8 Surprising Facts About Egg Donors

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), typical ...

One of the more neglected purposes of this blog is to share information (and dispel myths) about makin’ gaybies.  I want to educate people about my family – and at the same time help prospective parents, gay or straight, who might be exploring their own fertility options.

A while back, I posted about some common misperceptions of surrogacy and why Drew and I chose that path, and now I want to share some information about the other part of the equation: the egg donor.

Admittedly, our situation is somewhat unique.  Our egg donor was my partner’s sister, Susie.  (Yes, I contributed the sperm.)  But before Susie made her offer, we were planning to use an anonymous egg donor, which is what most gay dads pursuing gestational surrogacy do – and understandably so.  Not everyone has as wonderful a sister-in-law as Susie, and for various reasons, not everyone wants to have such close ties to their egg donor (ahem, Modern Family characters).

If your fertility plans involve an egg donor or if you’re just curious about the process, here are a few facts I learned while Drew and I were exploring our options:

1. Egg donors are young.

The ideal donor is in her late teens to mid-20s.  Yes, late teens.  (OK, very late teens – I never saw anyone younger than 19.)  It came as a bit of a shock to me and Drew that our child could be getting half of his or her DNA from Gossip Girl.  When we saw their pictures, it reminded us just how young 19 actually is.  They had acne and awkward grins, wore baggy college sweatshirts and put their hair in pigtails.  Susie was 28 when she donated.  Compared to the women in the database, she was practically over the hill.

2. Your children will most likely never meet their egg donor.

If you’re adopting a child, you have the option of an “open” adoption, where the birth mother maintains some form of mutually agreed-upon contact with the child throughout his or her life.  Dan Savage recounts his open adoption wonderfully in his book The Kid, a must-read for all prospective gay dads or anyone considering adoption.

I loved the idea of open adoption.  There’s no shame, no secrecy and the kid never has to go through that pain of feeling like they don’t know where they really came from.  When we started to lean toward surrogacy, I was hoping we could do some kind of “open” surrogacy.

We learned pretty quickly that there’s no such thing.  When we asked our agency if we could stay in touch with the egg donor, they seemed startled.  It wasn’t something anyone – intended parents or egg donors – ever requested, and they were pretty sure no donor would agree to it.

These were young women, after all, most of whom wanted to have their own kids someday.  They didn’t want someone else’s kids tracking them down and calling them “Mommy”.  In fact, just to become egg donors they had to divorce themselves of any feeling of kinship with their eggs.  It was like donating blood.  You’re happy to know it went to good use, but you don’t need details from the people who received it.

3. Unlike sperm, eggs are only donated “on demand”.

Sperm donors make their deposits (and get paid) not knowing if anyone will ever use their sperm.  That’s because sperm is plentiful, easy to produce (fun, too!), and cheap to store.  Eggs are none of those things.  If you become an egg donor, you go through testing (both medical and psychological) to make sure you’re equipped to donate.  Then… you wait.  Your name, photo and vital info goes into a database, and someday, if someone picks you, you get a call that it’s go time.

You could sign up to donate eggs and never actually get picked by any prospective parents (which means you never get paid).  Anonymous egg donation is definitely not for anyone who’s afraid of rejection.

4. Egg donation is a big time commitment.

A sperm donor can start and finish his job in pretty much the amount of time it takes him to open a Victoria’s Secret catalogue or press “PLAY” on a DVD.  But egg donors don’t have dozens of eggs on hand at any given time that they can just drop off at a fertility clinic on a whim.  They need to prepare themselves physically. That means about six weeks of medication.

First, there’s birth control to synch her cycle up to the surrogate’s.  The only way a pregnancy can occur is if the surrogate’s body is prepared to take over right where the egg donor’s left off.

Next, the egg donor is required to take hormones to stimulate egg development.  These need to be self-injected.  To someone as squeamish as me, that sounds excruciating, but our fertility doctor assured us that he’d never had a donor drop out because of the medication.  The side effects are usually mild – bloating, moodiness, that sort of thing.

Then, there’s the actual procedure, which you do in a doctor’s office and which takes about 10-15 minutes.  It’s not anything too horrible, but it’s not like retrieving sperm, for sure.

5. There’s generally less anonymity for egg donors than sperm donors.  

Once eggs are donated, they’re fertilized immediately (extras are frozen for later attempts) and transferred to a surrogate 3-5 days later.  Most sperm donors never encounter their intended parents first-hand, but egg donors don’t have that luxury.  You’ll probably be bumping into each other at the fertility clinic anyway, so many agencies will let you meet and interview prospective egg donors before making your decision.

