Donor A. has donated with our partner company AsiaWest twice, and discusses her experiences with both donations, including the OHSS symptoms she had with her second donation. Donor A. talks about having agency as an egg donor, and why she still wants to donate again in the future.
Can you start by telling me a little bit about yourself, your background, where you’re calling from?
I'm 24 turning 25 year. I currently live in Seattle, and I went to the University of Washington for undergrad. I've been living in Seattle for about six years now. Right now, I currently work as an account manager at a small tech company. My first egg donation was last year, February, and my most recent one was last month. But I have been on the donor database for I think the past three years. It took a little while before I got my first match.
Can you tell me a little bit about how and why you became an egg donor? Where did you hear about it and what prompted you to go through with it?
So I actually first heard about egg donation through a friend. She didn't use AsiaWest, but she had done it before and was telling me about the process. Obviously, hearing about the compensation was a big "woah", and then after doing more research about it and my own personal feelings about children and things like that... I'm personally not interested in having my own children, so I just thought it would be really great to give other families the opportunity to have children.
Yeah definitely! So going into the donation, was it something you talked to your family or friends about it? If so, what was their reaction?
It's not something I told my family about, just because it would be something that would be a little more difficult to explain to my parents. I feel like Asian parents might not be as understanding about that kind of thing. Like "why would you do this for someone else". But I did tell friends about it. I think the reactions for the most part were people were shocked - they had never heard of someone doing this before! The process was really interesting to them too. I have a couple close friends who know about donating and how everything went both times. But generally people are really supportive.
Going in, did you have any specific worries or concerns bout being an egg donor or about the egg donation process?
I guess the first time I was definitely nervous since it's totally new. Especially hearing about having to do the injections myself and what potential symptoms there were. But I think my first donation went so smoothly and everyone was always really good about answering my questions and being there every step of the way, so I wasn't really worried at all for my second donation. But my second donation had a little bit more complications.
Well, at least it's the second one and you'd gone through it once before! What was the donation process like for you? How was the clinic you worked with?
The first donation was with California Fertility Partners in L.A. That one was really nice. I think because it was a private practice, they really care about the patients' comfort. It was a cool experience being flown to L.A. A little bit boring being in the hotel room all the time because I was still a student back then, but it was a good experience.
With the next donation I was expecting it to go smoothly too. I had a different coordinator with me. The first time was Delcie and the second time was Mara. I think Mara is definitely more hands on and more responsive too, which I really appreciated, especially because the second donation I had pretty bad symptoms. A lot worse than my first donation. Especially after the retrieval, I experienced ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, which I didn't really get the first time. The symptoms were pretty bad. I felt like [the second clinic] wasn't the most helpful and didn't put as much thought into the comfort of patients.
So after my most recent donation, I did talk with Amber about it, just saying that I am open to donating again, just not with that clinic. I have heard that other donors have had problems with them too, so I think it's good that I spoke up about it.
Can you tell me a little more about the symptoms that you experienced with that second donation?
So the bloating, same as the first time but way worse. The first time I barely had any swelling. The day of the procedure I was fine to go out and have dinner and things like that - same with the next day. My body bounced back pretty quickly. After the second donation, or even before, my bloating was worse than the first time. And then immediately after the procedure my swelling got so bad. My stomach was the size of a basketball almost. The swelling was so much that my stomach was hard to touch, because it stretched my skin to the point where it couldn't stretch anymore because of how swollen I was. That also made it really difficult to walk even. I couldn't lay down normally; I had to sleep kind of sitting up, propped up with a bunch of pillows. I couldn't really turn that well either. Sleep was just really difficult so that made things worse.
It took a long time for the swelling to go away too. I feel like my swelling lasted over a week. My retrieval was Wednesday and I decided to still fly home Saturday. They gave me the option to stay a little bit longer for my symptoms to go away a little bit, but at that point I really just wanted to be in my own bed and back home. After the retrieval I continued to call the clinic, explaining my symptoms. I've done it before and I knew it shouldn't be this bad. But they kept saying the same thing: just cycle ibuprofen and Advil, just drink a lot of water, there's not much we can do.
So after I got back, I was just really frustrated. I talked to Mara about it and she said that she could try to get me a follow up appointment at a local fertility clinic, but the other clinic has to approve it. So then I get a call from them and I have to explain my symptoms, the same thing I've been saying for the past few days, and I felt like my nurse was being kind of dismissive of my symptoms. So at that point I was just so frustrated, that I got pretty upset and that's when she said ok, we'll set up your follow up appointment.
I was able to go to Pacific Northwest Fertility for a follow up appointment I think Sunday or Monday when I got back to Seattle. The nurses there were super nice and the nurse practitioner was super nice. They basically validated how I was feeling, they did an ultrasound again and saw that my ovaries were so swollen that they were touching! There was still a lot of fluid build up too. I think what made it worse too was the medications from the procedure made me constipated. So with all that swelling from my ovaries and the constipation, I was also barely able to eat and constantly in pain from not enough room in my body.
