“I Was an American Egg Donor in Bangkok”

I suppose I should start from the VERY beginning.

I was maybe 18, reading a magazine when I came across an article on egg donation. Curiosity had me. I posted a status on my Facebook page asking all my friends if they knew anything about it to tell me more. I was modeling at the time, so I had what seemed like an endless amount of contacts, someone had to know something. Sure enough, someone had family in the business and directed me to an egg donor agency recruiter to answer all my questions. Carrie was extremely helpful. Not only did she tell me all about what she does, and what her personal donating experiences were, but she put me in contact with other donors who could also tell me about their varying experiences.

I told Carrie that I wondered who would be receiving my eggs. She assured me that they do a lot of research into the families of IVF to be sure they will be proper families for the possible child born from the donation.

I then took my research to the internet. Egg donation has only been around for a short amount of time — 1983 was the first documented egg donation pregnancy. Unfortunately, this meant that little was known about the long term effects on the body. I also found out about Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), a painful complication associated with some fertility medications caused by over stimulating your ovaries to induce the final oocyte maturation.

To be honest, I was a little uneducated about OHSS. At the time, I didn’t think twice about looking into it deeper. I was told that most cases of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome were rare and not severe, so I shrugged it away.

Everything else I already knew is what sold me. I’d be helping people. I knew that there would be some discomfort after reading others testimonials, but every one of them said it was worth it.  The great thing about finding Carrie is that her agency could fulfill my desire to travel and experience a new part of the world, while still helping people, and financially providing for myself while I was away. I signed up, and found myself accepted as an eligible donor.

And the journey began.

I was still living at home with my mother at the time, so she was the first person I informed. In the beginning, she was not thrilled. Constantly arguing against it, wanting to make sure I had done my research, to know what I was getting myself into. She told my grandparents and the news spread.

The one person who was most supportive was my dad, from the very beginning. He thought that as long as it was legit and safe, how cool it would be to travel and help people. After all, I’m young, and am not getting pregnant any time soon. Why not give away the eggs to someone who wants them. They would end up getting flushed down the toilet, anyway. Soon enough, everyone else fell in line and supported me regardless of their personal opinions. Oddly enough, years down the road, my mom became MUCH more intrigued and supportive than she was at first.

The Screening

Carrie kept in very close contact with me, informing me every time a family was interested.

The biggest hurdle was my age: I was so young, only 19, with no children of my own. I was told that most donors have had at least one child. She told me this made it a lot harder to win people over as there was no notion as to what my child would look like, or what my genetics would produce.

A few years later, at age 22, I was FINALLY was selected to be a part of the donor cycle. At this time, the majority of her donors were being sent to New Delhi, India.  The company already had a clinic established in India as part of the international surrogacy program. Before India banned surrogacy for single parents and LGBT recipients, the New Delhi clinic was a popular destination because people can access surrogacy in India at a lower price. An American surrogate’s fee can run up to $59,000, compared to the $8,000 cost for an Indian surrogate.

[Editor’s Note: We often get emails from concerned intended parents asking how they can ethically pursue IVF.  The documentary Can We See the Baby Bump Please? profiles low income Indian women who are paid surrogates, who were contractually confined to cots for nine months. Discerning customers can support health institutions that treat all parties involved safely and ethically.]

My cycle testing — which involved blood work,  internal and external ultrasounds, peeing in cups — meant driving from Hollywood, California to La Jolla, California. The company reimbursed me for my miles. Once it was determined that I was a healthy, non-diseased, non-smoker, non-alcoholic, non-druggie woman with awesome ovaries, the next step was the genetic screening to flag any inheritable diseases my genes might carry. Kind of cool, actually. My genetics were proved to be impressive.

I also interviewed with a psychologist to sure I was in the right mental state to donate. I was asked questions like:

  • If I talked to my family about donating my eggs, would they be supportive?

  • If I planned on having kids in the future, would I tell them i was an egg donor?

  • When I date people in the future, will I tell them I’ve donated in the past?

I passed that part, too.

Waiting Game

Now throughout all this, India was pushing for a new law to be passed stating that same sex couples, unwed couples, and individuals cannot do surrogacy in their country. Of course, my intended parents, like most who opt for IVF with an international surrogacy program, are gay. (Yes, another controversy for the small town Nebraska girl’s family).

So we waited, and waited, and waited.

Sure enough, the law was passed, and my cycle could not be completed in India. So now, this meant that an entire group of donors would have to keep waiting while Carrie decided where we could go for our respective cycles. Because they are an international agency, she told me it could have been anywhere from Japan to Canada — I had no idea what to expect.

