I have a hunch that the stamps in my passport have contributed most of my insights, and prompted most of my questions.
When I tell people I'm traveling for over a year, more often than not they ask how I can afford to do so. "Are you wealthy?" they inquire. I laugh and assure them that I am not. Travel doesn't have to be expensive, but when I made the decision to leave my life behind and start this journey, the one hitch was that I had to save as much money as possible in a relatively short period of time. I had some money saved and put myself on a strict budget to reduce my spending as much as possible. In nearly a year, I could save enough. The problem was that I didn't have a year; I was planning to leave in a few short months.
Luckily, I had another option that would allow me to earn a large sum of money in a relatively short amount of time...and it was legal.
I remember sitting in a movie theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan sometime in my early 20s waiting for a film to start. Advertisements were running on the screen, something I normally ignored, but one caught my eye: "Have you considered becoming an egg donor?"
I had heard of this before but knew almost nothing about it. It seemed strange to think that my offspring would be somewhere in the world and I would have absolutely nothing to do with it. The movie started and I didn't give it a second thought.
Fast forward a few years, to a time when I had just moved back to New York City after living in Texas for two years. I was looking for a new job and temping wasn't paying the bills. I started thinking about alternative ways to make money and the idea of egg donation came back to me. It no longer felt like a strange idea. After all, aren't all beings on the earth and universe connected in some way?
I would be donating a single cell, much smaller than my fingernail, in order to make someone's life much happier. Suddenly it made more sense, so I decided to look into the process, applied, and donated.
When I made the decision to travel long term, I decided to donate eggs again so I could leave within a few short months rather than a year.
MY FIRST DONATION
When I decided to apply to become an egg donor I had no idea what was involved. I did a lot of research, read several articles written by women who had donated, and tried to learn everything I could before I applied. After finding a few horror stories on the Internet, it was my priority to find a facility that had an excellent reputation and seemed to care as much about donors as they did the recipients. I found one with a well-known name and reputation and I met their qualifications to apply: female, between the ages of 21 and 33, and able to commute to the facility on a daily basis for the 2-3 weeks of the donation cycle.
The first step is the initial online application form with basic questions about age, height, weight, race, ethnic origin, occupation, and basic medical history. I remember filling out the application and wondering if I was too fat, too old, or too normal to qualify? Were the recipients looking for extremely young, thin model-type women to get their eggs from? Somewhat to my surprise, about a month later I got an email requesting that I come in to the facility for preliminary testing which included blood work and a psychological test.
The offices were nice and modern, the staff professional and friendly. The blood draw was relatively painless, a few vials taken for initial analysis. The multiple choice psychological test was very long and tedious, about 200 true or false questions that seemingly intended to determine whether or not I heard voices, had anger or self esteem issues, was emotionally stable, and probably a lot more I couldn't decipher. By the time I finished, I was both relieved and questioning my own sanity.
A few weeks passed and I got a call asking me to come in for the next round of testing. The next appointment included meeting with a genetics counselor and a psychologist, and a more thorough medical consultation. More of my blood was drawn, this time to be analyzed for any kind of imaginable disease or disorder one can be tested for. Although I've always been in excellent health, it is was still a little stressful to think about the possibility of finding out that I carried a gene for a genetic disorder or had a disease.
I sat with one of the doctors and a thorough medical and sexual history were taken and a physical exam, gynecological exam, and vaginal ultrasound were done. The ultrasound was interesting...a probe, called a transducer, coated in a gel and covered with a condom was inserted into my vagina. I was able to watch a screen projecting images of my ovaries and uterus as the doctor moved the transducer around.
My first glimpse of my internal organs was fascinating, though slightly uncomfortable as everything was shifted and moved around to check the health of each organ. I was relieved and strangely a little proud when the doctor announced that I had a beautiful uterus.
Once the exam was complete, I got dressed and met the doctor in an office. She told me about short and long term effects that could occur from the donation process. Short term, the cycle can cause mood swings, weight gain, abdominal swelling, bruising from the injections, headaches, and cramping. Basically similar to a very intense menstrual cycle.
The worst case scenario, however, was that there could be fluid buildup and the ovaries could twist and cut off blood flow. If this happened, surgery would be necessary to remove them. It was extremely unlikely but possible. It made me seriously think about whether or not I wanted to move forward but since the doctor I was talking to had never seen such a case in her many years of working at the facility my worries were put at ease.
The genetics counseling was quick and involved talking to a counselor about my family's medical history. It covered everything from my parents' and grandparents' age, weight, height and if they had any kind of medical issues, and whether or not my siblings had children.
The meeting with a psychologist was not as intense as I thought it might be. It was clear that her intention was to make sure I was capable of handling not only the donation process but also the reality of what I was doing. After that I met with a woman from administration who talked to me about the legalities of egg donation. Technically, the money I would receive after the donation would be for my efforts and not the actual eggs as that might be deemed unethical. Additionally, if the recipient cancelled the cycle before the retrieval I would be paid a portion of the agreed upon fee. However, if my body did not respond to the medications and I failed to produce viable mature eggs, I would not be paid.
