I donated my egg to a family

'It felt like I was having the emotional journey of a 9 month pregnancy within a 3 month period.'

'It felt like I was having the emotional journey of a 9 month pregnancy within a 3 month period.'

As lunch dates go, this one in 2005 was particularly emotional but it wasn’t due to the lack of deep fried potato or even my personality. I looked over the table, feeling a little nervous and offered my eggs. 

His eyes welled up with a little lip tremble. Then he turned to his wife, they grasped hands and said yes. 

Egg donation is a little known aspect of reproductive fertility. It occurs when a woman is able to carry a pregnancy to full term but does not have eggs of suitable quality. For most, this frustrating discovery happens after going through at least one arduous and expensive IVF cycle. It’s like watching the entire Twilight series only to realise the climactic end sequence was only a dream. 

Australia is governed by strict laws relating to donation and it is illegal to pay for sperm, eggs or embryos just as it is illegal to pay for donation of any other human tissue (blood, marrow, organs). The process of even looking for a donor is regulated, with some couples having to submit their advertisements for ministerial approval prior to sharing on parenting forums or other areas. After publishing the advertisement, there begins the long wait – not only to find someone but to find the right person with whom you will share this important connection. 

I decided to donate my eggs because for years I had my own fertility issues, thanks to polycystic ovarian syndrome, a thorny beast that means your insulin and hormones conspire to ensure you don’t release eggs. I was lucky: a regime of weight loss and diabetic medication kick-started my baby-maker. 

Acclimatising to the world of pregnancy and parenting, I discovered I had it easy. Others spent years on cocktails of medication, endless rounds of intrusion and intervention. For some, happiness was measured in hourly increments, waiting for the next result, waiting for things to stick, waiting for things to improve.  

By the time, I read Jacob and Meg’s advertisement, I had a fat and happy 1-year old on my lap. I counted down every day, trying to find the perfect couple, as doctors recommended donating after your last child turns one. 

When Jacob and Meg described wanting to grow emotionally with their longed-for child, it struck within. To me they seemed to understand the nature of mutual unfurling between babies and their families. Physically, emotionally, you all grow together. This wasn’t about them pointing the way to their kids, they seemed to intuit that raising a child was a mad team scramble. 

Naturally, they are the nicest couple you could ever meet. Getting to know them was like low-stakes dating; emails, long conversations on the phone, lunch dates where they met my daughter (very ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’). 

We went straight into counseling and screening, detailing every aspect of my medical history, taking blood and notes - copious notes. I would call that process vulnerable but everything to do with assistive fertility is exposing. As well as the note-taking there are the tests, the waiting for evaluations. When you realise that up to 1 in 30 Australians seek assistance to become pregnant, it is a striking thought that so many men and women go through so many potentially humiliating moments to start their families. 

Even after going through every interrogation of my medical history, pap smear, blood test and diagnostic hoop jump, nothing prepared me for the vaginal ultrasound. Or as I like to call it, ‘dildo cam’. You can learn a lot about yourself in a vaginal ultrasound, like if your uterus looks like an artistic collaboration between Ridley Scott and HR Giger. (Hint: it does but I couldn’t find Ripley). 

Each time I’d go in for an appointment, I’d saddle up, fretting about my grooming before the specialist waved her intimidating, minimalist dildo and popped it in for a look at the strange internal landscape. It was bizarrely intimate and exposing. 

In case no one tells you, IVF can be hellishly brutal and if you know anyone who has or is going through it, you should damn well make them a cup of tea or get them something really awesome, like a steam mop. Think about trying to maintain your everyday life, career, relationships while undergoing the hormonal equivalent of meth. That’s what it felt like - although, in the style of late night infomercials, I'd like to tell you that individual results may vary. 

But that is how the IVF cycle worked for me – kind of like an episode of Glee in that it’s annoying, soul-crushing and feels like it’s never going to end. 

First, there is the syncing – when you and the mum get your cycles in order. 

Second, comes the sniffing. Yes, sniffing. This is the stage where pituitary hormones are tricked into not releasing any eggs early. It’s like 'The Rules' but for your ovaries. Sniffing comes via a nasal spray and tastes like what Heston Blumenthal would create were he trying to evoke a whimsical metallic smoothie to remind you of the meaningless of Grade 2 geography. 

Third up is the ovarian stimulation phase where you try to fool the ovaries (previously chastised by the sniffing stage) into developing not just one egg but lots of them by injecting hormones into your stomach daily. 

