I was another 20-year-old actress living in Los Angeles getting progressively more frustrated. Every role I was getting cast in felt the same: generic promiscuous college girls in cliche slasher flicks. No real back-story, no character arcs. Glorified set dressing.
After the joy of studying drama at a prestigious acting conservatory in New York for four years, I now felt misused.
No, thank you, I don't want the "opportunity" to play a cheerleader who just "happened" to have lost her shirt and is now jumping topless on a trampoline for your direct-to-DVD misogynistic piece of crap "film." Sorry!
I was longing to play a different kind of role: complicated, dark souls, the kind of Oscar bait, traditionally embodied by men who didn't have to fit into the sexist, antiquated notion of having to be "likable."
Unfortunately parts like that weren't growing on trees and certainly weren't being handed out to non-famous actresses. If I wanted to play a woman like that, well I would have to write it! But first I needed an idea.
I had just moved back to New York and remember flipping through Backstage (an actors' trade paper) and seeing an ad. "Play the role of a life time. Become a donor! All calls strictly confidential."
Like many of the fertility ads that are plastered around college campuses, this was clearly hoping to attract a very specific niche woman: young, visually appealing and educated. But what stood out for me was that they were in this case, actively targeting actresses, who are more often than not desperate and financially impaired. It seemed irresponsible! I had to know more.
I submitted my headshot and a cover letter. Throwing out words like, "leggy redhead" and "classically trained" in the About Me section. I went through my Facebook page to find the rare pic where I looked wholesome and eager. The kind of girl I imagined who would wear a cardigan set and bring homemade bread to her boyfriend's parents.
On the lengthy application forms, I found myself editing out my less desirable personal traits. When they asked me to describe myself, I found myself downplaying my characteristic intensity, my aggressive determination, my staunch feminist ideology and instead seemed to paint the portrait of a bland, sweet, traditional girl that I didn't recognize. Without ever actually lying, I had already seemed to morph into this new "character." The ideal donor girl.
Apparently the powers that be ate it up! A few days later, I was summoned to come to the fertility clinic, a sterile palatial building in an elite neighborhood in Upper Manhattan. I was called by my first name and last initial (to protect my identity?) and was promptly introduced to the "Ovum Co-Ordinator." A pristine, almost android-pretty lady who explained that I, as a young, fertile woman, had the power to make someone's dreams come true.
She patiently explained that, if selected, I would be compensated ten thousand dollars per egg harvest, with an option of doing this up to six times. She emphatically stressed that this was a donation, that no one was offering to compensate me for the sale of any body part.
That any potential baby that would result from my egg, would not really be my biological child (erm, what?!) and was more accurately "my kin." I was already dumbfounded by the doublespeak.
She noted that along with providing the clinic with my SAT scores, GPA, high school & college transcripts, a list of any awards of merit, that I would be tested for all known genetic diseases, would be interviewed by a psychiatrist and that I would have to pass a 1,000 question psychological evaluation to see if I was mentally sound enough to be a donor.
I felt sneaky as I walked out of the clinic, like I had just gone undercover. Up until this point, I had intended just to familiarize myself with egg donation by doing this single interview and then, from my detailed notes, I would start to write. But suddenly I found myself intrigued. In order to really tell this story, wouldn't I need to go deeper?
And dear God, SIXTY GRAND!
A few days later I heard from the clinic notifying me that I had passed the first round. I recall feeling the exact same sense of euphoria that I get when I get a call back for an acting role.
This time I was interviewed by a pompous doctor. He seemed to ignore me as we went over my family's health history. Do I have any relatives who have had: a) club foot, b) cleft palette, c) chronic acne, d) a history of alcoholism? Had I ever had an eating disorder or considered suicide? No, no, no, nope. His eyes remained glazed as he rattled through the routine questionnaire. Suddenly he discovered my modeling pictures.
For the first time, his eyes met mine. What he said next, seems to have been burned into my psyche. "Look young lady, many donors sit in our database for months or even years before being selected by an interested couple, many are never chosen. But I think it will be very different in your case. Everyone loves a pretty girl and everyone loves an actress."
I was dumbfounded. I muttered something polite and exited the room. Was this real life? I was feeling the same sense of objectification that I felt in casting calls. The parallels between "auditioning" as an actress and as a donor were unsettling.
Another time, I had to make a list of celebrities I've ever been compared to so they could share it with potential parents. Two nurses earnestly discussed whether I looked more like Emma Stone or Amy Adams.
I was asked to write a note to my future egg that he or she would be given on their eighteenth birthday. I affectionately called this my "dear spawn" letter. I also had to disclose my number of sex partners. Were they male and female? I wondered if I would I have been eliminated if I were gay.
Mostly I wanted to know how any of this could possibly effect the quality of my eggs. I would rush home to type out literal transcripts from my sessions.
After two months of intense testing, I was notified that I had been chosen and would have two days to accept or decline the offer. I began obsessively Googling everything about real donors. Who were these women? Why did they do it? Was it personally fulfilling? Just because the screening process at this particular clinic was dubious and appearance obsessed (and a little eugenics-y!) clearly didn't mean the process itself was bad.
Through research I discovered that in vitro fertilization can be more affordable than adoption in New York State. I had had this idea that "buying eggs" was basically a cosmetic thing but it was much more complicated than that.
Ultimately my decision to go through with my egg donation was personal. I don't think I'll ever want children but if I can help another woman achieve her dreams by having them, well that's awesome.
Now I had my story! I enrolled in a screenwriting class at Gotham Writers Workshop. Every morning I would go to the clinic for daily monitoring. I would inject myself in the ass with potent hormones. I felt like I was carrying a dozen plump navel oranges in my belly.
Sex, drinking and smoking were all outlawed. I was bloated and irrational. But, my God, the screenplay seemed to be writing itself!
On the day of my surgery I felt ready for this chapter of my life to be over. My kind and patient partner waited while I was placed under anesthesia and my 16 eggs were extracted. When it was all over (and I was still sore and groggy!)I was handed a check for ten grand. It was surreal.
I ended up using the money to make my screenplay into a feature film called OVUM: a dark comedy about an actress who will do anything for a part and ends up giving up a part of herself when her method acting exercise goes too far and she ends up selling her eggs.
In January of 2014, we shot the entire movie and I played the complicated lead role. The movie has opened major doors for me as an actress and got me a new agent! It has been subsequently invited to screen at numerous film festivals (even winning a couple awards along the way!)
This entire ordeal led me to discover filmmaking and has turned out to be the most artistically fulfilling thing that I have ever done. My eyes have been opened to the plight of so many egg donors who have been treated more like science projects than patients. I hope by going public that I can demystify the process and be a voice for fellow donors!