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What I Didn't Say on 'The Doctors'

Two weeks ago, after spending nearly three months in Arizona visiting my family, my almost 1-year-old daughter and I got on a plane heading home to Alaska.

The very next day, I received a phone call asking me to come to L.A.

I donated my eggs in college to two different families. Six months after my second egg donation, I began to develop severe complications, eventually losing my own fertility as a result. The television show The Doctors wanted me to come on and discuss the details of that journey.

I was exhausted and so ready to be home, but I couldn’t say “no” to that kind of an opportunity. So I loaded my girl up, and off we went once more.

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Now, it should be said that I am an Alaskan girl through and through. I like laid-back, low-key, no makeup kind of days. I would take typing away on my keyboard over putting my face in front of a camera any day. So to say that jetting off to Hollywood in order to film a nationally syndicated television show was an overwhelming experience for me would be a total understatement. But I was grateful, because this was a chance to begin spreading awareness about a subject incredibly close to my heart. For those of you who didn’t catch it, the show aired on Tuesday, February 18. You can view a few of the segments online here.

And for the record, yes, Dr. Travis is totally as gorgeous in person as he is on TV. He is also incredibly kind, as are all the doctors on the show.

But this is Hollywood, and so much more goes on behind the scenes than you would ever realize. In total, we had about three hours worth of taping—which means that a lot was obviously left on the cutting room floor. So there were just a few points I wanted to make in following up on this story—the things I wish I could have said, had there been an unlimited amount of time.

I want to make it clear that I do not regret donating my eggs. A little boy and a little girl—twins—are about to enter kindergarten, and they were created from those eggs. I have never met them or their parents, but I know that they were incredibly wanted and are unbelievably loved. I wonder about them sometimes, in this curious way that I think must be normal. I wonder what they look like, and who they must be. But I know who their mother is, and it isn’t me. And even more importantly, I know that I never would have found my own daughter had it not been for the infertility I experienced at the hand of those donations. So I can’t regret any of it, because without it—I wouldn’t have her.

But, and this is a big but, I do think it is incredibly important that we start taking a true and honest look at the risks involved in egg donation. And we should start giving both prospective parents and donors alike a realistic view of the risks involved.

Because I can tell you, even when those risks are presented to donors, it is with an offhand aside of, “But they are so rare. You will be just fine!” That is exactly what happened to me. I had a doctor handing me the consent while telling me, “But you don’t have to worry about this. You are young and healthy, and these risks are all so rare.” When you are a young college student, and a medical professional is telling you that while also waving a rather large check in your face—you are going to believe him.

But the reality is no one actually knows how rare these risks are. Doctors continue to say they are rare, and even the call-in doctor on this segment touted that party line, but there have been exactly zero long-term studies on the potential risks of egg donation. There is no health registry for past donors and no way to even accurately compile data right now.

Is it right to risk the potential health and fertility of one woman, in order to help another conceive?

What I can tell you is that in the past few years, I have spoken to around 50 egg donors myself. Of them, a surprisingly large number have gone on to experience complications. The week I was filming this show, I actually received an email from a past donor who had recently been diagnosed with infertility herself. She was reaching out to me scared, upset and looking for some kind of connection to someone who might “get it.”

This isn’t as rare as we have been told it is.

And so we have to ask ourselves, is it right to risk the potential health and fertility of one woman, in order to help another conceive? When you put it into that context, it becomes difficult to fully support the current egg donation industry. It is why I knew I could never use donated eggs myself, even after my diagnosis. Because no matter how much I wanted to be a mother, I knew I could never ask another woman to take on the risk of an outcome like mine. No matter how rare that risk may be.

Ironically, the agency I donated my eggs through didn’t see it that way. When they learned of my condition, they told me, “We are so sorry! But just so you know, we have worked with a lot of previous egg donors in the past when they have needed eggs of their own. We love working with our angels, and we would be more than happy to help you if you decide to pursue egg donation yourself!”

They didn’t seem to hear what they were saying to me. To them, this was a kind and sincere offer. But to me, all I heard was “a lot of previous egg donors have gone on to experience infertility.”

That can’t be right ... can it?

Up until now, egg donors have been fairly isolated. But recently, a group has emerged working to unite donors and give them a voice. Founded by three previous donors, and now going a few hundred strong, We Are Egg Donors brings together donors from all walks of life and with unique stories all their own. Some of those stories are very positive. And some are not. But one thing that has become painfully clear by being a part of this group is that long-term research and true informed consent needs to become a priority.

People don’t want to hear the sad stories. Even past egg donors have tuned me out before. Not because they don’t care, but because it is scary. It is scary to think about my outcome becoming their own, and it is scary to think about how this choice they made to help another family could wind up irrevocably altering the path they one day hoped to take in building their own family. And to be perfectly honest, my outcome probably wouldn’t be theirs. A woman would already need to have an underlying case of endometriosis to mirror my experience. Hormones don’t create this disease, they simply feed it. But there are other complications that can arise. I’ve spoken to past donors who have gone on to experience premature ovarian failure, severe cases of Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome, and even very rare forms of cancer.

Perhaps each individual complication is rare, but when you put them all together, isn’t it enough for us all to begin questioning the safety of these practices and calling for more research to be done?

For the record, when I donated my eggs—I made about $13,000 in total. At the time, as a young girl about to graduate college, that was a lot of money.

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But over the course of the next three years, I needed five major surgeries and numerous expensive treatments. In total, I spent about $75,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses during that time. Today, I am still fighting to get out from under that debt, and it pains me to admit how close I have come to needing to consider bankruptcy. Suddenly, $13,000 doesn’t seem like a whole lot of money after all.

This is happening. These detrimental effects are occurring. And someone really should be looking into just how rare that experience really is.

If you want to know more about my story, there is actually a book—Single Infertile Femaleall about my journey from egg donor to infertility and beyond.

Just know mine isn’t the only story that ended in infertility.

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