When she was in her late thirties, Aimee B. from Chicago, IL, realized that she could not have children. She was one of the 7.3 million American women who struggle with infertility.
Married at 35, Aimee experienced her first pregnancy immediately after her wedding, then her first miscarriage. Several miscarriages, and six rounds of intrauterine insemination later, Aimee found herself considering egg donation as a way to build her family. “There were a lot of disappointments,” she remembers. “The miscarriages were devastating.” Aimee opted for egg donation over adoption; she felt that she couldn’t handle further disappointments the adoption process might bring.
Through egg donation, Aimee gave birth to twin sons, and is now pregnant with her third child. “I don’t think of my children any differently than if they were genetically mine,” she says. “I don’t have any concerns that I’m not the biological mother, but for some people that’s a big deal.”
Since the first successful egg donor-birth in 1984, egg donation has become an increasingly viable way of building families and many egg donation agencies reporting an increase in applicants in recent years.
One of those applicants was Callie Burke, who, in September of 2010, decided to sell her eggs. A college graduate living in Los Angeles, Callie was attracted to the idea of “helping someone out.” The financial compensation she received, $8,000, only covered the debt she had accumulated staying in Los Angeles for the egg donation. “I still think it was definitely worth it,” she says. “I felt really great that I was able to give a child to this couple.”
Callie’s attitude throws a wrench into common misconceptions surrounding egg donation, whose critics claim that egg donors are only financially motivated.
“Many people are interested in earning thousands of dollars,” says Serena Chen, MD, Director of Reproductive Endocrine and Infertility at St. Barnabas in Livingston, NJ. “Once they find out what is involved—lots of needles, appointments, blood drawings, vaginal sonograms, etc.—those who are not interested in the altruistic aspect of ovum donation quickly lose interest. There are other ways to make money.”
The process of donating eggs is complex. It requires, in the words of Dr. Chen, “serious time, and physical and emotional commitments.” It involves hormonal injections (some of which may be self-administered), medical tests, and a minor surgical procedure. After the eggs are retrieved, they are then mixed with the sperm of the intended father and grown in a lab dish before being transferred to the intended mother’s womb days later. Though no data exists detailing the number of women who donate their eggs annually in the United States, the American Pregnancy Association says that approximately 3,000 babies are born each year to women using donor eggs.
Callie says that some people do not understand why she sold her eggs. “Everyone asked me, ‘Doesn’t that make you feel weird, having a child out in the world?’ and ‘What if someone comes to you in 18 years saying you’re their mom?’” Callie says she would be interested in seeing the child in 18 years, and that she doesn’t find egg donation weird at all. “The most important thing to me in life is family,” she says, “and I’m happy to know that I may have helped start someone else’s family.”
Three-time surrogate mother, and founder of information-on-surrogacy.com, Rayven Perkins echoes Callie’s sentiment: “It’s about family. It’s about bringing people together.”
She also points out that when people think about the process of egg donation and surrogacy, they often overlook the mother’s role and what she has been through. “She has most likely suffered multiple miscarriages, failed pregnancy attempt after failed pregnancy attempt, and heartache unlike any other…these women are true heroes,” she says. “They are the ones who deserve to be mothers more than many of us, who would go to the ends of the earth for their children. These are the women to admire.”
Have you donated eggs or used donated eggs to have children? Tell us about your experience on our Facebook page.
For more information on egg donation, visit The Department of Health’s Website.