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In July 1996, Joanie Shook—a healthcare administrator now living in Scio, Oregon—suffered premature ovarian failure (early menopause) at 36 and gave up any hope of being a mother.
“I never, ever thought I would become a mother,” says Joanie, “I wasn’t married, so I figured it would be me, with my career, my wine and my cats fading into the sunset.”
But years later, when she met the man who would become her husband, everything changed.
According to Shook, “Early in our relationship, he talked about how he had dreamed of ‘a whole posse’ of kids sitting around the kitchen table. It made me smile—and then it made me sad.”
Despite feeling “the dream was totally out of reach”—and given that she had “zero eggs” and her partner had a low sperm count—Joanie Shook was never one to take things lying down.
After researching into donor egg opportunities, Shook had a pleasant surprise.
“We were expecting to have to use donor sperm as well as eggs, even if I was a candidate. We couldn’t believe how blessed we were when they explained they might be able to use Greg’s sperm.”
After sorting and rating 15 different donor profiles over sushi one night, the couple, who say they were not “looking for anything designer,” picked their “number one.”
At the age of 45 in 2008, Joanie Shook gave birth to twin daughters—now 28 months old.
For the first three months of pregnancy, she admits to feeling “a bit like an impostor.”
“I was almost embarrassed to go into the Motherhood store—like I was pretending to be something I wasn’t,” she says.
“I didn’t think being pregnant via egg donor was ‘unnatural’—me being pregnant at all was unnatural,” she continues.
But as pregnancy progressed, Joanie Shook had an epiphany that would dramatically transform her understanding of motherhood.
Now 48, and also parenting a 10-year-old adopted Thai stepchild from her husband’s first marriage, she recalls of her pregnancy: “It took the babies moving for me to fully comprehend that I had growing babies inside my body.”
“I knew then that I was totally in love in a way that I could not have imagined before. Even though I knew nothing about babies, I knew I was going to be a great mommy.”
Shook confides that, although she never feels like the children—borne of a donor mother’s eggs—are not hers, she sometimes has a “vague feeling of sharing ownership,” which she describes as a good feeling.
She stands firm in her knowledge that she is a ‘real mother’ for a very simple reason.
“I can’t take my eyes off my daughters,” she says. “I would die for them, in an instant. That’s how I know I am their real mother.”
Joanie Shook feels she comes from a different perspective from many women who’ve had to rely on egg donation.
“Rather than ‘settling for’ egg donation, I was ‘blessed by’ having the opportunity—I came from the bottom up. Having children via egg donation is a gift, not a consolation prize.”
Although celebrating her blessings, she says she has more concerns about how her age will affect her daughters, rather than the genetics.
Regarding public criticism for later life motherhood, Joanie offers an insight into how the age of the information highway has made it easy for strangers to set up shop as self-appointed moving juries.
“The age of blogging and electronic news sharing invites people to give their opinions whether they have any actual knowledge on the topic or not.”
“I’m not interested in public opinion,” she continues. “Having a child in your forties was probably once was very damaging to a society when the average life span was 55 years old.”
“I think people need to make responsible and educated decisions, and then be prepared to deal with their outcomes.
So, what are Joanie Shook’s pearls of wisdom on later life motherhood?
“Families are built in so many different ways—I have a daughter who is a Thai step-child, and two donor-egg daughters—and I am the very blessed mother to three wonderful girls.”
Notes for this blog:
This blog was first published in June 2010 under the title “The Gift That Shook Joanie’s World”.
To contact Parents Via Egg Donation: http://pved.org (http://pved NULL.org/)
Angel La Liberte is the founder of the website Flower Power Mom—The Truth About Motherhood After 40 (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/) (www.flowerpowermom.com (http://www NULL.achildafter40 NULL.com/)), a regular blog featuring news, commentary, real mom stories and expert advice about motherhood after 40.
You can email her at editor[at]flowerpowermom.com. Find her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/FlowerPowerMoms (http://twitter NULL.com/FlowerPowerMoms) and Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Flower-Power-Mom/173079456036144 (http://www NULL.facebook NULL.com/pages/Flower-Power-Mom/173079456036144).
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