M y eyes flutter open. They shake me back and forth, urging the blood back to my head. As I regain consciousness I wonder: is this worth it?
The school, whose education is widely considered the golden standard in journalism, would provide me with unparalleled access, in an industry I currently felt immobile in. Fortunately, the vast majority of the cost would be covered by scholarships. For the remaining rent and living costs, I looked for something else to plug the gap.
I landed on a burgeoning industry offering struggling people vast amounts of cash, relatively fast: egg donation. I share fleeting glances with giggling couples and wonder if any of them are sizing me up as a possible donor. Sometime after my arrival, a nurse calls my name. She takes me to a chair in a hallway: a dozen or so vials clinking around on an attached tray. The space feels cold and sterile. The silence is oppressive. After she has filled eight or so vials with my blood, I slump over and pass out. When I awake, the nurses have swept me into the air.
Semi-conscious, and embarrassed I stumble over an apology.
I lean my head back against the cold chair. Another nurse walks in, showing off more vials in her hand.
I roll up my sleeve and hold out my other arm. Time for round two.
The first time I heard of donation was through a friend during my undergraduate studies. Every year, donors are being paid in the thousands to provide eggs to prospective parents.
The CDC found that in under a decade, IVF cycles using donor eggs nearly tripled, from roughly 5, in to more than 13, in The woman on the phone was cheery but meticulous when she described the process. During my ultrasound, awe-struck as I gazed into the contents of my ovaries and uterus, my doctor spoke about me to the nurse, but not to me.
In the US — where healthcare is privatized and people weigh up doctors as if their health were a business transaction — medical offices treat you well because they want you to come back.
I was the product. The bloodwork from that first appointment was sent off to a genetic testing facility, Sema4, which tested of my genes against hundreds of disorders.
Those ranged from cystic fibrosis and Fragile X syndrome — which has been connected to autism — to maple syrup urine disease, a disorder where the body cannot process certain amino acids. I tested positive as a carrier for three genetic conditions: dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa — a condition that creates skin so fragile that it blisters and breaks easily, leaving severe scarring; metachromatic leukodystrophy — a rare genetic disorder; and non-syndromic hearing loss.
I felt a mixture of shock and morbid curiosity hearing thethough the clinic reassured me it was normal to test positive for a small handful of genetic disorders. Epidermolysis bullosa has no cure, and people born with the condition are at increased risk for an extremely aggressive form of skin cancer. The Sema4 representative playfully told me not to fall in love with Finnish people, who are more likely to have the same skin condition.
The call offered a window into a different world: where everybody is a carrier of disease, myself included.
I was forced to confront a reality where I might pass on complex disorders to my children, ones I never thought I had. The clinic was not just assessing my predisposition for genetic disorders, it was also weighing up other attributes: my blonde hair, my blue eyes and my fair skin. Over screening calls, team members would subtly compliment and affirm descriptions of my body, personality and ivy league education.
Altogether, I had concerns this was sanitized eugenics. But through what other language did I expect them to build a relationship with me? The very nature of our business revolved around my body.
I n May, early on in the process, the clinic set me up to speak with their psychologist. Lounging in the hammock on my balcony, I was exposed to the philosophy of the clinic. Rather, they saw my eggs as a part of a larger gene pool, one that spanned generations and geographic locations. I was concerned the psychologist was assessing my mental health, looking to disqualify me from the process, but as our conversation flowed I realized she was actually trying to ascertain whether I was intelligent enough to make the decision to give away my eggs.
She gave me an IQ test. It was New York state regulation.
This would help struggling parents conceive children of their own. There was something wholesome about that. The idea that a small child, that looked like me would roam the world while I experienced my early twenties never fazed me.
The thought actually warmed my heart. I grew to realize I wanted children of my own one day, and part of me yearned for the experience I was offering to someone else.
I imagined the mom who would take my eggs. Was she funny?