Even if you don’t meet them in person, the database tends to give you their first name, an extensive bio, pictures and a video of them talking, all of which you can later pass on to your kids if you choose.

6. The standard rate for egg donors is $8,000. 

Egg donors earn a lot more than sperm donors, because of all the extra trouble they have to go through.  Their standard rate is $8,000 per “harvest”.  (The cost to the intended parents is greater, because they’re also paying for all the medical fees and medication.)

Still, $8,000 isn’t a fortune, and unlike sperm donors, egg donors are limited in how often they can donate.  The whole process can take six months, which means you’d be lucky to donate twice a year.  People don’t donate eggs to get rich.  They usually do it to pay for a couple of credits at college and to help infertile couples in the process.

7. The world of egg donors is the Wild West of the fertility landscape.

Well, OK, maybe a few women are making big bucks on their eggs.  That’s because egg donation is not currently regulated by the government.  The $8,000 fee, although fairly standard, is only a suggested retail price.  Individual agencies and donors are free to mark up as they see fit.  One agency I found online advertised “premium” egg donors – ones with Ivy League degrees, high IQs, athletic awards, etc.  A couple of them had donated their eggs more than ten times.  They also charged premium rates – some as much as $30,000 per harvest.

This represents a very small minority of egg donors, but it happens.

8. The pool is limited. 

Anyone who thinks the process of egg donation is akin to genetic engineering or eugenics is vastly overestimating the amount of choice available.  It’s more like trying to find your future wife in a bar and having only the patrons of that particular bar at that time available to you.

Given the commitment required of donors, it’s no surprise that relatively few women volunteer.   Our agency’s database had about 40-70 donors at any given time.  Not a ton – and even worse if you’re looking for a certain race or ethnicity.  Our agency had 1-2 African-Americans, 1-2 Asians.  Sure, there are dozens of other agencies you can locate with a quick Google search, but once you find someone you like, you have to make sure she’s available.  She could be “on hold” for another couple or in the process of donating to someone else.  That could lock her up for six months or longer.

Meanwhile, your surrogate may not be very patient while you wait for your dream donor to appear.  In fact, Drew and I were turned down by a potential surrogate who was uncomfortable with how long it was taking us to find a donor.  (This was part of what ultimately led us to Susie, so it ended up being a good thing.)

If you’re interested in helping infertile couples and non-traditional families like mine, egg donation is a wonderful gift you can give someone.

You’ll need to be interested in more than just making money, though.  The cash you do make, you really have to earn.  It won’t be enough to change your life, because part of the reward is knowing how much you’ve changed someone else’s.

Twins – Then and Now

One of the dumbest decisions I ever made was to play the trombone, in fourth grade.  I was a short kid, and the instrument’s case was as big as I was.  On band days, I would carry my bookbag to school in one hand, the trombone in the other.  I would make it about twenty feet along the sidewalks of my suburb, then I’d have to stop, take a break and switch hands.  I did this all the way to school.  Almost two miles, each way.

A Alto Trombone

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I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the perfect preparation for raising twins.

There have been many times over the last two years I’ve thought back to that determined little boy on his way to band practice to summon some strength I wasn’t sure I had.

In fifth grade, I switched to the trumpet, which was a bit lighter and less cumbersome.  And that’s about where I am now.  Still making that endless trek to school, but with a bit of a lighter load.

Raising twins is all about adapting, to their needs and to each stage they go through.  Reading this post from MamaDeuce, I realized how much things have changed since they were younger.  Things really do go much smoother now.

So here’s a look at what my life was like back then, when my kids were 6 months old and now, when they’re 2.

FEEDING:

THEN: I insisted on feeding my kids simultaneously.  Otherwise, by the time one finished, it’d already be time to feed the next one, and I’d never get a break.  This was back when the kids couldn’t even sit up on their own, so I had to prop them against a Boppy.  It was not easy, but eventually, I perfected the one-handed double-feed technique.

NOW: I prep their food, and then they feed themselves.  That gives me 20 minutes or so when I can wash dishes, write blog posts or just hang out with them.  When I don’t feel like “cooking” (i.e., cutting up strawberries and pulling the tops off yogurt cups), I order pizza.  On those nights, we have a pizza party, where I sit and eat with them and we talk about our day.  Pizza parties are my favorite.

