Egg Donation: A Personal Story
About a year ago I wrote here about how I was thinking about donating some of my eggs. I subsequently did. This is that story
Several months ago I donated some of my eggs.
It’s changed me in a way I didn’t expect. It’s like a marker – a fixed point in my life. I’ve done something irreversible. Given someone life (in the most ‘hands-off’ way possible, of course).
Last January I visited my GP and said I was considering donating some of my eggs. As a back specialist she was surprised, but enthusiastic. There were blood tests, ‘implications,’ counselling, and genetic tests – which were good for peace of mind on their own. As I passed each medical my perception of my body started to change. For the first time I saw it as something capable. I started going to the gym. I felt… purposeful.
I was allowed to write a letter to the child (or children) that might result from the donation. After a number of drafts I settled on something casual and idealistic. I know it makes me sound naïve, but I imagine we’ll all have a good laugh about it in eighteen years time when the child (or children) are legally able to request my contact details.
The ultrasound where I first saw the matured eggs was surreal. I had a certain expectation of what I was going to see when the fluid was wiped across my stomach and the scan came up on the little black and white screen. But inside me was a honeycomb. Nearly 40 eggs. Too many. Each one with the potential to become someone else’s baby.
While usually your ovaries release one egg a month (if you’re a fertile cisgendered female) to increase the IVF success rate donors are given a series of hormone modifiers. First there’s a nasal spray that shuts down your personal reproductive system, in the short term, and then a fortnight’s worth of injections to stimulate the ovaries artificially. Those have to be done yourself. The first time I missed a whole TV show because I was sitting on the side of my bath trying to muster up the courage to inject. But, it’s true – you do get used to it.
Finally there’s a single injection to mature the eggs the night before they are extracted.
Going to the hospital for the surgery itself was odd. I’d never broken any bones and I still have my appendix. I was so unprepared I was surprised when the nurse gave me a hospital robe to change into. It hadn't occurred to me I'd be wearing one.
A cannula went into my hand followed by some liquid that would apparently give me ‘nice dreams.’ Then I was being wheeled into surgery with a bunch of PhD students around me. That was a lot of fun – watching all these health professionals leaning over me, pushing me through the hospital corridors.
The surgery itself is a bit of a blur. The nurses said afterwards I’d asked a bunch of questions about the procedure, but I have no memory of that. I ate some toast while waiting on a couple of my friends to come and pick me up.
It wasn’t until later that day, once I got home, that I started to get sick.
The nurses had said I was likely to suffer a mild case of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which is basically where your ovaries are too stimulated… like when you have around 40 eggs hanging out in your uterus instead of one. Symptoms include: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloating and – in severe cases – thrombosis, liver and kidney dysfunction and respiratory distress. But my big mistake was taking ibuprofen after the extraction to dull the period pain-like ache.
The ibuprofen reacted badly with the drugs already in my system. I woke up in the middle of the night with my chest incredibly tight and waves rushing through me. Crawling to the toilet I dry heaved for a while; I wanted to vomit but had lost the strength to do so. It was incredibly frightening. ‘Respiratory distress’ seems like an accurate term for it in retrospect. I felt like I was going to choke to death.
It took a couple phone calls for the hospital to take me back in, but when they saw me it was clear something was wrong. After they put me on a drip and gave me alternative painkillers my body righted itself. I stayed overnight, but by the next morning I was more or less fine, though the pain took a few weeks to clear completely.
After they’re collected the eggs are fertilised in a lab, then watched for a few days to see if any abnormalities occur. If everything’s looking good then the embryos are implanted into the womb of the woman who’s going to carry the baby to term.
Due to the monthly nature of the female reproduction cycle if you and your recipient are out of sync by too many days the whole process gets delayed. Even when they are being chemically manipulated hormones take their own time to get things done and at one point I was checking my emails every day waiting to hear if my main recipient had ‘bled.’ I don’t even know her name, but until her period came my whole life was on pause.
The waiting around can be… inconvenient. For the three months prior to the donation you also need to watch what toxins you’re putting into your body. I irritated my friends a little during that time, it was definitely a strange place to be in psychologically.
They were able to harvest so many eggs from me that two different women may at this moment be carrying a child biologically related to me, as a second recipient was also chosen to receive some. On the NHS’s general IVF advice page it states, as of 2010, the success rate of the treatment – the percentage that result in a live birth – was 32.2% for women under 35. Now, I don’t know the ages of my recipients so that’s the most optimistic figure. Even so, since one family were given enough of my eggs to have two attempts, I could have at least one biological child by the end of this year.
Worth one night in hospital I think (and the standard NHS cheque for £750 I got the month after was nice too).