Sunday, August 23, 2009

Extracting the eggs

Once the eggs are ready to be extracted, donors are heavily sedated and 10-15 eggs are extracted with a large needle inserted into the ovary through the vaginal wall. Derek describes the egg retrieval as relatively easy and painless. The procedure takes about 30 minutes, and donors usually experience some pain and discomfort for a couple of days after the surgery. It took Derek about ten days to recover the first time, and she says that the recovery period was shorter for her subsequent donations.
But donating eggs multiple times did take its toll on Derek. After her ninth donation, she started to become depressed which she thinks was due to a hormonal imbalance caused by the hormone treatments. "The depression became more and more severe," she says. "It just got worse until I couldn't leave my bed and had to see a doctor. I believe it was linked to my repeated egg donations since there was nothing else going on in my life at the time that could have explained why I became so depressed."

Taking hormones

The medical treatment begins once donors are matched to recipients. First, a donor is prescribed birth control pills for a short time to put her menstrual cycle in sync with that of the recipient. She will then start daily injections of hormones intended to stimulate her ovaries into producing an overabundance of mature eggs. For the next three or four weeks, she must make frequent visits to the fertility clinic to determine when the eggs will be ready to be retrieved.
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During the hormone treatment, there can be significant medical risks for the donor. Sex can sometimes be painful and dangerous since the ovaries are swollen with maturing eggs. Multiple pregnancies are also a strong possibility before the eggs are removed.
Derek says that the hormone treatment was the most uncomfortable part of the process. She was hyperstimulated since the hormones made her produce almost 30 eggs. "I was very bloated," she says. "It was often hard for me to lie down and sometimes even just breathing was uncomfortable. And my emotions were a mess."
About one in ten women will experience mild ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a condition in which the hormone injections upset the body's fluid balance. Mild OHSS causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, and swelling. Approximately 1% of women will end up in the hospital with severe OHSS, which can cause kidney failure, fluid build-up in the lungs, and shock. Occasionally, OHSS can cause permanent infertility or death. Even if no immediate problems are experienced, doctors don't know much about the long-term consequences of the hormone treatment, and some research has suggested that egg donors may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

The screening process

Not just anybody can become a donor - interested women are subject to a lengthy screening process. In the first instance, Derek had to complete an application and attend an interview. "It was like a job interview," she says, "They want to make sure you're a normal person. I also had to fill out a 40 page questionnaire."
If a donor makes it through this first stage, she will go through extensive medical and psychological screening including a pelvic exam, ultrasound, and blood tests for genetic conditions and infectious diseases, including sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). She will also be expected to provide a detailed medical and psychological history of herself and all of her close blood relatives.

Becoming an Egg Donor

With the rising cost of college tuition, many young people today are struggling to finance their education. Slaving away at a part-time job is one option, but advertisements in newspapers are publicizing an alternative for young women: donating an egg. Donors are offered between $3000 and $10,000 for a single egg, and for those with certain desirable traits- like race, appearance, high test scores, or athleticism - the compensation can be $20,000 or more. Figures like these can prove very tempting to a female student struggling to pay the bills. But what exactly does donating an egg involve?
Egg donation is more or less the female equivalent of sperm donation-only more complicated, risky, and lucrative. Every year, thousands of babies are born with the help of egg donations to women who, for a variety of reasons, cannot become pregnant using their own eggs. The process involves removing eggs from a donor's ovaries and fertilizing them in vitro. After being allowed to develop for a couple of days, three or four embryos are then implanted into the uterus of the woman who will mother the child.
The process is usually coordinated by fertility clinics or egg 'brokers', who often do the research and place the ads. It was after seeing one of these ads that Julia Derek considered becoming a donor. After finishing college when she was 24 years old, she approached a fertility clinic and since then became a twelve-time donor. She says that money was her main motivation for doing it - she was paid $3,500 per donation.