Full circle. That is the way Jennifer Wolf, Director of Case Management at ConceiveAbilities, describes her experience with her own fertility. Her role as an egg donor, case manager, and now a mom have brought a new level of awareness when it comes to infertility and the misconceptions surrounding the issue.
In 2000, while in her first job out of college, she became close with a coworker and his wife. She had been diagnosed with a medical condition that affected her ability to conceive, and after trying a long time to have children, they shared that they were considering using an egg donor. Their struggle struck a chord with Jennifer for several reasons, but in particular because his wife was younger than she was.
“They were instrumental in introducing the concept to me,” she recalls. While having a family was not yet on the horizon for her and the boyfriend that would eventually become her husband, Jennifer felt that if she could help someone else use something she wasn’t, then why not?
“I knew I couldn’t help my friends, but all along they were key in my wanting to do this,” she says. “It made it very real and more personal. Their plight, their age, their circumstance helped from an altruistic standpoint,” Jennifer recalls. After seeing an ad for ConceiveAbilities in the Chicago publication The Reader, she completed the application. “I thought I wouldn’t get selected,” Jennifer admits. “I was pleasantly surprised to get a call.”
The idea quickly became a reality when she went in for an initial consult. “Alicia impressed the heck out of me,” Jennifer says. “Instead of making the process seem idilic, Alicia focused on things like flexibility, side effects, potential discomfort - she was very realistic about it.”
Sometimes, donors find they get a different perspective from the medical entity. A center may rely on the agency to take a more proactive role in educating a donor, and the agency has to hit it home. “You’re not just walking in and out, like donating blood,” Jennifer points out. “I went home and really reflected on it.”
Once she had learned more about the program and the intended parents looking for donors, she decided it would be “an absolute honor” to be selected. To her delight, Jennifer was matched with recipients - twice. The experience was so amazing the first time around, she says, that when she was approached again she didn’t think twice. “It will forever remain in my heart as a positive thing,” she says.
After spending many years social service, Jennifer found another opportunity to work with the Illinois egg donation program at ConceiveAbilities - this time, as a case manager. Now 35 and married, Jennifer and her husband Kevin began to explore the idea of building their family. And, as is the case for so many, it didn’t happen as quickly as they expected.
But what it did bring to the forefront was an inkling of what some of the clients she works with were going through. Month after month, the recurring disappointment began to weigh on her.
“There were so many times I was really convinced it had happened,” she recalls. And when it hadn’t, “I would just sob. Not after years of disappointment, invasive procedures - just a tiny degree of what intended parents go through.”
In fact, she remembers a new feeling when working with clients. “I would get so disappointed and frustrated internally when things didn’t work for them.” Prior to this, she had naturally related more to the donor. She had always been able to empathize with intended parent, but didn’t have that extra insight. “It exceeds that,” she recognizes, “but having that glimpse of heartache helped me to see what it means to them.”
And she was even more grateful than ever for her experience as a donor, because it gave her a true education on fertility. She had learned so much about ovulation and cycles during the process that without it, “It would have made family planning even more of a Russian Roulette.”
Jennifer also recalls feeling some relief that she hadn’t told many people about her previous egg donations.
“People leap to the notion,” that egg donation will somehow effect a woman’s future fertility, she says. “It’s just ignorance to scientific facts, but it’s such a common and ridiculous notion. Truthfully, it didn’t cross my mind. If anything, I thought it was because of my age.”
After trying for just under a year - which, she understands, seems like a minute period of time when dealing with longterm infertility - Jennifer and her husband talked to their doctor. They learned fairly quickly that there was no “issue,” it just hadn’t happened yet. “It’s extraordinary for a pregnancy even to occur,” naturally or via ART, she says, and she felt “it’s going to happen - or not – despite the various attempts I implemented to increase our chances.”
In November 2010, Jennifer and Kevin welcomed their son Harrison into the world. Being a donor, the experience building her own family, and now being a mom has “brought things full circle for me,” Jennifer says. “I have a whole new level of respect for the people who are in this but can see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
It’s even changed the way she helps a client deal with heartache - while always supporting them in any decision they make for future, knowing they truly want to keep trying to achieve their family building goals. “I provide supportive encouragement because I know how amazing the end result is,” she explains. “It’s blissful. I want that for them.”
All Things Conceivable is a blog dedicated to sharing the knowledge and expert opinions of the dedicated team at ConceiveAbilities, a Chicago-based egg donation and surrogacy agency.