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.
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.