I would have to sign a waiver of parental rights and rights to the eggs. I would never know the identity of the recipients or whether or not my donation actually resulted in a live birth. Finally, she explained that current laws prevent children produced by egg donation from contacting the donors. However, she asked how I would feel if the law was changed in the future, would I be open to being contacted? I agreed to the terms and told her I was absolutely open to being contacted in the future should that become a possibility.
The next step was to match me to a recipient. The recipients receive information on multiple donors which includes medical history, height, weight, body type, complexion, hair and eye color, ethnic origin, and even a description of nose, chin, eye, cheek, mouth, and hand size. It also has information on the donor's interests, like whether or not they play sports or an instrument and a picture of the donor as a baby, if the donor agrees to provide one.
My files were being judged. Women were looking at them and deciding whether or not they wanted my eggs to make a baby with. It was a little surreal.
Once I was chosen, a "start date" was set and my menstrual cycle needed to be synced with the recipient's. I notified the facility on the first day of my period and started taking the birth control pills they provided. On the start date of the cycle another physical exam, blood work, and vaginal ultrasound were done and I signed the waiver of rights. A nurse went through all of the medications I would be taking over the next two weeks and taught me how to inject them.
For the next two weeks, I was in a routine of waking up at 6:00 a.m., taking the subway to the facility for blood work and usually a vaginal ultrasound. A nurse would call in the afternoon with instructions on what medication and doses to inject in the evening. At exactly the same time each night, I injected myself in the stomach or thigh with said medication to stimulate the growth of multiple eggs. During this time I couldn't take vitamins and supplements, any other medication (aside from Tylenol if needed), and couldn't exercise, have sex, or drink alcohol.
Before the first injection, I felt nervous. I've never had a fear of needles but when it came down to it, the act of actually sticking one into my skin was a little intimidating. I prepared the medications I was to take that night and stood in the bathroom, squeezing a piece of my outer thigh in one hand and holding the syringe in another waiting for the clock on my phone to read 9:00 p.m. when I would inject. Then I closed my eyes, held my breath, and plunged the needle into my skin...and felt almost nothing. I pushed the plunger all the way down, felt a stinging sensation, quickly removed the needle, and it was over -- until the next night anyway.
During the two weeks of injections, I felt bloated, my lower abdomen was tight and I had mood swings and bruising on my belly and thighs from the injections, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle. In fact, the worst part was having to make the hour-long trip to the facility each morning before work.
When the ultrasound and blood work showed that my eggs were ready to be retrieved, I got the final call with instructions to inject the "trigger shot" which would release the mature eggs from their follicles. The final shot made me want to celebrate -- no more nightly injections and the morning exams were over. The next morning, I received instructions on what hospital to report to 48 hours later and gave them details about who would be picking me up from the hospital after the procedure.
After midnight before the procedure, I couldn't eat or drink anything. I checked in to the hospital early in the morning and was taken to the IVF wing's waiting room. I changed into the hospital gown, pants and socks they gave me, was asked empty my bladder. A final blood draw was taken to test my hormone levels, an IV was put in, and I was told to wait. After about 30 minutes, I was relocated to a smaller waiting room and a few minutes later a nurse brought me to the operating room.
I crossed the threshold into a freezing cold operating room with nothing more on than a hospital gown and socks. There was no turning back. I felt slightly nervous, surrounded by strangers who were about to conduct a procedure on me. A friendly and maternal nurse told me to open my gown in the back, lie on the operating table with my behind placed in a hole, legs in the stirrups, and rest my left arm, which had the IV in it, on an extension board so the anesthesiologist could access my vein.
A nurse, to my instant gratitude, placed warmed blankets on me. The anesthesiologist introduced herself and moments later injected her frosty concoction into my arm, my vision blurs, the room tilts and my lids became too heavy to keep open.
I woke up in the IVF waiting room, feeling cold, tired, and weak. I was given crackers, cookies, juice, and a large dose of Tylenol to help with what felt like strong menstrual cramps. My friend who was picking me up arrived and we were given instructions on what to expect in the next 48 hours, along with emergency phone numbers. About 30 minutes after I woke up, I walked out of the hospital...slowly but without assistance.
I slept for the next few hours and relaxed for the remainder of the day and night. The next day, I went back to work a bit sore and tired but otherwise fine.
The day after the procedure, a nurse called to see how I was doing and schedule my follow-up exam in a few days. The exam showed everything was normal and I was told that after my next period was over I could resume normal activities like exercising, drinking, and having sex. Then I was handed the check. I left the facility thinking about the fact that in approximately 40 weeks time there would probably be a new life in the world that I helped create.