At 21 years old, my motivation to donate was simple: I wanted to help a couple achieve their dream of becoming parents. Now, at age 30, I’ve been selected to donate three times.
It was 2011 when I first saw the Facebook ad from an egg donor agency proclaiming that I carried within me “the ultimate gift.” Infertility was not something I thought about, and a family of my own was the last thing on my mind.
It was while reading up on egg donation that I first became acquainted with how phenomenal my body actually is. I learned that I was likely born with around 1 million eggs, and by the time I reached puberty around 300,000 remained.
During my fertile years, I’d release about 400 eggs through ovulation, and perhaps one or two would go towards starting my own family, should I ever decide to take that step. I realized that still left me with plenty of eggs to spare.
I met the donation criteria and knew I wouldn’t be using my eggs for anything meaningful in the foreseeable future. Perhaps somebody else could benefit from them.
During an initial information session at the donation agency, my “handler” compared egg donation to fruit collection: Every month I would lose a certain amount of eggs, in the same way that apples fall off a tree. Why not grab a basket and collect them, rather than allowing perfectly good fruit to go to waste?
I liked the idea of the apple tree, but soon found myself answering a lot of questions from people with whom I decided to share my decision: How would I cope knowing that other people were out there, enjoying “my apples,” raising “my child” that I had “given away”?
I decided that I needed a new analogy.
When we talk about pregnancy, we often refer to having a “bun in the oven.” To bake bread, however, we need a number of ingredients: flour, water, yeast, milk, eggs.
We also know that just popping the ingredients into a mixing bowl isn’t enough — they also need to be baked together. Some people have all the ingredients but their oven doesn’t work, while others have a functioning oven but lack one or two of the ingredients needed for success.
That’s where the egg donor comes in. For whatever reason, the recipient lacks eggs for their bun, so as a donor, I’ve offered them mine.
I’m not planning on baking today, and even if I did, the rest of the process would be vastly different — from the ingredients in the mix (sperm that my eggs would never have come into contact with otherwise) to the kitchen where the mixing takes place and oven where they are baked.
When we talk about parenthood we use terms like “biological mother” or “adoptive parents,” but these no longer do justice to the intricacies and complexities of modern conception or family life.
Historically, if you were a child’s biological mother, you were most likely genetically related and the person who gave birth to them — a genetic mother, a gestational mother, and a birth mother. You also likely held parental rights, unless the child was adopted by someone else.
In South Africa, where I live, the “birth mother” is recognized as a child’s biological and legal parent, except in cases of surrogacy. As an egg donor, I have no claim to a baby born from eggs I donate. I’m not a legal parent. I’m not a biological parent. So what am I?
I like the term “genetic contributor” when asked about my role in the process. I don’t think of a child born from my donation as my child — because it is no child that I would’ve ever had!
By donating some “ingredients,” I’m only facilitating parenthood — but more than that I’m giving an aspiring mother the opportunity to bake her own bun in her own oven, albeit with some borrowed ingredients.
Yet, parenthood is about so much more than just DNA, and biology is about more than just genetics. My “bun in the oven” analogy may be too crude, because if you receive an egg donation, you are so much more than just a place to bake the bread.
The first 1,000 days are among the most important for a child’s neurodevelopment, health, and wellness. This critical period does not start at birth, but begins shortly after conception and continues until around 2 years of age.
As your baby grows inside you, every part of its development is influenced by you. You provide the proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fluids needed to develop healthy bones, muscles, nerves, and organs.
While an egg donor gives the genetic material needed for conception, our job stops there. From the moment you start carrying your baby, you provide essential building blocks that will shape them into the child you’ll one day know.
Making use of an egg donor gives you the opportunity to grow and nurture your baby and play an active role in bringing your child into the world. Every aspect of your baby is uniquely influenced by the environment you provide as their mom, even long before they are born.
Egg donation is not like sperm donation. Eggs are not banked, they’re not readily available, they’re not fun to produce, and definitely not pleasurable to donate.
Eggs are expensive to store. The donation process requires intense medical and psychological testing and does not come cheap. This is why eggs are donated on demand.
Even with my application approved, I knew it might be months or even years before I was selected. Three months later, however, in February 2012, my eggs had found a potential family — a couple from abroad who chose me to help them make their bun.
My second donation took place in 2014, but my third donation was interrupted when the recipient came down with appendicitis shortly before the scheduled egg retrieval. I’m currently registered to donate for the fourth time. While details differ from donation to donation, the process remains the same.
