that those genes may, possibly, die with me.

This is hard to explain to people. I don't think people not in this situation can really understand. It's like the feeling some men have about how important it is to continue their family name, but, this feels so much grander than that.

Lorraine said...

It's easy for me to assume that I would be able to move on to DE if I didn't already have a child. I like to think that the concept of family and being a parent are so much more about the daily experiences with each other than anything having to do with genetics.

But it's an easy excuse to say that I won't be considering DE because I worry about perceived differences between my daughter and any possible child conceived with somebody else's egg. I like to think that I would be open to the idea, IF ONLY I weren't in this position. But it's hard to know for sure. I really want my daughter to have a sibling, so maybe we will eventually make that decision. I laughingly remember when we told each other that we would try IUI but we would NEVER do anything as invasive as IVF.

Hope and loss change ideas, so who knows what will happen? It's a process, and we're not really sure what will happen to us as we go along. My (final) (no, really, this time it is) IVF cycle officially started today - so I'm still hoping for that link.

Irish Girl said...

Many years ago, I had a close friend who went through IF and IVF and eventually DE IVF then ultimately had two beautiful children. Before moving on to DE, she was wrestling with these exact questions. I remember thinking "what is the big deal? you want to have a child, right?"

Ha! Then the universe laughed at me and my smug little attitude and slapped me with the same fate. Strange how that works. All I can say is: Now I understand.

As for us, learning of our DOR diagnosis closed the door on our hopes of a mutually shared genetic child (because of my egg quality). We have resolved to live as a family of two because neither one of us wants to pursue alternative paths to parenthood at this time. But if I'm completely honest, I am way more comfortable with DE, embryo adoption, or domestic adoption than is my husband. He has the bigger issues related to a genetically linked child. Funny because it's ME who can't have the genetic child -- he would still have that genetic link if we used DE, but he still says he isn't comfortable with that. Why? Not entirely sure yet. These are great questions to consider, Kami.

Kathy said...

I too had to come to terms with never having a genetically related child. But for me, it was not a struggle.

I am the author of the "Operation Heads Up", Third Party Reproduction section entitled "Choosing an Egg Donor". So you can read more about my story there if interested.

Passing on my own genetics did not matter to me. I have one sibling that is adopted and two more that are not. They are equally my siblings. Their children are equally my neices and nephews.

Genetics in its purest form DID matter to us. We wanted a donor who was healthy. Who had no history of genetically linked diseases etc.

I can't answer your question regarding the impact of a child's genetics on their behaviour and aptitudes. Our egg donor was anonymous, so I have no frame of reference for her. I certainly see things in my children that remind me of their father, and grandparents. But then, my daughter mimics my mannerisms and has taken on my love of the written word. I see very much of myself in her everyday..... and yet, genetically that isn't possible.
I am sort of glad that I freed my children of the horrible medical history that my family suffers from. I am sure that genetics will play some factor in who they evolve into.... but I will never be certain who played what role. The egg donor was anonymous and my husband has passed away. They have no genetic links except to each other..... If one was to argue that only Nurture matters, than I guess they are blank slates.

The bottome line for me, was I wanted a child to mother. The ownership of the single cell at the origin of their being mattered not to me.

I wish you the best.

Me said...

My thoughts can be found here.