The nurses [at Pacific Northwest] were just a lot more understanding so I felt better after that. After starting the laxatives too, it kind of helped with how swollen I was, and then I got a little better the days after that.
I'm glad you were able to meet with them and have a more positive experience. I'm sorry about those symptoms - those sound awful! So putting all that in perspective, you're still open to donating, just not with that same clinic? Is that based on your experience the first time and knowing how it can go?
Yeah, I think it's based on that and knowing that AsiaWest has my back and is always supportive. Like I understand that I have agency to make these decisions, whether or not I want to move forward with a clinic. With the first donation, since it was my first time, I was just going with what whatever and it ended up being a good experience. Maybe I would avoid public clinics for the future!
What kind of donation did you have? Anonymous? Semi-anonymous? Open?
I think for both they were anonymous. The first one the parents and I both wanted fully anonymous. The second one I think the intended parents were open to anonymous, but still in communication like emails. So for the second one I did agree to go on the donor registry. But for email, I wasn't sure about emailing them.
When you went into the donation, what sort of expectations did you have? Were things as expected or different? Is there anything you might've wanted to know going in as a first time donor?
Sometimes during the screening appointments at the actual clinic, like one of the first ones where you fly there, they do kind of walk you through all the hormones and egg retrieval process. But sometimes I feel like those clinics explain it very rushed, and if you were a first time donor that's a lot of information to take in. A little bit difficult to understand. One thing I liked about California Fertility Partners was they made the time to have the nurse show me how to do each of the injections, very detailed. The second time I think they just gave me a link for a video - which is useful too (they both gave me video links to refer back to) - but it's nice if they have a nurse actually showing you because it makes you feel a little bit more reassured in how to do it. I definitely think the medication part can be scary for first time donors. Even now, when I start the medications I get a little bit nervous, but I just get used to it.
Another thing I guess is going through symptoms more. I think that's when the nurses walk them through it. Most of the time they're just like, "There's a small chance that this could happen", but they don't explain those symptoms in depth. I understand why, maybe they don't want to scare people off, but people should definitely be aware of that.
And if the agency can let the donors know if you ever have anything you're uncomfortable with or any concerns at any point throughout the process, you can let us know and we can find action items for that. It might be a little bit difficult for first time donors to understand that they can make a complaint I guess, if they need to.
On that note, how did you find AsiaWest specifically and how did you feel about working with AsiaWest?
I think I found AsiaWest through Google search. First hearing about egg donation was through my friend, but she used a local clinic. So I was looking up some and I thought AsiaWest operates on the west coast, so there's opportunities for travel too. I really liked my experience with AsiaWest. I've definitely seen on the internet other people's experience with egg donation and they're not always good. Sometimes they're really great too. My experience with the agency itself has been really good.
In terms of compensation, how has that changed your life in any way?
It definitely has helped a lot. My first donation was when I was still in school, so I had tuition payments and things like that, that helped me graduate without owing any money to school and then some. It gave me a little extra time before I needed to find a full time job. Having that comfort of extra money that I made was really nice. And then with the recent donation, it's just pretty nice having a good amount of savings or being able to put aside money for something I want to save for or investments and things like that. Generally I feel a bit more stable, even though I do have a full time income now.
What would you say were some of the other motivations you had for egg donation?
What I mentioned earlier - you know I don't plan on having kids myself, at least not anytime soon. I understand that as women we produce a lot of eggs in our lifetime, so I don't feel any restrictions about donating a bunch. So if I could help another family have their own family that would be really nice.
I actually just heard back from Mara that my intended parents from my most recent donation found out they're pregnant!
That's really great to hear, because I think my first donation they might not have been successful. I'm very happy for them.
Another motivation, I also mentioned earlier how AsiaWest operates in the West Coast. I have gotten requests to donate in the Midwest too, which I thought was surprising, but those opportunities to travel are really cool. Because right now I work remotely, so it's no big deal for me to be somewhere else for two weeks.
Have you been able to bring along a friend as a support person on your
Yeah, so for the first one my support person was only there for the day before the retrieval, day of, and day after, and then we left. But I was still able to go out and do a couple things in L.A. The most recent one I had my housemate, she's my best friend, come with me for a week. That was really nice because we could go around.
What advice do you have for someone who's interested in becoming an egg donor? It's not a decision to take lightly. It seems like something really cool, and obviously I think compensation is a big thing on people's minds. It definitely does take a toll, but I think the reward is really good emotionally - feeling that sense of really helping someone. And the experience itself is totally new, you definitely grow from it. It's a good experience overall, but I don't know if just anyone could do it either!
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.