You’ve probably heard about sperm donators, but Rosie Featherstone tells us what it’s really like to go through the long process of egg donation…
If you ever want to feel like a really good human being, there is one sure-fire way to guarantee people look to you as a totally selfless and all-round fantastic person; egg donation. The official term for the kind of donation I ended up partaking in is described as ‘altruistic’, meaning on the face of it, it is simply the pure golden goodness in my heart that is causing me to go through multiple blood tests, a months’ worth of daily injections and an invasive surgical procedure – and all for a complete stranger. The label assumes that I am here solely to help others, like a modern medical saint of fertility.
It was really easy to be fooled into that way of thinking; to completely forget about the student debt I had found myself in the previous year, to not concentrate on the £750 compensation given to the women who go through with the entire process. The procedure is long, and the money is not given until the donation has been completed. I was told by the clinics on-site councillor that the women who chose to go through with the donation (which she repeatedly likened to being as impersonal as a donation of blood) where usually ‘generous’ people. Generous with their time, un-phased by being prodded with needles and the blood extractions. I had my contraceptive implant removed, a tiresome procedure where my boyfriend sat wincing as a surprisingly long hormonal stick was unwillingly yanked out of my left arm. The nurse who did that cooed over what a lovely person I was, as well.
The truth: I am really not a lovely person. I’m not a bad person, but I’m not saint like. That being said, it’s nice to have people think you’re an angel.
I assume the counsellor’s likening of egg donation to giving blood was expressly for legal reasoning. I have no legal connection to the child which will eventually exist; a human wondering around with my DNA (probably my characteristic hooded eyes – if they get unlucky, my irregularly small adult teeth). I haven’t done blood donation myself, oddly enough, but I assume you aren’t required to write a “goodwill message” to your blood cells. They won’t turn into a child. Yet another surreal aspect of an even more surreal experience. Writing a full A4 side on yourself, on your personality, is hard. We never really know what we’re like, when it comes to it – at least not in a way we can express. Families-to-be may pour over this piece of writing, trying to glean some genetic similarity from my words. There is no requirement that the parents ever tell the child that they were a product of donation; I don’t know if they’ll ever see it. I don’t know if I wrote the right thing if they do see it.
Would I even want the egg to seek me out? That’s what I call it, ‘the egg’, for distance. I am at no risk of being sought out as a mother. Legally and emotionally, I am far from that label. Potentially seeing a small version of myself (mixed with the DNA of a man I won’t meet) could be disconcerting; I don’t know if I’d be amused, scared or disturbed. Maybe some limbo in between. My financial responsibility stretches nowhere, but I could splash out on the potential cup of coffee if we were to meet in person. Something that seems like science fiction right now, could end up being the reality. It’s not impossible.
When the clinic rang me informing me they had found a match with a couple where the woman looks genetically similar to me, my body produced an emotionally charged physical response. A lurch in my chest. It is selfish of me to consider the thousands of possibilities I hold in my ovaries to be mine. I knew a person who morbidly named each period in response to the lost possibility that left with the lining. Already, the egg which will be removed belongs to this other woman, I am harbouring another woman’s child like a captor. It feels Of Another, alien.
I may not be a saint, but the whole experience is humbling. People who have gone through hell and high water to have a child come to these places. My objective fertility was tested early on in the process by ultra-sounding my ovaries from the inside with a condom wrapped plastic scanner (glamourous, I know) and found that I was obscenely fertile.
My ovaries were preparing for me to produce the entire player set for a 5-aside football game, and there I was selfishly refusing to get even a tiny bit pregnant, while the women in the waiting room couldn’t wish for anything else. The usual judgement I reserve for strangers on buses and trains, in the street, didn’t happen in the waiting room at the clinic. All I was doing was trying to gather some indication of what these strangers would be like as parents, from looks alone. Occasionally I would be witness to a strained conversation about the refreshments provided or their plans later in the week. They must have been watching me as well. The times I went there I was the only one who was an obvious donor and not a ‘donee’. In the UK egg donation is done without a picture of the donor, so I suppose watching a donor in the waiting room was as close as their experience would ever get to having an inkling of what their child could look like.
The £750 was, originally, the single reason I sought out egg donation. My mother suggested it to me and the more I thought about it the more jokes I could get out of the existence of my biological spawn wondering about, all but unknown to me. Money aside, it feels nice to know that my body can give something another’s can’t, for it to be of some use without major interruptions on my behalf. The process isn’t over yet; it will be in the new year that I will be given a pack of daily injections. At the end of that cycle I will go to the clinic for the invasive but relatively risk-free procedure. Then it’s out of my hands, in every way. I do not have to consider it again, though undoubtedly I will. Potentially 20 years in the future I will receive an uncomfortably worded email, sent from someone nature thought I would know.
Illustration: Nina Goodyer