So, I’ve written about my experiences in the past, and mentioned that I am an egg donor now, but what is an egg donor? What happens? Am I selling my body parts on the black market? Have I thought this through?
Breathe with me, folks. Egg donation is not nearly as scary as it sounds. Sure, there’s needles involved, and no sex, and some health side effects that a few people experience, but the over-all process is fairly straight-forward.
To start it off, no, egg donation isn’t (usually) black market. There are some companies that take advantage of prospective donors, and they’ve received a lot of attention as “egg brokers.” Do yourself a favor and make sure to thoroughly research your agency before you jump on in. I chose two different agencies and ended up going with The Donor Solution. They operate out of Houston, Texas for the general Texas area, as well as some other areas like California. Texas is more accepting of egg donation than many states, as well, which makes it a prime location for the gift of life.
Also, egg donation is often for women who either have no eggs (like a genetic abnormality where they don’t have ovaries) or who don’t have good quality eggs. Some parents choose to use a donor egg if one or both have a genetic disease trait. Many of the women seeking egg donation have tried other methods. And yes, some of the couples are gay men. In Texas, at least, the surrogacy process cannot use the surrogate’s egg, to protect the family from any parental claims, so they need a donor egg. Whatever the case is, the eggs are a necessity, not a luxury. This isn’t a case of rich people wanting a designer baby. It’s two people wanting a baby of their own, nothing more, nothing less.
And so, the process begins. As a potential donor, I had to fill out pages upon pages of information on myself and my family history. They leave no stone unturned. Everything from my physical appearance to my education to my medical history and that of my family was meticulously looked at. Was I nervous? You bet! After all, I’ve already got the two boys. They seem ok, but maybe my eggs wouldn’t be good enough for someone else! (After all, most of us don’t get thoroughly screened before we get pregnant unless we have reason to.) Thankfully, the only question they had was about a family member’s severe ADHD. Given that they were a later-in-life baby and are fully functional and fairly brilliant, it was ok-ed. The last step was submitting as many pictures of me as I could get my hands on. Selfies, anyone? Seriously, though, it was really fun finding pictures from my life and seeing how my boys look like me, and wondering if the baby they have will to. (Just conjecture, people. Not actually dying to know.)
To our surprise, we were chosen THE DAY they posted my profile. Like, hours after. Perks of being blonde-haired and blue-eyed, I suppose, though I like to pretend like my ACT scores were the final deciding factor. And then…. we waited.
There were tons of blood tests. One is to check your levels for fertility. Another is an STD test, since no one wants to accidentally spread any of those. Then, there were genetic testing blood tests, and a few other tests I’m not sure what they were for. (I know I was told, but I just went in to get my blood drawn.) The toughest part for me was finding someone to watch the boys. Most clinics don’t allow children in the drawing room with you, and it’s a little difficult to pretend like they’re Little People while they still wear diapers and monster beanies… During this time, I also met with the fertility doctor and had a brief psych eval and discussion about what is expected. Up until I met him, my parents-to-be were nebulous and distant. He shook my hand and said, “The parents are so grateful to you. Not many people would do this, and it’s an amazing thing.” It made them real and sent goosebumps down my arms.
Finally, after all the testing was complete, the mom and I were ready to sync our cycles! Thankfully, my fertility doctor let me use my regular birth control, just skipping the placebo pills until the mom was on her next cycle. For some donations, there’s actually a shot to keep you from having your period. (SO thankful that wasn’t my case…) Thus began 6 weeks of waiting and meticulously taking my pills within 30 seconds of the previous day. Maybe I should have set my alarm for 7, rather than 8, to give them… I probably should have gotten up earlier than 7:50 most days…
And then, the big day arrived. I stopped birth control pill on a Thursday and got a crash course on how to do the shots, which had arrived by mail a few days earlier. (Side story: one of the shot tutorials was on a USB key that looked like a positive pregnancy test. It fell out of my purse and about gave the hubby a heart attack. Moral of the story: saved the sucker for times when he’s being mean, to scare the pants off of him! I mean… Don’t freak your husband out.)
