I’ve donated my eggs three times. Because of this, and because I’m a huge nerd, I frequently lurk around on the internet reading about egg donation.
Something I’ve realized is that there are a lot of widespread, damaging myths about egg donation out there – and this needs to change.
These myths don’t only affect egg donors. Many of these myths demonstrate a bigger issue: that many people are ignorant when it comes to reproductive and sexual health. They also demonstrate that some people have really problematic ideas when it comes to sex, reproduction, and medical procedures.
It’s important that we talk about egg donation. Discussing the process doesn’t only educate people – it also helps us destigmatize issues around reproductive health, infertility, and sexual health.
1. Donors are giving away their future children.
This one is particularly annoying to me. Firstly, it implies that all donors want children. Some do, but some don’t.
Secondly, it reminds me that people haven’t been educated about reproduction.
I donate ova – which I’m not currently using, anyway! – not a child. We know that ova are naturally expelled by the body during menstruation, meaning that we unintentionally flush ova down the drain every month. If donating your eggs is the same as selling your future children, is having a month where you go unfertilized the same as flushing a child down the toilet?
Biologically, any children born from my eggs will share my genetic material. But we all know that parenting isn’t about DNA. In every way that counts – legally, emotionally, socially – those children are the babies of my recipients.
2. If you donate your eggs, you’ll run out of eggs.
There are thousands of ova, or eggs, in my body. Hundreds will become mature. I’m not going to use all of those eggs to reproduce, and many of them will waste away during a normal menstrual cycle.
Imagine I have an apple tree that would produce thousands of apples in its lifetime. One day, in the future, I might decide to make an apple pie with those apples – but for now, the apples are falling to the ground and rotting. My neighbour doesn’t have an apple tree and would like to make an apple pie. I’m not going to hoard the apples I’m not using because I might want to make a pie in the future, because I know my apple tree will give me plenty of apples when I need them. So I pass some apples onto my neighbor instead of letting them all rot.
Obviously this metaphor isn’t perfect, but when it comes to explaining the egg situation, it’s pretty useful. Nobody has an infinite number of eggs, but most healthy donors have way, way more than they’ll ever need.
3. Egg donors automatically become infertile.
After I donated my eggs, many people assumed I wouldn’t be able to have children. Once again, that’s not necessarily true. I personally know of many egg donors who’ve gone on to have children.
To be honest, I think people confuse ‘ovaries’ and ‘ova’, so they think I’ve donated the whole sheep when I’ve just given a little wool.
That said, there is a lack of long-term studies on egg donation. At present, there’s very little evidence to suggest that egg donation affects your fertility – but there’s also a lack of evidence confirming that it doesn’t affect your fertility. For that reason, many egg donors are advocating for further long-term studies.
4. The process is really painful.
I understand that the idea of egg donation can sound scary, but many people think it’s painful when that’s not necessarily true.
Some donors experience pain, particularly just before the eggs are retrieved. The second time I donated, I had a lot of eggs maturing in my body. Way more than average. As a result, I felt pretty bloated and uncomfortable for a few days. It felt like I ate too much food, except my body was full of eggs, not snacks!
But it was not painful.
The eggs are removed via a non-invasive surgery. In other words, nobody cuts your body open. During surgery, a device is placed in the vagina and a thin needle pokes your ovary, retrieving the eggs. You’ll have some kind of anesthetic during the surgery, and you’re unlikely to feel pain afterwards unless you have ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHS). After my retrieval, I felt sleepy and tender but not sore.
If you’re afraid of needles, the blood tests and multiple injections might be off-putting. I don’t mind needles at all, so I never felt anything more than a quick ‘ouch’ when giving blood and taking shots.
5. There are no risks involved.
Often the risks involved with egg donation are over-exaggerated – but sometimes, they’re under-exaggerated. It’s not true that there’s no risk involved with egg donation.
For example, it’s possible to get OHS if you’re given high doses of fertility medication. OHS could lead to nausea, dehydration, abdominal pain, and other symptoms. In extreme cases, you might be hospitalized. Sources vary on how frequent OHS is, and further research is needed to confirm how common it is among donors.
And again, since more long-term studies need to be done to confirm the risks of egg donation, we can’t say for certain how much risk it involves. One huge issue is that nobody is tracking the health of egg donors to see exactly whether there’s a frequency of certain diseases among donors. Many people are calling for a donor registry so that these risks can be monitored.
6. Egg donors only donate their eggs for the compensation money.
I volunteered to become an egg donor for the same reason I’m a blood donor and an organ donor: I want to use my body to help people in need. I didn’t know compensation existed until I decided I wanted to do it.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to struggle to have children when you really want them, but I know it’s painful. With a little effort, I could help someone’s dreams come true. Why would I say no to that?
I don’t give blood just to get a cookie and orange juice, although that’s a great perk. Similarly, the compensation is cool, but it’s not my primary motivator.
I’m sure some egg donors involve themselves with donation for the wrong reason, just as I’m sure some doctors were motivated into their field by money instead of a genuine desire to help people. But all the donors I personally know are mostly motivated by the idea of helping people have children.
7. Egg donors don’t deserve to be compensated for our time.
Compensation works differently in different countries. Australian egg donors aren’t compensated; donors in the US are compensated and then taxed – heavily – on their compensation. Opinions differ about whether donors should be compensated.
While I donate my eggs out of generosity, I simply wouldn’t be able to do it if I wasn’t compensated. Donating eggs takes time, which means I need to take time off work, which means I won’t be paid since I’m a freelancer. Compensation means that I’m able to donate while still paying my rent at the end of the month.
I donate my eggs because I love doing it – but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to eat.
Could compensation encourage poor people to donate eggs in order to make money? Probably. But poor people are also encouraged into a number of potentially exploitative industries – including ones that can badly affect workers’ health – but we don’t advocate for them to go unpaid.
Egg donation takes time, and we deserve to be compensated for that time. Our time shouldn’t be undervalued.
I love being an egg donor, but the myths surrounding donation make it a difficult task. Talking about it fights back against the stigma and ignorance that surrounds reproductive health issues.