In Vitro Fertilization, from the donor’s perspective

Almost 2 months ago to the day, I spread my legs and watched the ultrasound machine as Dr. Stoelk (fertility doctor) syringed 25 eggs out of my uterus. Those eggs were mixed with sperm in a petri dish and, shortly thereafter, implanted into a nervous mom-to-be.

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In vitro fertilization, known as IVF, is “a complex series of procedures used to treat fertility or genetic problems and assist with the conception of a child. During IVF, mature eggs are collected (retrieved) from your ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. Then the fertilized egg (embryo) or eggs are implanted in your uterus. One cycle of IVF takes about two weeks.” –Mayo Clinic. So, in Chelsey-speak, an egg donor shoots herself up for a couple weeks then has as many mature eggs as possible sucked out of her baby oven to be pumped into a woman who actually wants them. TO BE CLEAR: IVF egg donation is not the same as surrogacy. Surrogacy is carrying a pregnancy to term and giving birth to a child for another couple. Egg donation is just providing some necessary genetic material to the composition of a child that will be carried and birthed by the woman who will also be raising the child.

Overall, my experience with IVF egg donation was incredibly positive. But, before you start your own research, please take a look at my Pros and Cons for Being an Ovum Donor:

Test tube babies!
Test tube babies!

Pros:

  • Moneymoneymoneymoneymoney. The company I went through, The Donor Source, allowed me to charge $6,000 for my first donation cycle (before travel and other expenses). IMPORTANT NOTE: You will not be paid for your eggs. You will be paid for your pain and suffering. YOUR PAIN AND SUFFERING IS WORTH $6,000. I PROMISE.
    • My second time around, if I am selected again, I will be charging $7K. You can set your price at whatever you want, but it’s important to remember that whatever you are receiving is not the total price of the procedure for the couple shelling out the cash. If they pay you $10K, the entire session might cost them $13-15K. Not many couples are willing to pay that much for you when there are other donors, with just as much to offer, for cheaper.
      surrogacy1
  • Helping someone. Donating eggs is performed for the sole purpose of helping another family conceive, which is awesome. I got a great deal of satisfaction out of knowing I could help someone have the screaming piles of poop that they’ve always dreamed of.
  • Serving my evolutionary purpose. NO MORE SOCIETAL PRESSURE BECAUSE I’VE PROCREATED AND FULFILLED MY BIOLOGICAL FUNCTION, Dad.
  • Drugs! The drugs that you are given the day of the extraction are the most amazing drugs that have ever existed in the entire universe. The drugs include a “twilight anesthesia” that may knock you out or may not. I did not get knocked out. Instead, I spent 45 minutes teaching my best friend about Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development while Dr. Stoelk attempted not to laugh at me.

    Best. Drugs. Ever.
    Best. Drugs. Ever.

Cons:

