The nurse kept draping blankets over me until, from ankles to collar bones, I was completely covered. Well, except for the one square foot of real estate we’d all probably most *want* to be covered.
In contrast to my missionary-like covering, my legs were lifted to the heavens and spread wide. My vagina and her surroundings were unblanketed and aimed at a room full of doctors, nurses, embryologists, and gawkers. (Kidding – I assume all the people had a purpose. My lady garden is lovely, but probably not a tourist attraction. Alas.)
Happily the propofol would arrive shortly, and I would blissfully drift to sleep, forgetting about my hyper-modest-yet-pornographic pose.
When I awoke, I would give the staff a round of applause (I am joyful while high, apparently). I would also have approximately 15 fewer eggs than when I walked in the door 20 minutes earlier.
Yep. I’m an egg donor. I’m a “known donor.” That means that the lucky couple who received some of my DNA happen to be friends of mine. There are also anonymous donors (carefully chosen for their physical characteristics, intellect, and youth).
I’m an egg donor because a dear friend needed help having a baby and it was help I felt like I could give. When I was considering becoming a donor, I scoured the internet for information. There was very little of use. So, I’m writing what I wish I had found.
**A note: I’m writing this anonymously because we don’t want the kids to find info about my donation on the internet before we tell them. This is *not* because using an egg donor is somehow shameful and should be kept secret.**
The logistics of Egg Donation
Below, I’ll recount the joy and (mostly) misery of being a donor.
Fitness for donation (Being measured like a prize hog at the state fair.)
Let’s start from the beginning. Retrieving eggs is an involved and expensive process. Doctors (and the families footing the bill) want to be sure potential donors are good candidates for successful retrieval. This involves a bunch of blood tests, filling out a looooong medical history, personality tests (to make sure you aren’t a psychopath?), meetings with a therapist, and a transvaginal ultrasound (that means: wand up the vagina) to examine one’s ovaries. It took months – and that’s considered fast.
Through this process, I discovered that the my right ovary is an egg (over)producing machine while my left ovary is more modest. She would even try to hide behind my uterus during ultrasounds. I was surprised to learn that any part of me is shy and retiring.
The plan. (Very important instructions that I did not remember.)
After being found to be a suitable (if slightly too old) candidate, the nurse manager reviewed my medication plan with me. I would be taking metformin in addition to the regular course of medicines that regulate my hormones. The purpose of all of these medicines is to stimulate egg production, make sure they all “ripen” at the same speed, and keep me from ovulating before the eggs could be retrieved. The metformin – typically a diabetes medicine – was to help my polycystic right ovary (I told you she was enthusiastic) from overdoing things.
Of course, I would not begin to implement this plan for several weeks – when my next period began – so it was my job to hold this VERY IMPORTANT information in my head for 21 days. No, I was not given anything on paper. What could go wrong?
False-starting the medicines. (Read: I cannot tell when I am starting my period.)
I started the metformin right away – to keep righty in check. Metformin made me continuously sick to my stomach even on the lowest dose. It also helped me lose weight because I was never hungry. The weight loss was not worth the misery.
Meanwhile, the rest of the medicines would start when my next period started. Sounds simple right? Well, apparently I had some bleeding with ovulation for the first time in my life. I rushed off to the doctor’s office, had hormone levels checked and was (once again) wanded to see how my ovaries looked.
“Ma’am. You have just ovulated.”
Starting medicines for real this time. (I am wanded again!)
By the next week my period had arrived for real this time. It was time to start. I took birth control for 10 days to make my eggs mature at the same rate. No big deal. The metformin was still making me sick. I puked more on metformin than I did while pregnant, and that’s saying something.
At the end of those 10 days it was time, you guessed it, for more blood work and transvaginal wanding. My ovaries were cooperating and it was time to move on to giving myself shots. Yay?
More medicine. (My belly becomes a pin cushion.)
I had to give myself between 1 and 3 shots in the belly at 7pm every evening. I do not remember what the meds were – but they all required needles. My favorite was the shot delivered by injection pen. I would dial up the dose, aim the tiny needle at my belly, stab myself and click the end of the pen until the medicine had all gone in. Easy peasy.
The other two meds required traditional needles. I had to draw the medicine out of a little vial. One even required me to mix sterile water with a powder, using a needle. I was TERRIBLE at this. I would either screw the needle onto the syringe incorrectly (spraying sterile water on my non-sterile countertop) or completely whiff on poking the needle through the top (and stabbing myself in the finger). Thank god for YouTube and extra needles.
A lot of people ask about how it felt to poke myself with needles. Well – the needles are really small and I have, ahem, some padding in the belly area. So, it wasn’t too bad. That said, I was pretty sore and little bruised by the end of the experience. As a side note – needle fear isn’t really a thing for me. If you’re afraid of a flu shot, the needles would be more of a challenge for you.
I did this shot routine for two weeks. Towards the end, I was pretty uncomfortable – bloated, tender, and very protective of my mid-section. My ovaries had gone from walnut-sized to orange-sized. Even bumping my belly into the countertop hurt. You know how your breasts get sore during pregnancy and you would sock someone in the face if they bumped into you? Like that, but with ovaries. I could only wear pants with elastic waistbands. I was also hyper-emotional. I went into social seclusion to spare others (sorry husband).
Monitoring. (I am wanded some more times!)
During the last week of shots, I visited the OB-Gyn every other morning. Appointment times were early – so I could get everything done before work. I would get a blood test and then a doctor would, you guessed it, wand me to count and measure the number of eggs on each ovary. This is where my shy left ovary become a problem. My belly was BEYOND tender and my left ovary kept hiding. That meant that the doctor had to push around on my belly, against the ultrasound wand, to find my ovary. It hurt. A lot. Like pressing hard on a really tender bruise. I cried after one visit. I treated myself to a donut (ok. several.) on that day.
