Rachel's home page - Egg donation - One long page
It's a lot of hassle with an uncertain outcome. You can't use any hormonal contraception for several months, there are multiple ultrasound scans of your ovaries, multiple injections, many visits to the clinic and the aftermath can be painful. After all that, the recipient may not get pregnant and even if she does, you will never see or know the child if you are donating anonymously (there are far more hoops to jump through to donate to someone you know). All that said, I'm still glad I did it.
Some general information about the context of my donation, in an effort to reduce my FAQs.
It started for me when I saw a magazine advert for the Logan Centre recruiting egg donors. It was something I had occasionally considered doing and the advert prodded me into serious consideration.I was young, healthy, single and loved my job. I thought it unlikely I'd have children of my own any time soon. Like many women my age I felt a conflict between career and having a family: I reasoned that at least if I donated eggs I would have passed my genes on, even if I didn't get to see the results. And it should make another childless woman happy, which would be good.
After a bit I got in touch with the Logan Centre, they sent me some information and forms and I went for a medical checkup and counselling session a month or two later. The check up was some blood samples, pressure and heart rate, a gynaecological check and an ultrasound ovarian scan.
I was very impressed with the counselling, they made clear exactly what I would be doing and were quite thorough in making sure I understood what my motivations were and the various possible consequences, and how I might feel about them. I was also impressed with the clear medical explanation of what would happen to me, and the possible side-effects. The major potential side-effect is Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS) which in extreme cases could require hospitalisation, but is usually manageable by diet and rest and is temporary. Fewer than one in 20 women get it, which I considered reasonable odds, given its manageability.
Having decided to go ahead, I was matched anonymously to a recipient couple. I never met them although I was told some things about them (they had paid for the advert I responded to, she was similar in appearance to me, she very much wanted her husband's baby). They also were told some things about me, and I supplied some information about my interests and my personality that the Logan Centre could give to them on request. It was an odd, but lovely experience, that reflection of each other in the eyes of other people. The clinic staff formed a connection between us so that the donation was still anonymous but not impersonal.
First of all I needed to stop taking the pill and to have a 'natural' cycle, and then have certain blood tests carried out in the first few days of my cycle, to check my hormone levels were suitable for donation. These test results are valid for six months or so, and I was able to persuade my GP in Cambridge to take the samples and send them to the clinic, rather than have to make a trip to London.
The test results came back okay and then the recipient and I had to match ovulation cycles. Taking the first day of my period as day 1, on day 19 I took a hormone injection in preparation for the next cycle (the exact day varies and depends on the two women and how in sync they are). We then waited for my next day 1, which would signal the start of the real effort.
On day 5 I went into the clinic for an ultrasound scan. This is quite straightforward: you lie on an examination table and an ultrasound probe is wiggled around in your vagina to display your ovaries on a screen which both you and the sonographer can see. The probe is covered in what looks like a long, thin condom (and is made by Durex!) and lubricant so it doesn't hurt, but sometimes the sonographer has to press quite hard against one side or other of the vaginal wall so it can be uncomfortable. I found these images quite fascinating - you can see your eggs quite clearly.
On day 5 I also started taking daily hormone injections to encourage my ovaries to produce lots of eggs (rather than the usual one). These went into the fatty area over my stomach and were very fine needles. The clinic is happy to administer all the necessary injections if you want to travel in, but I am not squeamish and didn't want to make more journeys than necessary so I did them myself. On days 15, 18 and 20 I went in for futher scans to check if the daily hormone dose needed altering (it was adjusted slightly a couple of times).
On day 22 I took an injection of yet another hormone; this had to be precisely timed to 34-36 hours before the planned egg collection. As I had had no difficulty doing the injections so far I suggested I did the final one too. The needle was much bigger than the ones for the daily doses and I had a difficult few minutes sitting at home screwing up the courage to stick it in my leg. But if I didn't do it, we would have wasted all the work so far, so I managed it. I would probably recommend to others to get that one done for you in the clinic.