  • Societal backlash. I got a LOT of unsolicited and unnecessary comments about how I should maintain my bodily autonomy, the amount of money I should charge, whether or not my decision was really mine to make, whether or not my decision was ethical, what I should do when I meet my biological recipients (the kid), etc. For anyone who knows a woman attempting to become a donor, please don’t offer unsolicited “advice.” It isn’t your body, they aren’t your eggs, and if she isn’t asking you THEN SHE DOESN’T CARE ABOUT YOUR OPINION, Carl.
  • Facing off with your offspring. While I, personally, look forward to this prospect, not every donor does. My profile is open unto my death, meaning any children who are born from my genetic material have the right to contact me if they have questions about where they come from or an update on my medical history. So, while this is a con for other donors, it isn’t one for me. I actually really hope I am contacted. I may never have children of my own, so it’d be cool to see what kind of traits this potential kid gets from me.
  • Self-injections. This wasn’t a con for me because the needles are super tiny and it’s not like you need to stab yourself, you can just slowly press the point against your skin until the skin breaks. I only felt about 3 of the sticks, all the others were so light that I can’t remember any pain. But, many (MANY) of the women I spoke to about ovum donation were seriously turned off by the prospect of having to shoot themselves up for two weeks. If it doesn’t phase you, then proceed to the next bullet. If you don’t think you can self-inject and you don’t have anyone trustworthy to help you out with the daily doses, then I recommend forgoing this opportunity.
  • Unexpected, uncontrollable responses to hormones. Every woman responds differently to the hormone injections. Dr. Stoelk mentioned that some women bawl, hysterically, for hours on end. I did not cry. No. That would have been preferable, honestly. Instead, I had panic attacks all week long. Panic attacks are bad enough, right? THEY ARE, I PROMISE. But the fun didn’t stop there. No. Why would it? I also suffered from an outrageous spike in my libido. Some of you are reading that and thinking, “Ooh, that sounds fun.” You would be wrong. So, SO wrong. The trick with the spike in libido is that it’s REALLY high – like the very first time you hit puberty and you had weird urges to hump couches, except this time on steroids (not actual steroids, I meant this metaphorically). It was physically painful at times. The libido spike (and the inability to assuage it), coupled with the panic attacks, were really hard to cope with all at once. Again, not every woman reacts this way to the hormones, but it was bad enough that I think it’s worth mentioning to any women interested in attempting this.
    My stick kit, complete with sharps box and extra needles.
    My stick kit, complete with sharps box and extra needles.
    • TMI: The libido increase might have been okay if I been able to “soothe the itch”, so to speak. But I was not going to risk getting pregnant and get sued by the couple receiving my eggs (they would be allowed to do that), so vaginal intercourse was out. Why not hands or mouths? Because I was glorying in my monthly visit from the great Ruiner of Favorite Panties (my period) and, unfortunately or not, I don’t play in the Red Sea. I couldn’t get off, no matter how much my body wanted to. No win situation.
  • Pain. As I stated earlier, the pain and suffering you endure during this procedure is TOTALLY worth $6K. The needle pricks during the week leading up to the extraction were nothing – they hurt less than a paper cut. The extraction procedure itself was blissful (did I mention the drugs?!). The day right after the extraction? Imagine your very worst period ever, then multiply it by ten, and add 3 more uteruses into your body. That’s what it felt like. Intense bloating and cramping and tenderness. Just horrible. The second day after the extraction? Significantly better pain management, but still not good. Each day got better, but I think it took me about 1.5-2 weeks to feel like me again. I really can’t emphasize how bad the pain was the day after the procedure. Also, NEVER go horseback riding anytime within a week after donating eggs. It’s stupid on an epic scale.

    Aren't my bruises cute?!
    Aren’t my bruises cute?!
  • Possibly unethical. The biggest issue for me when deciding whether or not to donate my eggs was based on ethics. I’m healthy, attractive, intelligent, and come from a pretty healthy family. I have had one successful impregnation before, so I know I’m viable. I’m a great candidate for egg donation. But I worried that maybe I was being hypocritical by supporting IVF when I should be pushing adoption or foster care. I mean, why add more children to the world when so many already exist and need care (there were approximately 400,540 children in foster care on September 30, 2011)? If you’re willing and able to pay for the IVF procedure ($10K start up, from what I understand) then you should be willing and able to pay for a pre-made child, right? How could I justify my decision? In the end, the conclusion I came to was that I had no justifiable reason to tell someone else how to spend their money or live their lives. If a couple wanted to attempt IVF with my eggs, then I was for it. I, in turn, can adopt as many children as I want to.

 

Still interested in IVF donation after reading all that? Cool. Here’s some more of my experience:

IVF donation is a lot of “hurry up and wait.” First, you get a consultation on what egg donors are required to do. Next, you fill out your donor profile and determine that you’re healthy enough to be featured on that company’s catalog. Once your profile is live on the company’s website, you sit on your hands until someone wants you. I filled out my profile in the fall of 2015, and simply waited to get an email saying that a couple was interested in me.

I got a hit on my profile in October and started going through the legal paperwork in November. The legal stuff takes FOREVER. It’s a lot of back and forth between you, your lawyer’s office, the couple’s lawyer’s office, the couple, and the company that facilitates IVF. The legal documents determine what you can expect from the parents, what the parents can expect from you (for example: you will NEVER take them to court in an attempt to get custody of the child/children), what kind of access the kid(s) can have to you, cost for the pain and suffering, cost for driving (I argued for $0.55 on the mile), etc. As I stated, I made myself very open to the kid(s). I wanted to make sure they always had access to me, if they ever wanted it. The legal contract between myself and the parents reflected that desire. These contracts are iron clad and very explicit so READ THEM CAREFULLY.

During the legal musical chairs sequence, you are also going through blood tests, psychological screenings, and (possibly) changes to your birth control regimen. The blood test will tell your doctor how many eggs you have. If you have too few, you won’t be allowed to donate for fear of you losing your ability to conceive on your own later on – not a lawsuit that most doctors are willing to risk. The psychological screenings (there were two for me) verify how suicidal, aggressive, temperamental, and depressed you are and have been in the past, among other things. The birth control regimen is required to get you and the prospective mother on the same cycle so that the egg implantation can happen at the optimal time.

