Did you catch Wednesday’s episode of the Katie Show?
No, I wasn’t on it.*
But the first half of the show was entitled “The Search for My Egg Donor” and focused on a young, remarkably poised 16-year old, Brittan Gilmore, reuniting with her mother’s egg donor, JoLana. Here’s a clip with their story (an ad might play before the clip):
If you’re a parent via egg donation or considering the egg donor path, you may have noticed a couple of red flags in this clip.
Right off the bat, the classic “reunion” story makes for great TV. It’s a feel-good puff piece from a very cursory understanding of the situation. Some people find these reunion narratives a bit icky and voyeuristic and in some ways, they are. Their egg donor, JoLana, has two other daughters of her own; Brittan was under the impression that she was only meeting JoLana but was surprised to find out she was also meeting her half-siblings.
Personally, I was uncomfortable watching this unfold later in the episode – not because it didn’t go well or was bad TV – far from it. I just felt like I had no business witnessing what is otherwise a private moment between families. Again, that’s just my personal opinion on it.
But let’s get into some more specifics about this episode of the Katie Show.
What the Katie Show Got Right About Egg Donation.
Compassionate open donor relationships.
Brittan admitted that her parents were candid and open with her from day one about her donor conception. She recounted how her parents used a children’s book to talk about egg donation with her. (If I had to guess, I bet it was probably Mommy, Was Your Tummy Big? by Carolina Nadel.) For Brittan’s parents, Janet and Jim, their use of an egg donor in their family building journey was not a point of shame or something to be hidden. As someone who also shares a very open relationship with our donor, and especially considering since it is a known relationship, the level of compassionate openness in Brittan’s family is very empowering to witness.
Empowering donor-conceived families to explore openness.
Their expert guest on donor-conceived families was Wendy Kramer, co-founder and director of the Donor Sibling Registry. A mother via anonymous sperm donor herself, Wendy created the DSR to connect donor-conceived children to their egg and sperm donors. The DSR seeks to provide a safe, secure avenue for contact and eventually exchange of direct contact information if both parties agree. To date, the DSR has provided over 11,000 matches.
I really appreciated what Wendy had to say about those seeking to reconnect with their donors:
“It’s an amazing journey… you go slow, like you guys, you’re very respectful of each other’s boundaries and I think that’s really important – and then you just have time and patience. And then nurture it. And don’t be so connected to the results and the end result of what you’re going to have, but just enjoy the journey.”
Validating the needs of donor-conceived children to know their complete identity.
It was clear that Brittan felt a need to know more about her identity and how she came to be. I think it’s instinctual for us all to feel that way when we’re young and figuring out who we are, our place in the world, and what we might set out to accomplish with our lives. When you dig deeper, this egg donor reunion story is more than just good TV: it paves the way for donor-conceived children to ask their parents about their origins, and for parents to respect a very real need for their children to know more about who they are.
Beyond mere existential value, it’s important too for donor-conceived children to know more about their donors for the purposes of building complete medical histories over time. Like I said, at face value, this was a great feel-good piece on egg donor reunification.
What the Katie Show Got Really, Really Wrong About Egg Donation.
Egg donors are not “biological mothers” and should not be referred to as such.
Parental labels within third-party family building are a wealth of loaded language: donors, birth parents, first parents, surrogates, “real” moms – it can get complicated.
The use of “biological mother” in this egg donor context was kind of a biggie that stuck out for me within the first three minutes of the show. Brittan herself refers to JoLana as her biological mother in the intro piece before the segment above with Katie, as she describes a card she got from her mom: “…and it told me that she was my egg donor and that she was my biological mom.”
Katie then follows up with this line of questioning on stage: “And there was a time, a time did come Brittan, when you got more and more curious about your biological mother. Obviously I know Brittan you adore your mom and dad, and they love and adore you as well, but why was this important? What did you feel was missing?”
