It’s go time

By Friday I literally felt like a hen, ready to hatch at any moment.  I went in for another blood draw and ultrasound and again the screen lit up.  This time — 25 follicles.  The number kept growing and it was very clear to me why I was feeling so weighed down.  The doctor mentioned to me that it looked like we would be good to go for a Monday retrieval which left me feeling elated — I was ready to get these suckers out of me.  He reviewed the trigger shots with me and scheduled them for Saturday night and the following morning (12 hour window between) to begin ovulation.  When I gave myself the second trigger on Sunday morning I did a little dance since it was the last time I would have to poke myself.  On Sunday afternoon I went for a hike — something that is generally easy for me since I am in relatively good shape.  At that point i was so “full” it was really challenging — I was looking forward to Monday more and more.

I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink after 9 PM on Sunday which totally crushed my hot chocolate and movie night dreams since I didn’t have to work the next day due to my surgery.  On Monday morning my boyfriend drove me to the clinic.  He wasn’t allowed to wait with me due to the intended family also being present (for anonymity purposes). I went into the operating room in the back to get changed and prepped for the retrieval.  I had never has anesthesia before or been in an operation room so I was a little nervous!  I got changed and situated on the bed — they even had me put on non-slip granny socks which I was thrilled about since I’m always cold.  The anesthesiologist got me hooked up to an IV, some monitors, and oxygen.  He explained that they would be administering a narcotic and the subsequently a tranquilizer to make me fall asleep.  The narcotic came first and I instantly felt very silly — I’ve never taken anything more than ibuprofen in my life.  The last thing I remember telling the doctor and nurse was that they needed to give their operation room a make over and then I was out like a light.

op room

 

In my defense, doesn’t it look like it could use a make over?

I don’t remember waking up but I eventually was sitting up and talking to the nurse.  I felt a bit of pain but nothing too substantial.  I was monitored for an hour and then allowed to go home to rest.  During my monitoring I asked the doctor how many eggs they had retrieved and they told me they had gotten FIFTY!  Fifty eggs, holy crap.  I was loopy enough that I said, “I had an entire mormon family in my ovaries!”

I went home for the rest of the day to relax and watch movies to recover a bit.  It feels a bit weird to know the whole process is over. Ideally, by now, the IVF process for the intended family should have began with my eggs.  I won’t ever know the outcome for them but I really hope that it all works out and they are able to begin growing their family.  I don’t really feel like, if the procedure is successful, that I would technically have kids out there.  I feel like your family is who raises you and provides you with love and support, not what DNA is inside of you.  I do hope the family is appreciative of what I was able to provide them and that if they were able to conceive with my eggs that they treat their child as a gift.  I’m very happy to have had the experience to help give someone with the opportunity to have family of their own.  Despite all the poking, prodding and countless doctor’s appointments, I’d definitely do it all over again.

recovery

Post surgery recovery with my amigos, Ruca the pup and Jay.

I guess that means my story of being a donor is over, for now.  I was thinking a lot about what I would say to my friends after the whole process and I have reached the conclusion that I would definitely encourage other healthy young women to look into becoming a donor.  There is a huge need for donor services for infertile couples out there or homosexual couples who want to have a child of their own!  I recently learned that 1 in 8 couples will have trouble conceiving and will seek support from a fertility doctor.  For some couples, having an egg donor is their only hope.  If anyone out there is considering being a donor and wants to ask me more specific questions don’t hesitate to reach out. That’s all from me for now — back to relaxing and recovering!

xo Courtney

 

And it begins

I started my cycle on the 15th of January.  On the 15th I went into the clinic again to get some blood work and another pelvic ultrasound done — at this point it had been maybe my 4th time visiting the office.  By this appointment I’m on a first name basis with all of the nursing staff.  I had even hand picked one nurse that was my favorite because she gives me grape juice every time I give blood and she laughed at my sheer look of terror when the doctor handed me a circa-1980 sanitary napkin after an exam one day, later sneaking into the room to slip me a tampon.  Clearly we bonded.  I started to get very acquainted with the office setting since I was there so often.  I had even started to notice that all of the artwork on the walls slightly resembled reproductive organs — I was either losing my mind or was spending way too much time staring at the clinic walls waiting for the doctor to arrive.

clinic art
Come on, it can’t just be me that things this “flower” just looks like little sperms, am I right?

