I was about 24 years old when I first heard of egg donation.
I was in a darkened movie theater in Manhattan, where I was living at the time, and I saw an advertisement play across the giant screen. I don’t remember the exact words but I recall that the ad made me take pause and wonder if donating my eggs was something I could ever do. The idea of it made me uncomfortable, so I stored the thought away as the theater grew dark, and sunk deeper into my seat in preparation for the film.
I was born in a small town in southwest Louisiana, in the United States, and was raised there and in Texas. I am the second of three children and have an older brother and younger sister. My father works in the oil industry and my mother was a homemaker when I was growing up. Both of my siblings have blessed my parents with grandchildren. I, however, posses a restless and wandering spirit so I made the decision in my 20’s that having children of my own wouldn’t be a part of my future.
In my late twenties I found myself living in London, freshly laid off from my corporate job during the height of the global recession. I had no recourse but to move back to the United States, which is how I ended up in New York again. Still unemployed my financial situation was pretty grim, as is eternally the case in NYC.
I scoured Craigslist every day looking for work and came across an ad for egg donation that claimed to pay donors up to $10,000. I was brought back to that moment in the cinema, and once again wondered if donating was something I could do. However, this time, the idea of a life being created with my help seemed like an incredible gift to give. Getting paid for doing so was a huge bonus, of course. I still had many reservations about the entire process, but I began to seriously consider the possibility.
Not knowing anything about the process and wondering what the risks might be I started doing research, spending massive amounts of time on Google looking up every aspect of egg donation. I found websites quoting statistics about the process having a risk rate as low as 1% – 2% for major complications like pelvic infection, ovarian stimulation, and torsion. These sites also stated, over and over, that egg donation is a relatively new procedure and that no definitive studies have demonstrated a link between donation and infertility, cancer, or any other long-term health issues.
I also found, as one always does on the internet, horror stories from women who had donated and experienced hyper-stimulation, a side effect from the fertility medications that causes them to produce more eggs than intended. Some women had even lost an ovary because of complications. Since most of the cautionary tales seemed to mention lack of proper care by the facility they donated through I knew that it was important for me to find one that was well regarded and took care of their donors.
I found several donor programs online in the New York area and came across one with a well known and highly respected name. The information on their website claimed that they cared greatly about their donors and provided the best care possible to them. There were also a number of quotes from past donors praising the staff and claiming to have had a great experience. Despite having a few misgivings I decided to apply online. I learned that the cutoff age was 32, which I was just a year shy of, and didn’t know if they would even accept me.
Weeks went by and there was no response. I figured that something in the information I supplied disqualified me. Perhaps my age, weight, or height, or any number of other factors. To my surprise about a month later I got an email inviting me to come in for an initial meeting and testing. I accepted and made an appointment.
My First Donation
I sat in the waiting room feeling like I was interviewing for a job. A little nervous, battling my doubts and insecurities. The moment I met the program coordinator, however, I began to feel comfortable, my anxiety started melting away. She was warm, friendly, and exuded compassion. She gave me an overview of the entire donation process and explained the first two steps would be taking my blood for initial testing and handed me a multiple choice psychological test to complete. She also told me that the process would be completely anonymous and I would receive $8,000 if I donated.
During my next visit I filled out a lot of paperwork, gave more blood for testing, met with a psychologist, genetics counselor, had a full physical and gynecological exam, and pap-smear. I was beginning to understand just how involved this entire process was.
The psychologist asked me what I did for a living, if I was in a stable relationship, and how I felt about donating. She offered her services to me any time during, or after donating. She also explained that I would be required to waive all legal or parental rights to any children born from my donation and wanted to know how I felt about that. There was no hesitation in my mind, my motivation was strictly to help someone else have children. She also told me that since it was deemed unethical to pay for human tissue the eggs were a donation and I would instead be paid for my time and effort.