[See also: An American Egg Donor: “Canada Almost Arrested Me Allegedly Selling My Eggs”]

But then Carrie called me with the news — Bangkok!

I was really disappointed that India didn’t work because I’ve always been fascinated with the culture and wanted to go, but Bangkok would prove to be a much bigger learning experience because I knew nothing about the culture or lifestyle there. Nothing.

And she wanted me to leave right away.

Carrie asked me to choose a companion to join me for support through the experience. Unfortunately, this was very last minute. I had just started a new job, and our brand new building was opening the week she wanted me to leave. Luckily, the intended parents were flexible and allowed me to work around my new job. Trips for donating eggs take approximately 3 weeks, so I learned that I had to start my medication with the clinic providing my care.

My cousin Kat, who just finished school, came with me.

Our brilliant minds thought it would be a great idea to just stay up all night since we were going to have to adjust to BKK time zone. It seemed like a great idea at the time: “We’ll just sleep on the plane!”

Well, that was dumb.

Luckily, the lines at the airport weren’t too bad and we made it all the way through in less than an hour. This also meant we had two hours to sit around looking like zombies till we boarded our flight.

By the time we got to Thailand after [my cousin flew into LAX the night before, stayed with me, we then flew to tokyo, then BKK] layovers and 26 hours later, the pilot came on to tell us there were no open terminals. After sitting and waiting for a while, they finally decided to have us just load off right there on the runway and have some busses take us to the airport itself.

At this point, we were thinking is “get me off this mother loving airplane this second!”

So we all sluggishly crept down the stairs from the plane to a line of busses. The lovely people of BKK airport kept screaming at the crowd we were in. They yelled “Last bus! Last bus!” to squeeze as many people into the vehicle as possible, even though there were two empty busses behind us. So that’s exactly what we did.

We squeezed so hard, the door could barely close. Sardines were jealous of how close we were to one another. (Pretty sure sardines smelled better than all of us exhausted travelers, too).

We got lost. I mean, we were never given much information about where to actually go once we were in the airport. We followed the lines to get through customs, and then a familiar face from the plane led us to baggage claim. Beyond that, we had no idea where to go.

We knew someone from the hotel was picking us up a “limo” (spoiler alert: it wasn’t an actual limo). So we ambled around, hoping to see a line of people walking in one direction — which we finally found after stumbling across a guy holding a sign bearing the name of our hotel.

Egg donation in Thailand

As it turned out, my doctor spoke more English than anyone else we tried talking to in Thailand. He was very kind, but it was obvious he didn’t understand a lot of what we were saying. He thought my cousin and I were ‘partners’ for most of the trip, which was entertaining.

Communicating with my doctor was a challenge; even though he really did try his best, he didn’t understand everything I was saying. I had never donated before and I had a lot of questions. But because of the language barrier, I had a really hard time getting answers. In retrospect, it would be a lot safer for egg donors if there were a translator who could make sure that pertinent medical information is being communicated, both ways.

Anyway, after my first day, the doctor gave me a bag full of the shots I would be administering myself at the hotel each day. It was chilled with an ice pack until I could get to the hotel.

I am also terrified of needles, so the thought of injecting myself was nerve wracking. Luckily, Kat had no problem sticking it to me!  I had never be injected with an insulin needle before, so I didn’t realize it really wasn’t going to be that bad, but I think even now, I’d still want someone else to do it.

All things considered, the first clinic days were easy. I had to come in early, draw blood, then come back two hours later for the ultrasound and review.

Looking back, the more meds that were in my system, the more my ovaries swelled up, and I needed to be at the clinic more often for check-ins. It became increasingly uncomfortable as the second and third weeks rolled around, so the first five days in Thailand were the best for exploring the city.

My reaction to the hormones started quite typically. I began with a dose of 150 of follitrope. I didn’t notice much of a change right away, besides my face breaking out. I made a run to the pharmacy, picked up some Clearasil and cleared it up nice and quickly.

My follicles weren’t growing fast enough for the doctor, so midway through the second week, he increased my dose of 150 + 75, as well as adding Cetrotide. He told me the Cetrotide was to prevent me from ovulating too soon. I, of course did research into the medications before using them. And everything checked out. Side effects were minimal.

When my meds were increased, I noticed a dramatic increase in the size of my ovaries. It was a pain similar to menstrual cramping or cysts. Nothing serious, just uncomfortable, and slowly getting more and more uncomfortable. I began waddling like a pregnant woman, walking as slow as an old lady.  Not to mention the tender breasts and nausea.

