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?
Favorite color? Favorite food? Favorite hobby? Favorite movie?
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 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!