Retrieval day. (I am almost done!)
Retrieval day is based on the size and maturity of your eggs. You get about 36 hours notice before the big day. It was tough for a control freak like me not to know exactly when my eggs would be retrieved. I like plans and schedules, dammit!
I have a young daughter and I wouldn’t be allowed to lift her for 24 hours post-retrieval. I also needed someone to take me to and from the retrieval appointment. My husband doesn’t have a flexible work schedule so his boss really loved hearing that he would need to be out of work for two days “sometime soon, but I’m not sure exactly when.”
My retrieval ended up being on a Monday. The doctor basically used a giant vacuum-needle-thing (technical term) to poke through my vaginal wall on each side and suck the eggs off my ovaries. I am so glad I was asleep for this. I was home and slurping a milkshake an hour after the procedure.
Recovery. (Worse than advertised.)
The nurse manager told me to expect to be sore for 24 hours post-retrieval. She said I would feel normal after that. Yeah, right. I was couch-bound for two days. It hurt to move. My abdomen was sore, my vagina hurt. And I was coming down from all of the hormones from the prior weeks. There were tears. There was rage.
Ultimately, it took me about 7 days to get back to normal.
The outcome. (YAY BABY!!!)
My friend has health issues that keep her from carrying a baby, so in addition to my donated eggs, she’s also using a surrogate. (Before you get all judge-y judge-y about why she isn’t adopting, may I remind you don’t know her story.)
My eggs were combined with my friend’s husband’s sperm and allowed to grow for five days. On the fifth day, an embryo was transferred to the surrogate. Everyone crossed their fingers except the surrogate who, I imagine, crossed her legs.
Ten days after the transfer we got word that the surrogate was pregnant. We were all cautiously optimistic (there had been previous pregnancies and miscarriages on the parents’ journey).
Today, the fetus has passed his (it’s a boy!) 20-week ultrasound with flying colors. He will be joining my friends’ family in a few short months.
Frequently asked questions
Do you feel attached to their baby?
No more so than I do my other friends’ children – whom I love. I was very lucky to get pregnant myself the month following my donation. Frankly, I’m too focused on growing my baby to think much about my friends’ baby. Also, I believe that what makes a parent is getting up to change poopy diapers at 2am, not just DNA. I will not be a 2am diaper changer for their kid. (Sorry.)
That answer sounds very nonchalant, and that’s how I feel right now. However, my feelings may evolve over time. My friend and I talk openly about that possibility. I also have a strong support system in the form of family, friends, and therapists to help me if I struggle.
What will you tell your children? Their children?
My only requirement for this whole process was that the donation not be a secret. When our children are old enough to understand, we’ll tell them. It’ll probably start out as a metaphor about baking cakes. “Making a baby is like making a cake. You need different ingredients. Baby Boy’s mommy didn’t have eggs, so your mommy gave her some.” (On second thought, that sounds ridiculous. Thank goodness we have a few years to work out the kinks.)
How does your husband feel about it?
He’s happy. He loves these friends as much as I do, so he was glad to support me (and them) through the process. We talked about it A LOT before I agreed to do it. I cannot overstate how important it was to have him on board.
Did you worry about having multiples after donation?
Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: I did, but I shouldn’t have. My egg production was only stimulated for one cycle. Once I had a period again, post-retrieval, my body was back to doing its normal thing. I asked three different doctors about this because having quadruplets was NOT in my life plan. I am now pregnant with one baby boy.
Are you worried about your health with all those hormones?
A little. There’s a lot of good research about egg retrieval and long-term health outcomes for mom’s that go through IVF for themselves. Basically, the egg retrieval process doesn’t seem to increase the risk of any health issues. There’s no reason to believe the same won’t be true for me.
However, no one’s tracking egg donors’ long-term health. Donors and IVF moms may have important differences in hormone levels, age, etc. that make it hard to say good outcomes for IVF moms mean good outcomes for egg donors. So, yes, there is some risk that my health could be affected in ways we don’t know.
Overall, there doesn’t seem to be anyone looking out for egg donors’ health after retrieval. We’re treated kind of like egg farms rather than human beings. Post-retrieval care and monitoring is a huge gap in the system.
Will it be weird for your friends’ kid to look like you?
Maybe? I can’t say until it happens. If my daughter is any indication, all of my genes are recessive so the kid won’t look like me anyway. (My daughter is the spitting image of her father.)
Why did you do it?
The short answer is because a friend needed help, and it was help I could give.
The long answer is that I believe in taking care of each other. Sometimes that’s an easy thing to do – like giving a friend a hug or sharing a bottle of wine. Other times, it’s harder – like donating eggs or babysitting a friend’s Tasmanian Devil Child. My loved ones do easy and hard things to take care of me all the time. What do we have if we don’t have each other?
What do you wish you’d known then that you know now?
I wish I had asked for instructions in writing. I wish I had known recovery could take up to 10 days. I wish I had known that the metformin would make me so sick.
Would you do it again?
I don’t know. Depends on the circumstance. It was pretty rough on me, my body, and my family. That being said, it didn’t last that long in the grand scheme of things. Especially for an outcome as life-changing as a baby.
Honestly, I probably won’t be ABLE to do it again. I’m no spring chicken (as the fertility doctor kept reminding me – thanks, doc), so it’s unlikely I would be deemed fit to donate now.
I’m proud that I was able to do this for my friend. But, most days I don’t think about it. I suspect that will only increase as time goes on. I imagine than 5 years from now, I will actively have to remind myself that her Baby Boy came from my egg. It’s a big deal for a short time and no-deal for a long time.