I sold my eggs for an Ivy League education – but was it worth it?

1 year ago 125

My eyes flutter open. I’m surrounded by 4 nurses holding maine upside down. They shingle maine backmost and forth, urging the humor backmost to my head. As I regain consciousness I wonder: is this worthy it? That “it” is the $10,000 question.

Seven months ago, I received my acceptance to Columbia University’s School of Journalism. I was perfectly stunned to beryllium admitted, but adjacent much shocked by the $116,000 terms tag – and that was conscionable for tuition. The school, whose acquisition is wide considered the aureate modular successful journalism, would supply maine with unparalleled access, successful an manufacture I presently felt immobile in.

Fortunately, the immense bulk of the outgo would beryllium covered by scholarships. For the remaining rent and surviving costs, I looked for thing other to plug the gap. I landed connected a burgeoning manufacture offering struggling radical immense amounts of cash, comparatively fast: ovum donation.


It’s 90-something degrees connected a June greeting successful New York City. My wrinkled, greenish satin skirt sticks to my legs arsenic I unreserved into the ovum donation clinic’s main bureau for different screening, a urine test.

Over the past 4 months I’ve been lying to my somewhat blimpish household astir wherever I’ve been escaping to connected these aboriginal mornings: surreptitiously showing up for examinations and intelligence assessments successful bid to donate my eggs.

Outside of my family, I’ll much often accidental I’m “selling my eggs”. Donation is simply a word that is expected to bespeak that it’s a woman’s time, not the worth of her eggs, that’s being paid for. But present was an manufacture offering maine much per hr than I’d ever earned astatine a regular job. To accidental I’m selling feels much honest.

In the clinic’s main office, Amy Winehouse’s heavy dependable plays softly connected a adjacent speaker. Looking astir the waiting room, with its lavender and grey accents splashing the walls, I rapidly recognize I’m the lone pistillate sitting alone. I stock fleeting glances with giggling couples and wonderment if immoderate of them are sizing maine up arsenic a imaginable donor.

Sometime aft my arrival, a caregiver calls my name. Amy Winehouse’s harmonies slice away. She takes maine to a seat successful a hallway: a twelve oregon truthful vials clinking astir connected an attached tray. The abstraction feels acold and sterile. The soundlessness is oppressive. I effort to retrieve if I ate meal – I didn’t.

A caregiver scoots implicit and pulls my limb implicit the cuff of the chair.

“Beautiful veins,” she says.

After she has filled 8 oregon truthful vials with my blood, I slump implicit and walk out. When I awake, the nurses person swept maine into the air. Semi-conscious, and embarrassed I stumble implicit an apology.

I’m escorted to a gynecological seat successful a adjacent introspection country and fixed a pineapple flavored lollipop. I thin my caput backmost against the acold chair. Another caregiver walks in, showing disconnected much vials successful her hand. I rotation up my sleeve and clasp retired my different arm. Time for circular two.


I archetypal called the ovum donation session backmost successful March 2021 – moments earlier I attended Columbia Journalism School’s instauration day. The archetypal clip I heard of donation was done a person during my undergraduate studies. I knew I couldn’t hazard the distraction and accent of a occupation portion studying astatine Columbia full-time. Plus, the school’s medication reminded america outright that we were to debar employment during our studies.

The Google hunt that led maine to my caller vocation prime was simple: “Egg donation agencies successful New York City.” I’m not the lone 1 to benignant it. Every year, donors are being paid successful the thousands to supply eggs to prospective parents. The CDC recovered that successful nether a decade, IVF cycles utilizing donor eggs astir tripled, from astir 5,000 successful 2007 to much than 13,000 successful 2016.

The pistillate connected the telephone was cheery but meticulous erstwhile she described the process. In contrast, my archetypal sojourn to the clinic’s SoHo bureau was impersonal. During my ultrasound, awe-struck arsenic I gazed into the contents of my ovaries and uterus, my doc spoke astir maine to the nurse, but not to me.

Scans of my ovaries amusement   expanding antral follicles, doubled and tripled successful  size, aft  astir   2  weeks of hormone therapy.
Scans of my ovaries amusement expanding antral follicles, doubled and tripled successful size, aft astir 2 weeks of hormone therapy. Photograph: Ellie Houghtaling

In a accepted doctor-patient relationship, the doctor’s bedside mode is fundamental. In the US – wherever healthcare is privatized and radical measurement up doctors arsenic if their wellness were a concern transaction – aesculapian offices dainty you good due to the fact that they privation you to travel back. My archetypal time successful SoHo made maine recognize that this time, I wasn’t the patient. I was the product.

