Recently, we published this story about how things went south after a member donated her eggs to her aunt. Shortly after, this email popped into my inbox:
Hi, I just read the heartbreaking story posted on We Are Egg Donors about a woman donating eggs to her aunt and having it go so horribly! I really think that is awful.
I also donated to my aunt (my mother’s first cousin, to be technical). My experience was very different and has been very positive. If you have any interest in sharing another perspective on a similar situation, I’d be happy to share.
We are honored to share Carter’s story here.
Jean has been my fairy godmother, my partner in crime, my confidant, and one of my very best friends since I was an early teen. She was an “aunt” when I was young, but a “cousin” now that we are both adults. She was there for me through some of my greatest traumas. And I’ve been there for some of hers. So when she decided to settle down and work on baby-making, I stayed up to date on all the trials and tribulations.
She had grown up thinking she had all the time in the world. Apparently things weren’t so simple.
She sent some close friends and family this email.
“I know it's been a minute since I updated. Scott and I have been moving through the motions of each month and just leaning on each other for support. That is working for us. We've had our bouts of stress and hurt, but we just fall deeper in love with each other as we go through this.”
“Today we met with the team to start talking about IVF. We have all the particulars for each given scenario and now have to figure out what we want to do. The decisions we make will be best guesses out of a number of options. They are all expensive. None of them are easy…Do we use my eggs or donor eggs? If we use donor eggs, do we look for someone we know or not? Do we pay for just one month or do we pay for multiple months up front, significantly reducing the cost per month? Where can we get the best rate for a loan? What if we have this baby, but we can't afford tae kwon do lessons?”…
“We'll get there... we do KNOW that. Love & xxx.”
When I got the email, I knew immediately I wanted to help. I had been sitting on my couch, watching TV. I called out to my new husband, who was on the computer in another room.
“Hey -- do you mind if I donated my eggs to Jean?”
He paused very briefly. “I don’t know, should I?”
It was a very short conversation, and I’m not sure he ever even came into the room.
I sent off a quick reply:
Wow. I hope you are doing well through all this. You sound very level headed, but then you always do. The only response I have (other than that I am always here to talk) is to say that I would be open to considering donating eggs for you. I'm not blindly offering, but I would definitely consider if you asked (I just have to put that out there). You know my history, the good and bad. And everyone says I look just like you anyways. Be gentle with yourself. <3
And so it began.
Once I made my decision, to be honest, I didn’t really concern myself with the details of what it would entail. This may or may not have been a good thing. I hate needles, especially for blood draws. I didn’t want to dwell on what the hormones might make me feel. I never really considered the risks to me personally. I told myself that life is full of risks. I’d take whatever came my way. This was going to happen.
I told my dad the news. At first, he was worried about my well-being, but after he thought about it some more, he told me he was proud.
He pointed out that her desire to use my eggs for the precious act of creating a child was really the highest compliment she could ever pay me. She wanted MY genes to be part of her own child. I think he was really a little flattered himself.
A few months later, Jean and Scott got married. The night before the ceremony, she and I went out to the beach, lit candles in the wind and, surrounded by her most Red Tent-type friends, prayed and blessed this magical endeavor.
At my first test and screening, I was shocked out of my squishy sisterhood sense of it all.
A woman who never looked at my face or touched my body prodded my insides with a cold ultrasound machine. I squirmed. Moments later, another woman told me, while she moved a needle toward my arm, that she wouldn’t be able to perform all the tests I needed at this time. She was halfway done drawing blood before I understood what she meant. I would need to be stuck with a needle again. That day.
This was the last straw for Jean. She had already had a few unfortunate run-ins with the service, so she immediately transferred us to a different clinic. The new clinic became a part of our family. We went to the same office, saw the same nurses and doctors. They fawned over me a bit when I visited. I don’t think they saw “Known Donors” -- egg donors who know the recipients personally -- very often, and were clearly tickled by the whole concept.
I lived with Jean and Scott while I did my “cycle.” I was 24, married, and had a good job, but they spoiled me like a teenage daughter, and I took the time to relive a type of childhood I’d never had. I was fascinated by the changes in my body, amused and eager about getting to be part of something that a third person has so rarely in the course of history gotten to be a part of.
I thought about the child that would come of this. I couldn’t wait to be for her what Jean was to me.
Unlike the egg donor who shared her story recently, a therapist visited us at their home to facilitate a discussion about the repercussions of this big decision. We talked about the definitions of family, of motherhood, of love, of cousinhood, of support. We talked about jealousy, how we expected to feel, how we’d handle it if we felt differently.
She asked all kinds of questions, from logistics to philosophy:
- How will my kids relate to Scott and Jean’s children?
- What happens to the children if something happens to Jean and/or Scott?
- What happens to the eggs that aren’t used for them to have a baby?
- What do we tell family members?
- What do we tell the kids?
- What if I don’t like their childrearing decisions?
- What if I can’t have my own children?
- How will Jean feel when someone comments on her child’s resemblances to me?
“What if she throws a tantrum when she is a teen and asks to go live with her ‘real’ mother?” the therapist challenged.
“Sounds about like what you did when you were a teen!” Jean retorted towards me. We all laughed.
On the day of my retrieval, Jean, Scott, and my husband were there to support me. When I started to wake up from the drugs, the first coherent thing I remember was asking, “How many?”