During my physical exam the doctor asked about my birth mark, scars, and tattoo. Since I had gotten my ink over ten years prior it wasn’t an issue. I later learned that a previous donor was disqualified when a nurse noticed a fresh tattoo on her arm the day prior to the egg retrieval. The story was a bit of a cautionary tale, and illustrated the seriousness and thoroughness of the clinic staff. In fact, in addition to not getting tattoos there were a lot of things I couldn’t do for a month like exercise, drink alcohol, have sex, or take medication or vitamins of any kind.
We also spoke about potential risks, and I found myself asking a lot of the questions that had been on my mind. She was honest and straight forward, reiterating much of the information I had read previously. Side effects were always a possibility, but most of them were highly unlikely.
I never felt pressured by anyone at the facility to donate. The decision was mine, and mine alone, to make. And so I made it. I knew, right after the physical, that I was going to go through with the donation.
The meeting with the Genetics Counselor was brief but interesting. She asked a lot of questions about my family medical history, looking for any kind of genetic disease I might be a carrier of. She explained that the blood they had taken that day would be tested to see if I carried any genetic disease.
Within a few weeks, and after all the testing came back normal, I was matched with a recipient and a start date was selected for the cycle. I felt excitement, tinged with a fair bit of nerves. I would have to give myself injections for up to two weeks and would then have to have a procedure to remove the eggs from my body.
One morning I picked up a big brown paper bag full of fertility drugs, needles, and alcohol swabs from the facility and was given instructions on which ones to needed to be refrigerated. The bag was hefty, and I left wondering what the retail value was of all the medication. I hurried home to get them into my refrigerator. The last thing I wanted to do was mess up the entire cycle because I didn’t store my big bag of drugs and implements properly.
The next two weeks were a but rough. I went to the facility each morning and gave myself injections each evening before bed. At almost every visit a doctor examined my ovaries and the growing follicles that housed the eggs inside them with a vaginal ultrasound. They measured and counted the follicles they could see projected on a screen. They grew bigger and bigger each day. At one point we counted somewhere between fifteen to twenty follicles.
The injections turned out to be easier than I imagined. I wasn’t especially nervous since I had attended a class on how to inject myself properly. Even so, about an hour before the first injection I watched several videos on YouTube to make sure I didn’t screw things up. I had two options, I could inject into my outer thighs or my stomach. I arranged the two medications I had to take that night on the counter of my bathroom, cleaned my thigh with an alcohol swab, pinched the flesh and and in one quick motion jabbed the needle into my skin.
It was surprisingly painless.
I pushed the plunger down and felt a burning sensation, then released the pinched skin, and removed the needle. A few drops of blood beaded up on the surface of my skin. I repeated the process on my other thigh. After a few days small bruises began to blossom on the injection sites so I decided to overcome the nauseating fear and disgust of injecting into my belly. To my surprise it was an even less sensitive area so I started rotating between injection sites each night.
On the ninth morning the doctor told me the follicles were close to being mature and I would probably be instructed to take the “trigger shot” the next day. A trigger shot is an injection of a synthetic hormone that causes the eggs to complete the maturation process and readies them for retrieval.
My afternoon call with instructions from the facility confirmed what the doctor suspected in the morning and that night I gave myself the trigger shot.
Two mornings later I reported to a nearby hospital and was brought to the IVF waiting room where I changed into a hospital gown. A nurse with a blessedly warm bedside manner helped calm the butterflies which were wreaking havoc inside my stomach by explaining everything that would happen that morning. She inserted an IV and drew blood one last time to test my hormone levels. I was then led, wearing nothing but a hospital gown, to the operating room where a team of doctors and nurses were busy prepping for the procedure.
The room was frigid, and my butterflies were starting to dance again. The gown didn’t really cover my backside and I started shivering. The nurse told me to lay on the operating table and covered me in a warm fuzzy blanket. I wanted to hug her for the kind gift but by that time the anesthesiologist was talking to me. She injected antibiotics into my IV, followed by anesthesia. It felt like ice water crawled up my arm and through my veins.
Within a few seconds the room, much like the movie theater where I first learned about egg donations, faded to dark.