MOBILITY:

THEN:  It’s impossible to keep two squirmy babies within emergency distance of you at all times, so I cheated.  I built Boppy barricades in the living room (just like MamaDeuce) to keep them penned in.  Boppies, of course, are intended for breastfeeding, but dads, I assure you you’ll find practical uses for them, too.

NOW:  There’s no barricade that can hold those two tiny steamrollers these days, but thankfully, I don’t need to watch them quite as closely.  Sometimes they’ll both play on their own quietly in the next room.  But if it gets too quiet, it’s time to check on them, pronto.

PARKS:

THEN: Parks are the scariest place to take young twins alone, because we all know that’s where the pervs are.  There are also streets kids can run into, dogs that can bite, jungle gyms they can fall off and a million other dangers kids don’t recognize because they’re so excited to be at a place where you let them go totally ape-poopy.  When my kids were younger, we only went to one park, which had a fenced-in toddler playground that was about twenty feet by twenty feet.  That was about as much freedom as the three of us collectively could handle.

NOW:  We go to a slightly larger park, but this one’s fenced, too.  When Bennett and Sutton go in different directions, I stand in the middle and keep one eye on each of them, then dart into action if somebody’s about to get clocked by a swing.  We have strict rules about never leaving the playground when some yahoo parent leaves the gate open… because, let’s face it, parents of singletons just don’t get it.

ATTENTION SPAN:

THEN: At six months old, their attention span, at its best, was about 30 seconds.  That’s how long they could listen to a book or play with a toy before they’d get distracted or cranky.  That meant that every day, I was programming roughly 1,200 activities.  Or at least it felt that way.  Thankfully, they napped a lot.

NOW: An activity can last a whopping 15 minutes, and at a good stretch, 30.  It’s Heaven.

The exception, at both 6 months and 2 years, has been TV.  I know the experts say it causes ADD, but so far, it’s only had the opposite effect.  My kids can maintain interest in TV for about ten times longer than any other activity.   I try not to take advantage of this, but if I need to do some real cooking (i.e., making brownies) or make a phone call, I flip on the magic box and I can have up to an hour if I need it.

NAPS:

THEN: They took two naps a day, each about 1 1/2 – 2 hours long.  I also took two naps a day, each about 1 1/2 – 2 hours long.  Drew and I synchronized their sleep schedules as soon as we could, and that remains the best decision we have yet made as parents.  If you have twins, MAKE SURE THEY SLEEP AT THE SAME TIME.  Trust me.  You can do it, and it’s worth it.

NOW: They nap once a day, for about 2 hours, but on rare occasions as long as 3.  I’m no longer so exhausted that I need to take my own nap, so I actually use their snooze time to get some writing done.

BATHS:

THEN:  We bathed the kids together and propped them up in bath rings.  That helped keep them safe and minimize squirming.  Bathing was always a two-man job, with Drew standing inside the tub washing one tushie and me sitting on the rim, washing the other.

NOW: We used those bath rings until the kids were 2 years old, which I’m pretty sure is the world record.  That’s around when bathing finally became a one-Daddy job.  Thankfully, Drew usually ends up being that Daddy.  That’s my reward for making it through the day.

SHOPPING:

THEN: Parents of singletons, it must be nice using shopping carts.  There are very few two-seater carts out there, so I would take my kids in the double stroller to Target or Trader Joe’s, then load up the stroller canopy with groceries.  I’d watch it sag down over their soft, tiny heads as I added more stuff, and when it seemed like an avalanche was imminent, I headed for the cashier – fast.

NOW: It’s pretty much the same, although usually, Drew goes to Ralph’s on his way home.

TRANSPORTATION:

THEN: Snap N Go car seats are supposed to be a convenience for the new mom.  But for a parent of twins, they’re a workout.  I used to carry those two seats down to my garage, with a diaper bag slung over my shoulder.  It was almost exactly like the trombone/bookbag scenario. I kept a spare t-shirt in the car at all times for days when I was just too sweaty to carry on.

NOW: I announce, “Time to go!  Grab your pacifier and your lovey and meet me at the door!”  And with some prodding, they actually do it.  We hold hands in the garage so everyone stays close, and when we climb into the car, Bennett jumps into the front seat and fiddles with the CD player and the hazard lights, giving me time to strap Sutton in.

So to new parents of twins, know that the job is manageable and that, to borrow a phrase from Dan Savage, it gets better.  Sometimes I meet a pregnant woman who’s expecting twins and who is terrified.  She asks me how I’ve managed to handle mine without having a nervous breakdown.

For them – and for all of you out there wondering, my advice is simple: Do what you can do, and when you need to, just take a break and switch hands.