As I wake up and try to blink my eyes open, I realize that I can’t, because after crying for about an hour they’ve been welded shut. It’s the same story every time I go under anesthesia. I cry as I get put under, I cry during, I cry after. I’m so thankful I warned the nurse that this would happen because as I finally get my eyes open I can see she nervously watching me, anticipating that I’m in serious pain. She tenderly hands me a saltine and encourages nibble after nibble. After I’ve eaten two and stopped crying a little, she lets Kevin come into the room.
He handles a few of the discharge aspects, sits with me as I get my bearings, helps me get dressed, and drives me home. And just like that a chapter of my life, something I’ve been participating in for about nine months, ends. A few weeks later I’ll get a call, be told that everything went well and asked if I would like to donate my eggs again.
Several Month Prior … Fall 2014
I knew I wanted to be an egg donor since I first learned it was a possibility. I had seen the commercials, explored the website, and found that I needed to be 21 to be eligible. A few weeks before my 21st birthday, in September of 2014, I submitted all the information to get started. I listed information about my background, height/weight/etc, birth control I was on, lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, etc), and whether or not I had a history of pregnancy, STDs, etc. I noted that I would be 21 at the end of October and asked to be contacted at that time.
On Wednesday, November 12, 2014 I was notified that I had been accepted into the pre-screening process. The pre-screening is a three-step process that covers the medical and psychological aspects of donating your eggs. It’s also very educational and keeps you well-informed of the process and what it looks like.
I went in one day to get my baselines. It was a quick blood draw and vaginal ultrasound. They were checking on my bodily health and the health of my ovaries. I was compensated $50 and went home to wait and see if I was cleared for Donor Day.
About two weeks after I went in for baselines I was scheduled to attend Donor Day. Three other women in their 20s and myself spent the day together and learned about all the ins and outs of the donor process. Broadly that day can be broken into two facets: psychological and medical. Psychologically we took a MMPI test and briefly reviewed what the process would look like (in terms of length and mental strain). Medically we learned a ton about our cycles, short-term effects of the hormonal injections, and gave ourselves an injection of saline. Throughout the donation process we would need to inject ourselves daily with a hormone mixture so the clinic needed to be sure we weren’t squeamish about administering the injection.
The final stage of pre-screening was meeting with a social worker for a psychological consult to ensure that we understood that while this is a “genetic offspring” it was not our child and that we would be releasing any claims to the child. We also agreed to disclose to the facility if our medical history changed in the future (to keep the receiving family informed about their child’s future health). They reviewed all aspects of our MMPI test and pressed on certain answers, asking me to defend or explain an answer. The psychological review took about two and half hours for me. At its conclusion, I was compensated $450 and told that only about 3% of applicants advance past this stage.
On Tuesday, Dec 30, 2014, I was notified that I was approved by my social worker and officially in the program. This meant that my profile went live on their database. Similar to a dating profile, families could sort through and “match” with me if they would like to receive my eggs. My profile included non-identifying information about my appearance, family medical history, psychological information, and a personal note that I could include. You had the option of including a photo and I chose to include several photos of myself as a baby, four-year-old, and adult. While this does remove a layer of confidentiality for myself I felt that it was important for the receiving family to have a chance to visualize their potential child.
Remembering how unruly my hair was as a child I included a joke about several detanglers they would need to purchase. I’m fairly sure that my humor (along with my age and photos) is what helped my profile get chosen so rapidly. Once I had three family matches I would be notified and then the actual donation process would begin. Typically this can take about four to six weeks, I received all my matches by the end of January. Once you are selected the next several processes (pills to injections to retrieval) move extremely quickly.
Once I was matched I started the stimulation cycle, in which I was given new birth control pills to take and a specific start date to begin the pack. This lasted about four weeks (February 2014) and synchronized my cycle with the women receiving.
After completing cycle synchronization I started injections. These can last for 10-12 days, mine lasted 14. Each day I had to mix and administer an injection of hormones to my abdomen. The needle was tiny and it didn’t hurt, but I was dotted with smile-like pattern of bruises about my belly button. The hormones I was injecting were designed to stimulate my ovaries to mature a larger quantity of eggs than I typically would for a period. During each of your menstrual cycles, your body matures about 15-20 eggs within the follicles in your ovaries. Then your body chooses one egg to reach maturity and be released for ovulation. The other eggs stop growing and are discarded during your period. When you go through egg donation the injections you are administering tell your body to mature all the eggs in your follicles (15-20 instead of just one) and those eggs are then retrieved. In short, you are losing no more eggs than your body would typically put out and lose in a cycle.
There were a few side effects, similar to PMS. I had some cramping and a few mood swings (not atypical for me) and a lot of fatigue. I was exhausted every single day, most likely because my body was working in over-drive and I was in the midst of my college senior year, final semester, mid-terms.
