Egg donation #6: That’s a wrap

And so. After almost two years, around 80 injections, seven blood tests, 18 internal ultrasounds, six egg retrievals, one missing ovary and a whole lot of awesome, my egg donation journey has officially come to an end.

* I will be back in a few days to post a proper “conclusion” to my journey, but for now, I just wanted to share “the happenings”. You can read all my other egg donation posts here.

I was scheduled to check in to the Vincent Pallotti fertility unit at 6.45am on Sunday morning (6.45am on a Sunday! It’s completely uncivilised!) and my mom was supposed to drive me there and back. She was, however, mildly nervous about the whole thing – so much so that she pretty much needed instructions on how to get out of the immediate surrounds of my flat (love you, mom) – and so the Control Freak in me reared her head and drove us from the petrol station to the hospital, pumping Macklemore at 6.30 in the morning. It was real.

The Sister checked me in, weighed me, blood pressure-d me (I hate the blood pressure cuff, which then ups my blood pressure!) and decorated me. I told her that I secretly love hospital bands, and she told me they were “really expensive pieces of jewellery” which – at 6.50am – I totally believed. Shuddup, it was early. Plus, isn’t everything in a hospital really expensive? I rest my case. (Excuse the red mark left from my hairband.)

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Anyway, then the anaesthetist came round to do his thing – and he was so cool, I wish I could remember his name. He joked and told me that I was “tiny” and asked how much I weighed, then joked about being more used to dosing people twice my size. Then the doctor on call arrived, and I met him briefly, before being taken to the bathroom before going under. But not before taking a Totally Acceptable Selfie and Instagramming it. Hipster egg donations FTW.

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There, I somehow managed to lose the Sister, but found my way to the little operating theatre, and kinda hovered in the doorway while everybody did their thing. Nobody seemed to notice me, so I cracked a joke about “Is this where the party’s happening?” and the anaesthetist settled me on the little operating table. The Sister arrived – she’d gone to look for the After Hours Cellphone – and laughed at how I must have “just slipped past her”. Yeah, I’m a sneaky chicken like that.

The atmosphere in the theatre before this donation was wonderful – I’m so glad I had such a positive experience for my last one. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of joking and teasing. After the anaesthetist asked if I had been “decorated” yet, I cracked a joke about being “Bagged and tagged and ready to go” – and then, after inserting the canula to feed through the anaesthetic – he joked about “Sometimes being lazy on a Sunday morning” and not bringing me back – to which I replied “Well, you guys don’t need me anymore, right? I’ll be off then”. The anaesthetist told me a few times that I was “incredible”, so there was that.

And then there was that slight cold feeling in my arm, and I remember watching the surgical lights blur a little, and then waking up in the recovery room to a pot of tea and some toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches.

The Sister popped past and told me that they had managed to get 14 eggs – she called me a “good little chicken”! – and I was allowed to go home again by 9am. And now again, the waiting game – hopefully in about 3 weeks or so we’ll find out if this recipient gets pregnant, so send all the love and light you possess in her general direction!

And then a bit later on Sunday night, some amazing news. I discovered that one of my recipients gave birth to a baby girl… On my late father’s birthday.

My heart swelled to three times its usual size, and I may have shed a small tear. I’m surprised at how amazingly, amazingly special it feels.

I couldn’t have asked for a more amazing way to have my egg donation journey come to an end.

Egg donation #6: It’s go time

So tomorrow morning I have to report to the hospital bright and early at 6.45am. Yep, on a Sunday. The theory is that I’ll be admitted to theatre by 7am, have the retrieval performed and be out and on my way home by 9am. Which is round about the time most people will be waking up!

For the three mornings before my scan, I was taking a combination of 150 units of Gonal F (the medication that stimulates egg production) and mix-it-yourself Cetrotide (the medication that prevents ovulation and helps to mature the eggs).

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Now, if you’ve read my previous posts on egg donation, you’ll know that mix-it-yourself Cetrotide and I do not have a good history. My very first donation I ended up a) Getting overenthusiastic and creating a wonderfully foamy Cetrotide while mixing the water and the powder (guess who’s watched too many episodes of House…) and b) Spritzing a ton of the mixture across my bedroom while trying to remove the air bubbles from the syringe.

Bloody air bubbles. Especially at 7am, already late for work. I just don’t have the co-ordination for that sort of thing.

