When I first googled egg donation (on somewhat of a whim) and learned how much money I could make, my first thought was: student loans. Ten thousand dollars would put a good dent in my debt. My second thought, as a I skimmed the info that appeared on my screen: I have to inject myself where?
Needles had always made me queasy. And as a natural worrier, I found the whole donation process (hormones, blood monitoring, a surgical procedure) a bit overwhelming.
But I could help a couple start a family, I thought. So I kept googling: Would I have to give up alcohol? Could I still have a baby of my own down the road? And just how many shots would be involved? The answers were yes, yes, and a lot.
When I broached the subject with my doctor, she was skeptical. She said the long-term effects of egg donation aren’t well-known. The fertility specialists I spoke to were more encouraging. They shared statistics that showed complications were rare.
My boyfriend was on board, and supportive. And the money was enticing. I still wasn’t 100% certain egg donation was right for me, but I decided to apply with a nearby fertility clinic. I shared my entire 22-year medical history, underwent genetic testing, and submitted glamorous headshots, as well as my SAT scores and college GPA. Will anyone even want my humble eggs? I wondered
But as soon I found out that a local couple was indeed interested, all my doubts disappeared. I learned from the clinic that the couple had been trying to have a baby for years, and that their hearts had broken many times along the way. They had chosen me (despite my low math SAT score) to provide half the DNA that would make their baby. And I wanted to do this for them.
A world of support
In the weeks before my injections began, I stumbled across a private Facebook group with several thousand members called We Are Egg Donors. The women gave each other tips on how to make the shots hurt less (icing after really helps!), warned about the effects to expect (like bloating), and posted pictures of the babies born to their recipient couples. The anecdotes they shared about the whole process were eye-opening and moving.
There are plenty of horror stories about donors online. I had read about women who developed reproductive cancer, and others who ran into legal troubles. But for every bad experience I came across, I found another woman who’d had a positive, fulfilling experience. Some of the women in the Facebook group had donated multiple times.
I connected with one member who was also in her early 20s, and on the same donation timeline as I was. We encouraged each other through the first injection (“I wish these were tequila shots instead of needle shots,” she said), and everything that came after that. We chatted at least once a day for moral support.
Shots, shots, and more shots
The two weeks leading up to the egg retrieval procedure were not easy. The process is similar to what women go through during IVF.
I had vials of medication shipped to my house, and had to inject them into my belly three times a day. The meds helped my ovaries grow and produce multiple eggs. I also had to drive an hour to a fertility clinic early every morning, to get an ultrasound to check on the eggs, and have my blood tested.
I injected myself in a crowded bar bathroom one night, surrounded by curious drunk girls; and another time at an outdoor wedding, as I crouched in a car with my jumpsuit pulled down. The shots pinched and then stung, but I quickly got used to the feeling.
After a week, my abdomen was sore and swollen. (My ultrasound technician told me that normally, a woman’s ovaries are the size of walnuts, but mine had grown to the size of grapefruits.) And all the hormones made me moody and prone to tears. I cried during sad commercials, after a rough day at work, when I couldn’t find a parking spot.
Thankfully, my boyfriend was understanding, and did everything he could to make me comfortable. He sent encouraging text messages, and cooked meals for me.
Members of the Facebook group offered up advice when I complained about my discomfort. “Hang in there!” one woman told me. “I’m pretty sure I was a major ‘B’ right before donation lol! Bless and release. Take a big breath. It will be over soon enough.” I hadn’t told many people in my personal life about what I was doing, so this group of cheerleaders was invaluable.
The real rewards
When an ultrasound revealed that my eggs were plentiful and large enough to retrieve, my procedure was scheduled for two days later. I did one last injection—a “trigger shot” to induce ovulation—and sent the couple waiting for my eggs a card wishing them luck.
The procedure itself was fast and easy. I was under anesthesia while 33 eggs were extracted. And I felt back to normal again a few days later.
After about a month, I learned that the couple was pregnant, and the whole operation had been a success! Only about 48% of women using donor eggs have a positive result. And yet my DNA is now helping to form a person I will probably never meet.
I have no doubt that when the baby is born this spring, this couple will be incredible parents. I don’t feel attached to their baby in any way, because I believe family is much more than biological.
Instead I feel blessed for the support I received from a community of strangers, and grateful to have had the opportunity to help another woman have a child. Going through this difficult and intimate process alongside her—to bring a life into the world—made me feel strong in a way that I could’ve never expected.
Editor's note: The writer's name has been changed to protect her privacy.
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