It’s not uncommon to see egg donation ads online and in college-focused publications. Have you ever wondered what’s involved in donation, or how much you could earn for your trouble?
I became interested in egg donation after seeing a news story on the rise in demand for healthy donors -- and the financial benefits of helping a family conceive. Naturally, the idea of earning $5,000 for performing a good deed was tantalizing, so I did some research, found a local agency I wanted to work with, and have since donated five times.
The first thing you need to know about egg donation is that it is involved. The money is good, but donation requires a level of dedication that puts any notions of “easy money” to rest. As a donor, I submitted to blood tests, ultrasounds, daily injections and other discomforts of being “stimulated” into producing eggs to harvest. I spent a lot of time traveling to appointments, and I was fortunate to have a boss who understood my routine disappearances for testing and retrieval.
Curious about assisting a hopeful couple on their path to parenthood? Here’s an overview of the process, procedures and payment of egg donation.
Once you decide to donate, a quick online search will reveal several local agencies that can help you start the process. I chose my agency because the staff were helpful, kind women who made me feel at ease. They reassured me I was making a good decision, and some shared their personal motivations for working in the reproductive field.
Agencies fulfill several purposes: They match up prospective donors and recipients, coordinate services with a fertility clinic, match each party with a lawyer specializing in reproductive law, and ensure that the process runs smoothly from start to finish. Agency staff serve as the intermediaries in all discussions between the donor and the recipients, which are referred to as “Intended Parents” or IPs.
Once you choose an agency, you’ll put together a personal profile. This part is actually quite fun! I had to fill out a questionnaire about my talents and interests, and provide a few dozen pictures from birth to then-present. Potential IPs review these profiles to choose their donors.
Once the match is made between the donor and her IPs, the paperwork process begins. The lawyer or lawyers will draw up contracts with the specific terms of the agreement, including rights, responsibilities and payment.
Prepare to do a lot of reading -- and a lot of contemplation. The contracts spell out the behaviors expected of each party both during and after donation, and some parts of the agreement have ramifications stretching far beyond the egg retrieval date. These are some of the considerations you’ll want to keep in mind:
Anonymity: As an anonymous donor, you must not make yourself known to any children that result from your donation. IPs also agree to a no-contact policy, except under certain circumstances spelled out in the agreement. For instance, as a donor, you can agree to be contacted (through your agency or attorney) should a child require a bone marrow or living organ donor.
Accountability: A donor can be required to keep her contact information on file with the agency for a term of up to 20 years. The agency must be able to reach you in the event it is required by contract (for instance, if you agree in writing to be contacted for medical assistance such as a bone marrow donation).
Force of Law: Laws change, and contracts change with them. You must accept that your information could be released if reproductive law ever changes (for instance, if the courts decide that biological children have a right to information about their donors).
In short, you’re making decisions that affect your future, no matter what turn that takes. If you decide to have children of your own one day, they’ll have biological half-siblings who might some day learn of their parentage and make contact. If that sounds like a lot to take in and consider, you’re in the right mindset.
My plan is to be open and honest with my children when they are old enough to understand the process and evaluate the implications for themselves. They have a right to know that there are people out there who share some biology, though I believe biology is only a small component of the love that bonds parents and children. I'm truly proud of being a donor, and I want my kids to understand my motivations for it.
Donation is a huge undertaking; there’s a reason it’s so lucrative. Before you make a final decision, read accounts written by other donors to get a sense of the potential emotions. While I don't have any regrets about donation, not all donors feel the same.
Once both parties have signed the contract, you will undergo a raft of psychological and medical tests to ensure you are completely capable of donating. Be prepared to have lots of blood drawn, and undergo an intrauterine ultrasound to be sure you are physically fit to donate. (Don’t worry, these ultrasounds generally do not hurt.)
As part of my evaluation, I sat down with a staff psychologist to discuss my family and mental health background, my reasons for donating, and my emotional attachment to the eggs I would give up. Many clinics also use a standardized personality inventory -- such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) -- as a diagnostic for potential candidates. Donation can be hard on your body and harder on your emotions, so fertility centers use these measures to assess the stability of potential donors.
You will also be checked for genetic markers that could disqualify you from donating, such as the common cystic fibrosis carrier gene. Expect that process to take some time. Once you check out as a solid candidate, the process of donation actually begins.
Donation works by synchronizing the cycles of the donor and the intended mother. To do this, you will take a variety of medications (all by injection) that will regulate your monthly cycle. Donation is a highly time-sensitive process that requires both parties to take medications every day, on time, and sometimes at an instructed hour.
