IVF for Egg Donors: What is it Like?

For any Egg Donor, IVF is an unavoidable necessity. The process itself sounds simple enough: once an Egg Donor’s health and viability are established, the doctor will set her on a hormone injection schedule. This schedule can last anywhere from nine days to several weeks (depending on how the Donor’s body reacts to the hormones). Ideally, the process ends in successful egg retrieval. Easy, right? But as with anything else in life, actually experiencing something is never quite that simple, easy, or one-size-fits-all. We sat down with an experienced Egg Donor, Maria, to talk about her experiences. 

  • First things first: how many times have you undergone IVF? 

My first retrieval was when I was 23 or 24 years old (I’m 30 now). I’ve been through this process as an Egg Donor five times now over the past seven years. 

  • Did all of those instances result in successful retrievals?

Yes, although my last one nearly didn’t. I was told during my first retrieval that I am “hyper-fertile” – which is a kind of scary thing to find out when you’re 23 and unsure if you want kids of your own someday. Basically, my ovaries respond REALLY well to the hormones in IVF. What that means in practice is that my IVF sessions last longer than others might – I’ve gone nearly three weeks before, although thankfully no doctor has pushed me that far since. That retrieval resulted in 46 eggs (context: a successful retrieval, from what I’ve been told by doctors is considered to be around 15 follicles), but I also experienced OHSS (Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome) afterwards and my recovery was quite difficult. To date, my smallest “yield” resulted in 28 follicles.

(Note from Simple Surrogacy on the definition of OHSS: Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome is an exaggerated response to excess hormones. It usually occurs in women taking injectable hormone medications to stimulate the development of eggs in the ovaries.)

  • What should a first time Egg Donor be aware of heading into this process?

The first thing you need to know is that everybody is different and I mean that in the physical sense. Your doctors are there to support you and to do what’s best for both you and the Intended Parents – but only you are physically inside your own body, and it is crucial that you not only actively advocate for yourself, but clearly communicate what’s going on to your doctors. 

The second thing I’d recommend is – while I’m sure many Egg Donors have had perfectly successful and non-traumatic experiences donating outside of an agency, I personally recommend the opposite. My first retrieval was through a matchmaker as opposed to an agency – and while it wasn’t a complete train wreck, my ability to advocate for myself (as well as my admittedly naïve assumption that the doctor in question would be looking out for my best interests as well as their clients) was almost nonexistent. Any time I voiced a concern about what I was told was the “’usual discomfort” – despite that little “this isn’t right” voice going off in the back of my head – it was dismissed out of hand. The end result? OHSS. As grateful as I am to be in a position where I can help others grow their families, I never agreed to sacrifice myself in order to do so. Is it possible that this experience could have played out this way even if I’d gone through an agency? Of course. But: I’ve done four retrievals since (all with an agency) and I’ve never had an experience remotely resembling this one again. 

The last thing anyone considering becoming an Egg Donor absolutely needs to know is that having a support system both during the injection period and the recovery period is crucial. Why? Simply put, you don’t know how your body will handle this yet. Typically, you’re told that retrievals are relatively non-invasive (true) and that you can be on your feet and back at it the next day. While I have no doubt this is true for most, it is patently inaccurate for an Egg Donor like me. 

  • Why is that?

It has to do with how IVF works. Without IVF, your body releases an egg or two and the body preps those eggs to have a shot at getting fertilized that month. When you get your period, that egg’s time in the sun is over. With IVF, the idea is to get your body to prep a bunch of eggs for fertilization, instead of the normal one or two. In my case, my follicles are VERY receptive to the hormones. While this makes me a very desirable Donor, it means my body is spreading the same resources out over more follicles than other Donors’ bodies might. Thus, it takes longer for the follicles to become mature enough to actually harvest. This means more injections. The longer the injections go on, the more unpleasant it can get: after all, you only have so many spots you can give yourself the shots, and 2-3 injections per day (depending on where you’re at in the cycle) means you run out of totally fresh spots pretty quickly. I won’t sugarcoat it: it’s not comfortable, and it is a real bummer going in for a monitoring appointment to once again hear “Let’s give it two more days of shots” when you’re so close to the finish line. This is where your support system comes in. At the very least, having a cheerleader can do a lot to buoy your spirits, and in the event that your recovery isn’t idyllic, they can be there to help you with trips to the doctor or whatever else you may need.

It might sound like I’m being negative, but I’m honestly not. I would not have been a five-time repeat Egg Donor (the recommended limit is 6 times, in case anyone was curious) if the process was a nightmare or anything like that. I’m just being real: like with anything else in life that’s even remotely rewarding, it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. The good news is, having a team there to support you can really make a world of difference in the event that things go less than perfectly. 

  • Are there any final pieces of advice you’d give someone considering becoming an Egg Donor? 

If any part of you wants to explore it, then I think you should. Look, it’s not perfect. There is still some stigma. There is discomfort. It is largely misunderstood by most of the world. But it is also an incredibly and uniquely rewarding gift that not everyone is capable of giving. All of my donations have been anonymous, but on the first and most recent ones the Intended Parents asked if it would be okay if they wrote to me. On both occasions I said yes. And while the contents of those letters are very personal, they are also the reason I wouldn’t have done things any differently for the world.  

If you would like to know more about becoming an Egg Donor or Surrogate, please contact Simple Surrogacy today. Our team is ready, willing and waiting to guide you on your journey to changing someone else’s life. 

 

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