Being an egg donor is a bit like having an anxious boyfriend, at least at first. There are a lot of people very interested in knowing when you get your period, because there’s some blood tests that have to be done on the third day of your period, and this requires coordination on the part of far more people than have ever been aware of the details of your menstrual cycle before.
Let’s back up a bit though. Say you’re a non-smoking woman between 19 and 30 and you’re thinking of becoming an egg donor. The ads are everywhere from college newspapers, to Facebook, to local radio stations, and all of them make sure to mention how much money you can earn. Those numbers are sure to turn more than a few heads. The process gets rolling the way most processes in our modern world do, with a lot of paperwork. Details on you, your medical history, your educational history, your family’s vital information, long lists of illnesses that you read while trying to remember what it was that your great aunt said she had that one time over Thanksgiving dinner, or whether Uncle Whatever was a blood relative or married in. That paperwork then goes to be screened, so they can determine if you’re genetically perfect enough to help someone else make a baby even though that’s something you never have to worry much about if you want to make a baby all on your own. If you are accepted, you are asked to submit some photos that will somehow make some parent decide that you’re the genetic contribution they want for their child, and write a little description of yourself that hopefully gets across all the high points of your personality in around 250 words or less. It’s not unlike applying for college, except you can’t study really hard to get a good grade on not having a family history of heart disease.
Once you have all that information out there, you wait. It took me a couple of years before someone finally decided that I was what they were looking for in their baby planning, but people with certain more desirable backgrounds will hear back more quickly. I’ve heard that young healthy Jewish women interested in donating eggs are in fairly high demand and while I was going through this process I got an email from the service I’m registered with asking if anyone had friends of East Indian descent because they were looking for donors with that specific background. No matter what your racial makeup, though, the thing that seems to be universal is that they want young women who are exceptionally healthy, slim and well educated.
The biggest question I’ve gotten from friends and family members is “Why?” Why would you do this? How can you be OK with the idea that someone else will be raising a child you helped create? The answers I have are pretty simple; I’m doing this because I need the money and because I think it’s wonderful to help someone create a family. We have some family friends who had children with the help of an egg donor, and I see how much they cherish their kids and know that their family wouldn’t be possible without someone like me stepping in to help. As for the second question, I don’t believe that any child conceived using my eggs is somehow my baby unless I’m the one raising it. I share genetic material with a truly staggering amount of people (both my parents come from large families) and it doesn’t make them inherently any closer to me than anyone else.
Once you’ve been picked, there’s a variety of tests and check-ups you go through before the cycling and recovery process. I had blood drawn a couple of times, got a pap smear, and had two trans-vaginal ultrasounds to look at my ovaries. All of this happened over about a month and a half or so. The family I was donating to was in another state, but while I communicated regularly with a representative from their local fertility clinic all the testing I went through was carried out locally. I was also referred to a local psychiatrist for a one hour session where we discussed why I was doing this, my previous and current relationships, my family, my educational background, and my current work and personal pursuits. I also had to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Index. All these tests indicated that I was physically and mentally fit to go forward with donating eggs, though if I had been eliminated at any time for a mental or physical reason there would be no penalty to me to breaking the agreement. I was also contacted by a lawyer who went through the donation contract with me paragraph by paragraph to make sure I understood the language and what protections were granted to me and what protections were granted to the prospective parent(s).
After I had been thoroughly pinched, prodded, examined, and stuck, I got the go-ahead from the fertility clinic. A big box of injectable drugs showed up at my house and a couple days later I got a calendar listing the dates for one more trans-vaginal ultrasound to check on my ovaries and the promise of more detailed instructions about what to DO with all those drugs later. This was one of my biggest problems with the egg donation process; the lack of information on my end of things. I understand that I’m not the one paying for all of this so I’m not exactly foremost in the minds of the people organizing anything, but I’d routinely go days or even a week or two without hearing from anyone about where we were in the process, whether or not I was supposed to stay on my birth control pills, or what other appointments needed to be made in the near future. And, as I said, the box of various fertility drugs and sterile syringes came to my house with no information on when I was supposed to start taking them or what the dosages were. The process ended up delayed at least once because I didn’t have the materials I needed to make an appointment that had to happen during a specific two day window in my cycle. I gave them specific blackout dates for traveling and then found out that the travel agency assigned to me had me flying out to the donation site two days before my schedule allowed me to. I found this out only eight days before I was schedule to leave. The calendar I had been sent several weeks earlier indicated that I’d be traveling the day after my blackout dates ended. Arranging for my travel companion (my mom) was a headache and a half, because we didn’t get the information on what day my procedure would be on until a little less than two weeks before they had to be there. It was far harder than it needed to be, basically.
Once I actually started the fertility drugs prior to the procedure I learned something very quickly: I don’t like giving myself shots. I can, and I did, but I found it deeply unpleasant. As for the side effects from the drugs, I had a bit of wooziness the first couple of days that tended to wear off about 12 hours after I’d given myself the injection, and occasionally a headache. After that I was fine. I know a lot of people gain weight or have mood swings on these types of medication, and I didn’t experience either. My weight held steady (to be fair, I was also working a fairly active job and being careful of what I ate because I knew I couldn’t afford to buy new clothes if I did gain a significant amount of weight) and while I may have been a little more anxious than usual, I didn’t have any noticeable problems with my mood. Honestly, for me, the worst thing about the drugs was sticking myself in the stomach every night. Everything else was a cake walk.
After a week and a half of giving myself shots I traveled out of state to the local clinic of the recipient(s). Unfortunately, on my first visit there I got some bad news: my ovaries had not responded to the medication the way they had expected and I had too few eggs to go forward with the retrieval process. I was gutted. This was not a possibility I had planned for; my family is notoriously fertile on both sides and I had no expectation that I would be anything other than over-prepared for the task ahead of me. It felt like failing an exam when I didn’t even know that failure was possible, let alone something I’d experience. I was disappointed, ashamed, sad, and guilty. A lot of money had been spent on the drugs I was taking and the blood tests and other appointments I had to go to, and there was nothing to show for it. After some time, I was also keenly aware of the fact that I (unfortunately) had begun to plan around having the money I would have gotten for donating. That money was no longer in my future. Obviously, the impact on my life is far less significant than the impact on the lives of the intended recipient(s) and I feel guilty even contemplating my troubles compared to theirs. But I can’t deny that this affects me negatively as well.
Perhaps I should have been tipped off by the fact that I didn’t have much of a reaction to the fertility drugs. Maybe someone looking at my blood tests and ultrasound results should have realized earlier than things weren’t progressing they way they wanted. I keep trying to think of ways that this could have gone more successfully, and wishing that I had been a more suitable egg donor. But we can’t change what has happened, and all I can hope is that if I’m picked to cycle again in the future, that there are different medicines or other things I could do to make sure I was able to successfully complete a cycle. Or maybe this is the end of my time as an egg donor. I don’t know how my own circumstances will change in the coming months.
If I do end up completing a donation, I’ll come back and write about the end game. About prepping for the procedure, and the aftermath. But for now, all I have to offer is a tale cut short by the frustrating vagaries of biology. I wish with all my heart that I had been able to help someone build their family. I did everything I was told to, and if it was a question of determination I would have more to tell you. But I don’t, so I hope that my own experience can work to better inform other young women who are thinking of taking advantage of this opportunity. And please, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.