Everything moved super fast from this point. The following Saturday, I had my first ultrasound. These are vaginal ultrasounds (*GASP* I said it!), so be prepared for that. Otherwise, it’s a little shocking to expect your belly to get goopy and be asked to drop your pants. During the ultrasound itself, they measured my endometrium (the uterus lining) and counted the number of follicles (baby eggs) I had. I was shocked when they said 30! Just a little daunting.
The next Monday, I started my shots. Surprisingly, they weren’t terrible. The first shot was in a pen, with a certain amount of fluid in it that you twisted a dial to get. So, a 450 IU pen had 2 days worth of shots. That one went in easily. The needle itself was barely thicker than a hubby beard hair. The second shot, though, was more tricky. Thus, the pregnancy test USB key instruction manual. This one was time sensitive, so I had to mix salt water with the medicine and then administer it. It was a little thrilling to feel like a mad scientist, mixing vials and squirting liquid from a needle tip. But, it meant that there weren’t any extras in it to dull the pain. Remember getting a cut at the ocean and how the water burned? Yesh… is the same… But purposely done and injected into your belly fat. I discovered that the key to painless stickage was breathing. My La Maze classes paid off! Labor was not for naught! Seriously, though, deeply breathing, focusing only on the shot, and tuning all else out made it painless. It was amazing!
That Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I had ultrasounds to measure the growing follicles. I also had blood work done just after to measure my estrogen levels, to ensure I wasn’t being overstimulated. (More on that later.) By that Saturday, I had 14 decent-sized follicles, and they hoped to do the retrieval on the following Wednesday. They asked I come in on the following Monday just to check everything, to make sure the eggs were where they needed to be. Needless to say, my body decided to play coy and surprise them with a bunch of eggs nearly ready, so they pushed it back one more day to have the best-sized, most mature eggs possible. Oh, the drama of switching baby-sitters and drivers last minute…
The last four days of the shots, I also had to give myself a shot in the evening to prevent any early ovulation. This one, regardless of breathing, hurt like the Dickens. I’d bet my left arm that the majority of the pain was because I’d get a good stick, then realize I’d not gotten the bubble out of the vial, pull it out, try to stick it again, fail two times each time, and finally get it in again, only to want to cry from all my adrenaline and breathing disappearing. It doesn’t help that the needle is about the size of a small sewing needle, either. Talk about mentally psyching yourself out!
Tuesday night rolled around, and I was finally ready to take the last shot. It was time to RELEASE THE KRAKEN! I mean… the eggs… This shot, unlike the others, had to be given precisely at 10:30 pm, no earlier, no later. The stress from not missing it was insane. Just think, 12 days of shots just to mess it up, and a whole family’s hopes, by missing a shot by 3 minutes! (I’m sure I was being dramatic, but the doctor was pretty emphatic.) I even set my alarm 5 minutes early so I could have everything prepped. And then it was done!
Thursday morning, bright and early, the hubby drove me and the kiddos to the clinic. The nurses walked me in, handed me a robe to change into, and giggled as I realized my toes would freeze without my socks, which were on the bed at home. The procedure room was in the clinic and looked very similar to the love child of a doctor’s office and ER room. Monitoring equipment, IV drips, cabinets full of supplies, a reclining bed, and our feminine favorite – foot rests higher than my nose. Two nurses were in there with me, as well as the anesthesiologist. She gave my vein a nifty, burning shot of numbing agent just under the skin to make the IV easier to put in. It was pretty cool to watch once the burning was gone. It left a bubble just under the skin. Unfortunately, the first stick didn’t go, so we had to switch to the one on my wrist. I have no memory of what happened from that point on until I woke up about an hour later.