First, I’m selected from a database of potential donors. When referring to my own process I talk about the recipient couple, because I’ve always been selected by a husband and wife looking to start their family.
I know this may not always be the case, however. I have indicated I would be happy to donate to same-sex couples, single recipients, or a recipient making use of a surrogate.
If a person is willing to invest this amount of time, money, and emotional effort into making the baby they so dearly want, then who am I to stand between them and my eggs?
As far as selection goes, I remain anonymous. Information about my race, ethnicity, and physical features are available and my eye color, hair color, and skin color is listed.
My profile mentions the size of my hands and feet and whether I have freckles. Prospective parents know whether I wear glasses or had braces on my teeth. My allergies are listed in my detailed medical history, and I disclose the same physical and medical background about my siblings, parents, and grandparents.
My academic and athletic achievements, highest level of education, and current occupation are on my profile, alongside my astrology sign, behavioral traits, religious views, political leanings, and my hobbies. My favorite food, books, and movies are there too.
For good measure, there is a gallery of photos of me as a baby and a young child. This abundance of information is one of the reasons why South Africa is such an appealing destination for people considering making use of an egg donor.
After selection I am assigned a fertility specialist who also manages the recipient’s in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment. My case nurse is charged with drawing blood, ensuring I comply with the treatment regime, and scheduling my appointments.
My case nurse is also my encyclopedia about all things egg donation, answering my questions, explaining procedures, and alleviating my fears or concerns as they arise.
After an ultrasound and pelvic examination, I undergo an intense mental health evaluation and counselling session to ensure I’m emotionally prepared for what is coming.
Next, I’m prescribed an oral contraceptive with very specific instructions about when to start taking it. While birth control as part of fertility treatment confused the daylights out of me initially, I soon learned that this was to manipulate my menstrual cycle to sync with that of the recipient.
About a month later, with that goal achieved, I begin with fertility shots —hormones that overstimulate my ovarian follicles so that multiple eggs mature instead of only one. I inject myself into the fatty area around my belly button daily, but the needles are small and the injection is relatively painless.
The process of chemically overstimulating follicles is not without risk or side effects. I was fortunate not to experience complications such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, but did have my fair share of breast tenderness, nausea, and severe bloating, as well as a couple of bruises at the injection sites.
I’m closely monitored during this time and undergo at least four checkups and ultrasounds in the next 2 weeks to assess my body’s response. I’m also monitored to ensure that I’m producing multiple healthy eggs for later retrieval.
By this time I’m ecstatic for the eggs to vacate my premises — the pressure in my lower abdomen is immense and my pants no longer close from the bloating. I’m acutely aware of my body screaming “FERTILIZE ME!” at any sperm carrier in my immediate vicinity.
Around the 12th day after starting the injections, we book a retrieval date. A final injection triggers ovulation, perfectly timed to ensure that I’m already under sedation with the fertility team standing as the eggs are released.
The procedure is slightly more technical than waiting under an apple tree with a basket though — a sonar-guided needle is used to suck up the follicular fluid in my ovaries, and the eggs along with them.
While it can take 3 to 6 months from selection to donation, the actual retrieval takes just 30 minutes. Two hours later I’m on my way home, bloated and crampy, but pleased with my decision. A few days later the bloating is gone and the spotting has cleared.
It is, however, a month before I even consider engaging in sexual activity — I was warned that it’s not always possible to retrieve all the eggs, and I would remain highly and ridiculously fertile until my next menstrual period.
When I first registered to donate, infertility was not a hot topic among my peers. As I enter my 30s, however, I’m becoming more aware of friends and colleagues who are struggling to conceive.
Starting a family of my own still isn’t in the cards for me, but I’ve often wondered how I would feel if I found out I may struggle to become pregnant going forward. I hope that if I ever find myself in a position where traditional conception methods fail, somewhere, someone will be willing to help me realize my dream.
On my desk at home I have a beautiful Swarovski crystal butterfly — a thank-you gift from the first couple I ever donated to. In ancient Greece, a butterfly emerging from its cocoon symbolized the birth of a new human soul.
Around the world, people associate butterflies with endurance, change, hope, and life. For me, that crystal butterfly is the symbol of transformation, and of a decision I made to change someone’s life — one that resulted in my own life being changed along the way.
Jamaine Krige is a South African author and award-winning journalist. She is also a registered first responder (EMT-Intermediate) who has worked in various urban and remote healthcare environments since 2006. She completed her postgraduate degree in psychology and has a special interest in trauma and mental health.