When it came time to self-injecting hormones, I was hesitant to actually plunge the syringe into myself. You tend to let the needle hover 2 centimeters over your skin, like when you’re about to tear off a wax strip and have to mentally will your hand to rip it off.  I ended up calling friends to talk me through it, because, sadly, I don’t know Marianne Faithfull. 

For me, this stage was exhausting. I would pick ridiculous fights (‘Why your knowledge of Citroens is inferior to mine, even though I’ve never held a licence’ should have been on pay-per-view) and I absolutely despised everyone around me. It felt like I was having the emotional journey of a 9 month pregnancy within a 3 month period. 

Everything existed in a muddled fog. There I was with a life seemingly complete, a house, a loving and kind husband, a longed-for child and burgeoning career, and yet with every injection came the confusing realisation it wasn’t the life I wanted. In helping to create a life for someone else’s family, I realised I had forgotten to create my own. 

On the day of egg pick up and sperm collection, things were fraught. We stood in the clinic awkwardly, Jacob wishing me luck, me not knowing the polite way to wish him well for sperm collection. I was placed under deep sedation and felt a mild pain on waking. They wheeled me to a private area and told me they had picked up around 6 eggs. I burst into tears, ostensibly because I felt like I had failed Jacob and Meg by not giving them the average 10, but mainly because I felt more cracked out than Courtney Love on a Twitter bender. 

And so, my part in the process was over and reduced to glad-but-distant observer hoping for the best and my period to come and clear my exhausted womb.  I marvel at the stamina of women who go through not just one IVF cycle but continue on to (often multiple) implantations before a hopeful pregnancy, then birth and then caring after a newborn. Seriously guys, I mentioned making them a cup of tea before but perhaps make them two or eleventy billion. 

Meg became pregnant on her second implantation and 9 months later, she and Jacob became the most doting and committed parents to one of the luckiest children ever born – Reuben. Who wouldn’t want to help in whatever small way if it resulted in two amazing people becoming amazing parents? 

Six years later, we still catch up every few months for lunches, phone calls and emails. Jacob and Meg are, as expected, outstanding parents who have told their boy all about the extra step that helped them get pregnant. Their son and my daughter laugh and circle each other with the glee of hyped-up cousins. 

For my part, looking at him can be conflicting. He’s charming; a whirlwind, whip smart, a veritable pocket rocket – the sort of entertaining child you look upon with utter enjoyment. But I feel guilt over the markers of my genes. In him, I see my nose and eyes, the unruly hair and the unbridled energetic chaos of our personalities. Also, I’ve passed on my allergies and a skull size so large he will be cursed by all milliners. I feel intense guilt that what was meant as an altruistic gift left traces of me, that even my genes are loud and pushy bastards. 

Then again, this amazing family has left an indelible trace upon me. The process of egg donation completely turned my life around.  What was previously a life in a rut and unchallenged, is now completely changed. After donating, I took on more challenges, lost my fears and truly engaged with life. And it’s all because of those 3 months we shared, getting strung out on hormones. 

 I can never thank them enough for the life they gave me.

Want to make that step? If you don’t know of a family who needs your help, contact IVF Australia (www.ivfaustralia.com.au or 1800 111 483) to learn more.

*Names have been changed.

15 comments

  • This is a powerful story. A tremedous gift. And a process I was never sure (as an infertile woman) I could go through. It was a huge leap we couldn't quite face.

    Thank you also for showing you learned about the brutality of IVF. Sometimes I think my years of doing it should be just forgotten and I should just 'get over it' but you remind me that yes, it was bloody hard, life changing and in the end, devastating. I shouldn't hide from my scars. Like your experience, it makes me who I am.

    Commenter
    Helen13
    Date and time
    February 07, 2013, 9:23AM
    • Thanks to you Amy for recounting in such realistic detail how it is to go through an IVF cycle. As someone who went through 10 with no results, it is so hard to explain to 'normal' people how intense and humiliating the experience can be. Now add to that the overwhelming despair when it all fails, you find yourself lost, full of hormones and grief, and trying to find the courage to do it all again! We had to go through the whole donor experience as well with all that entails, plus apart from finding the right words to put into an ad, (asking for a stranger to donate to you, a stranger), the law passed that any couple considering becoming a parent through IVF had to obtain a police check and a child protection order! As if it wasn't challenging enough! You had to prove you weren't going to harm your own child once you had succeeded in all of this!
      Thanks for putting into clear words what I wish so many could read once they ask you - "why don't you have any children".