Anyway, had my final scan on Friday and the doctor was thrilled. Like, I actually got a high five.

So, I was booked in for Sunday morning and given the two shots of Lucrin to take home. As I’ve mentioned before, these shots are my favourites – they’re the injections that trigger ovulation (through creating a surge of Luteinizing hormone in the body). The trigger shots must be done precisely 36 and 24 hours before the egg retrieval – when the doctor catches the mature eggs in their follicles just  before ovulation occurs. It’s pretty hardcore. The only problem is that the Lucrin shots tend to make me very, very crampy – but I’ll take it, as they also bring down the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome way, way, way down.

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I was initially supposed to do the shots at 10pm on Friday night and 10am on Saturday morning, but my theatre time got bumped up – so I had to take them at 8pm and 8am. Much better, because it meant that I didn’t have to shoot up in the middle of N’s lounge on Game Night.

So now, I’m prepping for tomorrow morning. My “kit” for retrieval day looks something like this…

Candace’s Egg Retrieval Day Kit:

Kindle/book/magazine 

They usual request that you arrive at the clinic while before your surgery, so I like to take some reading material. My last donation, I forgot to pack something, and I pretty much memorised the pamphlet on anaesthesia that was left next to my bed while I waited.

Pads
Some bleeding after the procedure is normal, so I carry my own brand of sanitary pad to replace the usual horrendous ones they give you at the clinic. Ones that aren’t just glorified wads of cotton wool.

Water
After having to fast before the procedure, and after coming around from the anaesthesia, I get wildly thirsty. I usually also have a cup of tea or some juice while in the recovery room, but the extra water is a must. I also try to drink a lot of water in the days post-retrieval, as well.

Clothing
Comfortable, easy-to-put-back-on clothing is a must – you may be quite sore or tired after the procedure, so the last thing you probably want to do is squeeze into a pair of super-skinny jeans! Same goes for shoes… No heels and/or fiddly sandals.

The hospital I’m doing my donation at this time also requests that we bring a dressing gown and slippers. It has been freezing and pouring with rain this week, so I’m inclined to think that’s a good idea.

Miscellaneous
The clinic asks that all jewellery, make-up and nail polish be removed for the procedure – so best to not wear any! I bring extra hair ties, just in case.

Home comforts
Resting after the procedure is a non-negotiable. And my number one tip for the day of retrieval? A hot water bottle. Seriously. It’ll ease your soreness and is deeply comforting.

I climb into bed with my hot water bottle, have a nap, watch cheesy (usually Disney) movies, and do as little as possible for the day. I also tend to take the day after my retrieval off as well –  but that’s just personal preference and an excuse to chill out a little if possible!

Egg donation #6: On the inside

So yesterday I blogged about being nervous for my scan, which was scheduled for 8am this morning. The good news is that all looks great – there are six eggs in the left ovary and “many” on the right (which would explain the mild discomfort!)

I arrived at Vincent Pallotti shortly before 8am for my scan – and still didn’t know who the doctor in charge was! I announced myself and – being quite used to the procedure at the hospital now – settled down with my Kindle to play the Waiting Game. I was eventually called in at around 8.15am, led to the ultrasound room, and told to undress and put on a not-very-sexy mint green robe and hop on the bed. I did, however, managed to snap an egg donor’s inside view… Of the object you’re most acquainted with (after the pointy end of your Gonal F!)

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Over the course of your donation, you’ll have around three or four internal ultrasounds to make sure everything’s ticking over nicely. So there is the magical ultrasound machine, with a large number of buttons that I am DESPERATE to push. Just once. Please.

Anyway, after a further 10 minutes of waiting half-naked for the doctor, he arrived. And was awesome. Pretty sure it was the same doctor that performed my retrieval last time – but I wouldn’t put money on it, seeing as I met him very briefly and very soon before I was knocked out for the procedure. But he was very sweet and very friendly, and I warmed up to him immediately.

As I mentioned, he was thrilled with how things are proceeding. I’m back in for the next scan on Friday morning, and in the meantime have been given three more doses of Gonal F 150 and daily shots of mix-it-yourself-Cetrotide (which helps to mature the eggs and prevent premature ovulation).  If all goes well, I’ll be in for my retrieval on Sunday or Monday. Which means I can do the short trail run in Kleinmond on Saturday, if I’m not too uncomfortable by then.

