Hi. I’m “M.”
I’ve wanted to write this article for such a long time.
Egg donation tends to be a sensitive subject for many different reasons. I’m going to share my story here in all aspects – the good, the bad, and the things I wish I knew before I started.
A little back story: my parents split when I was very young. As it turned out, neither of my parents were cut out to be parents, so my older sister and I were mostly raised by my grandparents. When my grandma got Alzheimer’s, it became our job to raise each other. We worked it out, my sister and I, and we are better people because of it.
But it did leave a financial hardship between the two of us.
Knowing my life’s struggles, my coworker approached me one day with the idea of donating my eggs. She told me I would be a “high demand” donor egg candidate due to my natural light hair and blue eyes. Said the process would be rewarding not only for myself, but I’d be helping a family on the road to their dream. Long story short, I went through a whole lot of physical and physiological tests before I was approved, then became “live” on the website as an active donor.
I was so surprised at how fast I was picked up.
Before I knew it, I was assigned nightly injections. Self-administered injections. And, let’s be honest, I am not a shot person. I literally pass out every time I see a needle piercing through my skin. I had to have my best friend Bri, who was in school to be an nurse at the time, come to my house each night to give them to me the first couple times. (Bless her soul!)
The process is not fun; and that is just the honest truth. You have to inject into fat, and being 112 pounds, I really could only inject into my small cookie pouch on my tummy near my belly button.
Each injection would bruise, so the next day I’d be injecting into the bruise that formed the night before. Not the most pleasant feeling. Then the bloating started. I felt as though I could feel every egg inside my ovaries. Everything hurt. Peeing, running, and in the last few days, even walking hurt. I could feel my heartbeat in my abdomen with every step. The idea of removing all that bloat and discomfort is SO overwhelmed me to the point that when it was time for the trigger shot and surgery, I was actually EXCITED!
Recovery is in my opinion the hardest. It took a good 4-5 days for anything to really start moving again. And by anything I mean… anything.
Recovering from the surgery
Two days after the surgery, I could get up and move around but it was just very uncomfortable. I thought that the more I rested, the less likely I’d be to get Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), a potentially dangerous condition where the body has taken on too many hormones and ovaries can become swollen and painful.
I was told that OHSS is rare and that recovery would be easy.
After my egg donation surgery was finished, a week had passed and I still hadn’t been able to recover the way I was told I should.
My stomach was so bloated that I looked five months pregnant. It hurt to the touch. I was acutely aware of where my ovaries were, and I could feel a pulsing pain every time I tried to pee. The bloating and pain concerned me after it didn’t go away two days after the surgery, so I called the center.
I had OHSS and my nurse didn’t sound too surprised.
As it turned out, I was suffering from moderate OHSS after the doctor removed 28 eggs. She told me that I would start to pee out the excess fluid causing the bloating in a few days, to drink lots of clear fluids and fiber high foods. I was told if I continued to throw up once I had “made a bowel movement” then I should immediately go to the ER and show them my donor card. I did stop throwing up after I finally did have a bowel movement — eight days later.
I told myself that I wouldn’t do it again. I couldn’t go through with it again.
But the coordinating nurse changed my mind.
Three months after my first cycle, I returned to the clinic for my post-surgery physical. I sat down with my coordinating nurse. I was about to tell her to remove me from the database and thank her for the opportunity, but then she told me of an Intended Parent’s status. This woman had struggled through two marriages due to her infertility. She had been trying to have a child and start a family for over 20 years. She was a breast cancer survivor and a part of traveling ministry to underprivileged towns and civilizations.
So I did it. I donated again. And I got OHSS again — 32 eggs were taken.
The Good Side of Egg Donation
Through my donation, she was going to give birth to beautiful twins in about six months.
At that moment, I couldn’t feel anything other than pure, unadulterated happiness.
Something I don’t think I had ever had the ability to feel before. Tears streamed down my cheeks without any control, and I didn’t want to control it. In that moment, I felt like I had done exactly what I was meant to do, and was where I knew I was making a real difference in life.
It was that feeling alone that drove me to a second cycle.
After my final egg retrieval, I was lucky enough to receive a Christmas gift from them at about mid cycle, with a handwritten card and pictures. I’ll never forget that feeling — the same feeling of happiness rushed over me. But I knew that my body could not handle another cycle. This was my last one.
That sort of appreciation in life is far and very few between and I see myself as blessed to be able to participate in something so amazing.
The Bad Side of Egg Donation
Sadly, the way we are ushered into the egg donation process as young women is NOT fair.
Today, I am suffering from medical issues due to the stimulation and surgeries from my egg donations. I had always been in perfect health. Never in my life had I ever even broken a bone, or sprained an ankle. I did dance my whole life. I went to the gym 3-5 times a week. I have always been an active person with a healthy body.
