Sun. May 19th, 2024

Agnes donated her embryo in a coparenting agreement. Now that she sees the child being raised, she regrets it

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell May4,2024
Agnes (not her real name) has a second child but isn’t raising them, and it is a deeply painful experience.
The child came from an embryo that she and her husband donated to friends who were struggling with infertility. But Agnes never anticipated it would feel like this — that she would wish they could take back the lifelong decision.
Agnes and the parents see each other regularly at play dates, and the children are building their sibling relationship, but Agnes quietly disagrees with the way the parents try to discipline the child’s boisterous behaviour. She doesn’t feel comfortable raising concerns.
“[It’s] a total regret — I shouldn’t have done it,” she tells The Feed.

“Just to see how differently both your kids are being raised, it’s really hard. It’s very, very hard.”

Close-up of a mother holding her baby tight, the baby's feet dangling to her hips.

Feelings of regret after donating are “relatively uncommon”, according to Dr Manuela Toledo from IVF Australia. “Well under one per cent,” she says. Credit: Igor Alecsander/Getty Images

In Australia, every donation is high-stakes

Using donor embryos and eggs is often a last resort for couples seeking to have children. They may have already gone through several rounds of unsuccessful IVF before realising they need to consider seeking egg, sperm or embryo donations.

It’s illegal to pay donors in Australia, meaning donations must be altruistic. There are also many requirements of donors, including invasive fertility treatment for egg donors. These factors contribute in some way to very low numbers of donors in Australia. There are far more sperm donors in Australia than egg or embryo donors — and Australia has long had a shortage of donated sperm.

People seeking donations might ask a “known donor” — a friend or family member — or use an “unknown donor” recruited by Australia’s IVF banks. The supply at IVF banks can be unpredictable depending on the demand.

It begs the question: when these are such precious products with such high stakes, what happens when a donor regrets their decision to gift their DNA?

Overhead shot of woman holding a newborn baby

Dr Karen Hammarberg from Monash University believes more research needs to explore the possibility for feeling regret after a donor makes their donation. Especially as the demand for donor eggs will continue to increase. Source: Getty / Cavan Images

How the best of intentions led to the deepest regret

After Agnes and her husband had their child through IVF, they had a couple of embryos left over which they expected to use to grow their family. But a few years into their child’s life, they felt they couldn’t financially afford to have another. They chose to donate an embryo to a couple they knew who they could co-parent with, so the siblings could be connected.
Australia has strict requirements for donors and donor recipients — all parties must go through psychological assessments and fertility counselling, sometimes multiple times. However, looking back, Agnes feels the counselling wasn’t sufficient.
“I think I was not ready to donate,” she says.
“I think that decision [to donate] came from my post-natal depression.”
She says the clinic knew she had post-natal depression, though she does not blame it for her decision and regret.

“I wasn’t really 100 per cent sure that I needed to donate the embryo, but my husband was totally against having another child.”

Once the child was born, Agnes says the recipients cut off contact unexpectedly. The co-parenting agreement was only ever verbal, and parties are not required to establish legal agreements that define the co-parenting relationship.
“After they ghosted us, it was a very difficult time for our family and we had to undergo counselling,” she says.
The families have since mended the relationship and established more contact — the siblings spend time together. But Agnes sits with uncomfortable feelings as she watches a child she and her husband are biological contributors to.

She hopes with time the situation will improve.

toddler and mother holding hands walking

Australia’s egg, sperm and embryo donations cannot keep up with demands. Donors provide families a chance to parent when many other options have run out. Source: Moment RF / Oscar Wong/Getty Images

How many people regret donating?

Dr Manuela Toledo of IVF Australia says in her two decades of experience, she finds donor regret is “relatively uncommon … the regret rate would be well under 1 per cent.”
She says regret may arise “in the setting of a significant life event” such as experiencing infertility, “even though at the time [donating] was the right decision”.
Few Australian studies track the feelings of donors, including feelings of regret, after they donate.

Dr Karen Hammarberg from Monash University found in her study ‘Battery hens’ or ‘nuggets of gold’ that egg donors felt they should receive counselling after a donation, as well as before. (Many Australian IVF companies follow up with donors after their donation, but are not required to offer formal, ongoing, or long-term counselling.)