The hormones and chemicals used to assist this process occur naturally in pregnant women, but as a donor you will be exposed to them in higher concentrations. This makes for some interesting physical symptoms, such as mood swings. Be prepared to not feel quite like yourself during the month preceding donation. In my time as a donor, headaches were my most frequent discomfort. Nausea, fatigue, bloating, and injection-site irritation are also common complaints from donors.
As a donor, getting in sync also means providing the best possible environment for the eggs you will donate. Basically, you’ll be following the same recommendations as a pregnant woman. This includes things like not smoking, drinking, or engaging in risky behavior. It is also recommended that you forego or limit things like caffeine and chocolate.
The biggest restriction during your donation term is you cannot engage in any activity that carries a risk of pregnancy. That’s right: no sex. If this restriction doesn’t put the payment in perspective, nothing will!
The medications used in assisted reproduction make you very fertile. Your chance of conceiving while using these medications is extremely high, as is the chance of multiple births. Besides the fact that many women donating eggs have no immediate plans to become parents, there is a more important reason to abstain during your donation term: engaging in sex breaks your contract. Not only will you let down your recipient couple by conceiving in cycle, but they can usually sue you as a result of the breach.
Provided your cycles link up (which can take as little as one month, but may take several) and everything goes smoothly, you will be admitted to a hospital or clinic to retrieve your eggs on an assigned day and time.
You will go under anesthesia, and your eggs will be extracted using a quick, minimally invasive procedure. This process, called aspiration, works by extracting the eggs directly from your ovaries using a tiny needle at the end of an ultrasound probe.
While aspiration is minimally invasive, it naturally causes some discomfort. Expect to spend the day recovering, and the following week being ginger with your body. You will be followed by your health care team to be sure you experience no negative effects besides mild bloating and discomfort. Stimulating ovaries presents a risk of ovarian hyperstimulation, so follow-up care is important; keep any check-ups or appointments after donation to make sure you’re recovering as expected.
The evidence on donating suggests no detriment to your future fertility, and knowing that gave me confidence. The biggest risk would be ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS, which in very rare cases can result in ovarian torsion, the “twisting” of the ovary due to edema). OHSS is pretty rare, and I considered it in terms of what I do every day -- lots of mundane things can kill you. Even tampons can potentially cause toxic shock syndrome and threaten your life, but they're widely used without incident.
To make my decision, I weighed the potential outcomes against the risks. I did skirt the edge of mild hyperstimulation once, when I felt quite bloated and achy for a few days, like someone had blown me up with a bicycle pump. That was the worst of it, and it was fleeting.
When I was ready to have children of my own five years after donating, I had two early miscarriages, so of course there was some minor shadow of worry in my mind that donating had "done something" to me. However, there’s no scientific evidence to support that idea -- it was just the struggle to carry a child to term that caused a shift in my rational thinking. And then, poof, I had spontaneous triplets! While the drugs used in donation are short-term (lasting only until your next period) and it's not likely donating "triggered" my triplets five years later, the fact that I was a big producer of eggs (18 to 24 eggs each cycle) may have been a minor indicator that multiple babies could be in my future.
Because of our losses, when I consider my donations I often think less of the children conceived, and more of the parents who get to feel the amazing things I feel as a mother. Those children are immeasurably blessed -- you will never find a kid more loved than one conceived in the face of dwindling hope.
Finally, we come to the most attractive feature of donating. After retrieval, you’ll be compensated for pain and suffering caused during the donation process.
There’s an important distinction here: you are not being paid for your eggs specifically, a fact that is spelled out amply in your contract. Since state laws concerning the sale of body parts and products vary, your IPs are compensating you for your time, discomfort and dedication to the process.
First timers can expect a range of $3,000 to $5,000, depending on your location. Previously successful donors can expect that number to increase to $5,000, $8,000 or more. If you meet special requirements in terms of race, academic accomplishment or IQ, the compensation could be even higher. By the time you’ve been through the process, you will most likely feel you’ve earned every penny.
The path to egg donation is a difficult but rewarding one, both financially and emotionally. While there are many ways to earn money with your body, providing a service to a deserving infertile couple seems an especially worthy option. It’s still one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Your Turn: Would you consider donating eggs?
Belynda Cianci is a freelance writer and editor in Boston, MA. When she’s not tidying grammar for clients, she spends her time tidying toys for her two-year-old triplets.