Two weeks after my period after the retrieval, I was getting out of bed when all of a sudden I had a surge of shooting, debilitating pain through my back and legs. It threw me to my knees. I was home alone, and scared. Once the vibrating pain ceased, I tried to pull myself back up, and sure enough it happened again. I had never in my life cried out in pain until that day.
My boyfriend was at work and not nearby his phone. My sister was in her third trimester and at a doctor’s appointment. No answer. I called my mother.
She drove over, and had to pick me up off my floor, and help me to the car to get me to the ER. Every bump in the road ripped through my back like knives. By the time we got there, my back had swelled and ballooned to one side, like I had a severe spinal deformity.
Once I got back home that day and saw myself in the mirror, I broke down in sobs of panic again, and my poor boyfriend had to do everything in his might to calm me down. The ER gave me an IV, Anti-Inflammatories, muscle relaxers, and pain killers — enough to get me through to my doctor’s appointment in two days. Those two days were miserable. Every moment when I wasn’t completely hopped up on the prescriptions, I was miserable.
I couldn’t walk to the bathroom alone. My boyfriend had to pick me up to bring me there, and even that caused the knifing vibration through my back and legs.
When my doctor looked at my x-rays, he couldn’t understand how I had sustained such nerve damage without any injury.
He asked me numerous times if I had fallen, or been working out. I hadn’t even returned to the gym yet. After explaining to him I had donated eggs about a month prior and undergone hormone treatment and surgery, he said that the retrieval is the only thing that could have caused such nerve damage leading what he diagnosed as “severe sciatica.”
A condition that will stay with my whole life, and I must constantly be aware of.
Running sets off those twinges in my back, heavy lifting and even just trying to fall asleep on my tummy — which used to be how I slept — can set them off.
Basically, my damaged nerve was unnoticed and untreated after the surgery. When I got OHSS and then my menstrual cycle, the damaged nerve flared up, causing permanent nerve damage to my lower back. Every period I have had since does not just include PMS and “cramps” anymore. On top of the usual cramps, I am hit with that knifing back pain. The anxiety about it happening again sets off a nervous phobia in me every month, because I am so scared to experience that pain again. Knowing it can just come back anytime is a lot to deal with.
Even to this day — six months after my second and final donation — sometimes during a cough, or in the middle of a workout, or even while adjusting my body in bed, I feel that sharp stabbing pain in my ovary for a split second before it disappears.
I have severe back issues now. Running will never be the same for me. The pressure of my body hitting the pavement brings my body back to the same pain and bloating feeling I had while I was administering the shots — sharp pains, shortness of breath, bloating.
Picking Up the Pieces
All the treatment I’ve required since donating have been a cost out of my pocket.
I was warned of small issues beforehand, but all in such a light sense I didn’t truly understand at what cost it really has been to body.
One of the worst parts is that egg “donations” are classified at the end of the year as “Miscellaneous” income on par with lottery winnings and hobby income. It is taxed at the highest amount possible. Even though the sale of body parts is a federal offense and ILLEGAL in the U.S., the agency and IRS will classify your “service” as taxable income. None of this was explained to me at the time of my egg donation.
I didn’t even know when I filed my taxes until notices came to me in the mail, and it wasn’t until I received the 1099 for my egg donation in my mail that I even learned about the taxes. At this point, I had already taken time away from work to deal with my health, so I was behind on bills, and I had already put my egg donation money towards paying off my credit.
I did not go out and vacation.
I didn’t go buy new boobs (I was tempted though, I won’t lie).
I just tried to catch up in life.
As it turned out, after the medical complications and all the money owed to the IRS — I also reached out to a CPA and attorney — so now I was financially more behind than when I started.
It makes me so upset that something so fulfilling and beautiful has just been swooped on by big corporate America and the IRS to profit upon. I understand I should have been more vigilant in this area. But I was 22 years old, trying to make ends meet, and being approached about the whole process as a “donation” and how “easy” the process would be. I took it for just that.
While I have been fighting the struggle, I have found dozens and dozens of more women with the same struggle. Like me, they have felt used, and abused, and left out in the cold while our bodies forsake us from the procedure while the clinic and government turn their heads and hold out their hands.
So before you jump, look very very hard.
Even some of the most seemingly amazing opportunities can be cloaking something different. Personally I still can not say I regret any of it, because I know as long as I live, I’ve changed lives. I’ve helped create dreams and make them come true. That’s just not something that happens in everyday life.
But I have personally seen the struggle of infertility and reproductive cancers. The destruction — emotionally and physically — they leave behind is vast. The silver lining to my pain and what I’ve endured after donating is that I was willing and able to sacrifice to help those stand back up.
That is what humanity is all about and we can never lose sight of that.
Photo Credits: All photos courtesy of ‘M’ with the exception of the hospital shot, which was taken by Andrew Bain via Flickr Creative Creative Commons