Arianna Berthiaume had never met another egg donor before, so she and her partner, professional photographer Mathew Bell, decided to document her experience through photographs. We invited Arianna to share her story.
Hi, I'm Arianna.
I first decided that I wanted to donate my eggs almost one year ago. I did a bunch of research online and narrowed it down to two agencies - Egg Helpers and Little Miracles. I ended up going with Egg Helpers. It wasn’t until six months later that I had matched with a set of IPs, but once I did, it wasn’t long after that that I matched with 2 more.
I had never spoken to anyone who had donated before but I really wanted to be able to help a set of IPs have a baby, so I went for it.
At my screening appointment, I asked my doctor about Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), a condition in which the ovaries overstimulate and fluid accumulates in the abdomen. In severe cases, it can cause a stroke. I had done a lot of research on it and was concerned that it would happen to me.
My doctor brushed off the idea of me having to deal with OHSS. He said it is a very rare syndrome, and I would be closely monitored in the week leading up to the retrieval with blood work and ultrasounds.
After all, these appointments were to ensure that my body was responding well.
February 14th, 2016. This was during our 3-hour train ride from Kingston to Toronto. I believe this was my 8th trip to Toronto since February 2nd when my actual donation process began. By this point in time, I had been on hormone injections since February 2nd, had taken my trigger shots the night before and was bloated and exhausted. All I wanted to do was sleep.
This is where we got off the train at Union Station in Toronto. I was very slow moving because of my discomfort and my partner definitely had to make an effort to get a smile out of me. His go-to line tends to be, “Work it! Work it girl!”
He also made jokes about how I shouldn’t walk too quickly or else I might end up with ‘scrambled eggs’.
Relaxing in the hotel the night before my retrieval. Our hotel was absolutely beautiful. We stayed at the Chelsea Hotel and I was able to get a great deal from Expedia. All I knew about the room was that we had a king size bed. When we walked in, I was shocked! We had the beautiful king size bed, a TV on the wall, a little kitchen with a toaster, microwave, stove and fridge, a balcony overlooking downtown Toronto… it was so much more than I had expected! I believe in this photo, I was checking out my blog as I had been keeping friends up to date on my donation with blog posts.
The morning of the egg retrieval. The trigger shots (hCG and Lupron, which cause the eggs to under meiosis - reproductive cell division - to complete the maturation of the eggs so they would be ready for retrieval) had me feeling especially bloated here. The thought of walking the five minutes to the fertility clinic was exhausting. I was also unhappy because I had been fasting since midnight.
Checking out the stomach bloat. As someone who’s at the gym 5 or 6 times a week, I’ve never seen myself look like this. The combination of looking and feeling different had my spirits down. I wanted to feel happy, energetic and active again. Despite the fact that my nurse had told me I could continue my gym routine, I found it much to painful to even walk on the treadmill. Being couch bound really put a damper on my mood… I wanted to go out and do things but my inability to walk or even get in and out of the car comfortably put a damper on that.
All dressed up in my gown at the fertility clinic. I was ready to get these eggs OUT.
Another photo waiting for the retrieval.
Boyfriend’s creative shot of normal saline.
The pain in my stomach was getting harder and harder to deal with. I felt like I had rocks in my stomach -- it was this awful dull, heavy feeling that made even walking exhausting. It was so firm and tender, wearing pants was uncomfortable as the waistband that normally fit me perfectly was now digging into my tender skin. I wanted something for pain but couldn’t have anything by mouth.
Sneaking a nap in before the retrieval.
My boyfriend all ready for the procedure. He was nervous about it (he has a weak stomach) but I am so grateful he was there for me.
Immediately after the retrieval. I received a hefty dose of medications so I was having a pretty deep sleep here. I remember hearing the nurses say two or three times, “okay, give her 25 more!” every time I would wake up crying during the procedure. However, I do not know which medication I was given for the procedure, which sort of bothers me since I am a nurse, and after the procedure I was in no state to ask. I don’t remember much, but I do remember seeing the bright lights and my boyfriend wiping my tears.
Looking rough after the procedure.
