Pregnancy isn't as easy as in the movies. Not every couple can pregnant and give birth to healthy baby boy or girl. For those who can't, there are alternative methods to get a bun in the oven. For moms and dads who desperately want to experience pregnancy and childbirth, there are things they can do to carry a baby in the womb full term.
But what about the women on the other side of the egg donation process?
Because women’s eggs are in such high demand, there’s a literal market for them everywhere in the world. Clinics spring up to broker the transactions, requiring contracts from all involved parties and overseeing the exchange of funds.
But these clinics are responsible for more than just egg swapping. They also care for egg donors who experience health challenges, as well as guide them through the medical aspects of injections and extractions and egg counts.
Many young women may look at egg donation as a get rich quick scheme, especially given that most clinics don’t monitor how many times or how frequently a woman donates eggs. Still, doctors caution against more than a handful of attempts because of the possibility for negative health effects. But the lack of studies on egg donation safety means there isn’t much information with which to warn women.
Want to know more about egg donation in the fertility industry? Here are fifteen stories about young women who sold their eggs for cash.
15 She Got Sick Because Of It
Maggie Eastman began donating eggs when she was in college. She told the New York Post that over the course of ten years, she underwent egg retrieval procedures ten times. Doctors caution women against more than eight donations because there are no conclusive studies that show whether it’s safe.
Maggie earned around $1,200 to $2,000 per cycle, which allowed her to buy books for school. In 2015, she wrote that she had received a diagnosis of Stage 4 breast cancer- and she blames the egg donation medications for it.
Following her diagnosis, Maggie had to have her ovaries removed, meaning she’d never have children of her own. Even though she’d helped untold numbers of strangers have babies with a genetic link to her, Maggie wouldn’t know the joy of giving birth herself. Regulations state that women should only donate eggs eight times, but no one told Maggie that. Her form of cancer was rare in patients her age and ethnicity, and her doctor thought that the drugs used during the egg extraction period probably made her ill. Ultimately, Maggie’s dying wish was to inform other women of the apparent risks of becoming an egg donor so that they could make their own informed decisions.
14 She Couldn't Handle The Second Round
Ari Laurel knew that she didn’t want children, she told the Washington Post, so she had no qualms about selling her eggs to couples who did. In fact, Ari, who is Asian, knew that her eggs were in high demand, and she was very matter-of-fact when speaking about the conditions of her donor period. She didn’t feel emotional at all about having children in the world with her genetic matter. Plus, she earned $12,000 for a one-time donation- but the process wasn’t that great, she admitted. The agency that Ari used asked her questions about her skin color and her IQ, even requesting her college transcripts and test scores. Donor agencies often request this information because intended parents, the “buyers,” want the best looking and brightest donor candidates.
Thankfully, Ari had no complications during the egg retrieval process, although side effects can include painful emotional and physical symptoms. But she said she found the process to be “exploitative,” and declined when the agency asked her for a second round of egg donation. Still, she said she was happy to have helped an infertile couple build a family, despite feeling like she wasn’t really a person, just a stack of data.
13 The Extraction Was Too Much On Her
Sindy Wei was a college student when she donated her eggs in order to make rent in Los Angeles, she told the Washington Post. A clinic in San Francisco paid the young woman $6,500 for one round of egg donation, but they extracted 60 eggs. The typical number of eggs created during a hormone cycle falls below 20, meaning that Wei’s body had essentially “over”-reacted to the hormones doctors administered. It’s dangerous for a woman’s body to make that many eggs, and it can result in a whole host of ovarian issues.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know which women will have a bad reaction to the combination of medications and hormones, so donors essentially go into the process with no idea of what can happen to them.
After the egg extraction, Sindy felt sick, but doctors tried to discharge her anyway. She told the Washington Post that she refused to leave, and eight hours later she came into the hospital with dangerously low blood pressure and was losing blood. She had emergency surgery to repair an ovarian artery and spent days in the intensive care unit. Now, she testifies against the egg donation industry as a whole to encourage transparency on the subject and wants more information available to donors about the potential risks.
