IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Donated Eggs and the Process Almost Killed Me
Two years after donating eggs, I have nothing but three tiny scars and an overwhelming fear of infertility to show for it. That being said, I fully support donation.
For me, the donation process started when I submitted my first donor application.
At the time, I was trying to fund a trip abroad, which made the promise of $6,000+ for a donation all the more alluring. Plus, I firmly believed (and still do) that if I had eggs I wasn’t going to need, it was worth giving a few to someone in need. After all, we women have over 400,000 egg follicles but only release about 400 of those during our reproductive years.
Needless to say, I took the leap and applied.
The donor application was grueling and I had to continually remind myself that my chances of being selected were slim. Typically donors are chosen, and paid at a higher rate, based on education, appearance and accomplishments. For example, a blonde haired woman with a PHD who happens to be a member of Mensa will make twice the amount per donation as a brown haired girl with a Bachelor’s degree. I have neither a Bachelor’s nor blonde hair. But I do have what I like to think of as Superman genes. Our family has hosted more people in their 90s and 100s than most nursing homes.
After piecing together my genetic lineage and answering dozens of personal questions about my life and my beliefs, I attached 25 pictures and scribbled my signature.
The application was done and I never thought about it again.
That is, until a year later when I got a call from the agency. A family wanted to make a baby with my eggs.
Before I knew it, I was at a doctor’s office in New Jersey having a full physical workup done. I gave blood (twice), had an ultrasound, and allowed a few dozen people to peek inside my vagina. Then came a meeting with the psychologist.
What was my family like? How was I raised? Do I want children of my own? Although this is an anonymous donation, if a child did find you as an adult, how would you feel about meeting him or her?
Occasionally more eggs are retrieved than needed and those eggs can, potentially, be given to another woman. Theoretically the two women receiving your eggs could both have children, half siblings, who could grow up around the same time, meet, and have a relationship of their own. How does that make you feel?
Potential incest concerns aside, I answered question after question attempting to both assure the staff that I didn’t have any mental weaknesses that could be passed to genetic offspring and also that I was mentally sound enough to handle the emotional roller coaster that is donation. In the end I was approved and passed on to one final person in the office -– the nurse.
The nurse’s job was to make me aware, doubly and triply aware, of every risk known to man resulting from egg donation. She broke it down by risk level: minor complications to major medical issues. Risks ranging from headaches, mood swings, bloating and nausea to ovarian hyperstimulation and ovarian torsion.
I had these risks memorized by that point considering I’d done the research myself to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I’d read every site, egg donor blog and complaint that I could possibly find. So when I asked the final question, I already knew the answer.
“Having children in the future is extremely important to me, is there any risk of infertility from egg donation?” And the answer she gave me was the same I’d gotten from every person and every resource – “There is no evidence that egg donation can directly cause infertility”.
We shook hands and took another look at an ultrasound of my uterus.
“You have a ton of follicles in there!” Apparently I was an incredibly fertile young lady.
Over the next several weeks I took birth control pills to sync my cycle with the intended mother’s cycle. After we were hormonally in sync, the injections started. Injections I had to administer myself. In my stomach.
The hormones I was given caused about 24 follicles to mature in my ovaries, plumping them up like overstuffed, egg-carrying water balloons.
On the last day I was instructed to give myself a Lupron trigger shot at a very specific time on a very specific day to prepare my eggs for retrieval by forcing them into the final phase of maturation. Thankful it was the last time I had to inject myself, I gladly took the trigger shot and headed off to the clinic bright and early the next morning.
While being prepped for retrieval, a nurse came over with a small gift bag and a card.
“The intended mother left this for you.”
The gift completely caught me off guard considering the donation was entirely anonymous and I’d had little reason to think of the mother aside from her uterus being prepared to accept my genetic material. I opened the card to read a heartfelt message thanking me for my donation and explaining why she’d chosen me as her donor.
I couldn’t help but sob shamelessly, her gratitude was so unexpected and I was so hopped up on fertility hormones that I completely broke down. With snot running down my chin, tears collecting on my pillow, an IV in my arm and a smile on my face, I was wheeled into the operating room.
I obediently attempted to count back from 10 as a nurse Velcroed my arms and legs to an operating table (a very compromising position for a girl in a hospital gown). But I failed miserably. Before 7, I was asleep.