The bloodwork from that archetypal assignment was sent disconnected to a familial investigating facility, Sema4, which tested 283 of my genes against hundreds of disorders. Those ranged from cystic fibrosis and Fragile X syndrome – which has been connected to autism – to maple syrup urine disease, a upset wherever the assemblage cannot process definite amino acids.

I tested affirmative arsenic a bearer for 3 familial conditions: dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa – a information that creates tegument truthful fragile that it blisters and breaks easily, leaving terrible scarring; metachromatic leukodystrophy – a uncommon familial disorder; and non-syndromic proceeding loss. I felt a substance of daze and morbid curiosity proceeding the results, though the session reassured maine it was mean to trial affirmative for a tiny fistful of familial disorders.

Epidermolysis bullosa has nary cure, and radical calved with the information are astatine accrued hazard for an highly assertive signifier of tegument cancer. The Sema4 typical playfully told maine not to autumn successful emotion with Finnish people, who are much apt to person the aforesaid tegument condition.

The telephone offered a model into a antithetic world: wherever everybody is simply a bearer of disease, myself included. I was forced to face a world wherever I mightiness walk connected analyzable disorders to my children, ones I ne'er thought I had.

The session was not conscionable assessing my predisposition for familial disorders, it was besides weighing up different attributes: my blonde hair, my bluish eyes and my just skin. Over screening calls, squad members would subtly compliment and affirm descriptions of my body, property and ivy league education. Altogether, I had concerns this was sanitized eugenics. But done what different connection did I expect them to physique a narration with me? They were paying maine $10,000 for my eggs. The precise quality of our concern revolved astir my body.


In May, aboriginal connected successful the process, the session acceptable maine up to talk with their psychologist. Lounging successful the hammock connected my balcony, I was exposed to the doctrine of the clinic. My eggs weren’t “mine” and “my eggs” were surely not synonymous with “my child”. Rather, they saw my eggs arsenic a portion of a larger cistron pool, 1 that spanned generations and geographic locations.

I was acrophobic the scientist was assessing my intelligence health, looking to disqualify maine from the process, but arsenic our speech flowed I realized she was really trying to ascertain whether I was intelligent capable to marque the determination to springiness distant my eggs. She gave maine an IQ test. It was New York authorities regulation.

The thought that my eggs weren’t “mine” but alternatively immoderate familial necktie to the past struck maine arsenic unusual and uncomfortable astatine first, but implicit clip I grew to similar that framing to my own. I wasn’t giving up “my” kid - I was giving up different period. This would assistance struggling parents conceive children of their own. There was thing wholesome astir that.

The thought that a tiny child, that looked similar maine would roam the satellite portion I experienced my aboriginal twenties ne'er phased me. The thought really warmed my heart.

I grew to recognize I wanted children of my ain 1 day, and portion of maine yearned for the acquisition I was offering to idiosyncratic else. I imagined the ma who would instrumentality my eggs.

Was she funny? What benignant of schoolhouse lunches would she pack? Was she compassionate and patient? Would she clasp the child’s manus often? Did her motivation values bespeak my own? I would ne'er know. My donation was anonymous end-to-end.


By summertime, the session had taken maine disconnected of my commencement power and enactment maine connected their own. One greeting erstwhile I went to their bureau to cod an envelope of the beige pills, the caregiver handing them to maine apologized, saying she didn’t recognize wherefore it was taking truthful agelong to lucifer maine with a family.

“You’re a blistery commodity,” she said.

We paused for a moment, staring astatine 1 another. My hairsbreadth had fallen successful beforehand of my eyes. I pushed the soiled blonde strands backmost down my receptor earlier erupting successful uncomfortable laughter. We some knew what she meant.

A fewer days distant from my ovum retrieval day I was sitting connected the borderline of my furniture feeling genuinely unsettled. It was late, and successful the quiescent I felt the calm ripped distant from maine arsenic I laid retired 1 of the past packs of medication, a 250 microgram syringe of Ganirelix, connected my array stand.

It took immoderate intelligence gymnastics to larn to inject myself with hormones doubly daily. Each medicine had a antithetic ritual. In the morning, a yellowish and bluish integrative pen would present 225 ml of Follistim, clicking arsenic I pushed the pen down to dispense the refrigerated serum. In the evenings, I would premix a vial of Menopur. Combined, these 2 drugs worked to stimulate the follicles successful my ovaries, aiming to merchandise anyplace betwixt 10-20 eggs – normally, conscionable 1 ovum is released during ovulation.