Just waking up. You can see the single tear about to roll down my face here. I felt so awful when I woke up… nauseous and in a lot of pain. I remember saying, “I want my mom” and then crying. I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it through the retrieval. They were worried about my breathing as my O2 saturation kept dropping into the 80s (as a young, healthy woman, I should be sitting around at least 98-100%). I do remember the nurses saying to me, “you need to breathe, take deep breaths, keep breathing.”
I don’t even remember getting dressed. Kind of surprised they let me leave as soon as I did. I feel like I had only been awake for a few minutes by the time we were leaving, but could just be because of the medication. I remember being frustrated when I woke up because the blood pressure cuff was uncomfortable on my arm. I only recall seeing a nurse once after I woke up (again, that could be because I was heavily medicated).
The elevator ride to the ground floor felt like forever. I just wanted to crawl into bed.
There was a Sobey’s grocery store directly across from the clinic. Initially, our plan was for me to go back to the hotel and my boyfriend would go and get us some food after I was all settled in. However, in my medicated state, I convinced him that it made more sense to just do it then and get it over with. Then I almost vomited in the bakery and had to sit on the floor to avoid passing out. I scared the hell out of some customers and employees.
Finally in bed at the hotel. My boyfriend went out to grab me some chicken noodle soup from Tim Hortons. I ate the whole thing and watched TV with him until he left to go have dinner. As soon as he left, I vomited all of the soup up and went to sleep.
Later that night. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t walk unless I was hunched over like this and holding my stomach. It was awful but I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. I knew I must’ve looked ridiculous.
Watching the Grammy’s and eating another bowl of Tim Horton’s soup. Soup and Gatorade were all that was on the menu for the time being.
The morning after the retrieval. I felt worse than I ever could’ve imagined. I had an appointment at the clinic for an ultrasound to check for fluid.
The five minute walk took closer to 15 because I was so sore. I could barely move.
At 9:30am, the ultrasound tech estimated that I had 700mL of fluid in my abdomen. My nurse consulted with my doctor and they determined that a fluid aspiration needed to be done. They were hoping to have me in by 12pm.
Later, I had to return to the operating room and was not pleased about it. I ended up having to wait until after 2pm for the fluid aspiration. This time, my boyfriend was not able to come with me. This experience was so much worse than I could have imagined. Everyone kept promising I would feel so much better after the fluid was gone. The procedure itself was incredibly painful. I did not have any pain medication aside from the Tylenol the nurse had given me two hours prior to the aspiration. I cried a lot and felt very embarrassed for crying. They were only able to drain 250mL but the doctor reassured me that there was no more fluid left. When I asked if I would need to come back for a checkup, he said there would be no need - I would be fine from here on out and the fluid should not come back.
I almost passed out as soon as I walked out of the procedure room.
I was so hot and clammy, I reached for the first garbage can I could find. My boyfriend grabbed a cold, wet cloth for my forehead. Luckily, I didn’t get sick and as soon as I could get dressed, I hightailed it out of there and to the train station to go home.
Waiting for the elevator. While I definitely did feel slightly less bloated, I didn’t experience the relief that everyone had promised. I still had a ton of pressure throughout my entire abdomen. I just wanted to go home.
Arriving at Union Station. Luckily we were able to get a taxi there. There’s no way I could have done that half hour walk.
I hadn’t eaten since 8:30am when I woke up and I was so hungry I thought I might pass out. My boyfriend ran from one end of the station to the other so he could grab me some bacon and egg mcmuffins from the McCafe.
On the train home. Nauseous, exhausted, uncomfortable, in so much pain… but happy to go home. Our whole trip felt like a whirlwind. I feel like I was asleep for most of it. Ultimately, I was just shocked at what the whole experience was like. I honestly wasn’t expecting anything like it.
All I had ever heard about egg donation is what had come up during my Google searches - and something tells me that agency testimonials aren’t quite as honest as the information I was hoping to find.
I’m not sure whether it’s justified or not, but I almost feel as though I have been deceived by the health care professionals who were involved in my donation.
