Friday, January 2, 2009

On Being an Egg Farm

I've been meaning to blog about this experience for awhile, as most of you know. So on this cold January evening while I wait for my husband to return from work and subsequently drag me to Home Depot to look at shower doors, I figured what the hell. No time like the present!

I offer this knowledge to anyone who is considering becoming an egg donor or using one. When I was researching it I found very few accounts of what it was actually like, and the accounts I did find tended to be on donor agency websites....translation = useless and biased. Here's the truthful tale of what it's like to have your DNA harvested. 

Fig 1: My awesome DNA.

A little over a year ago, I received a message on myspace from a donor agency. I was immediately suspicious, but it was personally addressed to me and some research on the agency found it to be legit. I replied and asked for more information, including the all-important "why me" question. Turns out that a couple had been searching for awhile to find an egg donor who looked like the mother and possessed certain attributes that clinics do not approve of as legitimate donor criteria. 

What do I mean by that? Well, there have been no proven links between genetics and intelligence or educational achievement. That means that most fertility clinics do not include this information when intended parents are looking through donor profiles. The couple was using a highly reputable clinic, one of very few left in the country that allows couples to bring in a donor that they find on their own. That's where the agency came in. 

The only information I was willing to give the agent was my home phone number, (also the only thing she asked for) and she called me at home. She explained that I looked a LOT like the mother and that was what led her to contact me. The couple was offering more than 3x the average donor fee, plus all expenses including travel and medical. 

I was put in contact with the clinic, affiliated with a very major university so I knew this wasn't a scam. I filled out a very lengthy questionnaire, went in for a checkup to make sure that I could donate, everything came back fine and the intended parents decided that I was their donor. I received a check for $1k just for signing the contract, after my awesome fertility lawyer went through everything line by line over the course of 3 weeks. 

It took forever to get their surrogate's cycle all straightened out, so even though I was technically ready to go in January, none of the real stuff went down until the end of April. I got a call from the clinic to come in and get all my medications and to learn how to inject myself. 

For the next 3 weeks I was driving an hour each way to go to the clinic first thing in the morning for ultrasounds and blood work several times a week. 

I started on Lupron, injected once a day into my abdomen to prevent me from ovulating. Once my uterine lining was below a certain mark, I was ready to go with the hormones. I started taking Gonal-F in addition to the Lupron - so two injections every night. I didn't really have any side effects from either of the medications, though I was expecting to get loopy and whiny and all that. Nothing, it was totally fine. 

My first ultrasound went fine, I was progressing normally so they kept the medication dosage the same. But within a few days I started to feel extremely bloated, and there was so much pressure in my lower abdomen that it hurt to sit down. I went in for another ultrasound and the doctors were shocked: "You're carrying the same volume in your abdomen as a woman who is 14 weeks pregnant." But rather than schedule the retrieval right away, they kept me on the Gonal-F for another 2 days. By the time I went in for the retrieval I was so impatient just to be done with it. The night before I had to take one more injection, of the medication that would make me ovulate. I forget what it was called. 

Fig 3: What my ultrasound looked like. Except instead of a baby, it was all eggs.

The retrieval was quick and easy. I was put under twilight sedation, so even though I was awake I can't remember anything until I "woke up" in the clinic bed and they fed me crackers and juice. I went home, and short of some cramping I was fine. I had donated 36 eggs. A number that is practically unheard of. The intended parents must have been ecstatic, because most couples are lucky to get 10-12 out of the deal. 

The next day I started to feel like shit. Dizzy, the cramps seemed to get worse. I was bloated again even though I hadn't been when I left the office after the retrieval. By the next night, I was calling the clinic and they had me come in the following morning. 

I had gone into hyperstimulation. Apparently, my body is amazingly good at producing eggs. But because I had never donated before, the clinic didn't adjust the Gonal-F accordingly because they couldn't have known. It was a known risk, so I felt okay about it. But there was a huge amount of fluid collected in my abdomen and I was back to the 14wk pregnancy volume. I had to have a fluid reduction procedure, which was highly unpleasant. Nothing like sticking a huge needle up your no-no parts to turn you off to doctors. 

But once they were done sucking out the fluid, I felt a million times better. I had to stick around for them to do blood work though, because if my hematocrit level was too high I would have to be hospitalized. I had no idea what that meant, you physio and bio folks I'm sure could wax poetic about it. For those of you who were like me, apparently if your hematocrit level is too high, that means your blood is too concentrated because of fluid being deposited elsewhere (my abdomen in this case). Short version = blood is too thick. It was actually kinda scary to be told that, because I was at the clinic alone (an hour away from home) and the thought of being taken to a hospital so far away and by myself freaked me out.) But luckily the level was the minimum it needed to be for them to send me home. They said to keep them informed if anything changed. 

The next day I was bloated again and in a tremendous amount of pain. Literally, I would get attacks of cramps that forced me to my knees on the floor, crying. I had vicodin, percocet - nothing was helping. I went to the ER and had them call the clinic doctor on call who told them not to do anything to me except treat the pain. The logic was that they were going to pump me full of fluids, which was exactly what I did NOT need. 

At this point I was like "I am never doing this again....EVER." I went to the clinic again the next day, and they sucked out more of the fluid. I felt better, and the procedure was much less worse this time. (I had a female doctor who did it, and she took the time to wait for the numbing agent to work before sticking the needle in.) 