Shortly after, I woke up to a nurse with Saltines quietly repeating my name. The procedure had been successful.
While listening to the nurse explain how things had gone, I started to shake. A lot. Apparently that’s a fairly normal part of anesthesia. Then my blood pressure dropped, came back up, dropped again. After about 15 minutes everything evened out and after a little monitoring, I was sent home with my boyfriend/chaperone and directions to take ibuprofen for the pain.
But pain usually isn’t an issue for me; I had no intention of taking ibuprofen. We stopped for food and then made our way home while I sat cringing in the passenger seat. My insides hurt surprisingly bad every time we hit a bump.
I’d read that most women find the donation process painless, but for me the ride was unbearable. I alternated between nauseous and pained.
By the time I got home all I wanted was sleep, so that’s what I did. For 15 minutes. And then I woke up with excruciating pain in my chest, which is most definitely not where ovaries are located or where pain should be after donation.
As I rolled over to try and call the clinic, I felt a type of pain I’ve never felt in my life. Everything turned white and I couldn’t move. I wanted to scream but I have no idea if I did. I waited for it to stop (it subsided in a few seconds) and then I immediately called the nurse I’d seen earlier that day. When I explained my symptoms she seemed worried, instructed me to take ibuprofen and insisted I call back within 20 minutes.
I didn’t make it 20 minutes.
My boyfriend tried to call an ambulance but I told him I was fine as another wave of pain washed over me. He agreed that if I could walk to the bathroom by myself, I didn’t have to go to the hospital.
Being the stubborn fool that I am, I clawed my way to the end of the bed, swung my legs over the side and tried to prop myself up with my arms. As soon as my butt lifted off the mattress the world suddenly went black and I went deaf. Funny thing I learned about passing out: you lose all your senses. Go figure.
By the time I was fully aware of what was going on again, the paramedics were already in my apartment.
In another few minutes I was in the Emergency Room with a doctor leaning over me. Before he could do more than lightly poke me on the belly, I threw up on the hospital floor (oops!) and began to moan in agony.
I don’t think I stopped screaming, whining or whimpering for the next hour while they tried to figure out what was going on. I was that patient every person hopes they never hear while in the emergency room –- the one who sounds like bamboo shards are being slipped slowly under her fingernails.
Morphine shot after morphine shot, everything still hurt. In the middle of all my wailing, the doctors somehow managed to get me to lie still enough for an ultrasound which revealed that my abdominal cavity was completely flooded with blood. A lot of blood.
I was immediately given a blood transfusion while a gynecologist was called for surgery.
When the doctor arrived she quickly explained the situation, “You lost a lot of blood in the last few hours. I’m going to cut three little incisions and do laparoscopic surgery to remove that blood. Now I need to warn you ahead of time, there’s a good chance I will have to remove part of the ovary and possibly the whole thing…”
I was going to lose an ovary.
I heard nothing else after that point, all I knew was that I might not be able to have children. I hyperventilated, I cried, I lost the ability to control myself or my emotions. My boyfriend tried to comfort me but all I could do was sob until they finally knocked me out for the second time that day.
When I woke up again, all was calm in the recovery room. I was hooked up to oxygen and had about 30 tubes going into and out of my body. There was only one thing that mattered to me, “Do I still have my ovary?”
Thankfully I did.
But that doesn’t mean luck was entirely on my side. I’m at an elevated risk for a host of problems including adhesions, cysts, etc. Knowing that, I have a very real fear that I’ve lost one of the most important parts of being a woman. I worry every day about what will happen when my boyfriend (now husband) and I try to conceive in the coming years. There is no “normal” gynecologist visit for me anymore.
That being said, I still believe in egg donation.
Why? Because what happened to me is not normal.
In fact, no one can even pinpoint the reason I bled out. The clinic monitored me extensively leading up to surgery. They sufficiently warned me of the risks and the retrieval doctor didn’t make any fatal errors as far as anyone could tell. Everything about the situation was ideal.
Yet it still happened.
Which means I am part of the <1% who almost die after a completely competent retrieval.
Despite that fact, knowing that I may have created a child for a woman who couldn’t conceive has given me a sense of fulfillment that few things in my life have. And while I write this with a dull pain on my left side (which still happens sometimes), I pray that somewhere out there a mother is starting a family. Because of me.
Which is why egg donors exist.