I recall the conversation I had with my doctor about OHSS, the one where he brushed me off and said it was a "rare" syndrome.
I found his response to be almost dismissive. He brushed off the idea of me having to deal with OHSS, saying it’s a very rare syndrome and reminding me that I would be closely monitored in the week leading up to retrieval with blood work and ultrasounds.
I feel as though a lot of information goes unsaid until the patient’s condition worsens and suddenly they need the info that could’ve been provided as a preventative measure. The fact that the doctor put me on Dostinex two days before the retrieval even happened probably should’ve been a red flag for me that I was in for a rough recovery. I was a little confused how he could downplay OHSS so much when a single Google search had revealed that a young woman around my age could have died had she not seeked treatment for her severe OHSS due to the fluid accumulation impacting her breathing. But, he was the doctor. This was his specialty so I put my trust in him that he would inform me of anything I needed to know.
Update, Four Days After Surgery
My retrieval took place on Monday, February 15th at 11am at the Create Fertility Clinic in Toronto, ON. I am now 4 days post-procedure and just starting to feel a bit better. My bloating has been awful, to the point that it’s putting pressure on my diaphragm and making it uncomfortable to breathe. It seems to be getting a bit better every day but I am still very sore. I’ve been living on Gatorade and I am so incredibly sick of eating salty soups and noodles. My appetite has decreased a lot - just the thought of food makes my stomach turn. I never expected that I would feel this awful…. probably because the doctors downplayed how common OHSS actually is. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt so unwell in my life. I spend most of my days sleeping on the couch and drinking Gatorade in between naps. I would give anything to feel like myself again. I miss going to the gym and eating however I like. My body doesn’t look the way I’m accustomed to it looking and that has been a bit of a struggle for me. Despite the fact that I have two other IPs who want me to donate, I will not be donating again. I feel very guilty for having to turn them down, but there is no way I can let myself go through this again. It has had such a huge impact on my health and my day to day life and it’s unfair for those around me. My boyfriend has been absolutely phenomenal throughout this process, taking time off work to stay with me because he does not want me to be alone. As an independent person, I’m not used to needing so much help. I had to ask him to help me put my boots on the other day. That’s how bad my bloating is. Nevertheless, I’m glad that I’ve (hopefully, potentially) helped my IPs grow a family. They are using a surrogate so I am looking forward to hearing if a pregnancy has occurred.
Update, Three Weeks After Surgery
It has now been three weeks since my retrieval, and I am so thankful to say that I finally feel like myself again.
The week following my retrieval was absolute hell.
I honestly was scared that I would never feel better again, but day by day, my condition improved. I returned to work exactly one week after my retrieval, but due to my bloating and abdominal pain, I started with 4 hour shifts. Within 4 or 5 days of returning to work, I was back to working my normal 12 hour shifts with no discomfort whatsoever.
Emotionally, though, the most disheartening part of my recovery has been finding out about things that have been said about me behind my back.
While the vast majority of my friends, family and acquaintances have been exceptionally supportive of me, there have been a few outliers. I just recently found out that a friend and coworker of mine overheard a couple of our other coworkers discussing my situation at work. More specifically, when one coworker asked when I would be returning to work, the other coworker responded with, “I don’t know, maybe she’s going to go lay more eggs first,” resulting in hysterical laughter.
Thankfully my friend stood up for me, notifying them that it really wasn’t a funny situation - I had been dealing with severe complications of donating, and that could have led to even more serious health issues.
I try to shake it off, telling myself that they didn’t mean it in a nasty way and that they simply do not understand (after all, ignorance is bliss), but I’m a sensitive person and still found it really hurtful. They obviously had no understanding of how time consuming, invasive and emotional the process was. Or maybe they just didn’t care.
But I try to remind myself, that’s their issue, not mine. My donation story is one that I take great pride in and I will continue to help educate and inform those who are interested in donation.
However, potential backlash from peers after donating (something I never expected to happen), is something I will definitely be mentioning to potential donors as I can see how it could be very damaging to a donor.
As of today, I have not yet received an update on my eggs, but I am hoping to receive one in the near future.