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Students donate their eggs to aid infertile families
As she was growing up, friends of Taylor Ringenberg’s parents struggled to have children of their own; they turned to egg donation.
Ringenberg, junior photography major, saw how much the donation helped those families and, this October, applied online to ConceiveAbilities — an egg donor and surrogate agency based out of Chicago — to donate her own eggs. A few weeks after applying, Ringenberg received an acceptance letter as an approved donor.
“I remember thinking, ‘It’s always good to give back,” Ringenberg said. “You always should do what you can to give people happiness, and egg donation kind of fell into place. That’s what my mom’s friends referred to when they couldn’t have kids, and I thought it’d be a good thing to do.”
When considering donating eggs, the egg donor must also consider the idea of having a genetic child in which they have no relationship with — most clinics want to make sure the donor is completely comfortable with this. Similar to adoption, there is sometimes the option to choose an “open door” approach where the donor, the family and the child stay in contact; however, with egg donations, this route isn’t often taken.
“I’ll admit, it is a little weird (having kids without knowing them),” Ringenberg said. “When I told my dad he said, ‘I’m going to have a grandkid out there who I will never know and it won’t really be my grandkid.’ This child will be biologically mine, but that’s it. Emotional ties are none.”
Although the children who come from egg donation will have the DNA of the donor, genetics is not what makes someone a parent, Sarah Williams, senior video production major, said. Williams first heard about egg donation through a family friend four years ago. Since then, she’s been looking into the option of donating her eggs. For Williams, giving her eggs away makes the most sense.
“I feel there’s not much use for my eggs otherwise. I don’t want children and, if I ever do, I’m more interested in adopting than bearing one,” Williams said. “So doing something useful with my eggs and also helping people who can’t conceive is the best option.”
When Ringenberg told her family and friends of her decision, she received mixed reactions. Some believed it to be very unnatural and felt she was selling herself. Many changed their view and supported her after she shared her feelings about donating and gave more information on how it works. Williams is still only in the research process and hasn’t fully dedicated herself to being a donor, and hasn’t told her parents she is looking into it.
“I don’t think my parents would like it much, but I don’t feel it’s their say,” Williams said. “I’d tell them eventually, but I feel like it would give them an uncertain or unsettled feeling.”
Egg donation is an extensive process, and donors must commit to a minimum of six months to complete it. To apply, Ringenberg had to provide detailed family background information, write an essay about her desire to donate, submit photos of herself and send in her most recent results from the OB-GYN. Once accepted, she was interviewed in a conference call. Ringenberg is in the company’s data base for her eggs to be chosen by parents. Now she waits.
Through this particular company, Ringenberg will stay in their system for up to six months. If she is not chosen by then, she will have to reapply. Once a donor is chosen, the process becomes more complex. When a couple decides they want a donor’s eggs, the donor would go through psychological consults and have blood work done—this is to ensure she is healthy and doesn’t have any mental or genetic disorders the recipients wouldn’t want passed on to the child.
After the testing, the donor would start taking birth control to match the receiver’s menstrual cycle. When the two women are sufficiently synced, the donor would have to personally inject hormones for about 21 days to fully mature her eggs during ovulation, Ringenberg said.
When the donor’s eggs are ready to be removed, they must go into surgery to take the eggs out. They are then frozen and sent to the recipient mother-to-be.
This process is specific to ConceiveAbilities; other agencies may have a slightly different approach. Ringenberg said she chose this company because she felt safe with them. For Williams, the search for the right company has been more difficult.
“Other (agencies), were very strict about college education, no smoking, this height, this weight, this hair color, these genetics,” Williams said. “I kind of gave up on the idea because I didn’t fit their criteria.”
A common question is whether or not the donor will be able to have children of their own after the process, Ringenberg said. Giving eggs does not leave the woman sterile, but there is the risk that eggs left in the donor may not be as fertile as the ones donated; often times, however, there aren’t many issues with having kids later in life. There can be side affects though, from the hormone treatments.
“From research and what the company has told me, the only side effects are really just PMS symptoms,” Ringenberg said. “Bloating, headaches, more irritation than usual. I’ll be really cranky and people shouldn’t get on my bad side.”
Egg donors receive compensation for their time and effort. Each company differs in how much they offer their donors, though the American Society for Reproductive Medicine states it is unethical to compensate a donor with more than $10,000. Ringenberg will start out at $7,000; if she donates more than once, the amount could rise but will not exceed $10,000. Eggs from Asian, Indian and Jewish women are in high demand, so donors of those backgrounds may be compensated with a higher amount. Though the money is often a factor when a woman decides to be a donor or not, Ringenberg said money was not the main reason she opted to give her eggs.
“Make sure this is something you want to do, not because you want the money,” Ringenberg said. “That’s no reason to do this. Compensation is not even half of the joy it is to give because you want to.”
Both Ringenberg and Williams said if a woman is interested in being an egg donor, she should do her research first to make sure it’s right for her. Williams said she almost stopped thinking about donating because she couldn’t find the right company fit for her. She then found one that suited her needs.
“Do the research … It’s not hard to find, especially if you know someone who has or is thinking about doing it, because they’ve probably already done the research,” Williams said. “I thought it was hopeless for me until Taylor told me about this new place. Just got to keep looking.”