Sonja O’Hara penned and starred in Ovum, a narrative feature film based on her experience as a three-time egg donor. We're excited to share a clip - which takes place in a fictitious "Egg Donors Anonymous" meeting" - from her comedic indie film.
We invited six egg donors around the world - in the United States, Canada, and Australia - to watch the clip and respond. Responses were mixed, which is perhaps a reflection of the distinct personal experiences egg donors have across the world. The laws are so different, and vary by country. In Canada, paying egg donors is supposed to be prohibited, but still happens anyway; it's framed by brokers as a "wink-wink expense reimbursement." (i.e. "Hey, here's five grand, no receipts needed. Our co-founder, Claire, was paid $4,000 cash in a paper bag.) Australian egg donors are often known and donate altruistically, without payment. They are also encouraged to finish their own families before choosing to donate.
When it comes to egg donation in America, though, money changes hands freely. Egg donors can be paid unlimited amounts in the United States, and regulation is scant. Ovum is meant to spur a conversation about eugenics, reproduction, and the unseen side of the market for elite and top shelf eggs in the American egg market.
Want to watch Ovum? Beginning April 11, 2017, it been released through Sony's The Orchard, and can be purchased online on here.
Without further ado, here's the clip, the reactions, and to wrap it up, Sonja's response.
I liked the take they took, because while it was dramatized, it represented a piece of each donor. I would like to see it even more emphasized, even more in depth. There are no real support groups out there like there are for American egg donors. We even get shunned for even talking about it in public. We need to do better in the United States. Donating eggs should be like any other organ or tissue type donations. It should be regulated. The girls should be told the truth and be cared for. Right now, we are factories, we are animals... Only taken for what we're worth in the industries’ eyes. -- Jordin
If I wasn't an egg donor, I would see this clip and think we're all a bit strange. In reality, most of us are just average women who wanted to help others in a very selfless way, or just women who also were in need of financial assistance.
Seeing the woman who had donated 9 times -- it turned my stomach. That's probably the most extreme and saddest of cases. So what I'm left wondering is where is the woman who actually represents most of us?
Not the woman who dances around in a circle with other women chanting about their menstrual cycle, and not the woman who compares herself to a factory and looks like she's drained of all life and happiness -- that's not us.
Even as a woman who greatly regrets my donations, I am not even remotely close to this. I hope that the movie does actually address the biggest issue for all of us donors: lack of research and lack of follow up with donors.
The American egg donation industry is... Reckless. Greedy. I am currently under medical treatment for chronic pelvic pain, migraines, and what was suspected ovarian failure. Fortunately my diagnosis turned out to be PCOS, a much easier pill to swallow. With the PCOS I have no menstrual cycle. I will likely have to seek assistance from a fertility specialist if I want to conceive on my own. I think it's worth noting that I have no genetic link to PCOS and no other factors that could explain my PCOS. Coincidentally it is very common amongst former donors. I also have scarring to my reproductive organs as well as suspected nerve damage which has caused chronic pain that shoots from my reproductive organs down to my leg. All of these conditions occurred post donations.
I am constantly asking why is there no research into the health risks that egg donors face? Why is there no tracking of donors? Why is there no data? The conclusion I have drawn is this: clinics and agencies benefit from telling future egg donors: "There are no known long-term health risks associated with egg donation."
Bottom line is that uninformed consent is not consent.
It's almost like egg donors are being mocked. I know of zero support groups and the whole flavor of the video didn't seem realistic to me. I found Candace ("I didn't want to be a stripper") very disturbing. She looks like a heroin addict. When I donated, there were extremely high standards. When I donated, it was for altruistic reasons and any compensation went towards gas money and parking in Boston. The woman who was a surrogate made me shake my head. I gained 50 pounds after donating and I have always been an athlete; a triathlete. This photo of me is from October 2016 after I ran a half marathon. I've never been able to lose the weight. I'll be running my first marathon this year. My husband and I decided not to have children and I've never had any reproductive issues as far as any examinations have shown. - Jamie
I was pretty offended by how donors were portrayed maybe because, like Jamie, it was different for me.
I donated to create a family and although the money was appealing, I ultimately felt badly I accepted the money because I think the gift of life should be freely given.
I also believe anonymity is wrong and donor conceived people should have access to their genetic parents, their ancestry, and their medical history. The United Nations agrees, too bad that doesn't matter in the US.
The global fertility industry often entices women with money and altruism and leaves them infertile, damaged, or in extreme cases, dead. We desperately need long-term studies on egg donors, and the drugs they have been using on us for over 30 years. - Alice
I've personally never heard of an egg donor support group. I've been told no such organizations exists for egg donors in Canada. So I'm not sure if it's misleading or not... I was happy that the support group presented some varied donor experiences, however I felt that these were quite surface portrayals. I liked the queer content!
In America, the market value of eggs is more clearly denoted than in Canada. The fact that there are support groups for donors is singular to the US because- and i assume here- that brokerage agencies (biased themselves) set up/facilitate these groups. the very fact that donors CAN donate more than five times is troubling. i think it says something about the lack of oversight and regulation of the industry as a whole.
What troubled me about the video is the ego and pride that most of the support group members had about their donations. None -- save for the "9-time donor" -- seemed concerned about the health consequences or risks of donation. I do realize this is a short clip, and I hope that these issues are further explored in the film. - Claire
In Australia we are not manipulated or coerced into donating. I approached my recipients online, I choose them out of many that were advertising. I accessed extensive counselling services (its law that all donors receive this). I also attended group 'meet ups' with other donors as well as recipients. I have agreed with my recipients to stay in contact and will be family friends with any resulting children. The recipients plan to be honest with their child about how they were conceived. I thought the clip was strange but only because my experience is so removed from what is portrayed.
I am horrified by the American system. When donors are paid they become a commodity.
The FS are getting away with abusing donors bodies. They expect them to produce too many eggs and women are ending up with lifelong health problems. The donors are so young, how can they make this decision now? Before they have even started their own family? Recipients in America are often not telling the child about the donor or even if they do the child is often not able to seek out the donor if they want to. I don't think this is a good situation for anyone. It makes me angry that women in America think it's ok for the FS to hyperstimulate then and they think 30 eggs is a 'good' amount.
I want to thank all of my fellow donors who chimed in so candidly on this conversation. OVUM is based on my own experience as a repeat egg donor at a high-end New York fertility agency where I was offered excessive compensation based off of my modeling portfolio and SAT scores.
Although the film is tonally a provocative dark comedy which skewers certain elements of a million dollar industry and is certainly controversial, I created it to promote donor visibility in the media.
Those who have only seen the featured clip (above) have wondered whether the movie also deals with the potentially dangerous and very real long-term health implications that can stem from this process. I want to clarify that yes, in addition to covering a full spectrum of discomfort that donors go through every day, a major story line in the film follows a character who deals with a heartbreaking loss after her second egg donation leaves her infertile. There is clearly no universal donor journey but I do hope that through sharing my own story that I can stimulate an important and taboo conversation about egg donation, reproductive rights, eugenics, and what it means to give life through this challenging process.
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