Right, it’s after 6pm and I’m still at work. This is not okay. Will be back in later in the week. As always, if you have questions, feel free to drop me a comment here and I’ll do my best to answer!

One last time: Egg donation number six

I’ve been meaning to catch up for a while, but you all know how I am. Work and Life has been particularly stressful of late – much more than I’m used to, and for a while, more than I thought I could deal with. It culminated last week with J attempting to teach a VERY anxious me how to *sigh* and release tension (I’m totally claiming that I was very worked up by World War Z, which we had just been to see). Anyway… 

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flickr.com / Brenda Gottsabend

So here we are. My sixth and final egg donation with the wonderful women at Nurture. I first started this journey in earnest two years ago – but truly, it feels like just last month. At the same time, the women at Nurture – Melany, Tertia and Lee in particular – have become like a family to me over the years, and I shall miss them ever so much.

I have come to know – through anonymous emails sent from my recipients through Nurture – six amazingly strong, exceptional women. Even though I’ve never met any of them, I have shared such a profound journey with them and their partners, that I will have that connection for years to come. As I have said on this blog before – my strongest connection is with the recipients – because of the way many of them choose their donors, I see so much of them in myself – and often aspire to be like them, they really have been that amazing – because they see some of themselves in me.

So, number six…

My final donation is back at the Vincent Pallotti, where I did my previous donation earlier this year. I start injections on Thursday – 225 units of Gonal-F, as per usual.

I’ve already had my blood tests – HIV, Syphilis, Hepatitis B and C and, this time, Chlamydia, too. Seeing as I hadn’t been tested for that before, I was a little more nervous than usual. I was all like, “What, do I look Chlamydia-ish?” But Chlamydia-ish I am not, you’ll be happy to know. Nor HIV-ish, Syphilis-ish or Hepatitis-ish.

The Sister and I have been frantically exchanging Whatsapps over the past 24 hours as I waited for my period to start – there’s very little room for being embarrassed in Fertility Land, I can tell you that. In fact, I probably now fall firmly into Camp Overshare, really. Menstruation details for everyone!

So that’s pretty much all to report on that front, for now.

A few months ago I did a mini-FAQ, which you can read here.

And if you want to read up some of my other egg donation-related adventures, check out this section here.

As always, if you have any queries, you’re more than welcome to leave a comment and I’ll try to answer it to the best of my abilities.

So… Who’s up for round three?

This post has taken a lot longer to write than initially planned (it’s been sitting in my Drafts for a few weeks already, how lame) – but better late than never, right?

So on 28 May I did my third round of egg donation – I even hit a personal best, with the doctor retrieving 18 eggs. Hopefully there were some goodies in there – but, as usual, I try not to think about it too much in case I jinx anything. (I’m horribly superstitious. Send out some positive vibes, okay?)

If you want a much more in-depth account of my first two rounds, plus a more detailed description of the process, check out my very first egg donation post.

This donation was for a foreign couple, and while I had been scheduled to donate in April we had to push it back to accommodate her. I must admit, it has been awesome to give my body a little bit of a break after my second donation – during which I was on the stims slightly longer because my body just wasn’t playing the game.

This time, however, it was all smooth sailing. It is a strange thing for the doctor to tell you that you are a “pleasure to work with”, just for doing something your body is meant to do naturally – but I’ll claim it!

I’m free-range, baby! (spiralmushroom/flickr.com)

What was awesome about this couple is that they sent me quite a detailed email telling me about themselves. I can’t tell you how cool it was to have a slightly clearer picture in my head going in – and they both sound like total rockstars! For a number of reasons, I connected so strongly with this recipient – and the chance to help… Well, there’s no feeling like it. Third time down the road and I’m still overwhelmed by this whole amazing process.

So, as for the technical stuff? Well, I’m still – and will probably always be – a little paranoid about the initial tests. HIV, syphilis, hepatitis… Never mind that I’ve not had sex in months, it’s a case of “What if?!” that does my head in. Initial scans, too, are also quite scary. But once the ball’s rolling, well, I know I’m in the best hands possible.