It's a short procedure and you can normally go home the same day. The collection itself is carried out under what they call 'heavy sedation' and seems to be a case of poking a probe into the vagina and using a very fine needle to extract the eggs from the ovaries. Following the clinic recommendation I took the whole day off work and brought someone with me to see me home afterwards. By then I was no longer single and my boyfriend Tony chose to come with me. He was able to come with me into the operating theatre and stay with me during the preparation right until I was sedated.
The operation lasted about 15 minutes. I remember seeing the doctor depress a syringe and the next thing is a hazy waking up in a recovery room, and a short time later Tony being there. It took about an hour to get myself back together, and I could feel my personality reintegrate together as though I were watching it from the outside. Tony described it as watching my IQ rise visibly.
Once I was mostly recovered, the doctor came in and went over the possible post-collection side-effects with me and gave me a folder with written details. I was considered at higher risk of developing OHSS because I had produced a larger than average number of eggs. My folder included a letter for A&E in case I got OHSS seriously and needed help. I was instructed to eat a high-protein diet, take plenty of fluids and rest. Shortly after that we went home, less than 2 hours after the start of the collection. I slept a lot of the afternoon and went back to work the next day.
Two days later I received a lovely bunch of flowers which the clinic had sent with a thank you message from the recipients. I was very touched. At about this time I was developing a mild case of OHS: very bloated belly and cramps, which got worse if I did any physical exertion at all - even standing still for more than a few minutes was exhausting. I stuck to the recommended high-protein diet, borrowed some bigger trousers from a friend and sat around a lot. My job is sedentary so I was at least able to continue working. I found those few days very difficult to deal with, probably because the Big Event was past and this was an inconvenient anti-climax. After a few days symptoms subsided and I went back to normal.
The clinic will tell you the result of the donation, if you ask, so after a few weeks I rang the clinic to ask how the attempt had worked for the recipient. The practice is to collect lots of eggs (usually about 5-13), fertilise them all, use the best now and freeze any spares for future attempts. I had produced an above-average number of eggs so was feeling quite hopeful. However, not many of them had successfully been fertilised, and only three of those were suitable for use. They were all implanted into the recipient, but there were no spares to be frozen.
Unfortunately the recipient did not become pregnant following the implantation. I felt devastated to hear this, after all the effort and pain I'd been through, and presumably so had she. I even felt guilty about the flowers. I talked to the Logan Centre about how I felt and they were very reassuring: I had done the best I could, what I had done was very generous, sometimes fertility treatment doesn't work and it's nobody's 'fault'.
The whole way through the donation process, all the staff I came into contact with treated me with respect and appreciation for the time and effort I was going to. For me, donating eggs was something I very much wanted to do, so I didn't mind the effort, but all the same it is very nice to be repeatedly told you are doing a lovely thing.
I'm very glad I did the donation, despite the disappointing end of the story. I doubt I will do it again, now that I know that I am likely to get OHSS. It's one of those things you can't know until you do donate, but now I do know, I think it would be foolish of me to repeat something likely to make me ill. And while I like the idea of helping an infertile couple, and am so sorry the couple I did try to help didn't succeed on that attempt, that isn't enough motivation to make it worth the risk. Perhaps if someone I knew needed help I might reconsider, but that opens up a whole new set of issues to think through.
I donated completely anonymously, but the law is now changing. Children born as a result of donor egg or sperm from April 2005 will be able to discover the donor's identity when reaching 18. I've considered this a bit, and I don't think it would make much of a difference to me, if I considered it medically sensible to donate eggs again. My main driver for donating was an internal urge for descendants which clashed horribly with my thorough enjoyment of my job. I considered it a second-best to having and bringing up children myself, which I didn't then feel in a position to do. I don't think I would at all mind seeing what my genes turned out like, if they wanted to find me, and were well past the cute-kid stage which might inspire inappropriate maternal feelings. I would never consider myself the mother of such a child - that's the woman who brought them up.
I have a list of Frequently Asked Questions and my answers.
Rachel's home page - Egg donation - One long page