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!

“Where’s your other ovary?”

Not something one wants to hear from one’s doctor when there’s an ultrasound wand deep in you-know-where, I must admit.

As you may have gathered, I went for my first scan since starting the injections on Saturday. I generally get to the Clinic early enough to say hi to the staff and get rid of my “sharps” – used needles, leftover solution etc – before going in for my appointment.

This is now the third cycle I’m doing with the Amazing Dr H, so we seem to have this whole thing down pat. We chat for a bit before going into his examination room – bottoms off, on the table, blanket for modesty. We quickly located the right ovary, counting eight developing eggs, and then Dr H switched over to have a look at the other side.

“Where’s your other ovary?” he asked. Sorry, what? Not really a phrase you ever want to hear out of your doctor’s mouth. But, true enough, no ovary could be seen on the little monitor. After some exploratory prodding, Dr H asked me to shift my leg a little and poked my stomach, shifting the reluctant ovary into place. I said something to the effect of “Oh, good, so it didn’t disappear after all” – but as I was in a bit of a panic at the time, I can’t recall my exact words.

“Oh, don’t worry,” said Dr H. “I’ve never had that happen to me before.” Well, good, I thought – before scuttling off the table to put my underwear back on.

I suppose my ovary was just shy.

So far, all on track for Donation Day (D-Day, really!) a week from now. Dr H says that I am doing “great as always” and that he’s very happy with how things are going. So, yay! I was given a shot of Cetrotide at the Clinic to help the eggs mature – and to stop premature ovulation – and I’m back in for scan number two on Saturday morning. The IVF co-ordinator (not my usual one) left me with a bit of a bruise, a bit of a rash and a heck of an itch. It’s all for a good cause.

Speaking of good causes – and good things – I found out today that recipient number two gave birth to twins (a girl and a boy!) in October. Hooray!

Egg donation: Some FAQs

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So on Saturday morning – at the crack of dawn, mind you – I started my Gonal-F injections for my fourth cycle of egg donation. I say at the crack of dawn, and it really was – a few of us were doing a trail run in Stellenbosch, and I had to leave my flat at the quite ungodly hour of 6am. I’d forgotten the unparalleled ability of a needle in the stomach to wake a person up. Truly, I’ve probably done this whole self-injection thing around 50 times now – and I never fail to experience that rush of adrenaline that accompanies it.

As donors, our doses are pretty stock-standard: 225 for four days and 150 for two days before our first scan. (Mine is tomorrow, hold thumbs all is looking good!) This time, I’m already feeling a little discomfort from bloating – although that may be all the water that we are encouraged to drink, and all the wine that I’m not allowed to touch!

So, because it’s all early days and I’ve not got much to report, I thought I’d address some of the FAQs that I, personally, get.

1. Aren’t you scared?
I get this a lot, strangely. No, I’m not scared – always a little anxious that my body doesn’t co-operate and that I let my recipient down. But I’ve been through the process three times already and I know the team at the Clinic are exceptional. I’m in great hands, so no – not scared!

2. Does it hurt?
Look, I’ll be honest. Before you even get to Donation Day, there is a lot of poking and prodding. A LOT. You do daily injections yourself – once you get the hang of it, they barely hurt at all – and you have an internal ultrasound around four times per cycle, which – as I explained to my long-suffering brother last night – goes up and inside vaginally. And the Cetrotide – to stop premature ovulation – itches like a mofo.

The actual procedure, and the pain each person feels when they come around from anaesthetic, varies. I woke up after my first donation in a lot of pain, while the girl in the bed next to me pretty much skipped out of the Clinic. Now, while I’m out, they shoot me up with a fair chunk of painkillers… And I’m golden!

3. What about your babies? Aren’t you curious about them?
Not my babies. My eggs, yes – but the making and growing babies part belongs to the Clinic and the recipient and her family. Obviously I like to know that the babies are healthy etc – and I’m obviously curious about what they look like – but they were never my babies.

Update A: I actually have more of an emotional connection with the recipient, as a general rule.

Update B: It also comes down to your whole idea of “parenthood”. Is the child “yours” because its yourgenetic material? Is it “yours” because you carried it through pregnancy, gave birth to it? Or is it “yours” because you’re the one  awake at 2.30am for the sixth time this week, “yours” because you love it unconditionally, even when you’re covered in puke, and “yours” because you’re sitting in the front row for its first school play? For me, it’s the third option.

4. And… no sex, right?
Right. Abso-fucking-lutely no sex. Do you KNOW how fertile I am right now?? Thankfully – and I use the word “thankfully” quite loosely – I’m no longer seeing anyone, so the temptation has been removed, so to speak. I’ve actually never been dating anyone during a cycle.

5. What – and how – do you tell your partners?
Well, the only partner I’ve had and told has been J. Just after we hooked up, I was a little tipsy – which I think helped! – and I kinda just blurted it out. He was immensely accepting, though, and seemingly quite fascinated by the thought that there were little people with my genetic material out there. Which is quite cool, if you think about it.

Right, have typed this all out on my phone while waiting for my bro to finish playing soccer. And my fingers have cramped up a little.

But feel free to post any questions you may have and I will answer as best I can 🙂

Blog edited for typos and poor word choice. 

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.