“Forty one,” Jean answered, clearly proud and excited.
I thrust my fist in the air and announced that “I win!”
What I didn’t know is that forty one eggs is a lot of eggs -- too many. A safe range is usually considered to be around 15. Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome is a well-known short-term risk for egg donors, a medical reaction to the fertility medication in which the ovaries become swollen and fluid accumulates in the abdomen. I had never heard of it.
For the next few days, I was ill. The anesthesia made me vomit any time I tried to consume anything, and my swollen ovaries kept me puking even after the medicines had worn off.
For a couple days, water was all I could stomach. I couldn’t sleep at night. My shoulders felt like I’d hurt myself lifting weights or was clenching them, but no amount of massage or warm pressure would relieve it. My husband struggled through it with me.
Jean and Scott stood by trying to help in any possible way. I could tell they felt guilty. This was when I started researching the surgery again. Started finding online the little bit of vague information available to me. Jean could find little more through her IVF forums. She called the nurse, but they kept telling us to give it time. Jean finally offered to insist on a visit and I accepted gratefully.
The doctor checked my ovaries, which would normally be the size of almonds. They had swollen to the size of oranges.
The pain in my shoulders was “referral pain” from the internal bleeding from my ovaries being stabbed 41+ times. It had swollen so much that it was irritating my diaphragm. Who knew blood could be an irritant to your internal organs? I had no idea.
In severe cases, OHSS needs to be physically drained with a needle. In my case, the solution was simple: Electrolytes.
With time (and electrolytes), my recovery was otherwise smooth.
The Road Home
I went back to my own home, several states away, and moved forward with my own life. It took a couple of cycles before pregnancy finally took full hold of Jean. Every time she went to the doctor, she called me, and I was eager to hear every single detail.
I wanted my eggs to be strong for her.
Then I got a call one night saying that Jean was going to the hospital. Things were kind of rough and she was scared. I recognized the words. They scared me too. I was powerless, and terrified. What if something happened to her? What if this thing I’d done, all good intentions, hurt her, truly hurt her. What if I lost her to something I helped make happen? I was overwhelmed by unexpected guilt. I cried and prayed until the news came that all was clear. More or less.
When the baby was born, I would spend time staring at pictures of her. I’d pull up baby pictures of me and my siblings and compare. I had expected so much that she would look just like me, just like Jean, that it never occurred to me that she’d look just like Scott.
So many feelings came up with me.
SO MANY FEELINGS.
I struggled to find the words for them. What dominated was this gut feeling that nothing else had prepared me for, really.
I looked at the baby and thought, my children might look like this some day. It was like a sneak preview.
The idea of “motherhood” has always been a neatly packaged set of feelings: the baby is half you, it grows inside you, and you nurture it when it is born. I feel like society has been very harsh on women who deviate from that packaged norm. Nothing in nature or nurture had prepared me as a woman for this.
I felt more paternal than maternal, if that makes sense. You know how a man delivers his sex cells and they grow outside of his body and a child is out there who shares his genes? I feel that way about my genes. This is a child who doesn’t need anything from me. I don’t need to panic. I don’t need to jump in. I don’t need to take charge.
Actually, something else bothered me more.
I started feeling it around Jean and Scott’ wedding, but now that this little bundle was born, it was truly set in stone.
Jean was no longer all mine.
These other people come first for her now. I grieved a little bit, and moved on. And Jean never really left me. We continue to talk just as much, and she’s still been there for me when I need her. (There might just be a crying child in the background.)
For Christmas that year, I surprised almost everyone and appeared on Jean’s doorstep while guests were arriving for dinner. Her response was priceless. She hurried to introduce me to her little girl, and we took photos of the three of us together. I monopolized the attentions of the little lady, as much as I could.
But at the end of it all, it was very clear to me that I felt the same way for her as I did her closest cousins. Plus a little extra special bond.
They did a second cycle shortly after. This time the baby was born on the three year anniversary of my egg retrieval. I was touched by the serendipitous symmetry of it all.
Fertility issues and alternative family planning became a new thing that Jean and I continued to bond over. Jean remained very active in her IVF community, so when she became aware of We Are Egg Donors, she shared this resource with me.
I joined We Are Egg Donors eagerly, grateful to FINALLY have access to other people who could possibly understand my experiences.
I have found a world of people who understand the joy it is to look on a child and know that you helped. It’s a unique experience because in some way, that child wouldn’t exist if you hadn’t helped. It’s hard to put into words, which is why it’s so powerful to connect with others who have been through it. Many of us share a mix of pride, adoration, and shock at the strange LACK of responsibility exhibited by the fertility industry. Because the American fertility industry is not regulated, we see a lot of first-time egg donors go through a system that seems to consider them more like a number than a patient.
That wasn’t my experience, I’m thankful to say. My little one-woman-to-another-fairy tale is a stark contrast to the anonymous donors who go through clinics that take advantage of them, neglect them, and even lie to them. Known donors whose loved ones go back on their word when unexpected feelings come up.
I am constantly reminded how little information about egg donation is out there and how easy it is to mislead women who are new to this world.
I have to say, though: My egg donation has brought me nothing but joy. Jean’s mother often thanks me for the blessing that her grandchildren are to her. But I am so lucky to have Jean, Scott and their children in my life. I am so lucky to be a part of their lives.