The only different thing this round was that I had started the crazy gym programme. I’d read all sorts of articles from various sources stating why you can/can’t exercise while on the Gonal-F (ovarian torsion, anyone?) but the Amazing Doctor H at the clinic pretty much put the ball in my court – as much as I’m comfortable with – but nothing for the first six days after the retrieval. Which, I might add, I was 100% okay with. Doctor’s orders to be able to veg out for a week? Sign me up!

Me, in kitten form, napping. (PyryM/flickr.com)

So everything went super smoothly – it’s amazing how much better I’m getting at self-injection, only one bruise from myself. An overzealous sister at the clinic and a fuck-off big shot of Cetrotide was another story… Not only was I itching like mad (“The rash is good,” my first doctor assured me. “Means it’s working!”) but I also ended up with a massive bruised spot. She did apologise like mad – because of the size of the shot, she said, she wanted to inject it slowly. And the trigger shots of Lucrin went a lot more smoothly this time, too – largely because I didn’t put them in the fridge and they didn’t freeze!

Retrieval day I managed to wangle a lift from my dear friend T, who bless his socks is an absolute dear about something completely foreign to him. I was feeling a little nauseous (no drinking or eating AND a case of nerves is no fun at all) but he managed to chatter away and distract me. I was whisked pretty much straight in and got right to it. By the third time, everybody keeps telling you you’re a total veteran – which is awesome, I do like feeling good at things! – and the whole process goes a lot more smoothly. Checked in, dressed in gown, tagged, consent forms signed and checked by the anaesthetist and we’re all A-for-Away. I’ve had a different anaesthetist each time I’ve donated – this one placed the cannula in the crook of my arm as opposed to my hand – which was oddly more painful.

Syringes. Not that scary, actually. (hitthatswitch/flickr.com)

Anyway, the amazing nurses do a great job of fussing over you and with a reassuring arm on my shoulder from Dr H, I was out. Woke up this time with very little pain (apparently after the first time, when I hurt so badly, they’ve now started giving me painkillers while I’m out) and no nausea – in fact, I recovered super quickly this time.

My wonderful colleague B was there to pick me up – she’s been a trooper every time – and I was back home and out for a nap.

Aside from a little more bleeding than usual that led to a trip back to the clinic a few hours later (hey, rather safe than sorry, right?) and a few less-than-subtle questions from the staff as to whether I’d be donating again, we were all done. I sneakily took an extra day off work the next day, and by the time I was back in on Wednesday, I was back to normal.

Am I doing a fourth round? Well, I haven’t officially confirmed with the agency yet, but honestly my belief is that I will donate as many times as I’m legally allowed to. If I can, why not? I’m not being melodramatic when I say that this entire process has changed my life.

It’s changed my life, made me more aware of my body and what a freaking miracle it actually is, and – yes, kickstarted my desire to have a family of my own someday.

If you and yours are in South Africa and think that egg donation is something you want to do, I won’t hesitate to recommend Nurture. Tertia, Melany, Lee and the rest of the team are absolute angels.

I am an egg donor. This is my story.

Originally published on iafrica.com.

Pic by Offbeat Photography (flickr.com)

I have been asked so many times since I started all of this: “Why donate your eggs?”

I don’t have one specific answer – I have dozens of reasons, and you’ll probably get a different answer every day. Yes, they pay me. But mostly I’ll say it’s because I want to do something spectacular for somebody else. I want to give somebody else the chance at a family. I can think of dozens of reasons why I do donate – and not a single reason why I shouldn’t.

I’m 24 and single, although not a Bridget-Jones-cry-into-my-wine kind of single (well, not often at least). Do I see children in my future? I hope there will be. But my family is without a doubt the most important thing to me. I get family.

Egg donation, in a nutshell, involves harvesting a number of healthy, ripe eggs from a donor before fertilising them and transferring them to the mother – where, all fingers and toes crossed, they hang around for nine months.

My journey to Nurture – the organisation that has facilitated my first two donations – started almost a year before the first time I donated. I had a boyfriend who had donated sperm before we started dating, and I was inspired. I started investigating egg donation agencies but it was Nurture that “clicked” with me.

Founded in 2008 by Tertia Albertyn (a recovering infertile) and Melany Bartok (herself a past donor), Nurture has become one of the top agencies in South Africa. I was in good hands, though I didn’t really know it yet.

