Donor Recipients: A Visit With the Mental Health Professional
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has as part of its practice guidelines that a couple wishing to engage in an egg donor recipient cycle must visit with a mental health professional. Given the road you have already travelled with all the hurdles you have jumped to get this far, why would you be required to see a mental health professional?
The decision to engage in an egg donor recipient cycle is a very psychologically complicated one. For most couples, using an egg donor to conceive is not your first choice. You may have undergone a great deal of testing and possibly several failed IVF attempts before your doctor recommends the use of a donor egg. Embracing the choice of a donor egg means the loss of the use of your own egg. This loss must be acknowledged and grieved by the couple. The counselor will ask you to recount your journey to conceive and help you to reflect upon it. He or she will help you understand where you are in the grieving process and if you are ready to move forward with the egg donor cycle.
Another challenging issue to discuss is with whom will you share your decision to use a donor egg. While you may want to initially keep this decision between the two of you until you are successfully and safely pregnant, ultimately, it is difficult to “keep a secret” forever. The counselor will help you to consider the different scenarios you will possibly encounter in your future, e.g. do we tell the pediatrician, the child’s guardian, siblings, grandparents, etc?
Even more critical and emotionally fraught is the decision of whether or not to disclose the use of the donor egg to the child. There are pros and cons and you will have to contend with your own family and cultural dynamics. And even in the case where you have decided you will tell the child, the question of when to tell, what to tell, and how to tell can be confusing and overwhelming. The mental health professional can help you sort out the issues you may need to consider. The counselor will offer guidance and educational material to help you in your future conversations about how to handle this very important issue.
Another area that will be addressed is the donor selection process. How have you decided to approach this highly unusual task? What are your feelings about using the donor, are you in agreement about your strategy for selection? The mental health professional will elaborate on how the psychological evaluation of the donor is conducted and speak to issues of what kind of person volunteers to be a donor and how the compensation they receive factors into their decision to be a donor.
The counselor, who possesses a professional license, will also obtain a mental health history from each of you and determine if there are any untreated mental health issues or significant life stressors that should be addressed before moving forward. This is done with the attitude that taking care of any difficulties will maximize the probability of successfully conceiving.
The spouses are interviewed separately. This format is employed so that each spouse can speak candidly in a confidential setting and attest that they are pursuing the egg donation option of their own free will. They are also free to raise any issue or ask the counselor any question they desire. The counselor will also be able to observe congruence between the spouses in what and how they report their thoughts and experience. You ‘ll then be brought together with the counselor after your individual interviews and any issues that surfaced are discussed with one last chance for questions. After signing consent forms, a brief letter indicating you have fulfilled this requirement is sent to your physician at In Via Fertility.
While the idea of going to a counselor’s office may be foreign and perhaps concerning to you, the entire experience is constructed to be informative, educational, and emotionally supportive. There is no “pass/fail” pronouncement made and the sole intent is to partner with you to do everything possible to achieve your goal of having a baby.
Mary V. Speno PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist and has been conducting recipient couple meetings for In Via Fertility since 2006. She can be reached through Lake Cook Behavioral Health Resources at 847-577-1155 x 239.