Anyway, during this appointment we also went through my med teach.  An egg donation cycle (and IVF for the intended mother, for that matter) involves a crap ton of self-administered injections to get the body doing what it needs to do quickly.  I sat with the nursing staff during my appointment while they showed me how to mix all of my medications and inject them easily and all at once.  I was actually a little surprised by how many different medications are mixed together and that they trusted donors (me especially…) to do this all at home with no supervision.  The nursing staff walked me through the process step by step and then had me teach it back to them to ensure I remembered.  The first few days of medications involve an injectable pen with a drug called Follistim as well as a powdered drug that can be diluted for injection called Menopur.  I learned to load the Follistim pen, inject the correct dosage into the Menopur powder, add saline solution, and mix it all into one subcutaneous needle to inject nightly.  It got easier every night but it was a little overwhelming at first.  I learned quickly that I am absolutely terrible at self-administering injections to myself.  I literally would poke myself in tummy three or four times before finally plunging it into the skin.  One night I even stuck it into the fat layer after working up the courage for several minutes only to let go from excitement and then shortly there after drop the syringe on the floor without injecting the medication.  Sweet. Clearly I was not cut out to be a nurse.

medication.jpeg

All of my medication laid out.  Starting in the upper left corner: Medication mixing cap, follistim pen needle, medication syringe, 20 gauge needle, Menopur powder, Saline to dilute Menopur, Follistim cartridge, Follistim pen.

me.jpeg
Me when I finally mixed my medications correctly the first day of injections.  It took me 10 minutes to work up the courage to inject myself and I did it wrong and injected it under the skin… Ouch.

On the following Wednesday I woke up feeling a little crampy and went into the clinic for my check up.  When they did another ultrasound I looked on the screen and saw round things everywhere.  “are those eggs!?”, I yelled at the doctor as he conducted the ultrasound.  I think in that moment he probably was questioning how I passed the minimum education qualifications as he informed me that they were.  I could literally count about ten on the ultrasound screen which made me strangely proud and also a little queasy.  It explained why I had felt so uncomfortable (“heavy” as I had described it) all morning.  For some reason after seeing the ultrasound images I felt concerned that at any moment they could all just fall out of me.  The doctor reassured me that was not the case while he silently cursed the American education system for failing me along with the majority of the country given our lack of scientific understanding of the human body.  I was also sadly informed that I would need to now limit my physical activity to zero due to my egg production which meant that all of my new “friends” at the trendy gym I had recently signed up for would judge me for missing 6 am work outs until after my retrieval.  Bummer. Queue me stuffing my face with carbs and chocolate covered pretzels because “I deserve it”.

I started a new medication that night following my ultrasound called Gonal-F which meant I now had to stab myself twice in the stomach instead of once every evening. Fun!  I was starting to feel tired that evening and getting really excited for the weekend.  It looked like my anticipated retrieval would be that Monday and I was ready to get all of these eggs out of me.  I quite literally had almost a family of five in each of my ovaries and it was starting to feel like it.  I only weigh 105 pounds soaking wet so carrying around 10 eggs made me feel like I had put on fifty pounds and had aged 50 years.  I used this as an excuse to transform my boyfriend into my servant whose sole purpose in life is to wait on me hand and foot until this process ends.  God bless him for having the courage to tell a woman who is injecting hundreds of micrograms of hormones every day to piss off– I’ve clearly got myself a keeper.

xo Courtney

“I swear i’m not crazy” and other tests

To even sign up to be on the registry you have to meet a few basic requirements — 1.) Be a female within a certain age range (21 to 30, I believe), 2.) Be in good physical and mental health and 3.) Have a certain AMH level, determined by a simple blood test.

After attending my first Donor meeting, I learned that I had indeed passed the test following a lab slip that informed me my AMH levels were “normal”.  Box checked.

I quickly learned that after being selected for a cycle though that there were a number of other hurdles I would need to jump through prior to completing my donation.  I wish I could say my clinic was more clear and more flexible with me on completing these tests, but hey – giving up literal pieces of your body shouldn’t be easy, right?  It was definitely a confusing process.

After going to my new donor appointment, I learned I would need to complete two more blood tests, one to double check my AMH levels and one to confirm I hadn’t contracted any sexually transmitted infections (*spoiler alert*: I’m clean, shout out to mean girls for teaching me what happens if I get chlamydia so I would avoid it at all costs).  I would need to provide a handful of urine samples which I assume were tested for drug use…. at least I damn well hope so.