12 She Seriously Regretted It
She admits she was “disastrously broke” when she underwent egg retrieval and donation as a young single woman. The agency that wooed her, as Katie O’Reilly wrote for Buzzfeed, set her up in a fancy hotel for four days during the egg retrieval period. Because she needed someone on hand to help with the requisite injections, she brought along her long-distance boyfriend, who was also a social worker and trained EMT. Although she tried to look at the getaway as a romantic bonding experience, Katie was experiencing intense mood swings, excessively painful cramps, and uncomfortable bloating the whole time.
But Katie was desperate when she stumbled upon egg retrieval after a bad drunken fall landed her in the hospital with no way to pay her bill. After a long nap after her concussed and alcohol poisoned self arrived home from the hospital, she did a Google search for quick easy cash and came to a decision. Although she had applied to be an egg donor before but was rejected, Katie decided she’d gloss over the less-than-stellar aspects of her life and personality in order to get picked. But when it was all over, Katie wound up with endometrial scar tissue, fibroids on her breast tissue, and a diseased gallbladder, symptoms she blames on the egg retrieval drugs.
11 The Medical Bills Got Out Of Hand
A woman who identified herself only as “M” on We Are Egg Donors wrote that she heard about egg donation through a co-worker, who suggested that M’s light blond hair and blue eyes would make her an in-demand donor. Raised by a grandmother whose health declined due to Alzheimer’s, M didn’t have extra money and was accustomed to living frugally. So she began the egg donation process.
Unfortunately, M was uncomfortable from the start, feeling heavy and bloated with all the extra eggs in her abdomen.
When she had the eggs extracted, however, things didn’t improve immediately. M says it took 4 to 5 days of recovery for her body to begin working again. But it still took a while to feel better, because M wound up with OHSS, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, she went through an even longer recovery period that involved more cramping, bloating, and pain. Still, afterward, M recommitted to egg donation again after hearing about a woman who had been trying to have a baby for 20 years. Unfortunately, she later sustained significant nerve damage in her back, which her doctor attributes to the egg retrieval process. The resulting medical bills wiped out not only M’s donor earnings, but also put her in debt with the IRS.
10 Cash For Eggs, Thank You
Jasmine Stein has no regrets about donating her eggs, she wrote for the Huffington Post. As a college student, Jasmine scoffed at the egg donor ads her school newspaper would run. But after graduating with a Liberal Arts degree and struggling to pay rent and eat, she was desperate. Also, she explained, she was becoming more and more sure that she didn’t want children but felt guilty about it. So becoming a donor made sense since it used her eggs for their biologically intended purpose.
After the egg retrieval was done, Jasmine developed ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) and had to have fluid drained from her abdominal cavity. Still, Jasmine says, she learned a lot about her body during those two months, although it ended with her needing medical care and feeling like her body was shutting down. After having the fluid drained from her ovaries and surrounding areas, Jasmine felt better immediately, if not a little tired. She maintains that although she doesn’t plan to undergo donation again, the $8,000 was worth it, and she’s proud that she was able to help an infertile family to make their dreams come true. Besides- the scar from her hormone injections reminds her of the little body she may have helped bring into the world.
9 She Got Three Babies Out Of It
The government only requires that egg donors undergo testing for HIV and a handful of STDs, Insider reported, but Rhiannon Schwisow also took a long personality test and met with a counselor to talk about her life. The counselor asked about things like her family, relationships, hobbies, and more. She was also asked what her support system was like, likely an indicator of emotional stability, which most egg donor agencies want candidates to have.
After all that disclosure, everyone involved had to sign a contract.
When it came to the hormone cycle and actual retrieval, Rhiannon said it was easy on her body. While other women experience painful or uncomfortable symptoms, Rhiannon said that she’d experienced worse side effects from birth control she’s taken. She also donated multiple times, earning $4,000 the first time and $5,00 the next two times. Although her clinic follows guidelines to keep both donors and recipients anonymous, Rhiannon did say that her clinic informed her that each round of donation resulted in a healthy happy baby. And she was happy with the outcome, she said, because her good deed was also reimbursed at what she felt was a fair amount for the inconvenience and potential risks she undertook.
