How my feelings about egg donation have changed since becoming a mother.
There’s no denying it, becoming a mother has affected me in unexpected ways. There is a vulnerability in loving someone so much; even considering my life without my son seems unbearable. Watching or reading a sad story in the news, particularly when it involves children typically makes me think of my own child. There is no longer a disconnect between those people in the news and me…those children somehow feel like my child.
My capacity for love has grown and continues to do so daily. There are moments when I feel that I could not possibly love my son more, yet the next day comes and I do. And it is the truest and purest kind of love…genuine, unconditional love. It’s not because Everett makes me a better person, shares similar interests, is intelligent, funny or charming – maybe he will be, or maybe he won’t, but it doesn’t matter – I will love him the same anyway.
When Everett was born, I did not immediately fall head over heels in love with him as I’d expected. Exhausted from labor and almost 72 hours without sleep, I felt disconnected from myself and him. I would hold him and nurse him while he looked up at me with the biggest, most alert eyes I had ever seen on a newborn. It was almost as if he too was figuring out if he liked me yet.
Eventually, the overwhelming love did come, even when I didn’t know why. When he developed colic and cried all day, every day for nearly 4 months, I tried everything I could to make him comfortable. Aside from putting him down for a few minutes here and there, I’d hold him, rock him and bounce him constantly. There was not much to love about this tiny baby; he and I were both miserable, but I loved him anyway.
Like every parent, I’ve cleaned up explosive diapers, changed my clothes 5 times in one day, rocked my crying baby all night long and awoken after an hour of broken sleep to do it all again.
But, I’ve also been the recipient of hundreds of open mouth kisses and countless gummy smiles. I’ve inhaled the sweetness of his soft, little head and felt the exhale of relief and loosening of his tiny, stressed body when I comfort him against mine. I’ve experienced the contentment of watching my baby drift off to sleep, after wishing he would sleep all day, only to miss him when he actually does.
I was on the receiving end of his first step.
When he fell trying to take a few more steps, I picked him up and encouraged him to try again.
When he fell another time and startled himself, I scooped him up and held him until he was ready to try once more.
I know that the simple contribution of DNA is the least of what makes someone a mother or a parent.
You become a parent when you begin to love unconditionally, even when that love is scary, unexpected or makes you feel vulnerable. It is in changing blowout diapers and making your baby clean and content again, that you become a parent. It is responding to the cries, showing up each day and doing your best to encourage and comfort your child that you become a parent.
I have done these things and it has changed me.
Now, when I think back about the egg donations, I am curious and hopeful. I wonder how many of those parents have been fortunate enough to experience the unconditional love that I feel for my son. I hope it was all of them. I wonder if any of them experienced colic. I hope not any! I wonder how many open mouth kisses, gummy smiles, and first steps they’ve witnessed. I hope it’s more than anyone could count.
The truth is that I will never know what became of the eggs I donated. All I will ever have is curiosity about the families that might have been created and hope that families actually were created.
I like to think that in a way my own son is the byproduct of egg donation. A baby girl is born with all the eggs she will ever have in her life. And while many of my eggs were donated, he was left for me. And of course, I would not change that for anything.
I always believed that I would not regret egg donation. Throughout the process, I met with so many psychologists and fertility doctors who helped me to navigate my own thoughts and feelings. But becoming a mother has changed my perspective on egg donation. And now, I feel more strongly than ever that it was the best decision I ever made.
If I thought the application process was long, then the screening process was an eternity. I was told to prepare for an 8-hour day of appointments back to back at the hospital. I first met with a reproductive medicine physician who would be performing the retrieval. She completed a physical exam, including pelvic exam and transvaginal ultrasound. It was my first time undergoing a vaginal ultrasound, and I remember thinking the ultrasound wand looked very – um, phallic-like and strange. I always remember that the doctor was strikingly beautiful, with long, dark brown hair pulled neatly into an enviably smooth yet voluminous, bouncy ponytail. She casually applied the blue, translucent ultrasound gel to the wand and covered it with a condom. My younger self found this to be a fascinating and clever use for the condom…obviously they’d need to cover the wand with something, but I’d just never thought about vaginal ultrasounds before that moment. The exam itself was only mildly uncomfortable. “Cold, wet and lots of pressure,” the doctor said as she began the exam.