The more fun ones were the Genetic Screening, the Genetic Marker, and the Psych Evaluation tests:
The first, the Genetic Screening, involved a very dry old woman talking to me over the phone about my family history.  It felt like a cross between a self-help talk show and an FBI investigation. A ton of questions were asked about my relatives health — rapid fire monotone yes or no questions like “any history of diabetes? mom dad grandma grandpa sister brother cousin?”.  She even through in a few “are you sure’s” in there for good measure.  Cycle that line of questioning with every known disease in the book to insure I don’t have any hereditary issues.  I passed the test and was awarded a nice little handwritten chart of my lineage and any/all diagnoses — score! I wonder how much that 30 minutes cost my donor family…
Anyway, the second, the Genetic Marker test, was quite simple but the execution is a little gross.  This is a lab test that is taken to ensure that each donor doesn’t have any genetically markers/predispositions that might pass down to the eggs.  All that is required is that you spit into a small tube up to a line that is a little less than an ounce.  I received the test in the mail and got a call that I needed to get it shipped in that same day, leading me to have to take the test at my office.  I work in a very open office with little privacy so I tried to collect my spit sample in the bathroom which proved to be just as awkward as it sounds.  You would not believe how hard it is to make spit when you’re actually thinking about it.  It probably took me about 10 minutes of dreaming of Takahashi Sushi in Portland to drool up enough spit for this damn test, especially because I paused each time someone on my suite floor came in to use the restroom.  Exhausting.
The third, the Psych Eval, is exactly as it sounds.  I had to meet with a Clinical Social Worker to ensure the clinic I wasn’t crazy enough to going to go all Law and Order: SVU and try and nab my future donor babies some day down the road.  Unfortunately due to poor planning I booked this appointment on the 2nd of January and them morning after returning from my vacation in Mexico.  I was still hung over from New Years and literally was shaking sand out of my hair while the woman questioned me.  I definitely passed that one by the skin of my teeth — phew.

All in all the pre-cycle testing took about a week or so to complete.  Not too shabby.  Now comes the real action — the start of the cycle.

xo Courtney

 

All about the $$$

So the first step — or so I’ve heard — is admitting you have a problem.  My name is Courtney and I was selfishly motivated by a sum of money to donate my eggs.  At least initially.  Spoiler alert: my perspective changed.

I, like many, have a mountain of student debt that looms over my head and I am convinced I will be paying it off well into my bingo playing days.  Any chance to make a few extra bucks to throw at my loan account entices me.  I had heard that egg donation paid well which is part of the reason I looked into it more.  When I was finally contacted by my case manager about a potential cycle naturally one of the first things I thought about was the compensation.  I even started mentally divvying out the funds — 80% to my student loans, and 10% for a little personal splurge (In my defense, I think almost all of my wardrobe is from college and could certainly use an upgrade…), and 10% into my savings account for emergencies.

When I started mentioning the procedures to other people, I would always tell them in the first few seconds — but you get _____ dollars!  As if that would explain to them why I would agree to stab myself in the tummy for a little over a week to literally give someone a piece of my body.  It felt like it made more sense when I explain the financial implications it would have on my life to others.

Even at my first appointment at the beginning of my cycle when I was getting my blood drawn for the third time I was thinking to myself, “just remember the money just remember the money” as the nurse stabbed me in the arm not so gently (that’s what I get for being sassy when I first checked in…).  It didn’t really click that what I would be doing would be changing someone else’s life forever until I went on vacation for Christmas.  I had alerted the clinic that I would be out of the country for a week and agreed to get all of my pre-cycle appointments complete (the 4th blood draw, a urine test, a psych eval, a genetics screening and a saliva test) before leaving for my trip.  Somehow, that was not communicated to the nursing team so on the third day I was in Mexico I came off the water after an afternoon of kiteboarding to 4 emails and 3 voicemails from the clinic asking for me to contact them immediately.  I was able to track down a friend who had an international plan and called the Office Manager who explain to me that they were simply calling for an update but began to grow increasingly more alarmed as my cell kept going to voicemail.  The office manager explained to me that in previous cycles they’ve had donors commit to the procedure with an intended family and then have a change of heart part of the way through.  Instead of notifying the clinic they simply blocked their calls and emails, leaving the intended family devastated.  She said that if they hadn’t have heard from me they would have had to break the news and would have had a very, very sad couple on their hands.

This really resonated with me for a couple of reasons.  For one, it broke my heart thinking of the family who had a donor bail out mid cycle.  Fertility issues can be incredibly traumatic and troublesome for couples and finally finding a donor and beginning a cycle must give these intended parents so much hope to finally have a chance at a family of their own.  Secondly, it finally brought to life the couple that I would be donating to.  I was perseverating so much on the financial gain from the procedure that I didn’t even stop and think about the actual human beings I would be helping fulfill their dream of having a child. I was taken aback thinking about these two people who I would literally be giving the gift of life to and started to empathize with them so much.  I don’t get the chance to actually meet the couple and get to know their story but I learned from the girls at the clinic that many couples (if heterosexual, of course) go through miscarriages, countless failed fertility treatments, and other invasive procedures before electing to receive donor eggs.  For a lot of intended mothers, egg donation is their only shot at carrying a baby to term on their own.