Days earlier retrieval, Ganirelix would forestall maine from ovulating, giving the eggs a accidental to mature earlier they descended into my uterus to beryllium removed.

This last signifier numbed me. The rigamarole of regular injections and 7 americium ultrasounds had worn maine down, and I was tired. On the horizon, I inactive had 1 much hurdle: retrieval. I ran my manus implicit my stomach, feeling the tender needle sites and the bloat underneath, not wanting to acquisition the country but besides knowing it was excessively precocious to crook back. I grabbed my archetypal syringe of Ganirelix and took a heavy breath.


I surveyed a twelve women of varying ages and backgrounds connected their idiosyncratic experiences donating. Unlike infertility forums for radical going done IVF oregon surrogacy, determination was nary wide online determination wherever donors could enactment each different done the process of ovum donation. Instead, I recovered them scattered crossed backstage Facebook groups, WhatsApp chats and Reddit.

Most donated during their aboriginal twenties and each participated for the fiscal compensation, astatine slightest originally. There was a wage scale, mostly determined by geographic determination and clip of donation, ranging from $3,000 to $20,000. Women utilized the wealth to wage for bills, pupil loans oregon vacations.

Some donors matched with intended parents oregon agencies done advertisements placed connected Facebook oregon Instagram. Others recovered their matches connected Craigslist, responding to broad ads not dissimilarly phrased to those looking to merchantability a bicycle, flat oregon car.

“JEWISH WOMEN --- Earn $10,000 with the Gift of Egg Donation”

“Chinese, Vietnam, Korean, Asian Egg Donors Earn $10,000”

“Seeking a Highly Intelligent Egg Donor! Compensation up to $40K”

Since these listings are sometimes posted straight by the intended parents, they whitethorn person shorter oregon little thorough archetypal exertion processes, and they tin connection importantly higher monetary sums than agencies oregon clinics traditionally would. But applying to unverified listings poses evident risks. In 2011, an Idaho pistillate was charged with fraud for stealing eggs from donors done Craigslist, ne'er paying the agreed upon sums aft receiving the eggs.

Attempting, successful part, to marque the process safer, organizations began pairing donors and intended parents done their ain vetted databases. Prospective parents, tin present scroll done the profiles of thousands of imaginable donors, not dissimilar connected a dating website. Circle Surrogacy offers non-anonymous pairings, wherever the donor has an accidental to conscionable and interact with the families.

Jordan Whaley Finnerty’s illustration features an representation of her past five-year-old girl – each smiles beside her mom. Whaley acceptable it up erstwhile she was 27.

That was successful 2018, aft a vino nighttime with a person who had conscionable undergone a donation herself – Finnerty was intrigued, particularly by the $9,000 lump sum. She wasn’t hopeless for the money, but she knew it would assistance her halt surviving paycheck to paycheck. She applied that nighttime and forgot astir it.

“Four months aboriginal I was donating,” Finnerty said.

Since then, Finnerty has donated 4 times.

“It wasn’t until I was matched with a family, met them, [and] spoke with them that I realized the impact,” said Finnerty. “You don’t recognize the lengths couples person to spell done to person children.” She’s had interaction with each of the families she’s donated to. Being exposed to the parents’ gratitude changed her mind. Now, the goodwill of element, not the money, is her favourite part: She plans to donate six times – the maximum advisable.

Still, she acknowledges definite issues successful the industry.

“Speaking with intended parents, they explicit however weird it is to beryllium going implicit girls’ profiles and looking into their wellness history, basing their preferences disconnected of hairsbreadth colour oregon oculus color,” Finnerty told maine implicit Facebook 1 evening.

But she besides knows that radical marque these choices with their partners each the time.

To forestall radical from donating repeatedly (with the risks being unknown), oregon incentivizing radical to withhold accusation to marque themselves much charismatic to donors, ethical guidelines suggest offering little money.

In a recent opinion published by American Society for Reproductive Medicine – which dissuades agencies from compensating donors much than $10,000 – the nine recovered that 88% of donors compensated up to $5,000 for their eggs answered successful a self-report questionnaire that “being capable to assistance someone” was their biggest motivation.

“I deliberation [people assume] there’s a consciousness of coercion retired there, but there’s truly nary of that,” said Deborah Mecerod who runs MyEggBank, the largest ovum donation slope web successful the US. Their argumentation is to connection 1 flat-fee arsenic payment, capped astatine $10,000. Mecerod feels the acquisition is precise rewarding for prospective donors, done the acquisition and escaped familial testing, adjacent if they take not to travel done with the donation. “There’s ever the enactment to permission the process,” she said.