      Commenter
      gabybeanz
      Date and time
      February 07, 2013, 10:08AM
      • Gabybeanz you capture well why we didn't do the donor thing. Or one of the reasons at least. After IVF we felt we'd already been through enough examination and intervention, grief and loss. More would have been more than we could face.

        Commenter
        Helen13
        Date and time
        February 07, 2013, 11:15AM
      • Gabybeanz, the only thing you need to tell such people is to where to go. Seriously, nothing infuriates more than when people ask that question and I'm only 27! At this rate, I will need to go into hibernation in my 30s.

        It's such a personal question and not something that should be taken lightly, much less asked when other people are present, putting said person in the spotlight. Mind your own damn business - when/if I'm pregnant, you'll know. Until then, keep your thoughts to yourself :)

        Commenter
        Cimbom
        Location
        Real World
        Date and time
        February 07, 2013, 12:07PM
    • As someone with PCOS, I worry that I won't be able to conceive a child naturally and wonder what path I will take if that's the case. This is such a beautiful story and you are so selfless to have donated your eggs to a couple who wanted them so badly.

      Commenter
      sam
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      February 07, 2013, 10:40AM
      • Thank you, Amy. Thank you for writing about a deeply personal and hidden topic which many people do not understand. My fiance and I would dearly love to have children, however, we need an egg donor. Very few women offer their eggs for egg donation, and I can understand why. Sadly, many couples do not achieve the happy outcome that is often portrayed in the media. If we cannot find an egg donor, we will be applying to become foster parents, which is another minefield full of rules and restrictions.

        Commenter
        Clementine
        Location
        Adelaide
        Date and time
        February 07, 2013, 10:44AM
        • I did one round of IVF due to my then partner's infertility - ovarian hyperstimulation and bilateral collapsed lungs were the result. I was lucky - I survived. IVF is not without risk, especially if you (ie: the woman) have normal fertility. I understand the desperate need for children and sympathize with those looking for donor eggs, but unlike donor sperm its difficult, painful and can be dangerous to obtain them. Potential donors ought to be made aware of the risks so that they can make fully informed decisions.

          Commenter
          ReadyForReign
          Date and time
          February 07, 2013, 11:05AM
          • The governments of NSW and Australia are abusive to couples without eggs.

            Why cannot well informed women sell their eggs in Australia?

            This would dramatically increase supply and be an appropraite recognition of the time an inconvience of donation. The end result is that couple without eggs end up putting implied pressure on relatives and friends to donate.

            Again one more male dominated government telling women what they can and can't do with their bodies.

            Commenter
            Info
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            February 07, 2013, 12:27PM
            • I have also been an egg donor. Not to a stranger but for a friend who at the time lived in Canada for me the choice was simple i had 2 kids and was happy with that i also had healthy eggs. She had had 1 child but needed help with more children after a discussion with my husband who fully supported me in this decision i offered my eggs to her. The process was one that i'd NEVER go through again and from 6 eggs she had 2 children the other eggs were donated or destroyed not my decision. I have NEVER looked at these children as half of me its only when we are all together and i see how my children and her 2 look similar but thats it. They are hers and her husbands children i'm not sure what they will be told later on in life but i will go with the flow when that time comes. I was just happy it all came out well in the end its funny i never really think about it until an article comes out and i say oh yeah i've done that.

              Commenter
              OzBec73
              Date and time
              February 07, 2013, 12:33PM
              • This is a great article Amy and accurately captures the process (including the tears and hormone changes). I also donated my eggs to a couple who were unable to conceive naturally and although I never actually met them, I still felt a connection to them as I was aware that as I was undergoing my blood tests etc so was she. I underwent 2 rounds of ovarian stimulation as at the end of the first it was determined that the eggs were not viable for harvest. I was devastated when this happened and could only imagine how the couple felt so I was determined to start again as soon as possible. The couple became pregnant and gave birth to a girl in 2001, I am not sure if they went on to have more children as I agreed that they could decide on what happened to the remaining eggs, either use them themselves or donate them to someone else.
                I do sometimes wonder what this little person is like but have never felt the urge to seek contact with the family. I understand that if the child is aware that they were conceived in this way they will have the ability to access my details when they are older and I am comfortable with that but i am just grateful that I had the opportunity to help a couple realise their dream of becoming a family.

                Commenter
                Donor
                Location
                Melbourne
                Date and time
                February 07, 2013, 12:54PM

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