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.