This was like Match.com all over again, only it wasn't. I wasn't seeking a date or a friend—just a batch of healthy eggs. Did it really matter if the donor was funny or adventurous or "cheerful, athletic and goal-oriented"?
Somehow, I came to realize, it did. I was drawn to women I could relate to, like the bike racer/schoolteacher who was lousy at math and who wanted to use her $5,000 egg-donor fee for a cycling tour of Spain. Paul, meanwhile, drifted toward women who looked like that blonde criminologist on CSI: Miami. He was particularly enamored with a pretty, green-eyed donor who appeared to be my polar opposite—an aspiring chemist in possession of her low-voltage electrician's license. Though I was hardly aiming to clone myself—ultimately I found hair and eye color were low priorities—the idea of using her eggs didn't exactly excite me because we were so different, and I wanted to feel excited about my choice.
Like the best of the Match.com guys, some donors clearly had put effort into their essays. Others, though, were coasting on their genes, like Sage, a 5-foot-10 volleyball player with hazel eyes and a strikingly angular face. She left blank the questions about her aspirations and fondest childhood memories, revealing little besides the fact that her brother is a 6-foot-4, blond lifeguard.
"Man, who does she think she is?" Paul said.
Narrowing down the list
After three months of searching—and learning that our top choices had a long waiting list—we narrowed our list to two available donors. One was the blonde chemistry student; I had to admit she was smart, cute and well rounded, plus her family had impressive longevity. The other was the bike racer who loathed calculus. She wasn't available for three months due to her work schedule, but I was willing to wait because I liked the idea that we seemed similar—we competed in the same sport and shared a fear of indefinite integrals.
We contacted the aspiring chemist, via her agency, and learned she was available right away. But my gut pulled me toward the bike racer. I simply had a good feeling about her, and in the end, that was enough for me. Paul deferred to me.
We chose not to meet our donor. Some therapists strongly advise a get-together, on the theory that it will be reassuring to the child to know that his or her parents met and liked the donor. But we already had several pictures of our donor. We knew she had a master's degree and a National Geographic subscription, a fondness for Hugh Grant movies and "an outdoorsy and outgoing family" with no known medical problems. We knew she was willing to meet our child, if he or she so desired, at some point in the future. What more did we need? What if we met and had a personality clash? Why jeopardize the good feelings we already had about her?
Following my clinic's instructions, we consulted with a therapist, who told us most recipient couples don't meet their donors, and she felt that was a reasonable choice. Once we signed a contract with our donor—she relinquished all rights to any embryos created; we paid her $5,000 fee plus travel expenses to my clinic, 200 miles from her home—the process went smoothly. For six weeks, Paul injected me daily in the stomach and hip with drugs to suppress my ovulation and prepare my uterine lining for the embryos. Meanwhile, the donor, supervised by my doctor, took hormone injections that stimulated her ovaries to produce extra eggs.
The morning her eggs were surgically retrieved—six months after our canceled IVF, two years after our trip to Chile—they were fertilized by Paul's sperm. Five days later, we had 18 embryos. During a short procedure, the doctor inserted two of the most robust ones into my uterus. The rest were frozen.
I spent the next two days on bed rest, mostly watching reruns of The Office on TiVo. I knew the odds of success were high, but as usual, my gut said: expect disaster.
When you have an IVF transfer, the nurses implore you not to take a home pregnancy test and instead to wait for your blood test 10 days later. Some urine tests aren't sensitive enough to detect pregnancy hormones so early; why risk unnecessary disappointment?
The moment of truth
But the day before my blood test, I impulsively dug up an old pregnancy test in my bathroom and went for it. Instantly, the stick turned blue, and for the first time, I let myself feel optimistic. The next day I received the official results: not only was I pregnant, but my hormone levels were sky high, suggesting twins.
My boys arrived loud and healthy, and they're now 12 months old. Ian is the fearless one, diving off steps, pinning his brother in a headlock and mowing down whatever or whomever happens to be in his way as he crawls across the room. Toby is the softie, always showering his family with Oprah-style hugs and slobbery kisses. I adore them more than I could possibly describe.
I'm immensely grateful to our donor, and I hope that she did not endure too much discomfort and was able to use her $5,000 for that bike trip to Spain. Still, I rarely think about her, and I imagine the situation is mutual.
In a few years, Paul and I will start telling our boys about the circumstances of their conception, a conversation likely to evolve in interesting ways and span well over a decade. We'll tell it to them straight and hope that they grow up feeling as we do: that our family was lucky enough to benefit from some remarkable technology and the kindness of a bike-racing schoolteacher named Jill.
When a friend said to me recently, "I'm sure your boys will be tall, like you are!" I nodded before remembering, and reminding her, that genetically, my children aren't related to me. I had to laugh. When you're busy playing hide-and-seek and reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar and scraping peas off the floor, the last thing you think about is your babies' DNA.