The topic of egg donation first came up about two years ago during a weekend trip to Cincinnati with my husband and two of our friends. We were at dinner before a concert when, somehow, the talk turned to sperm banks and then egg donation. We all knew how sperm banks worked, but none of us knew anything about egg donation, so I ended up Googling the procedure and reading bits of information to the rest of the table.
After that, I couldn't stop thinking about what I'd read. Most websites said the entire process took about a month, and could earn you anywhere from $4,500 to $6,000. My husband and I had been discussing starting a family ourselves, but were in no position financially to do that immediately. I thought that donating eggs would be an easy way to pay off some debt and help another couple at the same time. If I wasn't using my eggs, why not let someone else use them?
At first, my husband wasn't thrilled. The thought of me having potential children running around was disturbing to him, even though we both knew they wouldn't really be mine. The longer we discussed it, however, the more open and supportive of the idea he became, and eventually told me to give it a try.
I selected two fertility clinic websites in my general area and filled out the applications on their websites. The forms were very similar -– both wanted detailed information about my personal and family medical history as well as my educational background, interests and personal appearance. I was asked for one or two pictures and submitted my most flattering Facebook photos.
A week or two later I received an email from the second fertility clinic. Amy, the owner of the small business, was interested in meeting me and determining if I would make a good candidate for egg donation, so she drove an hour to meet me on my lunch break. She brought along the tools I'd use –- syringes and bottles of liquids in varying sizes -– as well as a laptop with a short video showing the entire process from start to finish.
We discussed the procedure, talked about my reasons for wanting to be a donor, and she answered all of my questions. I felt much more at ease afterward, so I read and signed the contract giving up all legal rights to any potential children created from my eggs. Then I went home.
I didn't hear anything again until a few months later when I received an email from Amy stating that a couple had selected my profile from the clinic's website and was I still interested and available for donating? I was, so they immediately set me up with a psychiatrist, who wanted to know my reasons for donating eggs and to make sure that I fully understood what I was getting into. Then I had a full physical, bloodwork and a transvaginal ultrasound at the hospital that would be retrieving the eggs, fertilizing them, and implanting them into the recipient. I'd gotten lucky -– although the fertility clinic was in a city an hour and a half away, the recipient couple lived in the city where I worked. The hospital we were using was only 10 minutes from my job.
Once it was determined that my mental and physical health was sound and I wasn't carrying any blood-borne diseases, I was put on birth control to regulate my cycle with the recipient's. Once we were cycling together, I stopped the birth control and was given a huge box filled with ice packs and all the medication I'd need.
The first night I had to inject myself was terrifying. I hated needles and could never get through having my blood drawn without feeling faint. Doing it myself was different, though, and I could barely feel the needle stick. I injected myself in my stomach fat at the same time every night for three weeks.
The first week-and-a-half was Lupron, which suppresses the maturation of eggs. Once my ovaries were "quiet" (the donor nurse's favorite term), I added Gonal/f, a giant pen filled with pre-measured doses that stimulate all the follicles to grow and develop eggs at once. During all of this, I was attending twice-weekly appointments at the hospital to monitor my progression with vaginal ultrasounds and blood work, which is how they discovered I wasn't responding to the Gonal/f the way I should. My dosage was doubled, which made me cringe –- the recipient was paying for this out of pocket, and each Gonal/f pen was around $900.
Finally it became clear that the reason my hormone levels weren't where they should be was because I wasn't producing as many eggs as they'd expected. A typical donor, I was told, will produce around 18 eggs for retrieval –- I was only growing four.
Because they were such good quality, though, the recipient couple decided to move forward and I gave myself an injection of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) to stimulate ovulation two days before the retrieval. By this point I was so moody and bloated from the huge doses of hormones and the swelling of my ovaries, I looked pregnant myself and was extremely uncomfortable.
The day of the retrieval, my husband drove me to the hospital and waited with me while I cried in my backless hospital gown, my feet in stirrups. I'd never had surgery and was beyond terrified, but once my IV pumped general anesthetic into a vein in my hand, everything went fuzzy and I stopped worrying. Then I was out.
Before I was even fully awake afterwards, I could hear myself asking, "How many did you get?" The doctor told me he'd retrieved five eggs and, in my disoriented and emotional state, I began to cry again and blubbered, "That's more than they thought!" I was so thrilled for the couple who'd spent thousands on me only to find out I'd be giving them fewer eggs than expected, but who had pushed ahead anyway. Hearing that the doctor had retrieved one more egg than expected was very gratifying.
As I woke up in the recovery room, the owner of the fertility clinic came in with a vase of flowers and a check for $4,500. She chatted for a few minutes, thanked me and then was gone. I went home and slept the rest of the day.
I experienced some spotting of bright red blood –- to retrieve the eggs, the doctor had inserted a long needle that pierced through the wall of my vagina and into each of my ovaries. I was sore, but it was no worse than mild menstrual cramps that soon went away.
The most lingering effects were the worst. Because I only produced a few eggs, I was never at risk for Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), but I was still extremely bloated from the extra-high doses of hormones. I was also experiencing severe anxiety and mood swings, which the doctor told me meant I would probably be susceptible to post-partum depression. He recommended St. John's Wort and sent me home.
I ended up going to my own doctor when the anxiety didn't abate after a month, where she gave me a prescription for Zoloft and reassured me that I wasn't at elevated risk for PPD, as the hormones I was injecting were different from pregnancy hormones. I can't tell you what a relief it was to hear that.
Finally my hormones returned to a more normal state. The bloating went away, although I still haven't completely gotten rid of the anxiety and am still medicated. I'd do it again, though, in a heartbeat.
Money aside, knowing that I was able to help a couple who desperately wanted a baby was incredibly gratifying. I'll never know if any of my eggs created a child or not -– my contract stipulates that -– but if it worked on the first try, the baby would be a couple of months old now. Sometimes I think about running into "my" baby and I wonder if I would recognize him or her. I don't think I would.
I thought I would feel weird knowing there could be a child with my DNA running around out there, but instead I feel good. Really good. It was an incredibly stressful, hormone-filled experience, but also one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done, and something I always recommend to those who know and ask about my experiences.