Several years ago, the notion of “the good enough mother” became popular in psychology. The idea was that striving for some idealized notion of parenthood was fruitless and even harmful. By contrast, parents who accepted that they could not be perfect, served themselves and their children well. Lately, I have been thinking about how this approach relates to egg donation. Along the way, I’ve become a strong believer in “the good enough donor.”
Many women embarking on egg donation find their “good enough donor” with relative ease. She is usually someone who resembles the intended mom in broad brushed strokes. The good enough donor is ready and willing to donate and she has communicated some things about herself that resonate with the intended parents. They like what they see in the photos she sends and what they read in her responses to questions on their donor agency questionnaire. Their good enough donor is someone they feel they can relate to, someone who shares their values to some degree and either has interests and talents similar to or complementary to theirs. And perhaps most important, the good enough donor is likely to have an ample number of “good” eggs.
Were that it was that simple. Unfortunately, not everyone subscribes to the idea of the good enough donor. There are some people on a quest for what I would call “the idealized donor” For them, the search for a donor is not “short and sweet;” it is long and arduous. These intended parents typically identify a series of women that they are interested in but something always turns out wrong. I remember one woman who turned down a donor because the donor’s grandmother was born without a hand. Another lost her enthusiasm for her chosen donor when she spotted an overweight sister in one of the family photos.
So why does this happen and how do intended parents cope with the disappointments that come when no donor seems good enough?
My sense is that those pursuing the “perfect donor” are driven by one or more of the following:
Not really ready for egg donation—I remember a woman who searched for a donor for over a year. Her search was steady and fervent and along the way, she became an expert on every egg donation agency in the US. After several months, I concluded that no one would ever be “right” and that I was dealing with a woman who simply did not want egg donation. I was wrong. After about 14 months of an exhausting search, my client found her donor. In the end, she chose someone who did not meet some of her “must have” criteria. The key was that the donor was good enough and the client was ready. She went on to have twins and to be convinced that her long search had brought her to the right donor.
Thrown by the “purposefulness” of the process—I have yet to meet a client who says that she or he took a detailed health history of their partner when they were dating. People meet, fall in love and marry without paying much attention to the potential for inherited illness. However, some intended parents come to egg donation with a different mind-set: they feel a responsibility to their future child to avoid serious medical conditions. The knowledge that donors are medically and psychologically evaluated, hopefully eliminating those who bring serious genetic issues, offers only limited comfort to those seeking the perfect health history.
Feeling they missed out on the perfect donor—There are some intended parents who see a donor that appeals to them early on. Either they do not move fast enough or for reasons beyond their control, she is no longer available to them. Sadly this woman may become the idealized donor—the “gold standard” by which all other donors are judged. These intended parents seek, but never seem to find, someone who measures up.
How do those in pursuit of the perfect donor resolve their situation? Some eventually find a donor and declare, “she’s the one.” To outside appearances she may seem no closer to their ideal than others that they turned away, but this does not matter. What matters is that these intended parents have found their way to “good enough.
A different resolution comes when couples shift perspectives and conclude, “it doesn’t really matter as much as we thought it did.” They may actually swing to the opposite extreme, accepting almost anyone. For example, I remember a couple who sought and found their “perfect donor” only to have her “bail” on the first day of meds. Briefly crushed, the couple bounced quickly back and said, “just find us a fertile donor.”
Finally, there are those who seek and find comfort in a belief that destiny will guide their process. Like those who declare, “it doesn’t really matter,” they are no longer burdened by trying to be in control. Instead, they subscribe to a belief that things will happen as they are supposed to happen, that there is some order or purpose in the universe, that they will get the donor that is “meant to be.”
However they get there, there is good news at the end of an arduous journey to the good enough donor. People find their way to long awaited parenthood—to happy endings and new beginnings.