Getting started

When I finally got my act together, filled out my entire medical history and committed to Nurture, the process was almost entirely smooth-sailing for me. Firstly, I met with two of the Nurture women – Melany and my donor liaison Lee, who became my apparent stand-in sister – for a coffee date at Cavendish. We went through the process, they explained the risks and the procedure, and double-checked that I was keen to sign up. After meeting with them, I was extra keen.

From there, I scheduled a psychological evaluation at the Cape Fertility Clinic – which would be performing the egg retrieval. Every donor is required to have an hour-long meeting with a psychologist to ensure that they understand the process, but my meeting became a wonderful chat with the psychologist Leanne, who thankfully decided I wasn’t entirely crazy and signed me off.

I also had an initial appointment with Dr Le Roux, the doctor who performed my first retrieval. This appointment was, in my mind, quite daunting but I shouldn’t have worried. A quick internal check-up to make sure everything was okay inside and another chat about the procedure, and I was packed off to the pathologists to be tested and cleared for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis. Obviously, if you are HIV positive or have hepatitis, you cannot donate, and so these blood tests are compulsory. This physical examination is repeated every time you donate – so if you donate four times, you’ll be examined and tested four times.

Let’s get fertile

After you’ve got the all-clear, the next step is to synchronise your menstrual cycle with your recipient’s and then start the daily fertility injections. All donors are placed on a short, light course of a medication that stimulates follicle growth. In my case, this was Gonal-F, which stimulates the ovaries to produce more eggs.

I know that the daily injections put off a lot of women and honestly, they were probably the worst part. But you’d be surprised how quickly you get used to them! During this time, you have a further two or three scans with the doctor to make sure everything is A-okay. Near the end of your fertility injections, you’re also given a shot of Cetrotide – a medication to ensure you don’t spontaneously ovulate – before being given two “trigger” shots to ripen the eggs 36 and 24 hours before you donate.

The first time I donated, I was fortunate in that I responded beautifully to all the medication – Dr Le Roux was always so pleased with my scans and I realised I was quite proud of myself. Strange, seeing as women are “supposed” to ovulate, but hey, I like being good at things. The second time, I was a bit of a “slow starter” which goes to show: It’ll never be the same for every woman, every time.

The actual donation procedure takes place around 14 days after starting the fertility injections – depending on how you respond. I have also been asked so many times “Weren’t you terrified? Aren’t you scared something will go wrong? What if you can’t have your own babies later on?” Honestly, the thing I was most scared of the whole way through was not being able to give my recipient what she’d been dreaming of. I was never truly scared of any complications (although obviously it has to be in the back of your mind) but I had so much faith in Dr Le Roux and his team that I was more worried about not being able to bring my side to the party.

Donation day dawns

So what happens on donation day? You’re admitted sometime in the morning, and get dressed into possibly the least sexy hospital gowns of all time. You’re checked out by the anaesthetist, a nurse fusses over you, and you’re led through to the theatre. You’re then put under a “twilight anaesthetic” – enough to knock you out long enough for them to do the retrieval so you won’t feel a thing.

During the retrieval, the doctor performs an “ultrasound directed needle aspiration”. A needle is inserted through the upper portion of the vagina directly into the ovary – and the ultrasound allows the physician to guide the needle into each follicle – where the egg is sucked through and collected. This takes about 15 to 30 minutes.

Following the retrieval, you hang out in the clinic for an hour or two while you recover from the anaesthetic. The first time I donated, I was in a fair amount of pain – the second time, barely any pain. Different every time.

And yes, this is when you get paid. Nurture pays R6000 for each donation on the day of retrieval. Following that, a delicious day of bed rest is prescribed. In my case that meant time spent catching up on cheesy movies.

After the retrieval, the egg goes to the laboratory where it is fertilised and “grown” for a few days before transfer. So far I’ve been really lucky – both of the women I have donated to are pregnant! I’ve also signed up for a third donation – there’s nothing more amazing than that phone call or email saying “SHE’S PREGNANT!”

Do I ever think about meeting my recipient’s children? Of course I do. I’d like to see that they’re healthy (and don’t have three arms or something!) and obviously I’m curious about how much they resemble me. But that’s about it. A good friend of mine was shocked that I wouldn’t want to be involved in “my” children’s life – but they aren’t my children. They never were. As cheesy as it sounds, they always belonged to my recipient, who walked a terrifying, difficult road. I’m just glad that I could help, and hopefully make the rest of the way a little smoother.

Originally published on iafrica.com.