The procedure takes between 20 and 30 minutes to do, and involves an aspirated needle with an ultrasound wand base to locate the follicles and pull out the egg and all the liquid within. Pulling out the liquid helps reduce the possibility of bloating and fluid retention afterward. Obviously, it isn’t exactly cut and dry, the path to the ovaries. So, the needle goes through the vagina wall. Fun stuff, right? I am so glad I was totally out for it. The doctor was very careful while he did it, because there are multiple blood vessels and other organs around it.
And then it was done. 27 mature eggs were retrieved.
Overall from start to finish, the cycle wasn’t terribly uncomfortable. There was lots of pressure, kind of like someone pushing their thumbs just inside either of your hips. By the end of the cycle, my ovaries were about the size of Roma tomatoes or large eggs (is that ironic?) and felt it. The shots left some bruising, though not nearly as much as I’d expected, and I felt massively better after the retrieval. It’s been nearly a week now, and there’s only a lingering tenderness in my pelvis. For about three days, I felt like my insides were bruised. The day of, I slept for 6 hours when we got home, and I would have slept longer, but hubby’s Grandmother was leaving and I wanted to say thanks for wrangling the boys. It’s not easy to take care of two littles and a hubby with a severe ankle sprain.
Yesterday, I got a beautiful surprise bouquet from the agency (see it up there in all its glory??), and sometime today or tomorrow, we’ll receive our compensation check. Contrary to popular belief, the check is for the physical stresses of donation, as well as the time off, baby-sitting costs, and gas. It isn’t payment for eggs. Also, if I was in it purely for the money, I wouldn’t have been able to make it. Literally, the only thing keeping me from tears of frustration those last few days was the thought of the parents waiting for me. It wasn’t unbearable, but it was incredibly difficult. There is a lot of mental preparation that has to go into giving yourself shots, and knowing that you’re going to get incredibly uncomfortable. Worse for us, there’s no sex for a month. That’s a heavy strain on any relationship, and my husband and I value our intimacy. The stress of getting it all right, too, was fairly heavy. I tend to internalize many a thing and put too much pressure on myself, but let’s be honest here: a family’s literal life was at stake. No room for error.
Was it worth all of that? Oh my gosh, you have no idea. Yes. A thousand times yes.
On a purely logical front, we will finally have the money to pay off my husband’s student loan that’s been hovering over us for years. In a way, helping their family has helped free our family, too.
On an emotional/psychological/realistic front, I just helped to create life. Our cycle was completely anonymous, and while I wish I’d had the chance to meet the parents, I have no desire to meet the child unless the family wishes it. I understand that any children that come from my donation are their children. She will be its mother, and he its father. Still, that baby/babies wouldn’t exist without me. Like I’ve said before, hubby and I would love more children (me, more than him for once). In our current situation, we realize that we financially cannot have another child and have no wish to strain our household more than it already is. Yes, a baby would be a miraculous and wonderful addition, and we’ll roll with it if it happens outside our control, but we want to be wise stewards of our resources and good providers and protectors for our boys. When the time is right, we’ll branch out. But oh…. How I want to give life. It’s just so precious and wondrous and amazing! A human being made from 46 chromosomes and two half-cells? It’s mesmerizing to me. The mother, somewhere out there, has let me do just that, without stressing our family resources.
She has given my child life, too. I am indebted to her forever. That baby would have passed through without a chance of life, if it wasn’t for her. She is an amazing, wonderful person, and I will forever be grateful. (Her husband, as well. The struggles of infertility are rough, and it takes a strong man to weather it with his wife, to be a support and encourager in those difficult times.)
Would I do it again? Yes. Should you? That’s up to you, and your partner if you have one. It’s not something to do on a whim. It’s not something to do just for the cash. This isn’t a get-rich quick scheme, and it isn’t a walk in the park. But, if you’ve done your research, come to peace with the results, and have a good support system, egg donation is a wonderful thing. All it takes to see is a friend, a sister, a spouse’s struggle and the tears of relief or surprise that you’d be so willing to give, and it’s all worth it.