In that moment, I had no idea that someday I’d be saying those very same words to patients of my own, as I’d carefully perform pelvic exams. I’d never achieve as sleek a ponytail as my doctor had, but I would at least attempt to emulate her gentle yet confident bedside manner.
The doctor also helped me work through my prior fears about future reproduction. What if I lost one or both ovaries? Would I have enough eggs? Would this cause infertility or cancer? I learned that I was no more likely to experience infertility than someone who had not donated eggs. Infertility is common, something like 1 in 6 or 1 in 8 women experience it, so if I experienced difficulty with pregnancy in the future, I knew that it would have occurred regardless of egg donation. If I suffered a very rare complication during the procedure and lost an ovary, I’d still have the other, if I lost both, that would be devastating both on my hormones (immediate menopause) and reproduction. But, I knew that occurrence would be exceptionally rare and I trusted the skill of my physicians. I was at excellent, reputable facilities and I felt reassured this would not occur.
Next, I met with a geneticist who reviewed my personal and familial medical history, assessing for any inheritable diseases. Fortunately, I come from a relatively healthy family, so this meeting was fairly straightforward. And as far as cancer? He screened for genetic and hormone sensitive cancers within the family and we are fortunate to have none.
From there, I took the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) – yep, that five hundred something odd question personality test you may recall taking as an undergraduate at some point.
Once completed, I met with a clinical psychologist who reviewed my application and presumably evaluated my mental status.
Next, there was routine bloodwork of about 5-6 vials to screen for things like blood type, drug use, infections and genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs, Cystic Fibrosis, blood disorders and much more. Some of the screening is very similar to blood work you might receive during pregnancy at your OB/GYN office.
For my last appointment of the day, I met with a nurse who taught me how to perform the daily injections.
When the blood work returned and I passed all of my screening, I met with an attorney who presented a lengthy contract between myself and the intended parents. Here, it was clearly outlined that I would have no parental rights or contact with any future children produced of the eggs. On my end, it is open. If future children or parents wish to contact me for any reason, whether it is medical, psychological or simply curiosity, I felt it was important to provide that option.
After the third week of my cycle, I would come back to the hospital for another ultrasound and begin administering the injections.
There are two phases of the egg donation process. The first phase involves injecting medications that cause the ovaries to produce multiple mature follicles. The second phase is the retrieval process, in which the eggs are removed by a transvaginal ultrasound-guided aspiration.
As you can imagine, someone undergoing a cycle with these fertility medications is highly fertile, and the likelihood of a multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets, etc.) is greatly increased. Not only would a pregnancy have been an unwanted consequence of egg donation for me, but further, it would have been devastating for the intended parents whose cycle would have been cancelled and hopes for pregnancy dashed. For this reason, I was under contractual obligation to refrain from intercourse during the entire process.
The side effects of these medications include unplanned pregnancy, bloating, weight gain, hot flashes, abdominal fullness/tenderness, headaches, fatigue, mood swings, injection site reaction, allergic reaction and ovarian hyperstimulation.
Throughout the course of my six egg donations, I experienced all of the common side effects but found them to be very tolerable. I gained about 5-10 lbs per cycle and lost it all within two weeks after the retrieval. I could quite literally “feel” my ever-growing ovaries as they jostled around in my pelvis. Even walking “too hard” made my ovaries feel as though they were bouncing around like large ping-pong balls. My abdomen did feel full, and my jeans wouldn’t fit toward the end of each cycle.
But, quite possibly the worst and most feared side effect occurred during one of my six cycles.
I developed Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS). This was the only cycle during which I felt that no one was in my corner (medically speaking) or concerned about my health outcomes. I was simply a commodity (by my own choosing, of course), and my eggs were the goods. Thirty two eggs were retrieved during that cycle and I was told this was a high amount.
