The Truth About Egg Donation
First, I want to start off by saying that I know this topic is not one that a lot of people agree with, so I would appreciate it if you read this post with an open mind and objectively, rather than subjectively. You are allowed to have your own opinion as I am mine, however, keep in mind that I actually went through this and this is from my experience.
The decision to donate my eggs was based purely off of selfish reasons (financially) at first, but has become much more than that since then. I had heard about egg donation from several sources and had always contemplated whether or not it was something I would actually be able to do. It was appealing from the money aspect, because at the time, my boyfriend and I were hard up for cash. We were drowning in debt and it was incredibly stressful. I was (and still am) only qualified to work minimum wage jobs which didn’t even pay the bills so it led me to look for other ways to make some money.
I went on Craigslist, of all places, to look at some of the postings seeking donors. There were several agencies, all with postings talking about how you could make $4,500+. So, I filled out a few applications with personal information, including family history, just to see if I would pass the initial screening. Genetic disorders usually disqualify you from donating. Thankfully, other than breast cancer, nothing is prevalent in my family.
I received an email back from an agency called The Donor Solution, which requested more information, including pictures that they could add to their database. I also received a phone call from one of the women from the organization who answered any and all of my questions, along with just having general correspondence to get to know me better.
Just because I was added to their database did not mean that I was guaranteed a cycle. Potential recipients could view my profile, similar to a Facebook profile (or ‘Eggbook’ as my college professor so affectionately put it), and decide whether or not they wanted a child who might have some of my characteristics. I have been told that potential recipients may choose you if you look similar to one of them, or in my case, they might have just wanted a ginger! I’ll never actually know, because the entire process through this particular agency is anonymous. There are other agencies that give you the choice to let the potential offspring (if the cycle is successful) contact you once they turn 18, but I still think I would have opted out of that because it puts even more of an emotional aspect to it. When it’s anonymous, you won’t even know if the woman successfully conceives of not.
I received a phone call several months later, letting me know that someone had chosen me to begin a cycle. I was then contacted by a psychologist and a psychological evaluation was done to make sure that I would be able to mentally handle the cycle, and to make sure I knew that once the eggs were separated from me, they were no longer mine. This particular topic was discussed with me from a legal perspective as well, when I was also contacted by an attorney that had been provided for me.
I signed a bunch of documents relinquishing ownership of the eggs, as well as a statement of understanding – making sure I knew that if I did anything during the cycle to disrupt/cancel the cycle that I would not receive payment. Obviously negligent behavior is not acceptable. People are paying thousands of dollars to have this procedure done and it’s an emotional rollercoaster. (It costs anywhere from 10k-25k per cycle with an egg donor.) They will still compensate you depending on where you are in the cycle ONLY IF the cycle is canceled due to something beyond your control.
The next step was to find a lab and have an initial blood test done. This was a screening to see what my hormone levels were normally and for a drug/STD test. From there, I went to the Austin Fertility institute for my first ultrasound, which is also where I finally got to meet the doctor.
Honestly, the physician and his staff really set the pace for the entire cycle. They were wonderful. They were with me every step of the way and I could not have gotten luckier having them for a first time. (What hospital/clinic you go to is dependent on what clinics the agency works with in the area. Don’t quote me on that, I just know it can be different every time.) The doctor did every single one of my ultrasounds and continued to reassure me and let me know that I was doing a great job. I took it seriously though. This is my body, and injections are a huge part of the cycle. It’s not joke, so I don’t feel like it should be treated as such.
Each cycle is approximately 6 weeks. They take you off birth control, and then put you back on. You have to be on the pill for at least two weeks so that they can sync you with the recipient female and then they take you off once more. From there, the cycle continues with hormone injections and almost daily (or every other day) blood tests and ultrasounds for monitoring.
Hormone injections are something that happen the last week and a half into your cycle. It’s two to three times a day, always in your stomach. I had never given myself shots before, but you get used to them pretty quickly. They don’t even hurt that much after a while. You are educated on the dosage and how to administer them yourself before you even leave the clinic. I even had to watch training videos. I was on Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the formation of follicles on the ovaries and Luteinizing hormone (LH), which supports egg maturation and triggers ovulation. Once you hit a certain stage in your cycle, you start another injection as well which prevents you from ovulating early.