8 First Time Is The Charm
Her first round of egg donation was a walk in the park, Deaven Williams told Insider. Apart from the routine injections, the process was easy and she had no pain or discomfort. But the second round was difficult, she admitted, especially the recovery period. After the second egg retrieval, Deaven said she had awful cramps and she could barely stand up, thrust into excruciating pain if she so much as laughed. But Deaven was motivated by more than just money, aiming to help an infertile family bring a child into their lives.
She even preferred the anonymous agreement, Deaven noted, because when she donated, she was young and had no idea how her life would turn out. Whether she would want biological children of her own, or whether she’d wind up with a steady partner. She’s also perfectly fine not knowing whether her donations resulted in live children, she maintained. It’s definitely not “selling babies,” Deaven specifies, suggesting that the entire transaction is “priceless” because of the value it offers families who are attempting to conceive. Deaven said that egg donation was the most meaningful thing she’d ever done in her life. Knowing that a family had a shot at having a baby of their own made her discomfort through the process worth it.
7 Cash-Strapped But Wants To Quit
Credit card debt made Caitlyn Goerner regret the shopping sprees of her teen years, but she thought she’d found a way out of perpetual penny-pinching. Writing for Bolde, Caitlyn talked about her egg donor experience and how she hoped it would clear up her financial woes. But undergoing the process made her emotional, bloated, crampy, and lonely, she said.
Between early-morning doctor’s appointments- ten in two weeks- and general pain and discomfort, there were times she wanted to just quit.
But the social stigma of donating her eggs for money kept Caitlyn quiet about the process and her pain. After the retrieval, which netted 38 eggs- understandable since Caitlyn said she felt like she would burst from her ovaries- the young woman developed OHSS and dealt with more pain and discomfort as she recovered. The final disappointment came when she reported her $8,000 of income on her tax paperwork- and was taxed the same way one would be from casino winnings or the lottery, she said. That meant less take-home overall, and at what long-term cost to her health? Though Caitlyn willingly entered the process, now she worries constantly that she’ll develop cancer or other health issues from her experience.
6 Illegal Market Sells Eggs, Too
A writer for the Daily Mail posed as an infertile woman to solicit offers of egg donation on the Web. What she found was rather disturbing. Once she posted an ad for eggs, Claudia wrote, a young woman responded asking for the equivalent of $16,000USD for an illegal egg donation. The young woman gave a good sales pitch, Claudia explained, noting that “Sarah” had an English degree and was fluent in French, wore a size 8, and looked like Catherine Zeta-Jones. She claimed to have impeccable grades and a brilliant family, too.
Continuing with her pitch, Sarah explained how she was so well-informed about egg donation and its risks: she had donated illegally before. While clinics in the UK limit financial incentives for egg donation, capping the transfer amount well under $16,000. In fact, the approved amount is just over $300 in US dollars. Sarah continued to espouse the fecundity of her ovaries- she produced 24 eggs in a previous cycle- and a former client birthed a child and had eggs on hand for future IVF attempts. But Sarah and Claudia would have to get their story straight, Sarah cautioned, because any clinic that suspects additional compensation has to decline service to clients.
5 There Was Too Much Of A Risk
Alexandra was a young doctorate student when she decided to sell her eggs for cash. She had tuition to pay, after all, and a quick $3,000 was enough to make her sign up. But her experience didn’t end well, as the Washington Times reported. Alexandra took part in a documentary about egg donation called “Eggsploitation,” which documents young women’s experiences as donors. Alexandra and two other women appeared in the film to discuss the negative effects they’ve experienced from their procedures.
Hospitalization, stroke, ovary loss, and even cancer all point to egg donation as the culprit, Alexandra and the other women suggest.
But paid egg donation intentionally targets young women- college campuses especially- and there are no studies that show conclusively whether egg donation is safe for women or not.
Part of that is due to the fact that some effects from the process may not show up until decades later, making it hard to tie the symptoms to a root cause. But films like “Eggsploitation” help highlight the potential risks for young girls who are considering egg donation and have questions about the overall safety of the process. Still, with anywhere from a few thousand to even $100,000 on the table in these egg negotiations, many women find it hard to say no.
