If you are considering using an egg donor to start a family, you may be wondering if there will be a physical resemblance between you and your child. While it is true that the genetic makeup of a child will come from the egg donor and the father (or sperm donor), there are a few factors to consider when thinking about how closely the child may resemble the intended parent. Let’s dive in.
Will my donor-egg child look like me?
The answer is maybe. There is always a chance – whether genetic, adopted, or born through donor eggs – that a child won’t look like you. There’s also a chance that they will! I know plenty of genetically related children that look nothing like their mother or siblings. But I also know a lot of donor-egg children that look *exactly* like their mothers. In fact, I had no idea one of my closest friends used donor eggs to conceive her children until she confided in me when I began my donor egg journey.
Many families choose to match with a donor with similar physical features, especially for unique features like red hair, blue eyes, or being really tall. But keep in mind – picking a donor that looks like you in no way guarantees the child will look like you or the donor!
What your child will derive from you
While I haven’t seen any research on donor-conceived children and how often they look like their family, we can look to some established research in the adoption space (although it’s not a perfect parallel, since with adoption the child is not genetically related to either parent and with donor eggs the child is often related to the father).
One famous study of 7,230 parent-child pairs (504 adoptive) looked to see whether there were any physical similarities between parents and children. They found significant similarities in the stature and weight of the adoptees and their parents. This is no surprise, as we know there are non-genetic sources of human dimensional variability. Think about it this way – you may have an innate musical talent, but how musical you end up being depends a lot on nurture and what you are exposed to growing up. The same goes for certain features, like weight.
“Looking” like someone is often just as much facial expressions and mannerisms as it is facial features. We can look to adoption research to understand attunement, which is how children can soak up their parent’s facial expressions in response to certain events. We know that children pick up physical cues, facial expressions, emotional response, and speech patterns from their parents. So even if you are not genetically related to your child, they may just roll their eyes or giggle the way you do.
The genetics of donor eggs
When using donor eggs to conceive a child, the egg will be fertilized with sperm, either from the intended father or a sperm donor. The resulting embryo will contain the genetic material from both the egg donor and the intended father (or sperm donor), and will be genetically different from you. However, the child may have physical characteristics that resemble you, your partner, or the donor.
The egg donor's genetic makeup will contribute to the child's genetic makeup. For example, certain physical characteristics such as eye and hair color, skin tone, and facial structure. The egg donor's genetic makeup may also determine the child's risk for certain inherited diseases or genetic disorders. While egg donors do undergo screening for many genetic conditions, it's impossible to screen for every possible genetic disorder.
All that being said – genetics are complex and many physical characteristics are determined by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Will my baby have my DNA if I use a donor egg?
If you use a donor egg to conceive a child, the child will not have your DNA. The egg used to make embryos will come from a separate individual, the egg donor, and will contain her genetic material. The child will be genetically related to the egg donor, and will share a portion of the same DNA as the egg donor, and will not have any of your DNA (unless, of course, that egg donor is a relative of yours).
However, the child will be related to you in a legal and social sense as you will be the parent raising the child. You will have a legal relationship with the child as the parent, and you will have a social relationship with the child as the caregiver and nurturer.
Additionally, if you are able to carry the pregnancy, that will play a huge role. While the egg donor contributes 50% of the DNA to the genetic makeup of the child, research discussed in a 2014 Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology article shows that it is actually the birth mother who determines which of these genes get turned on or off. Things like maternal diet, stress during pregnancy and smoking can all make a difference in what genes get expressed.
Is an egg donor considered the biological mother?
An egg donor is considered the biological mother in the sense that she is the one who provides the egg that is fertilized and used to create an embryo. However, the egg donor is not the mother in the traditional sense, as she does not carry the pregnancy or raise the child. The intended mother (or a gestational carrier) carries the pregnancy and gives birth to the child and raises and shapes the child’s entire life.
An egg donor has no legal rights or responsibilities to the child, and her role is limited to providing the egg for the conception process. It’s important to have the right legal agreement in place with an egg donor. If you work with Cofertility, we will make sure the legal part runs smoothly.
What about epigenetics?
Epigenetics refers to the study of changes in the expression of genes that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence. These changes can be caused by a variety of factors, including environmental influences and lifestyle choices.
One factor that can play a role in the epigenetics of a child conceived through egg donation is the mother (or gestational carrier) carrying the pregnancy. The environment and lifestyle choices during pregnancy can affect the epigenetics of the developing fetus. For example, your diet, exposure to toxins, and stress levels can all have an impact on the epigenetics of the fetus.
Additionally, your own health and genetics can also influence the epigenetics of the growing baby. For example, certain genetic variations may affect your ability to detoxify certain chemicals, which can then affect the epigenetics of the fetus.Your own environment and lifestyle choices during pregnancy, as well as your own health and genetics, can all have an impact on the epigenetics of your egg-donor baby.
Will my donor egg baby feel like mine?
A lot of moms using donor eggs to start a family wonder whether or not the child will feel like "theirs". And the answer is absolutely. Every parent-child relationship is unique and what may be true for one family may not be for another. For some intended parents, the bond with their child may be immediate and strong, while for others, it may take time to develop. It's important to be open to the possibility that the bond may develop differently than expected, and to give yourself and your child the time and space to grow together.
Consider the role of parenting in forming a parent-child bond. The act of parenting, including bonding through nurturing, feeding, and raising a child, can create a strong emotional connection between a parent and child, regardless of genetics. The same goes for any potential siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents your child may have.
When I think about the people I am closest to in this world – my step mom, my step sister, my adopted brother, my husband – none of them share my genetics. But they have shaped my life, and we have formed bonds far stronger than I have with many of my genetic relatives. Can you think about people in your life like this to help your mind transcend the idea that bonds are only capable through genetics? I have found this to be a helpful exercise.
Summing it up
It's important to understand that physical traits are determined by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While the egg donor's genetic makeup will contribute to the child's physical characteristics, other factors such as the child's environment and upbringing can also play a role.
Remember that inheritance is complex and that other factors such as environment and the characteristics of the egg donor can also play a role. But if physical resemblance is a concern, you may want to consider selecting an egg donor with similar physical characteristics.
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Halle Tecco is a healthcare founder and investor, and women's health advocate. She previously founded Rock Health and then Natalist (acquired by Everly Health). She is a Board Director at Resolve and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School. Halle received her MBA from Harvard Business School and her MPH from Johns Hopkins University with a concentration in Women’s and Reproductive Health. Education - Bachelor of Science (BS) from Case Western Reserve University - Masters of Public Health (MPH) from Johns Hopkins University - Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Harvard Business School Certifications & Accomplishments - Advisor at Harvard Medical School Department of Biomedical Informatics since 2014 - Board Member of RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association since 2022 - Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business 2023 - Goldman Sachs Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs - San Francisco Business Times 40 Under 40 - Forbes 30 Under 30 - Business Insider 30 under 40 in Healthcare - Has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and CNBC - Has spoken at the Aspen Ideas Festival, CES, TechCrunch Disrupt, and was a SXSW Keynote speaker
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