I was sent home after the procedure, and over the course of several hours, I developed shortness of breath. My abdomen was visibly distended, and the abdominal pain was the worst I had ever experienced. It is still the only time I have ever vomited from pain. I had also gained approximately 10-15 lbs. After calling the facility, I was reassured it would resolve over the next week. In hindsight, I believe that a referral to the emergency department or possibly admission to the hospital for monitoring was warranted as my symptoms constituted moderate OHSS. It did eventually resolve, however, and I suffered no serious adverse effects such as torsion (twisting) of ovary, lung or liver complications, or blood clot.
It is possible that the development of OHSS was unavoidable, but when I completed another cycle with a new physician, she reviewed my medical records and told me that my medications could have been adjusted to possibly avoid over stimulation. She felt that both the bloodwork and ultrasounds indicated OHSS earlier in the cycle. In the end, my run-in with OHSS was only a minor blip of negative in an otherwise largely positive experience. Given that 1-2% of individuals develop OHSS in any given cycle, it’s not that surprising that it happened to me at least once.
The egg retrieval procedure itself was not bad at all. I enjoyed a wonderful propofol slumber and woke up feeling quite rested. Again, I’ve never felt fearful of medical procedures, and I knew serious complications were rare. The recovery for 5 out of 6 donations was also very easy, requiring only Tylenol and one day’s rest before resuming my normal activities.
After completing 6 egg donations over the course of a few years, I was able to finally quit the uninspired real estate job that I disliked so much. During that time, I also completed all of my pre-requisites and was accepted to physician assistant school. I developed a strong desire to work in women’s health, although the idea of looking at vaginas all day was initially a deterrence.
I went on to marry my now husband!
And shortly after, we found out we were pregnant with Everett!
My experience with egg donation is something I would not change. I believe it is one of the reasons that I have the life that I love today.
Thank you so much reading. The final part of the egg donation series is also up on the blog where I discuss how my feelings about egg donation have changed since becoming a mother.
This blog is the first in a three part series about my experience as an egg donor; why I became an egg donor, my experience as an egg donor and how I feel about it as a mother today.I realize this is a controversial subject; many have their reasons to oppose egg donation, however, it is my belief that supporting women means supporting their right to choose when and how they become mothers, whatever that may look like. Thank you for reading.
Why I Became an Egg Donor
Becoming a doctor, specifically a pediatrician, had been my dream since the age of 3.My grandmother still recalls how I would line up my dolls on the couch as patients and perform a “thorough” cardiac exam, utilizing my Fisher Price stethoscope.Throughout my younger years I volunteered at a free clinic, maintained good grades, graduated high school one year early and went to college at age 17 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biology (pre-med track).
Tremendously homesick and not quite fitting in at my strict, very religious private college, I returned home after one semester, enrolled in community college and worked as a waitress; while figuring out my next step.To make a very long story short, I met a guy and married him at age 19.This was my first marriage and was a decision that would significantly alter the trajectory of my professional life.
Five years later, I completed a bachelor’s degree in Psychology while working full time in real estate management, an uninspiring job that I truly couldn’t stand.Despite my unhappiness at work (and in my nearly 5 year marriage), I stayed there because I earned a good income, and my husband at the time had recently lost his job, an unfortunately common occurrence in those days of economic instability.On lunch breaks, I would research medical school and physician assistant school, considering the differences between the two and wondering if it would ever be a real possibility.I looked at the prerequisites and realized it would take me nearly two additional years of coursework just to fulfill the science requirements for admission. Already in substantial student loan debt and with an unemployed husband, I felt I had neither the time nor the money to ever make this a reality.
Around this same time, I stumbled upon a Craigslist ad (yes, people still used Craigslist back then) that was about egg donation.With piqued curiosity, I clicked onto the website. I was surprised to learn that egg donors could be paid up to $10,000 per donation and could donate up to 6 times. Requirements included age between 21-32, normal BMI, non-smoker and known health history of self and immediate family. A bachelor’s degree was preferred. This meant I had the potential to earn $60,000 which could help me achieve my dream of going to either PA or medical school.