This is when it gets a little uncomfortable. Normally, your ovaries are about the size of a mandarin orange. The fertility drugs make them swell to the size of grapefruits and about three days out from retrieval, it becomes apparent just how quickly things are working. This is called superovulation. Think of an ovary as a honeycomb. Each individual compartment has the capacity to have an egg inside the follicle. Normally, every month you produce only one egg. However, the fertility drugs make you produce multiple. Typically, they aim to retrieve at least 10-15 eggs. Every ultrasound appointment is used to measure how large the follicles are and once the majority of them reach a certain size, that’s when you’re given a trigger shot which basically gets your body ready to release the eggs. The trigger shot is called HCG and it makes you release the eggs.
During retrieval, they take the ultrasound probe with a hollowed out needle and go into each ‘compartment’ and essentially suck the eggs out. Retrieval happens right before the follicles rupture, or release the eggs. It’s about a 30 minute procedure and you are under anesthesia for it. In turn, these follicles or compartments can then fill with fluid and if they’re too full or swollen it’s called hyperstimulation because the follicles can leak into your abdomen. Sounds really rough, but with proper medication and monitoring it can be avoided.
Unfortunately, after my first cycle, I ended up with a mild case. I looked like I was three months pregnant for about 2 weeks. The normal recovery time is about two days, but like I said, this was my first time and the doctor had no idea I was going to produce as many eggs as I did. My first cycle I produced 35 eggs, and my second cycle produced 28. I am ridiculously fertile. If I decide to keep doing this, the doctor is going to dial my hormone dosage down that way I have less of a chance of hyperstimulating and my recovery time will be shorter.
Up until now all of this has been really scientific and has all been procedural. Like I said, I went into this with a rather selfish mindset because I was concentrated on the financial aspect. However, during my last appointment before my retrieval (also coincidentally my 23rd birthday) I was greeted in the doctor’s office by a small gift bag and a card. Becky, who had been managing my cycle had been giving the recipient couple updates on how everything was going. The recipient female was so excited that she and her husband had purchased me a gift and even written me a card.
Before I even opened it, all the nurses had gathered in my exam room to watch me open it and I felt my face turning red. (MIND YOU – I had a ridiculous amount of hormones raging through my body at this point, but I didn’t cry until after everyone had left because I hate people watching me and I certainly don’t want to cry in front of people I don’t even know.) But inside was a sincerely heartfelt card which read:
“I’ve been trying to think of a way to convey my deep sense of gratitude for your amazing gift. We’ve been told so many nice things about you and feel extremely fortunate to know that you’ve been able to help us. We are so extremely excited to bring a child into this world that we could love and cherish. It’s been a difficult journey for us and we’ll always be grateful for what you’ve done. We promise to always love and cherish our child. We want to thank you from the bottoms of our hearts and wish you all the happiness in the world. Please take this gift. I feel it symbolizes the gift of a child that goes on to infinity”.
And then I opened a Tiffany’s box with the prettiest sterling silver infinity necklace. (Which I now rarely take off). It was honestly the most meaningful gift I have ever received from someone I have never met. This is when the realization of what I was doing hit me. I had begun on this journey for financial gain but it was so much more than that. To be able to give something to someone that they cannot give themselves is priceless. This made it real; this was something AMAZING.
I’ve been asked by several people how I feel about potentially having children out there that I will never know. First of all, I make myself feel better by saying I’m helping repopulate the earth with gingers. That’s more or less a joke, but secondly, I’m helping people who can’t do this on their own. Third and foremost, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these children are wanted. They’re wanted so desperately that there’s no way they could lead a miserable life where they are not loved. It’s not like giving away a baby for adoption at birth, and it’s not like an abortion. This child is wanted. This process is not cheap, and these people aren’t ungrateful. I cannot think of a better reason to do this! The financial compensation just became a plus.
This is also why I realized that I want to be a fertility nurse. This process is fascinating and it’s something I agree with and whole heartedly believe in. This experience has honestly changed my life. It was never meant to, but it has. And I am thankful for that. It’s given me more direction and I would do it again in a second. I’m very grateful that I got to help someone become a mother, which is something that I also would love to be eventually. I think every woman deserves that chance.