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The Risks of Egg Donation

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I was 25 years old the first time I donated my eggs. I had seen the fliers across my college campus for years, but it was only after watching a close friend go through the process herself that I decided to take the leap and call one of those numbers. They call it “donating,” but the truth is that I was compensated quite nicely for my time and commitment: $5,500 the first time I donated, and $8,000 when I did so again six months later.

The United States is one of the few countries that allows monetary compensation to be paid in exchange for human eggs, a process that involves three to four weeks of injectable hormones and a minor surgery to remove the eggs at the end of that cycle. Others veer away from allowing that same exchange of money, citing the ethical complications with using thousands of dollars to entice young women to take on the medical risks of donating when they otherwise may not have been so willing.

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I can honestly say that I really did always love the idea of helping couples struggling to conceive; but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the money factored into my decision. I was young, just about to graduate from college and move 3,000 miles away—the money was absolutely a big part of the draw for me.

When I initially donated, a piece of paper was placed in front of me advising me of the risks, the biggest of which being a condition called Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, or OHSS. At the time, I was told OHSS only occurred in about 1 percent of all donors. I have since met several past donors, however, and nearly three-fourths of them have dealt with the condition. Other risks included potential future infertility, and complications with the surgery or medications. While I was being asked to sign off on these risks though, I had a doctor standing over me specifically saying, “You are young. You are healthy. None of these things will happen to you. They are all extremely rare, and this process is incredibly safe.”

Six months after my second donation, I began to experience health complications. I got very sick, very quickly, and eventually lost my own ability to have children. It was a devastating progression, one which all the doctors involved in my case agreed had initially been brought on by the drugs and procedures involved in my egg donations. Drugs and procedures I had been adamantly assured would never harm me in any way.

I was extremely ill, endured five surgeries, lost my ability to conceive, and had to fight for some sort of quality of life in the fallout.

By 27 years old, I was facing the knowledge that I would never carry a child—despite the fact that there were twins in this world created from my genes. Twins I would never know or have the opportunity to meet. Twins who were not mine, despite bearing my likeness and blood.

Recently, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) released a study, the headline declaring “Multiple Egg Donations Do Not Impair Donors’ Future Fertility.” I opened the link curious mostly to see what they had found, and was appalled to see that the study in no way proved what the headline claimed it did. In fact, it was a study that on average only looked at donors over the span of two years—while they were still in the process of donating. It didn’t follow them later on down the line, or to the point when they were hoping to conceive themselves. It didn’t even follow up after their final donations. It was more a look at how they responded to drugs while donating than anything else. Yet, ASRM for some reason felt confident slapping that headline on a study that in no way served as a longitudinal examination of the potential issues.

I understand that medical organizations do this all the time, but it horrified me nonetheless. Mostly because, just as I was once told that my youth and health would keep me from falling victim to the “rare” consequences of egg donation, I could now picture doctors telling other young women that “recent studies have shown that egg donation will in no way harm your future fertility.” Which is, of course, untrue.

For my part, I will continue hoping for a longitudinal study into the potential health effects of egg donation. I will remain diligent in my advocacy for tracking and true informed consent when it comes to the women who are taking on these risks. I will never regret my own choices, because those choices led to the lives of two now 5-year-old twins who I know are deeply loved. They were choices that also led me to my own daughter, who I am not sure I ever would have found had it not been for the heartbreak which eventually led me toward adoption. I will never regret my donations, but I will always believe that more should be done to protect those who are considering making the same choices.

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The irony is that while money was one of the big driving forces behind my decision to donate, it turned out to mean nothing in the end. I made $13,500 off my egg donations. In the three years that followed, I spent approximately $75,000 out of pocket in medical costs—$50,000 of which I am still working to pay off. I was extremely ill, endured five surgeries, lost my ability to conceive and had to fight for some sort of quality of life in the fallout.

Yet I was young, and healthy, and had been reassured by the doctor asking me to sign on the dotted line that I would never have to worry about any of those potential side effects I was signing off on. Much as the ASRM is now telling women that they will never have to worry about their future fertility if they decide to donate as well. Based on one study, that didn’t have a thing to do with future fertility.

Meanwhile, I stand as proof that there is so much more to the story than what is actually being told.

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