What kind of school lunches would she pack? Was she compassionate and patient? Did her moral values reflect my own? I would never know. My donation was anonymous end-to-end.
B y summertime, the clinic had taken me off of my birth control and put me on their own. We paused for a moment, staring at one another. My hair had fallen in front of my eyes.
I pushed the dirty blonde strands back behind my ear before erupting in uncomfortable laughter. We both knew what she meant.
A few days away from my egg retrieval date I was sitting on the edge of my bed feeling truly unsettled. It was late, and in the quiet I felt the calm ripped away from me as I laid out one of the last packs of medication, a microgram syringe of Ganirelix, on my table stand. It took some mental gymnastics to learn to inject myself with hormones twice daily.
Each medication had a different ritual. In the morning, a yellow and blue plastic pen would deliver ml of Follistim, clicking as I pushed the pen down to dispense the refrigerated serum. In the evenings, I would mix a vial of Menopur. Combined, these two drugs worked to stimulate the follicles in my ovaries, aiming to release anywhere between eggs — normally, just one egg is released during ovulation.
Days before retrieval, Ganirelix would prevent me from ovulating, giving the eggs a chance to mature before they descended into my uterus to be removed. This final stage numbed me. The rigamarole of daily injections and 7 am ultrasounds had worn me down, and I was tired. On the horizon, I still had one more hurdle: retrieval.
I ran my hand over my stomach, feeling the tender needle sites and the bloat underneath, not wanting to undergo the surgery but also knowing it was too late to turn back. I grabbed my first syringe of Ganirelix and took a deep breath. I surveyed a dozen women of varying ages and backgrounds on their personal experiences donating.
Unlike infertility forums for people going through IVF or surrogacy, there was no clear online location where donors could support each other through the process of egg donation.
Most donated during their early twenties and all participated for the financial compensation, at least originally. Women used the money to pay for bills, student loans or vacations. Some donors matched with intended parents or agencies through advertisements placed on Facebook or Instagram.
Others found their matches on Craigslist, responding to blanket not dissimilarly phrased to those looking to sell a bicycle, apartment or car. Since these listings are sometimes posted directly by the intended parents, they may have shorter or less thorough initial application processes, and they can offer ificantly higher monetary sums than agencies or clinics traditionally would.
But applying to unverified listings poses obvious risks. Inan Idaho woman was charged with fraud for stealing eggs from donors through Craigslist, never paying the agreed upon sums after receiving the eggs. Attempting, in part, to make the process safer, organizations began pairing donors and intended parents through their own vetted databases.
Prospective parents, can now scroll through the profiles of thousands of potential donors, not unlike on a dating website. Circle Surrogacy offers non-anonymous pairings, where the donor has an opportunity to meet and interact with the families. Whaley set it up when she was She applied that night and forgot about it. Now, the goodwill of element, not the money, is her favorite part: She plans to donate six times — the maximum advisable.
But she also knows that people make these choices with their partners all the time. To prevent people from donating repeatedly with the risks being unknownor incentivizing people to withhold information to make themselves more attractive to donors, ethical guidelines suggest offering less money. Mecerod feels the experience is very rewarding for prospective donors, through the education and free genetic testing, even if they choose not to follow through with the donation.
While many women admit to being pulled in by the amount they can earn from their eggs, most I spoke to still saw it as a choice. The first and second time she used the money to cover rent while she was between jobs, the third time, to pay tuition fees.
Data and long-term research on egg donation is scarce. Innew research suggested that fertility drugs may be linked to the development of uterine cancers. A report by The Donor Sibling Registry found suspicious occurrences of breast cancer in otherwise healthy young donors who showed no genetic predisposition to the disease, citing hormone therapy during donation as a possible cause. Furthermore, while health data is monitored for those who donate organs, the same information is not required for egg donation: it is up to donation agencies to request past medical information on donors, and even then they are at the mercy of donors voluntarily doing so — and telling the truth when they do.