I wasn’t using my eggs, so I thought, “why not?”
The application process was lengthy and actually took several hours to complete.After the basic demographics, I moved on to more interesting questions such as:
Describe your personality and temperament as a teenager?
What were your ambitions growing up?
Who was the most influential person in your life and why?
In what subjects did you excel in school?What subjects were hard?
What would you do on a perfect day if you could do anything you wanted?
As I answered more and more questions, I began to realize the gravity of what I’d be providing.It wasn’t just my ‘to be discarded eggs’ – I would be helping to create children, helping grow families.Prospective parents would be viewing my photos, imagining me as a child and considering whether or not my DNA would mesh with theirs.And I don’t mean biologically mesh, but rather, would my traits and potentially inherent personality quirks be suitable if passed down to their offspring?
I was a ten pounder at birth!
I completed a section on intellectual, artistic and educational achievements for not only myself but siblings, parents and even grandparents.
Next came the medical screening portion to evaluate for inherited diseases.This was similar to a medical history form that you’d complete at your doctor’s office, only much longer.
Reaching the end, nearly two hours later, I clicked send.Immediately, I received an automated response, “Due to the high volume of applicants we are only able to respond to a small percentage. Thank you.”
As the weeks passed, I began thinking more and more about egg donation.I wondered what prompted these couples to seek a donor egg.
I began researching.
The reasons a couple may experience infertility are many and I learned that typically by the time a couple chooses to use an egg donor, they have exhausted all options of using their own egg.I learned that some women have experienced multiple miscarriages likely from chromosomal abnormalities resulting in non-viable embryos.Others had undergone chemotherapy or radiation that damaged their ovaries.Some women had premature failure of their ovaries and some had conditions that required the ovaries to be surgically removed.I also learned that it was not just female factors – same sex male couples or single males who wished to start a family also experienced difficulties in doing so. Even if male couples or single males wanted to adopt instead of utilizing donor egg and gestational carrier, discrimination against male couples in adoption was still very much an issue in 2010.
All of this information weighed heavily on me and I felt a bit silly for thinking only of my own motivations for pursuing egg donation.One day, while driving to work it occurred to me that in a very small way I could relate to the couple seeking egg donation.I never dreamt of having a family, certainly not back then; I only really wanted a career I thought I’d love, and I wanted it so badly.In that sense, I could relate to the sentiment of unfulfilled hopes and dreams.I wanted to pursue medicine, and they wanted a baby; in a way, we could help one another achieve those dreams.
At this point, I was still unsure of the process.I read some articles online and knew it involved some self administered shots and ultimately an egg retrieval under anesthesia.The side effects from the fertility drugs could cause bloating, some weight gain, headache and in rare cases, a condition called Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS).I read that the chance of this occurring was roughly 1-2% per cycle.Furthermore, if this complication did happen to occur, it was possible that I could lose one or both ovaries from either rupture or torsion (twisting) of the ovary by loss of blood supply to the organ.The needles didn’t scare me at all but, I have to admit that the possibility of losing one or both ovaries did.
I considered how I’d feel about egg donation in the future.Sure, I didn’t want kids now but those feelings could (and eventually would) change.What if I suffered a rare complication during the procedure that impacted my future fertility? Would I have enough eggs for myself?
I hadn’t told anyone about applying to become an egg donor, so I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about my fears.Not only did I worry about the actual process, but I worried what my friends and family would think about my decision to proceed.Still, I hadn’t been contacted by the agency and based on their email response, I assumed I probably never would.
But if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that taking risks and occasionally acting with impulsivity (e.g. my teenage marriage, clicking onto the egg donation website) can change the course of your life for better or worse.My life was indeed about to change as I opened an email from the agency, which read, “Hi Katie, a family is interested in you.Please let me know as soon as possible if you’re willing to proceed so that I may place you on reserve.”With modest hesitation and a touch of impulsivity, I replied, “Yes, I’m very much still interested.”
So began the journey to the first of six egg donations.
In my next blog, I’ll discuss my experience of donating eggs. As always, thanks for reading!