While galore women admit to being pulled successful by the magnitude they tin gain from their eggs, astir I spoke to inactive saw it arsenic a choice.

“The archetypal and 2nd clip I was unemployed oregon hardly employed, truthful successful a mode [I needed the money] but I wasn’t hopeless for it,” explains Dolan Wells Gallagher, who has present donated her eggs 3 times. The archetypal and 2nd clip she utilized the wealth to screen rent portion she was betwixt jobs, the 3rd time, to wage tuition fees.

Data and semipermanent probe connected ovum donation is scarce. In 2016, new research suggested that fertility drugs whitethorn beryllium linked to the improvement of uterine cancers. A 2017 report by The Donor Sibling Registry recovered suspicious occurrences of bosom crab successful different steadfast young donors who showed nary familial predisposition to the disease, citing hormone therapy during donation arsenic a imaginable cause. “The deficiency of accusation whitethorn beryllium misleadingly interpreted arsenic deficiency of risk,” the study warned.

Four years later, there’s inactive nary semblance of a semipermanent database to show the wellness of donors. Furthermore, portion wellness information is monitored for those who donate organs, the aforesaid accusation is not required for ovum donation: it is up to donation agencies to petition past aesculapian accusation connected donors, and adjacent past they are astatine the mercy of donors voluntarily doing truthful – and telling the information erstwhile they do. Most are not asked for, and bash not report, medical changes aft starting the process.

In the meantime, thousands of young donors each twelvemonth acquisition ovum removal and hormone treatment, without anyone afloat knowing the consequences.

“Having a donor registry would beryllium specified a large instrumentality for truthful galore antithetic reasons, due to the fact that you could cod information from the donor, however she’s doing and travel up successful years to come,” explains Mecerod, who believes authorities and national authorities involution would assistance lick this problem.

But astir women I interviewed didn’t look excessively bogged down by the ramifications of semipermanent wellness complications. Most of them needed the money. When the rhythm ends, the donors permission with the aboriginal impacts a mystery.


Up until the precise extremity of my archetypal donation, I felt affirmative astir my experience. Despite fainting; feeling objectified and shuffled around; contempt the laborious injections, I inactive liked it. I felt comfortableness and restitution knowing I helped radical execute their dreams.

But successful the last days ticking down to my surgery, I felt a slew of emotions that confused what I thought would beryllium a rewarding end.

I felt astatine the mercy of the clinic. Appointments were made astatine locations I’d asked not to beryllium sent to, due to the fact that they were retired of my way. Some days I didn’t person updates astir however overmuch medicine I should take, leaving maine to instrumentality a stab successful the acheronian astatine the dosage. I didn’t find retired erstwhile my country would beryllium until 2 days earlier the event.

On the time earlier my surgery, I asked a caregiver point-blank wherefore they scheduled surgeries with specified small advance. She didn’t know. I felt disrespected and angry. The institution was inconsiderate of my time, and I was abruptly near scrambling astir to marque definite idiosyncratic could inactive prime maine up from my country the pursuing day.

I was expected to person implicit flexibility. Appointments popped up and I was expected to beryllium available. As the week wore on, my enlarged ovaries sat dense successful my abdomen arsenic a heavy and uncomfortable reminder.

After my last assignment connected Tuesday, I wrote successful my journal: “At this signifier I genuinely bash consciousness near successful the acheronian and I don’t truly privation to woody with these radical anymore. I wonderment if the pistillate receiving my eggs is much informed than I am.”

Still, I looked guardant to receiving the $10,000 check. Life successful New York, 1 of the world’s astir costly cities, took unexpected tolls connected my wallet connected a regular basis. The accomplishment of this cheque would quell my anxiousness for a fistful of months, allowing maine to instrumentality to my studies stress-free – studies which would connection maine stableness and assurance towards my imagination job. Every portion was a steppingstone towards a aboriginal I desperately wanted.

My country lasted a full of 7 minutes and laid maine up successful furniture for a time and a fractional astatine home, arsenic my tummy cramped and contorted. The session offered maine nary symptom relievers, truthful I lived connected a cocktail of Tylenol and Advil. Fortunately, my symptom wasn’t excessively bad. Reflecting connected the process arsenic a whole, I jotted down a mates lines successful my journal: “I would see doing this again. I bash interest astir however it would interaction my body, but the interaction connected my beingness would beryllium truthful significant. I don’t cognize if I could contradict that.”