Finally, in the last week of January, I started my hormone injections. Two injections a day for the first week, then three injections a day for the last 3 days or so (this is not standard for all women – each women requires a slightly different hormone regimen). The injections had to happen at the exact same time each day – just like taking a birth control pill.

Blood draw before my transvaginal ultrasound.
Blood draw before my transvaginal ultrasound.

After beginning my daily self-injections, I was required to visit with my doctor for check ups every other day or so. I’d have my blood drawn and, on three occasions, also receive a trans-vaginal ultrasound.

Hello, Uterus.
Hello, Uterus.

February 9th was selected as my extraction date and, roughly two weeks after beginning my hormone injections, I was all done! Extraction day required that I wear something comfy (like your favorite pair of period-friendly sweatpants) and bringing a driver (YOU WILL NOT FUNCTION AFTER THIS PROCEDURE. DON’T EVEN PLAY). I brought my girl JamJam and she waited patiently in the room with me while my vagina was propped up at eye level for my doctor to stick things inside. Once the extraction was completed, I was carried to the car where I slept for the 2 hour ride home. I was later reminded that the doctor had prescribed me some antibiotics and that I should start taking them immediately. I don’t remember that happening at all but both my doctor and JamJam swear it happened so it needs to be in here.

I slept. Come morning, I’m in enough pain to make me want to swear off ever helping anyone do anything ever again. It. Hurt. A. Lot. But I recovered and, with enough time to reflect on the experience, I know I would do it again (which is why I’m currently available for a second round).

 

Things that made my experience unique/Things that you shouldn’t count on because they are super rare:

  • I got to meet the parents. This is incredibly rare. Why? Because most of the time, IVF is done with eggs belonging to the mother (because why use someone else’s if yours are working?) or to a close friend or family member (bff, twin sister, etc.). Getting the opportunity to meet the prospective parents was great and I’m so, so happy I got the opportunity to understand what this process is like from their side. I was very lucky to be selected by two people who are incredibly intelligent, kind, and warm. Meeting them wasn’t uncomfortable (though I was very nervous – how do you prepare for something like that?). Instead, meeting them was really relieving. I felt like, after meeting me, their choice was justified. I mean, how scary must it be to select the genetic material of a human being you’ve never laid eyes on (outside of the photos available on the donor profiles)? If I were in this position, I would want to meet the donor, so I was really glad when they wanted to meet me. I wanted them to be able to back out if they found something they didn’t like in me. I  mean, this is a huge investment. Not just the $10K, minimum, for “start up costs” but also the 18+ years of care they are prepared to endure. At least.
    • The weirdest thing about meeting the parents? All my friends (and I mean ALL OF THEM) had one question to ask me after I got home from the meet up: “Did you like her?” As if my opinion of the prospective mother meant diddly fucking squat. Also, I didn’t get asked about the non-carrying partner very much. Here’s the thing, I’d already signed the contracts. I was game for whatever. It wouldn’t matter to me if the parents were neon pink conservatives who were planning on voting for Trump (I’m lying. The last part would bother me), because I was already committed. Also, what did it matter if I didn’t like her? It’s not like the child is mine and I’m handing it off to someone else to raise. She wasn’t the one on the spot, I was. The child is not mine. He/she is merely a recipient of some genetic material, like a blood or plasma donation recipient, and what I think of the mother, or her partner, or her parenting skills, are totally irrelevant. I think, and I’m not sure, that my friends were coming from a place of “maternal instinct” – where they couldn’t separate the ovum from their own desire to be a mom. For some, this is a real issue. If that’s you, maybe don’t donate your eggs?
    • In case you were wondering: I do not mention any names nor showcase any photographs of the parents because of the anonymity clauses in our contracts and also because it’s none of your damn business you nosy motherfuckers.
  • I was processed very, very quickly. I was selected in October and finished my donation in the first week of February. That seems like a long time to wait. For an IVF donation, though, it really isn’t. Unfortunately, I can’t get into why I was processed so quickly without violating some of the privacy agreements in my contracts but just bear in mind that IVF isn’t a quick buck. It’s a nice paycheck, but it isn’t fast.
  • Not all donations will result in 25 eggs. Sometimes more! Sometimes less! 20-30 is a happy number, according to the Doc. Why? Because only 9 of the 25 eggs I donated were viable for implantation into the prospective parent . This is, according to the Doc, pretty standard. Not all of the eggs our body blesses us with are good for fertilization. Those eggs that are defective but still manage to get smooth-talked by a sperm cell are often aborted, naturally. This is commonly known as a miscarriage: your body’s attempt to rid you of a potentially dangerous pregnancy.

