I’ve been an egg donor five times over the last five years or so, and I get asked about it all the time. I then get to enjoy the full gamut of people’s reactions to my answers. Some people are skeptical, some people are supportive, some people are just plain rude. If you’re thinking about becoming an egg donor, prepare yourself for these reactions – but don’t let them put you off if you decide it’s the right decision for you. It’s a wonderful experience, I’m proud to have done it, and I would recommend it to other healthy young women who want to be part of the awesome process of helping people who desperately want children to make their families.
Here are some of the most common questions I get, and their answers:
- How do you become an egg donor?
Generally speaking, you start by contacting a third-party agency who matches Intended Parents (IPs) with donors. I got fairly lucky in this aspect, as I had a good friend in Chicago who worked with a very reputable agency and who recommended me as a donor. She had donated her eggs, and had had a positive experience doing it, so I decided to apply.
When you first apply, the agency will want to make sure you are healthy. You have to fall within a specified BMI range, and you do STI testing and extensive bloodwork and gene testing to make sure you’re not a carrier for any genetic or other diseases. You fill out questionnaires about the health of yourself, your siblings, your parents, and other extended family members. You list your education, your hobbies, your interests, your heritage, things you think are funny, things you think are sad, issues that are important to you, your test scores, your IQ, your height, your eye color, your hair color – basically anything that makes you you. You collect a set of pictures of yourself from when you were an infant until today. You have a psychological screening.
When all of the background work is done and you prove yourself to be a healthy, well-adjusted individual, the agency will put you on their list of donors for IPs to look at. Generally speaking, IPs are looking for donors who look like them and who they think match their personality traits. It would be foolish to pretend there isn’t a slightly weird aspect of build-a-baby from this – the questions about IQ and educational history prove that – but typically, parents want donors who they feel are as close to their own characteristics as possible, and this can include intelligence and education.
- Do the Intended Parents choose you? What do you know about the Intended Parents?
Yes, the IPs choose you. How much you know about the IPs is generally up to the IPs and the agency; very little information is disclosed, but because some donors prefer not to donate to LGBT parents or to single parents, donors are at least given that information. I was happy to donate to gay parents or single parents; in fact, my last donation was for a single gay man who had never been able to find a partner, and who very much wanted to be a father.
That’s one of the best things about this process: Although you don’t meet these parents personally, they have to be vetted through the agency, and they really want children. They want them badly enough to pay tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dollars to have them. You might criticize people for spending that much money on having a child, but plenty of people have that much money to spend. It’s a difficult decision for anyone to make, it’s their business and their business alone if they want to spend the money to have a genetic child. It’s easy to feel morally preachy when you’re not in the driver’s seat, but if you haven’t dealt with infertility and the desire to have a child that is genetically yours, you just don’t know.
- What is the process? How long does it take?
Once the IPs select you, then you go to an initial screening. This is basic bloodwork that also usually includes drug screenings. The agency puts a specialized lawyer in touch with you, and the lawyer reviews extensive paperwork and ensures you know what you’re doing and that you understand the process. Then, the Intended Mother (or the surrogate, if the Intended Mother isn’t gestating herself) and the donor get off birth control at the same time so that their ovulation cycles link up.
You and the IM start taking hormones. For her, it increases the chance of the fertilized egg implanting into the uterine wall. For you, it being the process of stimulating and growing your eggs, also known as follicles.
Over the course of about two weeks, you inject yourself carefully with the hormones and go in for regular bloodwork and ultrasounds. At the ultrasounds, you get to see the follicles as they grow in your ovaries – it’s quite cool. The ultrasound tech measures the follicles and counts them. How quickly the follicles grow will predict how long the stimulation process takes; for me, it’s been between 12-14 days, if I remember correctly.
On the eve of the retrieval, you take a special shot of hormones that causes you to ovulate and prepare the eggs for the release. The timing of the shot is very important, because exactly 12 hours later, the retrieval occurs. During the retrieval, the eggs are aspirated out of your ovaries via a small needle. The eggs are then inseminated with the Intended Father’s sperm and then one or two viable embryos are implanted in the IM or surrogate. The other viable embryos are frozen for later use.
The average retrieval usually consists of 2-12 viable eggs; each time, I’ve had between 30 and 45. I’m super fertile, which I guess isn’t surprising, considering that my mother had 8 kids in 12 years, no twins.
- Does it hurt? What are the risks?
You’re obviously poking yourself with small needles to deliver the hormones, and that stings. The blood draws aren’t my favorite, but they aren’t particularly painful. As the egg follicles grow, your ovaries definitely feel swollen and sensitive. After the egg retrieval, cramping and constipation are common, and I’ve experienced both, but it wasn’t anything that bedrest, aspirin, and prune juice didn’t fix in a couple of days.
You run the risk of an enlarged ovary turning over and getting twisted, so just before and after donation, physical activity is restricted. Sometimes something called Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome occurs; this has never happened to me, but it can be very painful and even dangerous. I’m not a medical expert, so I won’t describe it here, but you can click on the link to learn more about it.
