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