This really shifted my view on the cycle as a whole.  I started thinking about the donation truly as a gift to someone else rather than just a cash out to benefit me.  Granted, I am still thrilled that I will be getting compensated accordingly, but I now cringe a little more when my boyfriend announces loudly “Courtney is selling her eggs for money!” and explain that I am actually changing someone’s life as well.

xo Courtney

How it all started…

“So you want to be an egg donor?”

That’s what the Director of Donor Recruitment asked at the introduction event I attended back in 2014.  To be honest, I had learned about egg donation in one of my many “life crises” as I liked to call them — nights when anxiety about what the hell I am going to do with my life and the realty of my mountain of student loans get the best of me and I spend hours researching career changes and quick ways to make money on my laptop while drinking cheap wine.  They happen often, if you can’t tell.  I knew very little about it before that night when I somehow had stumbled upon a link one of those nights that discussed egg donation as a quick way for young women to make a few dollars (or a few thousand, to be precise).  So I thought, what the hell and filled out a registration form after a few two many glasses.  To be frank, I’m actually impressed I was able to complete the entire registration on a small buzz — they ask hundreds of questions about you and your family including health history, level of education, hell they even want pictures of you starting at infancy up until present day.  It gets personal quick — they got to see pictures of my bowl cut and overbite without even buying me dinner first…

Fast forward a few weeks later and I’m at the previously mentioned intro event that The Donor Source puts on for potential donors.  Here, the Director of Recruitment talked through the donation process — from joining the registry to the IVF process and everything in between.  They passed around needles and talked about giving yourself injections and informed us of the risks (queue discussions on potential overstimulation of your ovaries and even the fact that donors are contractually obligated to NOT do the dirty during a donation cycle due to extreme risk of multi fetus pregnancy — think octomom but without the TLC show).  I signed some forms and quickly left after the refreshments as a newly registered potential donor.

Several months passed and the idea of me being a donor kind of slipped my mind.  I hadn’t heard from The Source in several months.  Sadly, it seemed, I had been deemed not worthy by the families who scanned the registry… Apparently not everyone wants their child to be really, really ridiculously good looking.

The “intended family” email came on Thanksgiving.  Why my case manager was working at 8 PM on a holiday and not 3 glasses of wine and two family arguments deep like I was is a question that will have to go unanswered.  The email informed me that a family in Northern California was interested in using me for an upcoming donation cycle — ASAP.  “Someone wants to have my babies and it is not my Boyfriend!”, I exclaimed to my sister and her best friend Anna as they both stared at me wildly.  Out of context that definitely sounds like the start to a really low budget Lifetime Original Movie.  I told them about my registration over a year ago as a donor and it all became more clear.  They validated my assertions that it wasn’t a terrible idea so I emailed The Source back and got the ball rolling.

A few days later a clinic in Marin County reached out to me to set up some preliminary appointments.  I attended my “New Donor” appointment on December 18th.  By my New Donor appointment I had already given blood twice for different hormonal tests and during that appointment I gave another vial of blood.  I also had a transvaginal ultrasound which is as unpleasant as it sounds.  Slowly i learned that I was going to have to become comfortable with going to the doctor an outrageous amount, something I had always been uncomfortable with.  They informed me that there would be several more blood tests, a psychological evaluation, a genetics screening, a genetic marker test, and complete a significant amount of paperwork prior to the cycle beginning (which is when things get even more interesting).

I knew at some point I’d have to come clean to the people that I work with that I was becoming an egg donor since the appointments require a small amount of time off work but I wasn’t prepared for how awkward it would be.  I decided the only rational way to tell my boss and request time off was to email her about it and then avoid eye contact every time she was in office until she brought it up.  Naturally she was completely understanding and had healthy amount of curiosity about the topic.  Phew.

I thought it would be interesting to start a blog for a few reasons — 1.) it is an easy way to circumvent the awkwardness of telling everyone in my personal life individually and 2.) The process is extremely confusing if you’re new to the world of fertility and I started to wonder if anyone out there who may decide to go through the same process as me might want to learn more about the experience first hand.  I thought I’d chronicle my way through the process with a dose of humor.  I’m happy to answer any questions anyone who actually reads this blog may have about my decision, the process, or my experience.  I’m an open book (well, technically a blog but you get what I mean).

xo Courtney