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The risk of egg donation

Women face fertility side effects and fear for future fertility after donating eggs

Eve Edelheit

Donating eggs isn't easy. There can be numerous complications, both physical and mental.

December 9, 2010 | 12:00 a.m. CST

“Egg Donors Needed — $5,000 per donation,” says an ad listed under the “et cetera jobs” section of the St. Louis-area craigslist.com.

Craigslist is filled with ads beckoning women to sell their eggs — and there are more than enough women generating these ads and hoping to buy those very eggs.

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Upon a closer search of Craigslist, potential donors will find that all of the ads on Missouri pages are marketing from out-of-state. The St. Louis post leads to Footsteps to Family agency, located in Las Vegas.

April Yates, assistant office manager at Mid-Missouri Reproductive Medicine & Surgery in Columbia, explains that though it doesn’t have an actual egg donation program here, it offers other services.

“Couples that come here can use donor eggs from an agency, and we’ll perform the in vitro procedures,” Yates says. “People can also come in with known donors, and we will often work with them if they meet certain criteria.”

Still, most agencies compensate donors for any travel costs accumulated during the cycle process. Ideally, financial costs for the donor herself should be eliminated, including transportation, missed workdays and food expenses during travel.

According to fertilitynation.com, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has capped financial compensation at $10,000 for one egg cycle, with the average being closer to $4,000 or $5,000.

Exceptions can be made for cases in which the receiving person or people are looking for highly specific donor characteristics.

There are other concerns beyond financial ones for potential egg donors. A 2008 study, originally published in the December issue of Fertility and Sterility as well as in U.S. News & World Report, found that about one in five women experience psychological effects as a result of egg donation. The articles noted that results were positive and negative.

Some women in the study, whose subjects averaged an age of 30.6, experienced physical effects, including ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome — sometimes a result of bad reactions to certain types of fertility medications.

“Women who reported physical problems with donation cited bloating, pain and cramping, ovarian hyperstimulation, mood changes and irritability,” U.S. News & World Report reports.

One of the biggest fears of egg donation is that it could lead to infertility later in life. Although this has not been proved, some women complain that filling the role of egg donor, even if many years ago, has an impact on their fertility today.

An article published at momlogic.com on Oct. 27, 2010, “Egg Donors: A High Price to Harvest,” featured women who made such claims, including a woman who suffered from a near-death experience and the onset of breathing trouble and kidney risk from ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome after donating 30 eggs.

Fortunately, the woman survived and helped her friend become pregnant, but these stories worry medical professionals who are critical of egg donation.

“Activists say that not enough research has been done on the long-term consequences of donating and that women are unknowingly putting their health in jeopardy for the promise of quick cash,” the article says.

Sometimes, the clinics themselves deny donors. Dallas resident Adrienne Hisbrook started the process of egg donation by sending her local clinic her family’s medical information and child photos of herself. But she was rejected a few weeks later after taking a psychological evaluation test.

“I never found out why exactly, but I’m pretty sure it was because I didn’t have an answer when she asked me what I would do if my biological spawn ever tracked me down and wanted to get to know me,” Hisbrook says.

Still, Hisbrook was not angry at the clinic, and she has no problems with the idea of donating eggs. “I would say, ‘Go for it,’” she says. “I don’t think it’s going to be any kind of life-changing experience. But it could make a huge difference to someone who can’t conceive, and you can make a few bucks in the process.”

On the other side of this exchange, women who are unhappy with or do not want to try the less-successful intrauterine insemination, in which a woman undergoes treatments to encourage the production of her own eggs, may undergo in vitro fertilization.

Augusta, the pseudonym of a woman and blogger from Ontario, Canada, is someone who attempted two cycles of IUI treatment without any success. Because her ovaries could not be stimulated to do an IUI cycle, she has decided to allow a friend to serve as her egg donor.

Although she is hopeful this treatment will work, she admits that her failed IUI treatments and attempts at pregnancy have had emotional and psychological effects on her.

“You start out with hope and worry, but you try to let the hope prevail,” Augusta says. “You get totally run down by the meds, appointments, stress of missing work and so on. Then, the procedure happens, and you wait in hope, and when it fails, you come crashing down. It is all very, very painful.”

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