Throughout the process, I was getting nearly daily blood tests and vaginal ultrasounds that measured the size of my ovaries. They were to monitor the medications and confirm that they were working well, dosing was accurate, and to maintain my wellbeing as a donor. Because my ovaries were getting so large during this process I was told to stop running as it would heighten my risk for ovarian torsion. Initially, the visits were every other day. As my body got closer to a potential retrieval date the visits became every day.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
On Tuesday, April 21 I was told that my eggs were ready for retrieval and that tomorrow would be the day. Because I was going to be put under I had to stop eating and drinking at midnight (like any anesthesia procedure). My retrieval time was 6:45 am. All the retrieval times are early morning and the receiving women are scheduled later in the day. That day was a bit of blur.
I went in super early, was seen immediately, had my blood test and ultrasound. Once it was confirmed that I was at the proper part in my cycle I was called back into a room that strongly resembled a surgery room, put under and woke up about an hour later, process completed. To retrieve the eggs a physician used a transvaginal ultrasound probe to guide a needle into each ovary and remove the egg in each follicle. The retrieval itself lasted only 20-30 minutes and at its conclusion I was told they were able to retrieve 31 eggs. In-facility recovery lasted about an hour, I got a little anti-nausea medication (my stomach is not a fan of anesthesia) and sent home. In its entirety, I spent about three hours at the retrieval facility that day. I received a check that day for $6,500 and a small gift: a bracelet with a charm that read simply, “Give”.
The retrieval itself doesn’t leave a mark (aside from the bruises from my injections) as there aren’t any incisions, but my body definitely knew that something had happened. I went home and slept for most of the day with moderate cramping. It just felt like a day you’d want to spend in bed with a heating pad. I emailed my professor for an extension for my sculpture (it was due the next day, April 23rd), which was denied, and at 11 pm drove myself back to college. At 2 am on Thursday I was in the studio, up to my elbows in plaster, completing the project for my 8 am class. Definitely not the ideal 24 hours post-retrieval, but a good example of how resilient your body can be and how low-stress donating was for me.
Ultimately, I decided not to donate my eggs again. The timing didn’t work out for me later in life and it was the right decision for me to be a one-time donor. That being said, being a donor was an incredibly special and fulfilling experience. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Knowing that a family or families out there have a special little someone (who is turning five this year!) is incredibly rewarding.
I get a lot of questions about why I decided to do it and I don’t know how else to explain it but a calling, like I had a duty to do it. I have friends who utilized donor services, friends who had trouble conceiving, friend born of egg donation, and I’ve watched families want a baby so badly. I could help, so I did. I’m not a martyr, it just seemed like the right thing to do, I had a gift that I could give.
How much were you paid for the retrieval?
I was compensated a total of $7,000, prior to taxes (totaling approximately $1,100).
How did the hormones affect you?
Truthfully, they didn’t affect me very much on an emotional level. Throughout the hormone injection process, I was dating Kevin and we didn’t have any major arguments or issues. I would have expected to see an emotional issue show up in the relationship, but nada. The hormones we take are the same that your body naturally produces, just at a different ratio to sync your cycle with the women receiving the eggs and mature more eggs. After the retrieval, my period was irregular for two months and then everything normalized. Within eight to ten weeks it was just a memory and I didn’t feel any different.
Will you be able to have your own kids someday?
Yes, there is no evidence that donating your eggs will have an adverse effect on your fertility. However, there isn’t enough research to say there are no long-term side effects.
Do you know your kids from the donation? Or can you meet them someday?
No, this is done similar to a closed adoption. Once I donate I relinquish all rights to my eggs and any children that come from them. This is something that I want to make super clear: these are not my kids. Genetically they have my DNA, but that’s where our “connection” ends. The only time we would have a channel of communication in the future would be through the agency and only if there was pertinent medical information. For example, earlier this year I went through testing for Celiacs. If those tests had come back positive I would have reported to the agency that I tested positive and they would have communicated this to the receiving families. There would never be direct communication between myself and the families.
How long until you felt “normal” again?
Pretty much the next day! I was back at college and in class like nothing had happened. Actually, no one at college knew I was even going through this process. Aside from some lingering PMS-like symptoms (for about two days) and an irregular period, I felt like myself.
Will you run out of eggs earlier now? Like, hit menopause sooner?
No. It’s a common misconception that egg donation=losing eggs. The reality is that every period you are losing multiple eggs, this was all reviewed on Donor Day to keep us fully informed of the process. Quick science lesson, as a woman you are born with your lifetime supply of eggs (about one to two million). When you reach puberty you have closer to 400,000 eggs. During each of your menstrual cycles, your body matures about 15-20 eggs within the follicles in your ovaries. Then your body chooses one egg to reach maturity and be released for ovulation. This is how you get pregnant. If your body releases two and both are fertilized this is how you would have fraternal twins. The other eggs stop growing and are discarded during your period. When you go through egg donation the medication you receive tells your body to mature all the eggs in your follicles (15-20 instead of just one) and those eggs are then retrieved. The retrieval itself fits nicely into your natural cycle and (in short) you are losing no more eggs than your body would typically put out and lose in a cycle.