And then there was this:
Oh, and in case you missed it on the show description page on the Katie Show website:
What’s the issue here? An egg donor is not a biological mother. Period. End of sentence. Calling an egg donor a donor-conceived child’s biological mother is a simply incorrect statement. Let’s have a quick lesson on some basic terminology in the donor egg community, shall we? At best, an egg donor could be labeled a “genetic mother.” The woman who carried the pregnancy is the child’s biological mother. Janet, not JoLana, is Brittan’s biological mother.
Genetically, JoLana is Brittan’s “mother” – and yes, the use of quotes is deliberate. Mother is a very loaded word. JoLana isn’t Brittan’s mother the way Janet is her mother: she didn’t carry the pregnancy, birth the child, or contribute in any way to her raising. JoLana may not have even known that that particular donation cycle resulted in a positive pregnancy. There’s far too many degrees of separation for JoLana to be considered Brittan’s “real” mom.
Oy. “Real mom.” See what I mean about loaded language?
The fact that Brittan’s family considers JoLana and her family a “second family” to Brittan isn’t a problem. In fact, that’s awesome! But repeatedly calling JoLana Brittan’s “donor mom” or “biological mother” is not only wrong, it’s just off-putting to parents via egg donation or couples considering the egg donation path who may have been tuned in.
Let’s look at it another way. There seems to be a misunderstanding that language commonly associated with the adoption community is somehow interchangeable in a donor conception situation, when in truth, it’s not. One represents the legal transfer of care of a living, breathing human being; the other represents a legal transfer of human tissue. We don’t call birth mothers “child donors” the same way we don’t call egg donors “biological mothers.” It’s an inaccurate and patently false label.
I’ll be perfectly candid: as the mother of a child via donor conception, I struggled with the idea of replacement. Was I really going to be my child’s mother? Granted, I felt this fear of replacement well before Judah ever got here and it’s a common fear felt by women considering egg donation. Once I found out I was pregnant and especially so once Judah was born, that fear all but vanished. If you think about it for a moment, it’s not unfounded: an egg donor replaces genetic material we would have otherwise provided. This fear taps right into Darwinian evolutionary theory: our genes aren’t making it to the next round.
Calling an egg donor a “biological mother” reinforces that fear. Again, I can say confidently that fear pretty much vanishes once you have your child, but it seems so all-consuming at the onset of the donor egg journey.
In that regard, I find the Katie Show’s repeated use of the term “biological mother” irresponsible at best and sloppy research and reporting at worst. Seriously – a segment producer could have verified the fact that “donor mom” isn’t even a term with a ten-minute Google search.
The Takeaways from Wednesday’s Show.
Openness good. Incorrect family labels bad. Smiles, hugs and tears for all.
What do you think? Did you watch the Katie Show “The Search for My Egg Donor” this week? Sound off in the comments.
*For folks that have been asking, “Hey, what ever happened to that time you were supposed to be on The Katie Show?” well, here’s the backstory…
In August 2012, just before our IVF cycle, the Katie Show contacted me about having me as the lead patient narrative for a show on infertility. We talked several times on the phone and a few weeks later, a Katie Show producer came to my house with her assistant. They spent ten hours taking over my house and filming me and my husband, including interviews and a shit ton of B-roll footage. Granted, this was the same day our egg donor arrived at our house for the week leading up to her retrieval at my clinic. (Brilliant timing.) They had me do a ton of video diaries on my own for weeks and even wanted me to wait to announce the results of my cycle live on the show. The timing was too much of a shit show, so that never happened. Instead, we filmed our clinic calling us with our beta results.
They promised me I’d go to New York for taping in late October. Then early November. Then they kept pushing the segment back. And pushing it back. And pushing it back. We got all the way into early 2013 and my contacts at The Katie Show had long since stopped answering my emails and phone calls. I found out a few weeks later that the producer I had worked with didn’t even work there anymore. I figured they had no interest in me anymore (despite some great footage and interviews) so I stopped calling and emailing. Shame is: they’ve had multiple shows on some aspect of infertility and a guest already keyed up with expository footage ready to go for almost two years now. Their loss.
That’s showbiz, I guess.