In 2003, a 22-year-old woman donated eggs to a gay couple in Toronto. They had a son. Now, the egg donor is 39 — and struggling to have a child of her own.
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More than a decade ago I interviewed a woman in her twenties about her experience with egg donation. She'd donated twice, and both times she'd experienced ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a condition where plasma seeps out of the blood vessels and collects in the abdominal cavity. The woman was the main subject of a piece called "The Human Egg Trade," about how Canada's ban on paying egg donors was routinely being flouted. She was also one of the women in "Is Egg Donation Dangerous?" who reported having irregular cycles following donation.
Recently we caught up again. Now 39, she told me there's nothing she wants more than to have a child. But despite trying on and off throughout her thirties, she's had no luck. Here's our conversation.
So you've been trying for a while to have kids?
I was probably 31 when I started to try. We were probably trying for a year and a half. With another guy, we were trying for a year. I was 34. And then again at 37 for about six months. There have been three different relationships when I've been trying and three different relationships where it didn't work out.
Any idea why?
I do have PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome]. I don't know if that's because of egg donation. But it means I have reduced fertility. I don't get periods. The longest I went was nine months. Lately they've been regular — regularish.
So what's the plan now?
I've now decided I don't have time to wait for guys to make up their mind anymore, so I will probably go ahead with trying to do artificial insemination. With a donor. A fertility doctor told me I could take a pill and that would help. I haven't tried that yet. There's an increased chance of twins. I was really hoping it would happen naturally, but it hasn't.
I am also going to get on the list for doing in vitro. I just understandably am not thrilled that that's the avenue I have to take, to have to get stimulated again and everything. I'm not excited about the prospect of doing that at all.
Because of bad experiences hyperstimulating?
Yes. But it might be different since I'm the focus this time and not the, like, the broodmare? I don't know. It might be different. I would really prefer it to happen naturally, but I'm starting to run out of time.
Your first donation was in 2003 and was a cycle split between two families, right?
And at least one of those families had a child.
Yes, the only time I know was successful was with that family. I don't know if there's another child.
I first interviewed you after your second donation, which was in 2007. And that was to try to have a sibling for that successful family.
Yes. But the second time all the eggs were lost.
Right. And there was a third time.
It didn't go ahead. And then the surrogate dropped out. And the dads decided to be happy with what they had.
You have met the parents in person?
I met the one dad. He keeps in touch with me fairly regularly. He always messages me on Mothers Day to say thank you and that he's thinking of me and stuff like that. We are friends on Facebook, so I get to see pictures and updates, which is nice. He's a lovely kid.
Have you had any kind of direct contact with the child?
No. He had his 15th birthday this year and they had a discussion with him and let him know. He knows who I am. But that's up to him. I'm not going to walk in and say, 'Hey!' Genetically, yes, he's my child, but I don't consider myself his mom.
I think his dad has spoken to my mom and they might have wanted me to be more involved. That might just be my mom thinking that! I would be totally open to getting to know him if he wanted to. But I don't want to step on toes.
Does it make you feel worse or better that you know you have a genetic child out there, while you're hoping for your own?
I think in a way it makes me feel a little bit better. I definitely do want my own children. Very much so. There's nothing I want more than that. But I guess technically I can't see myself as a complete failure on the whole fertility front because a child does exist that is genetically tied to me.
You had loads of eggs retrieved both times you donated. And it's crossed your mind, hasn't it, that some of them, or embryos made from them, might still be out there somewhere.
I would like to know that. The clinic won't tell me anything.
Have you done genetic testing?
Yes. I am on Ancestry or 23andme — my mom had me spit into something. But I am on there, should someone try to find me.
But so far no one has tried to find you?
No. But my mom is in contact with a lady who she thinks has embryos made from my eggs. I don't think she has my eggs. But they are doing testing to see. What happened is she got embryos that a couple wasn't using anymore. My mom's convinced that this is my child.
Does she have leftover embryos?
Mm-hmm. The lady is going to give me the leftover embryos if that's the case.
So that would be your eggs and the sperm of who? The father?
Or a donor. I don't really know. But, yes, I would be interested in using them. Those would be my, what, 22-year-old-self's eggs?
Are you hopeful?
That's more my mom. She's all gung-ho that if something were to come up and there was something to say that they are my eggs... I don't think about it that much because I don't want to hope about stuff like that and then have my hope dashed.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Alison Motluk. "The Human Egg Trade." The Walrus. 2010.
Alison Motluk. "Is Egg Donation Dangerous?" Maisonneuve. 2013.
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