I woke up in the IVF waiting room groggy and shaking. But as with every step of the process I was never alone. The nurse who seemed to have ESP came in right as I woke up and asked how I was feeling. I mumbled something about being cold. She smiled and draped another one of her incredibly warm blankets over me. She gave me juice and crackers and checked on me every few minutes. She was my guardian angel that day, and I will forever remember her kind eyes.
When I felt ready to leave the kindly nurse removed the IV and gave me a list of instructions. She repeated the instructions to my friend who was tasked with picking me up from the hospital. We walked out of the sterile room and onto the hectic streets of Manhattan.
I felt tired, a bit sore, and longed for the comfort and warmth of my bed.
The recovery process for the procedure was surprisingly easy and there were no complications. I went back to work the next day and found myself daydreaming about the fact that my eggs were being fertilized for a woman who probably wanted nothing more than to be a mother.
I hoped that her wish would come true… but I will never know.
DONATING TO TRAVEL
I remember my first experience traveling. I was fourteen and it was a class trip to Washington DC. It was the first time I would fly on an airplane, my first time in a major metropolitan city, and my first glimpse of what I wanted out of my life in the future. I fell in love, not so much with Washington DC, but with the idea of travel, of exploring the wide world outside of my little Texas town. I had caught what all travelers refer to as “wanderlust” and from that moment on I would always be infected by it.
About a year after that first donation my life looked a lot different. I was living in Brooklyn and had a well paying job that most people would think I was crazy to not appreciate. But there was a nagging thought in the back of my mind that I didn’t fit into the job like I should. I was longing for something more meaningful to do with my life. I started thinking more and more about traveling.
I had been lucky enough to briefly visit Europe and Canada throughout my twenties, but these were all short trips, the sort of vacations working professionals take with the few weeks a year they have all to themselves. I yearned for more. I traveled vicariously through books like The Motorcycle Diaries, Wanderlust, and Wild hoping that one day I could cut the ties the bound me to corporate America and travel freely.
Shortly afterwards I met Michael. He had just returned from a month of travel in Central America. He told me about his plans to take a year long trip and explained that he didn’t need a lot of money to do so. He traveled with just a backpack, stayed in hostels, and moved from town to town and country to country mostly by bus. I was intrigued, to say the least. This was a totally different form of travel than I was used to, but it resonated deeply within me. After a few months of knowing Michael, and one instance of jumping out of an airplane over Long Island together, he invited me to join him.
I accepted without hesitation. I HAD to make this happen. He was quitting his job, taking his savings, and hitting the road. And I was dead set on doing the same.
We would be leaving in a few short months and a review of my savings account, bills, and income quickly made me realize I needed more money before heading out. So, without much hesitation, I decided to donate eggs again.
I would, once again, help someone make their dreams come true, while doing the same for myself. It wasn’t a decision based around money. This time my donation would help me accomplish that which I had wanted for so long.
The process was similar to the first time but not as much testing was required. Unfortunately, after this donation there were some minor complications. I experienced hyper-stimulation. It was uncomfortable, and a little scary, but the doctors and nurses at the facility monitored me closely, consoled me, and made it a priority to give me the best care possible so I would recover quickly.
And recover I did.
A New Life
Two weeks after donating I was on a plane with Michael headed for Mexico, the first step in what has turned into a seventeen month sojourn throughout Central America, South America, Europe, and Asia. We decided to start this website with the hope that we would inspire others to travel. Just a Pack has lead to a new career for both of us. We can now call ourselves published authors and travel bloggers, and have no plans to go back to our lives as they were before we left New York.
I’m writing this article a year and a half after leaving NYC to travel, from a country I never imagined visiting, much less living in for the past two months. I often think about the woman who has given birth to a baby that has my DNA and wonder whether or not that child looks like me. Will it, too, be filled with wanderlust when it grows up? And occasionally I reflect on the sweet symmetry of how helping to bring a new life into this world has given me the ability to create a new life for myself.
This article was first seen in Marie Claire Brazil. The above version has been altered a great deal from the original.