I feel very lucky that all of my donations have been smooth and easy. I haven’t had any complications, and my impression from the people I know who’ve been donors, and the literature I’ve read about it, lead me to believe that most donations go very smoothly. Remember, people with bad donation experiences are more likely to write about them.
- Are there long-term consequences?
There haven’t been long-term studies on egg donors, but the studies that have been done do not definitively show any link between egg donation and cancer or fertility issues. In fact, in-vitro fertilization (IVF) patients actually showed a substantial decrease in ovarian and breast cancers post-IVF procedure, despite being exposed to the same hormones as egg donors, for a longer period of time. Most negative impacts, such as women who went through the egg donation process or IVF and died shortly thereafter from some kind of cancer, are anecdotal and spooky. I haven’t seen anything that has given me alarm.
- Why are you doing it?
Two reasons: It is a cause that I take great pride in, and the financial compensation is great. There’s this weird “You’re only doing it for the money” vibe that I sometimes get from people, and I want to say, “Yes – and you’re only doing your job for the money.” We all do things for money, including jobs that are physically risky. I have no shame in admitting that my life has been made better by the financial compensation, and I am grateful for that. At the same time, the donation amount isn’t sufficient or frequent enough to skyrocket me into another tax bracket. Not by a long shot. I’m not getting wealthy from this, and that’s where the other factor comes into play: It feels good to help people make a family. Period. If I was seriously approached by a family who didn’t have the funds to pay me for my donation, I would work with them. That never happened, so I didn’t do it, but it does happen, and donors frequently work with these families.
- How much do you get paid? Are you in it just for the money?
My first donation was $7,000. Because I had very successful donations that allowed the IPs to create genetic siblings without paying for another retrieval, the subsequent donations were $10,000. However, donors are paid using a 1099 – this is a self-employment tax rate, which means you pay taxes on about 30% of the fee, and you don’t get to claim any kind of deduction. Like I said earlier, it’s not huge amounts of money.
- Do you want to meet these kids?
Not particularly. Some of the IPs have expressed interest in allowing their children to contact me when they’re 18. I’d be okay with that; if it were me, I’d probably be curious as to who my genetic mother was. I’d be very happy to meet a child over coffee and see them and hear about who they are and what their life has been like. But that’s the extent of my interest in them.
- Doesn’t it bother you that you have kids running around out there in the world?
Of all the questions I get, this one troubles me the most. People who ask it generally don’t think through the implications of this question, and so I try to be patient and understanding when I answer, but these are some of the implications: 1, That these children are mine. They’re not. 2, That they’re “running around out there” (and weirdly, that’s always how it’s phrased). They’re not. 3, That I haven’t thought through the process of donation and that it means that there are children who share my genetics who are not being raised by me. I have.
I am well aware of the consequence of donation. No, it doesn’t bother me. These kids are wanted, desperately, and they are well cared for. They are not mine. You would never tell a parent of an IVF or adopted child that the child isn’t “theirs,” so it makes no sense to suggest that a donor is shooting babies out into the cold, dark world willy-nilly.
- There’s too many kids already. Why not just tell parents to adopt?
Because people want genetic children, and that’s perfectly normal. Because women want to experience being pregnant and nursing, and that’s perfectly normal. Because adoption often costs twice what a round of IVF does. Because I don’t actually get to talk tot these parents, and even if I did, it’s not my job to direct them in the course of having children. Because there’s actually not too many kids; that’s a myth. Because even though there are lots of kids in the foster system, most of them are not infants, and adopting older children is a painful and difficult process, even for the best of parents. Also, not all these children are available for adoption. Generally speaking, this is the kind of advice people give when they just can’t resist not minding their own business and making judgment about other people.
- What has been the best thing about the process? The most surprising?
The best thing about the process is twofold: Knowing that you’re helping somebody have a much yearned-for baby, and getting financially compensated for it. I have been involved in long-term childcare relationships with families whose children are IVF babies from egg donors; those kids are so loved, and so wanted. I’ve also been able to do some fantastic things with the money I earned from donation. I’ve traveled all over the world, paid off debt, and helped put myself through graduate school. I’m proud to be a donor, and I’m proud of the children that have been born to loving families through my help.
The most surprising thing has been, again, how freely people share their judgments on the process, especially the bad parts. I have started asking people who criticize my decision to be a donor if they would say the same things, or ask the same questions, if the past IPs who have successfully had families were in the room. Of course they wouldn’t; the process of creating a family only seems sketchy from the side of the donor. IPs are the recipients of congratulations and well-wishes; only the donor gets criticized.
Overall, I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive experience with egg donation. If it’s something you’re thinking about, do your research and know the risk factors; but know that it can be a wonderful process with many benefits to you and the Intended parents. Feel free to contact me with any questions!
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