I was ready for them to pump those eggs outta me!

Surgery Day

The day of the retrieval came, and it all started normally.  They had me change into a hefty fabric and lay down to relax. Eventually someone came to take me to the procedure room. I laid in the chair, the woman put on their version of English music, and started the IV. They then hooked up the meds to knock me out, asked me a couple questions, and I felt a cold breeze climb up my arm as I drifted away.

I woke up screaming in pain.

I felt a constant, repetitive stabbing in my lower abdomen. Apparently, I had been screaming for much longer than I had originally thought. Kat could hear me screaming from the waiting room, wondering what was going on.

The rest of the waiting room shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Eventually they brought her back, and this is where I came to.

I begged and begged for something — anything — to help stop the pain. They gave me morphine, they gave me Fentanyl . . . it didn’t work. I kept begging for them to just knock me out. They gave me something to help me sleep. (My cousin joked about tranquilizers.) Even then, the pain was far too much to sleep. I got drowsy for a few minutes, but the pain won over the sleeping.

It took many hours for the pain to reduce, and even then, it didn’t go down much. I spent days being able to do nothing but lay fetal position hugging a pillow. They thought I might have Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome, where fluid leaks into your abdomen. After an ultrasound, he found little fluid in my abdomen.

After a couple days, the pain moved from my lower abdomen to my upper abdomen.

“Can you do a blood test, or a follow up ultrasound?” I asked him.

He looked skeptical.

“Can I get some pain medication?”  They told me that pain medicine isn’t given after the procedure, as it’s not needed. They gave me the Thai version of Tylenol until my agent called to order him to give me something stronger. The pain was a combination of aching in my entire lower abdomen and a knife stabbing me over and over again in my hips.

The language barrier was really starting to grate me. Pointing and saying “ow” only gets you so far.

It was at this moment when I wondered why my agency hadn’t arranged for a translator — someone, anyone, Rosetta Stone, even — to relay our conversation. But all I could do was point and say “ow.” (Then again, I was one of the first to donate there, so my experiences really helped them know what was needed in the future.)

He shook his head and ordered the tests after my agency called to have them ordered. When the results came back, he told me that they were inconclusive — they still had no idea why I was in so much pain.

Great, I thought. Now he thinks I am a “problem patient.”

Egg donors reading this — when you are communicating with your doctor, ALWAYS insist on getting the medical treatment you need. After joining We Are Egg donors, I have learned that some egg donors don’t even get a follow up visit after the surgery. This is something I am still struggling with, four months later and I haven’t had my period.  It seems like some of us really have to speak up to get the most basic care met. Remember, we’re patients, not egg dispensers! Don’t apologize for trusting your instinct and speaking up for your needs.

After refusing me pain medication for a couple days, he finally gave me a shot to my hip. It knocked me on my tail; I was out all night and the next day.

When I woke up, I felt a little more like myself again.

 These are the physical changes of my body in 1 month, due to donating my eggs. Farthest on the left is my body before going to Thailand to donate. The next photo is the day after the procedure. Then 1 week after the procedure. The last picture on the far right is what I looked exactly 2 weeks after the procedure. 

Returning Home

We had to push my flight back a couple days to be sure I was ready. Even then, when we did board the plane, I still wasn’t ready. The flight made me so sick, and by the time I got back to the States, I took a wheelchair through the airport terminal. I puked three times just leaving the airport.

It felt really good to get home.

A week after the procedure, the nausea was gone, and my food is staying down. Even though my belly bloat made me look slightly pregnant, I finally felt up to actually getting around and doing things. Just basic things like cleaning the house and grocery shopping.  It was still a bit difficult, all the walking. But nothing near the pain I felt a few days ago. At this point, my belly felt tight and I felt a general discomfort in my body, even when laying down. Hugging a pillow helped.

I have been asked multiple times if it was it worth it. I have always lived life with no regrets. If you wanted something at the time, if you learned from it,  it was worth it. But would I donate my eggs  again? I’m uncertain.  I have a lot more to think about now, to weigh whether it’s worth it.  At first, I was quick to say no solely because of the lack of pain management, but I’ve since had some incredible conversations that have led me to question otherwise.

To this day, the clinic maintains that they have no idea what caused all my pain. I wish I knew. Even though it’s four months since I donated my eggs in Thailand, I still feel an occasional pain in my left hip, where my ovary is. And I’m still waiting for my period.