4 Designer Eggs To The Big Screen
Becoming an actress isn’t usually an easy career path, and that was definitely true for Sonja O’Hara. She was trying to break into acting in Los Angeles but had resorted to roles in slasher films and propaganda bits. So when she saw an ad for egg donation, she took it as inspiration. She initially went to the donation clinic’s interview as fodder for a film she wanted to write. But once she spoke with the clinic, she took it a step further.
While her movie Ovum tells the tale of an aspiring actress donating her eggs, Sonja actually took that route herself. She sold her eggs to earn the cash to film the movie, Slate reported, using the cash from two rounds to fund the necessities. Sonja highlights the moral issues surrounding egg donation in her film, explaining to Slate that the “icy” clinic she visited in the film is much like the one she visited in real life.
The film highlights the “fuzzy line” between exploitation and empowerment, the author wrote, acknowledging that Sonja kept her egg donation a secret at the time because she was ashamed.
But that feeling wouldn’t last long- her film boldly discusses the issues egg donors experience, from exploitative clinics that prey on pretty and broke girls, to the internal struggles they experience over selling a piece of themselves.
3 Complications Became Too Expensive
As a writer for the Herald Tribune, Justine Griffin had covered plenty of stories. But her personal experience going through egg donation became a four-chapter feature on the Tribune’s website, allowing Justine to share her experiences and cautions for other prospective donors. Justine wrote that she entered the egg donation process hoping to help a couple have a child. She would receive $5,000 for donating her eggs to a couple in Ireland, and the couple would hopefully have a healthy child from it.
Although many egg donors wind up with anywhere from a dozen to fifty or so eggs, Justine was disappointed to find out that her retrieval resulted in only five eggs. However, the agency she worked with soon marked her as a strong donor because the eggs she did produce were exceptionally robust. In fact, the recipient family got pregnant quickly and soon had a baby. Despite that success, Justine still struggled afterward with her health when the clinic didn’t return her calls for help. She wound up in the emergency room seeking treatment after a doctor told her everything was fine without even performing an exam or ultrasound. Thankfully, Justine recovered, but she now has doubts about whether she’ll be able to conceive her own children one day.
2 In College With Troubling Symptoms
College student Leah Campbell never paid much attention to egg donation fliers and ads. That is, until she saw her friend undergo the experience. That friend got to meet the recipient of her egg donation, making the experience all the more real to the young girls. Leah wanted to help out an infertile woman, too, she wrote for Redbook. Plus, her mom was never really around, and Leah liked the idea of giving children to parents who desperately wanted them.
Though she wasn’t desperate for the cash, Leah didn’t mind accepting a couple grand for her good deed. Her first time donating went off without a hitch. Injections and appointments went seamlessly, and she only felt ill for about 24 hours following the extraction, Leah explained.
Then the agency asked her to come back for a second donation. That one went just as smoothly, and Leah brought her grandma along for sightseeing afterward. But soon after, a missed and then painful period rocked Leah’s sense of normalcy.
She had cysts covering her ovaries and was diagnosed with severe endometriosis. The result was multiple surgeries, pain, and infertility- causing Leah to eventually adopt a child after she realized she couldn’t conceive on her own.
1 She Couldn't Help But Wonder About The Baby
Paola Livas is an artist and writer who donated eggs in Mexico at the age of 19. Despite being “of age,” Paola said that she didn’t give much thought to egg donation before undergoing it herself. She knew a little about the health risks, but to her, she wrote for We Are Egg Donors, the questions were more existential than that of potential illness. She wondered what connection she would feel to potential babies born from her eggs, and whether the child would want to find her later in life. She wondered if they would have a bond or a knowing of one another.
Although Paola doesn’t describe her experience as tragic or emotionally damaging, she began creating art following the experience. She wrote messages to her “non-child”- a term she came up with- on baby clothing and created an exhibit about the concept. Looking back, Paola, who made her donation at a clinic in Mexico, says that although 15,000 pesos seemed like a lot at the time, it really only amounted to around $800USD. Paola also experienced OHSS with dizziness, pain, headaches, and other troubling symptoms. Despite everything, Paola still tried to look at her egg donation experience as an artistic opportunity to be shared with the public so that they’ll think more about the process and its implications.