This turned out to be the last time I visited the clinic. After the final fluid reduction, I returned to normal. The first period I had after the whole ordeal was wicked heavy, but no more painful than normal. The clinic explained to me during my last visit that if I ever donated again, they would reduce the amount of Gonal-F I was taking so that the hyperstim would not occur. 

I have to say, after all was said and done I would do it again in a heartbeat. When I was in miserable pain I felt like it would never go away, and in my despair I felt like I wouldn't put myself through it. But now that I know it was temporary, it was totally worth it. 

I would never have sought out egg donation on my own. But they came to me, and offered me a disgusting amount of money to do it. I paid off all of my credit card debt, my car, and still had a substantial sum left over. I would be lying if I said I didn't do it for the money, because I had no other reason to do it. But the fact that I gave a couple a chance at making their dreams come true makes me smile every time I think about it. And they did as much for me as I did for them. My only concern had been whether it would affect my own fertility and I was assured by the doctors that it would not, as long as I complied with their instructions. 

They are completely anonymous to me. I didn't care if I was anonymous or not. Their lawyers have my information in a file, because I agreed that should the child ever want to meet me, I would be willing to do so. In exchange, they agreed to inform me that a live birth was successful and let me know what the child's sex was. This was info I felt like I needed to have, rather than just send off my DNA and never know what came of it. 

Forgot to add in the original post: Of my family, only my husband and my sister know that I did this. My mother has been aching for grandkids since I got married, and I felt like she would think it was slighting her to donate my eggs. I didn't want to deal with it and so I chose not to tell her. The rest I neglected to tell because I didn't think it was any of their business. A couple of extremely close friends know, but that's it. 

I haven't received any word yet, and don't expect to until later this year. I anticipate feeling very excited for them, and grateful that I was a part of something huge, even though my contribution was small. 


Candid Engineer said...

What an interesting story. I haven't heard of anyone going through an anonymous egg donation before. Despite the money, it was still a nice thing to be willing to do with your body for other people, who were basically wanting to have a child like you!

...tom... said...


you said...
"They are completely anonymous to me. I didn't care if I was anonymous or not."

Hmmm. I wonder what you will think every time you see a child of the appropriate age that looks amazingly like you. I do not know if I would be able to be anonymous, even as a male donor.

Anyway, a wonderful post. I hope you get some great google hits from it. I think it has, as you suggest early in it, the potential to tell a story not told often enough.


Stacy S. said...

This was totally fascinating to me. I had no idea that the donor had to do so much and thought it was much simpler.

I hope everything works out for them.

DuWayne Brayton said...

Congratulations! You were a part of an exercise in eugenics:) I am using part of this post as an example, I hope you don't find said use offensive.

I'm sorry that it sucked for a few days though. Makes me feel kind of bad about the very different methods employed if one wants to harvest some of my swimmy sperms. I mean shit, we don't need to use any drugs and the process is really, really easy.

On the other hand, I decided a while back that it would really be a bad idea for me to be a sperm donor. It's one thing for me to raise kids who share my neurological proclivities, it's quite another to just throw said proclivities to the wind. I mean on the one hand I'm pretty bright, on the other, I'm also ideal when medicated.

At the same time, a lesbian couple I know has approached me about it. And they know my oldest (the one year old is too young to exhibit any atypical behaviors yet), so who knows?

faye said...

Thank u so much. I have been looking for a personal account of egg donation because I am getting ready to embark on the journey. thanks for the honesty

JLK said...

You're welcome, Faye. That's exactly why I wanted to put this out there.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for telling your story! I've been looking into donating my eggs for awhile, but wanted to hear a first-hand account of the experience. Your strength and commitment is so inspiring. Now I know that, even if something goes wrong, the experience is rewarding!

Anonymous said...

as much as i am posting this as an anonymous user, i have to say - why is noone else questioning your 'doing it for money' rather than 'not to fulfill your families want for children'?

gramma wants kids, your husband is alright with you producing kids - as long as they're not his, and you have no problem with donating children elsewhere.

it was a decision that was obviously fueled by greed - you came out on top with money, and the kid is better off never knowing you, and your husband - he's got issues if he agrees with you producing offspring for someone else but not himself. what man thinks that's alright? is he gay? he has no want to procreate his genetics?

maybe as long as its not with you, maybe hes waiting for someone with more class, in which case - good on his part.

my actual email address is worldwhore3 @ i just don't feel the need to create an account to state my 2 cents, but i am in fact a real, thinking and literate person.

JLK said...

@Anonymous (above): I'm not really sure how you came about that reaction. My husband and I both want kids of our own, but not just yet. If you want to say that my decision was fueled by greed, that's fine. What other reason is there to put yourself through physical discomfort and pain for someone you have never met and never will? But as I explained in the post, I did NOT seek this out. I wasn't looking to earn some quick cash as an egg donor. They came to me.

What you took from this post that leads you to believe I am classless, I have no idea. If you have issues with fertility medicine as a field, I believe that is an entirely separate discussion.

Egg Donors said...

Great Post.....

I found your site on stumbleupon and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

Thanks for sharing....

IVF Clinic India said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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Galit Breen said...

This? Was fascinating! I can honestly say that I didn't know ANY of it! Is that actually embarrassing to admit? Oh well, too late now. :) Thank you for sharing so very much- I read every single word and learned SO much!

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