    From Dr. Stoelk's office
    From Dr. Stoelk’s office
  • I have other options. This process has made me oh-so-aware of my lack of desire to have children of my own. Don’t mistake me: I want to be a parent. Very much. But I’m not of the mind that believes I need to facilitate biological material in a new human in order to parent it. I don’t need a blood relation to love the crap out of a child. In fact, my plan is to adopt older kids (13-17), love the absolute shit out of them, send them to college or to accomplish whatever big things they dream of, then sit back and enjoy taking credit for all the good things they do (“That’s MY kid with the Nobel Prize”). I call it “No Fault Parenting” – patent pending.

 

Reproductive Rights, Privileges, and Stigma

The most frustrating aspect of donating eggs, without exception, was hearing the disappointment, fear, and devastation in the voices of so many prospective mothers when I researched “struggles with conceiving.” I am, if you can’t tell, a very open book. I have pretty much zero qualms about sharing every dirty detail of my life on a public stage. It makes for good comedy. So, when I learned that so many couples are, essentially, silent about their reproductive battles, I got angry. Not with them, of course. But angry at a world that might hold it against them. Angry at a situation that they were forced to be in, despite how hard they have tried to remove themselves from it. I hated the idea that the intended mother felt like she had to hide what she was going through. Maybe that’s part of the reason I wrote this blog. To support her, and any other woman in the same situation, the only way I know how: by being an explicit over-sharer. Maybe, by being open and honest about my experience, my community can remove the taboos (read: blame game) associated with infertility issues.

http://www.rmanj.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/RMANJ_Infertility-In-America-SurveyReport-_04152015.pdf
Infertility in America

Some things to consider/questions to ask when discussing reproductive rights, privileges and the stigmas associated with them:

  • Insurance coverage of infertility issues. What can be/should be covered? If Viagara can be covered for men, should IVF treatments be covered for couples? What forms of birth control should be covered? Why should reproductive rights be covered at all? Are we, as humans, entitled to procreate simply because our bodies are built to do it?
    Screenshot (11)

    • An argument I have heard against insurance coverage of reproduction facilities (Viagra, birth control, IVF treatments, etc.) is that creating a family is a choice and your insurance shouldn’t have to be forced to cover your choices (read: mistakes). Instead, insurance companies should only have to cover those things that you don’t control (like cancer).
    • The automatic counterargument to this is that even when using a birth control method, there is still a chance you can become pregnant. So, would I have to prove to my insurance company that I was on birth control when I got pregnant before they would cover my necessary medical needs?
    • Also, how might this affect the trans community? Many Female-to-Male trans-persons live their lives as men by receiving the top (breasts) surgery without undergoing the bottom (genital reconstruction) surgery (because the cost!). This means that, even during safe intercourse, a trans-male could become pregnant. TRAUMATIC. Would/should a termination be offered through insurance for this individual, if they wanted one?
  • What laws should exist to protect the children born from a donor? If I wanted access (custody) of the child that I helped create, should I be allowed to have it? Can I sue for it? What would that access (custody) look like? Should IVF donations look similar to adoptions? I ask these questions because not all states have laws protecting families that have benefited from IVF.
    • An argument I have heard in the “traditional” thinking is that “possession is nine tenths of the law” and if the child has my DNA, then I should be entitled to possession him/her. Creepy argument, right? This argument states that I, as a donor, have the right to seek custody at any point in the child’s life. Despite the fact that I signed legal documents stating that I wouldn’t.
  • Why is there an attitude of taboo, silence, or negativity surrounding infertility? What does it look like? How do the attitudes change between male infertility and female infertility?
    Screenshot (10)

    • For the record: In the United States, the prevalence of infertility is estimated between 7% and 10%, with 7.3 million couples seeking care for this condition. Despite significant scientific advances in assisted reproduction, the high cost of treatment, lack of access to service, and lack of awareness of treatment options make infertility an area especially prone to treatment disparities. (US National Library of Medicine) That’s more than the percentage of Asian, Native American and Alaskan Native groups combined (6-7%). (Kaiser Family FoundationSimply put: that’s a lot of people being affected by infertility.

To have the kind of courage necessary to undergo IVF, even with your own eggs, is just incredible to me. I am so in awe of the women (and their partners) who choose to do this. It’s taxing on the body, the wallet, the mind, and the heart. These couples are living on a diet that consists entirely of hope. Cheers! to the women who have hope enough to create life.

I hope, if this is the first time you’ve ever considered even researching IVF donation, that my description has been a little helpful. For the record, since I’m sure you’re dying to know, the implantation was successful – I got somebody pregnant!

My name is Chelsey Mick, and this is how we donate our eggs.