When I first became an egg donor, I was inundated with many questions from curious friends. Many people wanted to know if donating my eggs meant I was now infertile, or whether I still had ovaries, or whether it was a painful process.
Most of those questions are well-intended. But after hearing them, I realized that very few people understand what egg donation actually entails.
Sex and reproduction is often seen as a taboo subject — it comes with the stigma surrounding sex education, infertility, and egg donation — but because of that stigma, very few people understand reproductive health issues, especially egg donation.
To be an egg donor is a selfless and beautiful thing. It’s an act that requires a great deal of generosity to give your time so another family can grow. For that reason, I think it’s one of the most important things I’ve ever done.
In fact, I’m now a three-time egg donor and this is what I want you to know.
I personally signed up with an international agency that organized overseas donations for intended parents based in other countries. They were based in Cape Town, South Africa, which is where I lived.
And that’s how it usually is. Egg donors will sign up with a donor agency, who’ll ‘match’ a donor with a family.
Egg donor agencies prefer healthy donors between the ages of 20 and 30, although all agencies have slightly different age policies. If your family has a strong history of hereditary diseases, an agency might reject your application. Which makes sense, as a family is going to want a child who’s as healthy as possible.
Agencies will also require you to undergo an ultrasound and blood tests to check your health and ability to donate eggs. I went through the same process after I was matched with a family.
Remember: The agency should pay for all medical costs. Never put any money in up front. If an agency asks for money — it’s a huge red flag, even if you have to travel.
If you’re matched with intended parents who reside overseas, you might be asked to travel to their country for the process. In this case, the agency and parents should most definitely pay for your flights and accommodation.
“The process of donating one’s eggs involves a 10- to 12-day self-administered injection protocol, and approximately 4 to 5 blood tests and ultrasounds during the process,” explains Dr. Shahin Ghadir, a founding partner of the Southern California Reproductive Center.
“In order for an egg donor to produce more than the one egg that she normally makes a month, she will be taught how to administer tiny injections of hormone stimulants into her belly that will allow her body to create a good number of eggs and produce the body’s own hormones to allow those eggs to grow.”
During this period, the growth of the follicles in your ovaries will grow. These follicles are where the eggs mature. Their growth is monitored by ultrasounds.
Once the follicles are a sufficient size, the eggs are retrieved via surgery. During surgery, a tool with a thin needle is placed through the vagina wall and into the ovaries. The needle pierces the ovaries and removes the eggs.
Barring any complications, this process should be painless, although some people may experience menstrual-like cramps for a few hours after. While I was a bit tired after my retrieval surgeries, I felt fine overall.
When I tell people I’m an egg donor, they often ask if this means I can’t have children when I’m older. The answer is no — if the process is carried out properly, donating your eggs shouldn’t affect your future fertility.
“Every month of a woman’s reproductive life, from puberty until menopause, there are a group of eggs that are destined to be lost due to natural attrition,” explains Dr. David Ryley, a reproductive endocrinologist at Boston IVF Fertility Clinic. “The process of egg donation and egg freezing prevents that group of eggs from ‘dying off.’”
While every donor is different, many feel slightly bloated and sluggish during the process. This is normal — it’s just your body working overtime to help your follicles grow! Of course, the health risks also depend on the medical care and support you receive.
One of the more common risks of egg donation is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS. This could cause dehydration, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and pain. While mild OHSS can be managed easily, severe cases might require a trip to the hospital. The chances of a donor experiencing severe OHSS, enough to be hospitalized, is around 14.5 percent, which is similar to rates in pregnant and non-pregnant women.
It’s important to use fertility clinics that have caring, experienced staff. But what does that mean? A good agency is made up of employees that are communicative, compassionate, and experienced.
I signed up with an agency only after I thoroughly researched them and spoke to acquaintances who’d also donated with them. Do the same. Make sure you research the agency and, if possible, speak to donors who’ve had experience with them.
“When donating eggs, you should look at the website of the agency and see how many previous egg donors are on the site, and additionally, make sure that all prerequisite blood tests are performed,” says Dr. Ghadir. “They should have a protocol in place if you need to miss work, or be seen by the fertility clinic, until you’re back to normal.”
- Use agencies that provide social support and psychological screening.
- Ask about their policies and how they’ll support you if complications arise.
- Research what clients say about them.
- Speak with previous donors about their experiences.
Selling your eggs may be illegal in places around the world, but many agencies offer the donor compensation for their time and commitment. Some international egg donor programs send you abroad in an all-expenses-paid trip. But neither of those factors should be your primary motivation for becoming an egg donor.
I personally donated my eggs overseas three times now, and while the compensation and overseas trips are great bonuses, the commitment wouldn’t have been worth it if my primary goal wasn’t to help a family.
My heart swells with happiness whenever I remember that a family now has a daughter because of me. I’m eternally grateful that I was given the opportunity to help them in such a special way.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and journalist based in Grahamstown, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.