Here, Michelle, 26, opens up about her experiences as an egg donor, what you should know before embarking on the process and why giving someone else the joy of parenthood left her feeling more empowered than ever before.
Chances are, you’ve probably not thought about being an egg donor. Despite growing in popularity, few people have heard about egg donation and the enormous difference it can make to couples struggling to conceive. From the struggles of finding a safe, simple location to donate your eggs, to unfounded assumptions, egg donation has remained under the radar, and for no good reason. As the leading egg donation doctor in the UK, Dr Alison Bagshawe, states: “egg donation can turn the dream of having children into a reality”.
My donation story started with becoming a regular blood donor about 4 years ago. When I was giving birth to my daughter, I lost quite a lot of blood and the doctors were preparing for a blood transfusion which didn’t happen as I was young and able to cope myself, but I saw all these bags with blood that someone altruistically donated, and it filled me with such gratitude – a dozen people somewhere in our country volunteered their time and their blood, which was about to save my life and save a mum for my newborn daughter.
Although doctors decided I didn’t need it at the end, the feeling of thankfulness stayed with me and I decided to become a regular blood donor, and I’ve been donating blood every 4 months for the last 4 years or so. Time passed and I felt like I want to do something bigger than just donating blood. Just in time, I met with a couple of close friends who shared their fertility issues and spoke about egg donation. I never knew such a thing existed! Sperm donation is quite famous and has been discussed in media and film, but egg donation has very much remained in the shadow.
I started reading around the subject and most websites talked about egg banks where you can donate and never know the outcome of your donation but something about it felt wrong and impersonal. That’s when I discovered Altrui on Facebook. I read through their website talking about careful matching of donors to recipients and continuous support during the process, as well as pages and pages of other useful information. It just clicked – “this is what I was looking for!”. I rang Altrui the next day, greeted by the lovely team, and we got the ball rolling from there.
It started with a small at-home blood test to check my fertility hormone levels. The results came back good and I filled in a big and really interesting questionnaire about my character, physical appearance, likes/dislikes and longings (it even included questions like “What would you do if you had one million pounds to spend?”). I also sent some photos of myself (for Altrui matching process only) and my childhood photos (for recipients to see). After that, I waited for about a month before I got the call telling me they’d found a match for me! I was so happy and excited to start the process. I was then referred me to a top-notch fertility clinic for a thorough medical examination.
Unfortunately, my genetic testing revealed that I was a carrier of cystic fibrosis – a life-threatening genetic disease, however, they matched me with a couple and I soon started the donation process, which involves stimulation with drugs (like mini-IVF). All medication was delivered to my home at a convenient time and I started the injections – first once, then twice daily for a total of two weeks. Over these two weeks I visited the clinic about 5 times for them to check how I am doing and how well the follicles are growing. Moreover, the whole Altrui team are absolutely, truly amazing in being there for donors 24/7 – no question is silly, and they are always on your side and making sure that you are comfortable with every step of the journey! It felt like they held my hand from start to finish and beyond, and I was never alone and always felt their warm support.
Injections may sound horrendous but actually they are really easy to administer. I had no side effects apart from some bloating just before the donation which is normal. The donation itself is a 30-minute procedure carried out in clinic under deep sedation, so I neither felt nor remembered anything. Then you stay in clinic for a couple of hours and are free to go home. If you need support, you are welcome to bring a friend or a family member with you – in my case, my husband came with me to support and just be there. I donated twice and both times it took me around 24 hours to fully recover from the procedure and feel as if nothing has happened.
After the donation, I woke up already in my clinic room and the nurse brought a lovely card and several gifts from my recipients, which made me burst into tears! Their words touched me deeply, as well as their gifts – one of them was a decorative glass bird, which they said they have an identical copy of at home and will show it to any children being born from this donation as a link with me, a woman who helped their parents to have them. After donation the clinic told me how many embryos they were able to make from the eggs collected, and afterwards Altrui keeps you in the loop of what’s happening (pregnancy, birth, etc.). As donation is anonymous from both sides, donors don’t get to know much apart from the number of children born and their sex, but this is more than enough for me.
Although, as a donor, you do not get to meet your recipients, you develop an incredible emotional connection with them over the course of this journey. It is hard to explain but feeling that you are in the same boat brings such a unity!
My husband was hugely supportive of the whole process but when I told my mum, it was a bit more difficult and still is – she thinks that children born from my donation are “my children” and therefore “her grandchildren”, which of course is not true. Donors are people who help recipients to become parents and although biologically related to any children conceived, donors may never be called their parents under any circumstances. A donor is a very generous helper, but in no way a parent. It is very important to understand that if you are considering being an egg donor.
Women should also know that this is an absolutely safe procedure and you are being closely monitored during the process by a big team of professionals – both from physical and an emotional perspective (I even had a long counselling appointment with a lovely fertility counsellor). The other thing that’s important to know is UK law around donation of gametes (sex cells). Under current law any donor-conceived children have a legal right to request information about their donor from a regulating authority when they reach 18 years old. They will be given identifying details like full name, date of birth and last known address. I see no problem in that and would love to meet them if I get a chance to, but if they don’t wish to go ahead and find me, that is also their right and I will respect this choice.
When you donate an organ, for example, you are taking something away from yourself, but egg donation is different – women have hundreds of eggs in reserve and giving a dozen out does not make a difference. We lose eggs anyway with every period we have, and donating them means they don’t just go wasted but may help to create a new life.
It truly is the most rewarding and life-changing process to be able to give someone a chance to have children! I decided to be an egg donor because I always found joy in giving. The fact that I am able to give something that makes somebody else’s life a tiny bit better gives me so much meaning. I got married very early and my husband and I decided that we want a child very soon afterwards. It happened with a first attempt and I never realised how grateful I should be for this easy journey into parenthood until I started researching the world of fertility and seeing how many people are struggling. Being an egg donor is my way to say “thank you” to the universe and give something back.
That’s not to say it’s for everyone. If a potential donor thinks that she will consider any children conceived as her own, or if she is not ready to see them as adults, than egg donation might not be for them. If the latter is not an issue, then it is a hundred times worth it. Donors make our world a better place.