Among my many, varied life experiences, I’ve had the pleasure of donating my eggs. You know, eggs, as in “ova,” an is “from the ovaries.” Once they leave the comfort of my ovaries, the eggies temporarily reside in a petri dish in a lab somewhere, being fertilized by top-of-the-line spermies. The now-fertilized eggies hang out for a while, and then the viable ones are separated from the non-viable ones. Of the viable eggies, a handful are selected and implanted in the waiting uterus of a confidential mommy-to-be. The remainder of the viable eggies can be frozen by the recipient for later use, donated to another confidential mommy-to-be, or destroyed – all at the recipient’s choosing. Fingers crossed, at least one (but possibly more) of the implanted eggies take up residence in the mommy-to-be’s womb. Approximately 9 months later, voila! Time for a birthday party!
So far, I’ve donated three times, and I’m slated for a fourth donation within the next few months. The entire process is entirely confidential and mediated by an independent agency, so I never know any information about the donors. I do, however, know that my donations have resulted in successful pregnancies (and thus real-and-actual new human life!), and if that’s not the super-coolest thing ever, I don’t know what is. If it hasn’t happened already, right about now is probably the time that your mind is flooded with questions about the process, about a person’s decision-making process in becoming a donor, about the recipient’s decision-making process in deciding to use and choosing a donor, and (don’t lie) about the money. Although referred to as “egg donation,” donors are compensated for their time and trouble (of which there is plenty) throughout the process. To be clear, like the commitments required of the donor, the compensation is considerable, but it’s by no means easy money. Not at all, in fact.
The first question that most curious folks ask is, “Isn’t it, like, really bizarre to know that there could be who-knows-how-many children out there from your eggs? That you could run into them on the street?” Sure. I guess so. But it’s bizarre in the most amazing sense. I mean, that medical science can achieve such a feat is both bizarre and amazing. And wonderful and joyous.
People ask, “But don’t you wonder about those kids? How they’re doing? I mean they’re your kids.” My answer is one that I suppose only the type of person who would donate her eggs can understand.
Sure, I wonder. And I hope those kids are happy and healthy and beautiful and smart and inspired. But they’re NOT my kids. My kids clamber and clang upstairs looooong after they’re supposed to be asleep. My kids smell precisely and intoxicatingly just like themselves when I nuzzle kisses into their necks. My kids know me inside and out – flaws and all – without even knowing that they know me that way, and they love me with a force and constancy rivaled only by the way I love them back. My kids are mine. And they are happy and healthy and beautiful and smart and inspired.
The children born from my donated eggies are not mine. They belong to their parents. Their parents are the people who wanted desperately to have them, who scoured the profiles of endless donors until they found the most perfect one, and who made a commitment to love them and raise them regardless of DNA or traditional definitions of “family.” I’m just a kindly lady who’s fortunate to be sufficiently physically and psychologically sturdy and to have a surplus of healthy eggies. I’m just a stranger who’s decided to share the immeasurable blessing of the “my” of having children with someone else.
There are many more questions that people ask. So much so that I’m used to people asking about the process involved during the time leading up to and throughout donation, but I get far fewer questions about the potential future implications of donating, specifically the implications for the my own physical and psychological well-being in the short- and long-term.
The only person who’s ever asked long-term what-ifs for me (as opposed to for the children conceived or for humankind in general) is my future mother-in-law. Coming from her, “Will you still be able to have more of your own children down the road…you know, if you decided that you wanted more children?” seemed like a completely reasonable question that’s relevant to her as the hypothetical grandmother of any hypothetical children I might someday decide to have. It also seemed completely reasonable that she was not entirely satisfied with my shrugging-off response of, “Probably so. I don’t know. I mean, I don’t think doctors even really know that. Besides, my eggs are strictly for charitable purposes at this point.”
As it turns out, I’m not the only egg donor who’s not being asked questions about my own well-being following donation. The Today Show recently did a segment on health care professionals’ and advocates’ concerns about the dearth of information regarding the short- and long-term health and psychological consequences of egg donation for donors themselves. Check out the story here.
It got me thinking. I suppose it might be beneficial to know how egg donation might impact me 5, 10, 35 years down the road. I’m not concerned about it enough to not donate again, but at the very least, I’m curious. Because the data doesn’t currently exist, it’s not likely that such information will be available to me while I’m still within the donor age-range. But that doesn’t mean that such data-gathering is irrelevant to me. In fact, I could be the data. I could provide the information that allows researchers to draw conclusions about the short- and long-term effects of egg donation on donors. I could be the data that helps future prospective donors decide (or decide not, perhaps) to take the donation plunge.
My gut tells me that the answer to the question, “What bad things does egg donation do to donors in the immediate and down the road?” is probably a resounding, “Nothing much, actually,” but it’s still an important question to ask. An equally important – no, a more important – question not asked in the Today Show piece is, “What good things does egg donation do to donors in the immediate and down the road?” I can think of tons.
If researchers or the general public want to know the effects of donation on egg donors, they should ask us. My own experience as a donor has taught me that the process is certainly a harrowing one with numerous risks. But it’s also a SUPER rewarding one (and not simply because of the compensation – easy money it’s NOT, remember?). Somebody write a grant to fund a study, and contact donors. Considering the other things we’ve voluntarily signed up for, I imagine most donors would gladly participate in such a study. Poke us, prod us, ask us a bunch of weird, really personal questions. It wouldn’t be anything we aren’t used to.