On Egg Donation: Candid Conversation with Fela Rue
RAQUEL: So what led you to donate your eggs? Are you still an active egg donor?
FELA: My mom, an RN, gave me the idea when I was 20 to help pay for college and other future endeavors. Yes, I’m still an active donor.
RAQUEL: I noticed that the egg donor agency you work for — and I’ll omit their name — has an “elite” program for their most attractive, high-demand egg donors — these women get paid up to $50,000 just because they’re more attractive than the other egg donors. That makes me feel icky, to say the least. What has your experience been like?
FELA: Wow, I had no idea there was even an elite program! I remember when I received the questions for the video I thought they were questions you would hear on a beauty pageant; what are my talents, what I do in my free time, my professional aspirations, etc. Compounded with the anonymous aspect I felt like the IPs weren’t getting a real sense of myself, they were getting the “Best of…” album. Like my interests include writing… but they didn’t want a sample of it. My IQ is 123, I’m thin and attractive, and I like French fries. Totally superficial.
RAQUEL: Exactly! I was asked to film a video for my egg donation as well. It was super weird and scripted, like I was reciting a parody of the beauty queen version of myself. I talked about shopping at farmer’s markets and changing the world. I felt like a marionette doll doing a song and dance to prove that I’m the kind of girl who has desirable eggs. It felt kind of strange and dystopian.
FELA: I completely agree. I felt like I had to sell myself. Saying the things although true are what people want to hear. It’s worse than a blind date. Specifically the motivation question — Why did you choose to be a donor? — I was specifically told not to say “financial incentive.” Which I think is most donors motivation. I feel like when you are looking for a life partner you are looking at the person as a whole, flaws and all, and I feel like this selection process should be treated the same.
RAQUEL: What inspired you to create this documentary?
FELA: During my first donation my family and friends had a ton of questions and while I was reciting a lot of information, I didn’t feel like I could give them the complete experience in just words. Maybe it’s my writer’s habit to document but from day one of injections I started to record myself like a diary. Then when I was given the go-ahead for my second donation I knew I could relay a more complete story about the process, the side effects, the procedure, the recovery, and my mental process throughout.
RAQUEL: The trailer opens up with the question: “What would you do for money? Sell something of yours?” What are your thoughts on the commercial aspects of this industry?
FELA: Oh man! Where do I start? Let me just say first off that it takes a generous person to go through this process without an incentive.
A few years ago my mom and her partner tried in vitro three times at 20K a piece and were unable to conceive. It wasn’t until they gave up for financial reasons that they told me. They were on the same side of the proverbial table as my Intended Parents (IPs). Even though it was no fault of mine, it made me feel guilty that my first IPs were also unable to conceive. They wanted a child as much as my mother’s wife — my stepmom — wanted her own child.
I kept thinking: How many times had my IPs tried? How much money had they spent that could have gone towards the child’s education?
I know there are no guarantees in this industry but it doesn’t seem fair that the price tag of a family is so high. I’d like to think that cutting out the agencies, the middleman, would cut costs but it also means a bigger risks for all parties.
As someone that has been in the healthcare industry for over ten years I can tell you frankly that anything medical, especially non-compulsory procedures, will always have high cost and someone who wants a cut of it as long as the government doesn’t implement policies that reduce expenses. Just like all things in capitalism, if someone is willing to pay, someone else is willing to sell.
RAQUEL: The trailer also touches on the side effects. What effects did you experience and what were you told about the risks?
FELA: Coming from a healthcare background, I research the side effects and risks of the procedure prior to committing. Knowing how pharmaceutical companies determine these I reassured myself that the chances of me getting these were low as long as I followed the directives with my diet and habits. The medical staff I worked with only warned me about the big side effects to look out for, mainly ovarian hyperstimulation.
“I signed a lot of paperwork indicating that I knew what to expect — even though I didn’t — and thought I could hit the ground running.”
My first go around, I developed about all the small side effects; sore throat, nausea, hot flashes, dry and peeling skin, bloating, headaches, soreness at injection area, fatigue, and not to mention an emotional roller coaster. At the end I thought I would never do it again. It was awful.
RAQUEL: Same here. After my first egg donation I got Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome bad enough to keep me in bed for a week and a half. When I recovered, I told myself I’d never put my body through it again. Yet, over a year later, I found myself at the clinic for a second go-around. The money was hard to turn down — even though I eventually canceled the process and retired. What made you change your mind?
FELA: It took years for me to be selected the first time so when I decided to do it again I figured it would take years to be selected again. I didn’t know that I would be selected again so quickly — within a year — at a time when $10,000 was prudent. I figured I knew what I was in for and it would be easier than the first time. Happy to say that the second time they changed my medication and I didn’t have any side effects.
RAQUEL: Searching for an egg donor online has been likened to online dating. There are strange similarities there when it comes to how women are marketed – kind of a bizarre courtship between recipients and egg donors, it seems. What are your thoughts on the intersection between sex work and reproductive work?
FELA: I’ve actually been photographed for some work in the “sex industry” and I can tell you firmly there are more similarities than one would think. The biggest similarity is the “haunting” aspect. When working in pornography there is always the possibility that your actions now will have consequences later. Same goes for egg donation. If there is a complication you may be rendered infertile, lose an ovary (which the $1,000 compensation should that occur is ridiculous), or eighteen years down the road you may be contacted by your offsprings. Like you mentioned, the marketing is designed to look for the same thing — beautiful, smart girls that have charisma, need the money, and are willing to give someone something that others disagree with.
RAQUEL: How and when can we watch the documentary?
FELA: I’m hoping that it will be done before the end of the year but the process is slow. You can keep an eye on my website, www.felarue.com, for updates.