“Over time you might come back and think about things that you didn’t think of at the time,” Hammarberg says.
“You might start wondering about whether there is a child born and what the child is like.”
Hammarberg believes as more women have children later, and the demand for egg donations increases, more research should be done to understand the areas of concern and risks for egg donors.
“I don’t think you can completely eradicate the possibility that someone will feel bad about [donating] later on,” she says.

“I think we have a very solid kind of counselling process in Australia to make sure that as much as possible you help donors think about any future ramifications and the ‘What if’s?'”

A woman holds a piece of incomplete pottery, her hands dirty with white clay, her face grinning out of focus in the background.

Karen was 26 when she first decided to donate her eggs in the late 1990s. Credit: Supplied

When life has a different plan for you

Karen Venuto experienced some of those unexpected ramifications, though she doesn’t feel regret. She always expected she would have children — she just expected she would be the one to birth and parent them.
In the late 1990s, when she was 26, she walked into a hospital and made a decision that she would think back on for decades to come.
“I had a bad history with guys in relationships and I was walking past the women’s hospital one day, and I just thought how hard it would be to be a woman who always wanted children — so desperately wanting children — but not being able to have your own eggs to do it,” she tells The Feed.
She walked into the hospital and “they basically started me straight away”.

She completed health checks and a psychological assessment, and after treatment, a series of hormones and daily hospital visits, she had donated six eggs.

Australia was the first country to see a live birth from an egg donation, just over a decade earlier, in 1983.
Karen was told she “might get a knock on the door once it passes 18 … but nothing else”.
She chose to do a second cycle, her hormone dose was increased, and she produced “I think it was like 37 eggs in one go,” she remembers.
“And I had a lot of complications. I was actually in the hospital for four nights,” she says.
Over the four days of hospitalisation, she says medical staff repeatedly asked if she wanted her own children.

“I said, ‘Of course I do. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want my own children.'”

Greek Italian woman sits in a tropical location with a plate of white rice in front of her, grinning to the camera.

Karen had always expected to have children, and may have approached an IVF clinic for treatment, but single women were banned from accessing IVF in Victoria until 2008. Credit: Supplied

Pursuing IVF more than a decade after donating

Three years later, Karen rang the hospital and asked if any children were born from her donations. She was told by a medical professional who had seen her through the treatment that twin girls were born in July 1998.
As the years went on, a health challenge or unfavourable relationships meant it wasn’t the right time to have kids – plus, single women were banned from accessing IVF treatment in Victoria, where Karen was living at the time. Finally, by 42, when the bans had been lifted and her health had improved, Karen decided to seek IVF treatment.
She completed one round which was unsuccessful and couldn’t afford another.
While she had always wanted to have children, she discontinued further IVF treatment and decided to focus her love on the kids who were in her life — in her work as a nanny.
“I was single, I was on low income,” she says.
“And then I had a lot of people telling me that I was being selfish and they wouldn’t support me if I decided to have children out of wedlock. And in hindsight, I probably wish I never listened.”
She has no regrets, and decades later is satisfied with the choice, and proud of how she helped an unknown number of families.
“You have to have a bit of lightness to it,” she says.
“Because if you allow it to, it will break your heart.
“My goal in life [with] the whole process was to help someone create a family, because that’s what really, really mattered to me.
“And if I ever get a knock on the door from one of my offspring … I’ll welcome them with open arms.”
When asked if she feels conflicted about never bearing children personally she says “no, shit happens”.
“I don’t have much money, I don’t have many resources, I don’t live a life of luxury, I don’t have a posh career. But I know I’ve got a good heart, and I wish that the families of whoever got my eggs, are nothing but [the healthiest and happiest]. I don’t regret it for a moment — for a second.”
Karen recently decided to try to find any donor children and purchased a DNA test.
“If I get to meet them and have a relationship, that would be my wildest dream.”
Readers seeking support with mental health can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. More information is available at . supports people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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One thought on “Agnes donated her embryo in a coparenting agreement. Now that she sees the child being raised, she regrets it”
  1. It’s truly heartbreaking to read Agnes’s story. She made a decision out of kindness, but it’s clear that the emotional toll she’s enduring now is immense. The complexities of coparenting arrangements can have long-lasting effects, and it’s essential that all involved parties have open communication and understanding. I hope Agnes finds the support she needs to navigate through this challenging situation.

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