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.

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Day Four – #30DayBlogChallenge

Day Four: Your favourite photograph of your best friend. Click here for the rest of the topics I’ll be covering.

I must admit, yesterday’s and today’s topics were the two I was looking forward to the least. Much with yesterday, I don’t believe in one “best friend”. I have loads of different, very dear friends that I love with all of my heart. I would share pictures, but I’ve not asked for permission (can you tell I work in the media?) and it’s late and I’m tired. So, a rundown.

There’s my best friend from high school, N. We bonded over being the two weirdest girls in our grade, dated two best friends and still keep in contact pretty regularly. We spam each other with over-emotional Facebook messages and still discuss everything from break-ups to new relationships and work stuff.

Then there’s X. We’ve grown super close over the past year and bonded over judgey emails and catty Gtalk convos. And lots and lots of wine. She’s ridiculously accepting of all of my stupidity and is the person I usually have my freakouts to. She’s remarkably patient with me.

Best guy friend person (and actually, famously, the “male version of me” at one stage) is T. He’s sweetly protective of me (I’m sorry, future husband, but you’ll have to pass the T-test first) and quite possibly my biggest cheerleader in the world.We met in the queue at registration at varsity, then again at a random computer workshop. Fate decreed that we would be friends.

Then, L. She’s been there for me through absolutely everything in the world and I have no idea what I’d have done without her in the past. She’s the kind of person that will drop everything and drive halfway across the country to come to your dad’s funeral. True story.

Best person in the world is my baby brother S. We live together and are a great team. Nobody gets us, and that’s okay.

I know you were expecting a photo, so here’s a photo of my lifelong best friend. He grew up with me, he went to high school and varsity with me and he helped look after my dad while he was in the hospital. His name is Gund, and we met when we were six months old.

Gund

My dear Gund.

Isn't he handsome?

I’m not dead… I promise

Right, well seeing as I could be in the running for the Most Useless Blogger, Like, Ever award I thought I’d just post an update. It’s a little different to my usual updates… although this could be partly because I’m in one of the weirdest moods ever.

I always have fantastic intentions when it comes to this blog. I’m always convinced that I’m going to change the whole world with my blog posts… And then stuff like that little wedding that happened and ten billion movie reviews and that new movie about sparkly vampires comes along. Oh, okay, and mostly lots of rereading old  Hyperbole and a Halfs and Hurricane Vanessa’s blog. But mostly work. I promise. And a lot of Facebook. And New Scientist and… well, you get the picture.

But mostly it’s being sad, having no energy and in general just losing my joie de vivre. Break-ups have this horrible way of infiltrating every.single.aspect.of.your.bloody.life until you start feeling like some tragic heroine in a cheap paperback novel. Or at least, that’s how I feel.

[You can duck out now if you’d rather wait for something fun and relevant to the entertainment world. Like my planned piece on the Lady Gaga video which is dropping this Thursday night.]

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Rest in peace, Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor in 'Cat On a Hot Tin Roof'.

When I was younger – possibly around 10 or 11, would be my best guess – I watched Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with my grandmother.  I don’t remember the film too clearly – but what I do remember, was Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie the Cat. She was mesmerising – I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. Like many, many young and slightly awkward girls, I wanted to be her – she was beautiful, confident, wildly talented and breathtaking.

There will only ever be one Elizabeth Taylor.

In the news rush that followed the confirmation of her death yesterday aged 79, I found this gem of a quote from Franco Zeffirelli – who directed Taylor in The Taming of the Shrew. “People like Liz don’t exist any more,” he said. “Because fairy tales no longer exist.”

It’s very true. In the current crop of stars, I don’t think a single actress could even come close to Taylor’s level. Angelina Jolie and Catherine Zeta-Jones are probably closest – but even their stars have faded in recent years. There’s nobody else who has the glamour or the magnetism of old Hollywood… And we’re left with “new Hollywood”.

“New Hollywood” is obsessed with punting out a Good Product. One that will draw in massive ticket sales. A film no longer has to be a masterpiece to garner attention – it’s all about the Product. And the biggest products of all? The stars themselves. Stars are photoshopped into oblivion for movie posters, magazine covers and promotional items. Mainstream actors in particular behave a certain way, interview a certain way, perform a certain way in order to garner some celebrity… And it’s all down to the pioneer that was Elizabeth Taylor.

William Mann, who wrote How to be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood, said: “She created the whole business of fame, the way we know it today.”

“The template that she laid down in the 1950s and 1960s everyone continues to try to follow, with varying degrees of success. But she’s the one that invented it,” he told CNN.

As much as she was famed for her film roles and her tumultuous marriages, she was also a passionate humanitarian. She was a dedicated campaigner for the fight against HIV/Aids, helped to fund amfAR (American Foundation for Aids Research) and in her lifetime raised an estimated $200-million for Aids.

What a lady.