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by Rebecca Ford, News Writing

After a brief conversation, she says: “OK, I’ll see you tonight. Love you.”

Rachel loves all three of her children. Six years ago she decided to help other families have children of their own. She has donated her eggs five times since 2000. To her, those eggs, which are not her children, are a way to help others.

Egg donation is becoming an increasingly popular choice for college women. Several national publications have recently addressed the topic. USA Today and Cosmopolitan both ran lead stories on it in March. Still, even with all the recent press, many women feel the topic is mysterious. Some have heard that egg donations pay good money. Others have heard it’s painful. Still others squirm at the thought of their DNA being out there in the world.

Kalamalama regularly runs an ad from the Pacific Connection Fertility Services (PCFS), the only egg donation facility in Hawai‘i. It advertises $4,000 compensation for egg donation. The same ad runs in the University of Hawai‘i’s newspaper, Ka Leo.

College-aged women are a prime source for egg donation because their bodies are still young and fertile. However, the process, risks, and motivation behind egg donation must be understood
How do they do it?

The process for an egg donor starts when she expresses interested in being a donor. PCFS will send her information and forms. If she qualifies, PCFS schedules an interview.

Kristy Muller, vice president of PCFS, said she uses the interview for insight into a woman’s motivation for donating. She added that PCFS does not accept women who are only volunteering for the money.

“ It has to be that you want to help somebody achieve their dream of having a family,” Muller said.
After the interview, the potential donor will undergo several medical and psychological tests, including a careful medical history, a pelvic examination, blood tests, cervical cultures, and hormone blood tests to predict ovarian response to the fertility drugs. The psychological screening includes an interview with a therapist.

Once a donor is selected by by a couple, she will begin daily injections of fertility drugs to help mature a group of eggs in her ovaries. She is taught how to administer these shots to herself, so she can do them at home. Usually, this lasts about three weeks.

The actual “egg retrieval” process occurs under anesthesia. The physician uses a needle, guided by ultrasound, to retrieve the eggs. The needle goes directly into the fluid-filled egg sacs. PCFS says it is a simple and painless procedure. The process takes only about 15 minutes. The donor can go home about two hours later.

Women are born with a certain number of egg cells in thier overies. Each month, several of these eggs cells mature, and one is usually released. When a woman becomes a donor, the retrieval only takes the egg cells that would have matured that month.

Risky business?

Most of the risks of egg donation are minor, according to PCFS, and there is no risk to the future fertility of the donor. However, there can be some minor irritation because of the daily injections of fertility drugs, which coax the donor’s body into a temporary menopausal state that lasts until egg retrieval and can induce such side effects as headaches, hot flashes, and moodiness.

After egg retrieval, there can be some discomfort or cramping similar to that experienced during menstruation.

A more serious but uncommon side effect is the risk of what is called “ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.” This would happen after egg retrieval. When this occurs, the ovaries become enlarged and painful. The symptoms can range in severity, but usually disappear on their own. However, if the condition is severe, and left untreated, it can lead to serious health complications including collection of fluids in the lungs and abdomens, blood clots, and loss of function of the kidneys and liver. PCFS says the risk of hyperstimulation for egg donors is one per hundred (1 percent).

All about the money?

On Craigslist.com, potential parents cry out for egg donors. An ad posted Feb. 21 by a gay man who lives in Waikiki asks for eggs donated by “blonde-haired, blue-eyed” women. Although there is no price offered in this ad, prices offered by other ads range from $5,000 to $8,000, and one, from Boston, offered $10,000.

Beyond ethnicity requests, some ads ask for women with high SAT scores (1500), physically fit physiques, or nonsmokers.

The significant amounts of money being offered seem to overshadow the “good deed” motivation that Muller said is the only acceptable reason to donate. However, she explained why the monetary reward is so high.

“ We strongly believe that you are not being paid for your eggs,” Muller stated. “You are not selling your eggs. You are being compensated for your time and any potential discomfort or risks that could occur.”

Muller added that PCFS doesn’t want egg donation to be viewed as a business, but as an organ donation, similar to a donation of bone marrow or blood.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine cites the psychological and emotional repercussions of egg donation and lists several situations in which women should not consider an egg donation. A woman should not donate if she has a psychological disorder, is on psychoactive medications, abuses drugs or alcohol, or has relatives who do. Also, women who are in unstable marriages or relationships, or have significant stress in their lives, should not donate. Finally, women not capable of understanding or participating in the process should not become egg donors.

What do women think?

Women at HPU have varying amounts of knowledge on the topic and differing views about whether egg donation would be right for them. Amber Vega, a senior visual communication major, is apprehensive about egg donation.

“ I wouldn’t do it,” Vega said, adding her reason: “Because of the idea that there’d be someone out there that’s half of me.”

Shelby McCabe, a junior visual communication major, sees egg donation as a way to help other women.

“ I have thought about doing it,” said McCabe. “Some people just can’t have kids.”

Rachel, the mother of three referred to above, did not want her real name used in the article, which says something about the stigma that still surrounds the process.

“ I have friends that say it’s like giving away your own baby,” Rachel said.

“ The way I view it is that [an egg] is just something I’m going to get rid of anyway,” Rachel said. “Giving it to this woman, it’s her body that’s going to nurture it and help it grow.”

She looks at the picture on her desk, and smiles.

“ Just to know that you’ve helped somebody in that way, I can’t even describe the feeling.”



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