Last year Leigh-ann Griffiths, mum to three school-aged children, decided to donate some of her eggs. Here she shares her diary of the process – the lessons learned and the big ups and downs of helping strangers become parents.
I spent a long time trying to decide whether or not to write about my egg donor experience. It’s a tricky one, because it’s an incredibly personal choice. I worried that people might think that I was writing it to get a pat on the back, which is definitely not the case. I wrote this because I think it might be of interest to many of you for various different reasons.
Having our children was easy for us. We’d plan a baby, then have one. I was pregnant four times and ended up with three healthy children – a textbook case as the statistics tell us that one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage. I’ve always thought that it must be the most heartbreaking journey to want a child and not be able to have one. I simply cannot imagine how painful that must be.
I’ve often thought about donating my eggs and discussed it with my husband a few times, but one night last year I decided that it was time to do something about it. After a quick Google, I filled out an online form and the process was started. Well, it wasn’t quite that simple. I had phone interviews, blood tests, doctors visits, counselling… but eventually we got to the stage where I selected my recipient couple from their profile and we were ready to meet.
Here is my diary from that time.
Monday 27 February.
Meeting the recipient couple was so nerve-wracking and awkward! How do you start up a conversation with people who are strangers about such personal matters? They were lovely though, and it was such a honour to meet them. I’m so pleased that my husband could come with me. As much as this process is about me and my body, he also has a say. He has been nothing but supportive, and I’m not sure if I can begin to describe how much it means to me to know that he is always in my corner.
Thursday 13th April.
I started my injections today. I’ve been feeling nervous about it for a few days now. I sat in the bathroom for a few minutes (with ever-supportive hubby on hand to give me moral support) before finally working up the courage to actually inject myself. It wasn’t too bad though – a big build up for nothing!
Sunday 16th April.
I added another injection to my routine today, and this one was a little more intimidating as it’s an actual syringe as opposed to the pen-style injections, and has a longer needle. But apart from a bit of aching afterwards, it was OK. Now I’m having one injection in the morning and one in the evening. My poor tummy is feeling like a pin cushion!
Wednesday 19th April.
First bloods and scan today, which showed that I have 21 follicles merrily growing away in my ovaries at the moment – no wonder I’m so bloated! I’m carrying on with the same medication regime and checking again in a few days. I’m feeling so hopeful!
Friday 21st April
I had a scan and a blood test today, and the results weren’t great. It turns out that one of my eggs has been growing at a much greater rate than the rest of them – while my other follicles were measuring 10mm, the lead one measured over 20mm. This is not good, and means that my cycle has been cancelled. While I’m disappointed, I’m heartbroken thinking about what my recipient couple are going through. I feel like this has been a long process – it’s taken almost a year from when I first contacted the fertility clinic up until this point. I was excited to think that in a week or so, it’d all be done. This is such a selfish way to look at it – couples who are going through fertility treatment are often on a journey which has taken them years, and the cycle of hope and disappointment must be devastating. I have so much admiration for the tenacity and resilience the people going through this process show. Onwards and upwards though – I’m waiting for an appointment at the fertility clinic to talk over what we need to do to get started on Attempt#2. Wish us luck!
Thursday 4th May
Waiting, waiting! I have an appointment at the clinic on the 2nd June, but that just seems like so far away. I just want to get started again, but I’m still not back to normal after ending the injections. I’m still very bloated and crampy every day. I never thought I’d be looking forward to getting my period as much as I am right now! I feel so much empathy and sympathy for my recipient couple at the moment – I really feel like I’ve let them down.
Sunday 27th August.
Here we go again! Take two. Jab one down…
Tuesday 29th August.
I’m starting with a new medication to inject this morning, and it’s a thicker needle. This baby takes a fair amount of pressure to get through my skin which is a bit disconcerting. I’m pretty sure this one is going to leave a bruise. Hopefully I’ll get the hang of it quickly otherwise I’m going to be black and blue in a few days.
Friday 1st September.
Blood tests and scan this morning – both have to be completed by 8.30 which makes it a bit of a juggle with my family. The radiology clinic is half an hour away from home, and the lab for my blood test doesn’t open till 8am, so I feel like it’s a mad dash to get everything done, but we get there. I’ve got lots of lovely follicles growing, and they all seem to be of a similar size – fingers crossed that we manage to avoid a repeat of last time.
Monday 4th September.
Scan and bloods, round two. The scan shows that those follicles are growing just the way they should – the technician thinks she can count around 27! I’m mostly feeling OK, but my clients at work must think I’m going through menopause because I keep having hot flushes. Most inconvenient when you’re in the midst of counselling someone!
Wednesday 6th September.
This week is starting to drive me a little crazy. My children had a teacher’s only day on Monday, and one was off school sick yesterday. I ended up taking him to the doctor last night because his temperature was out of control. The poor wee button has tonsilitis and is pretty miserable. I really do feel sorry for him, but there’s a part of me that wants to scream…I just don’t have time for this! I’m trying to juggle work, school stuff, a husband who is crazy busy at work, a sick child, jabbing myself twice and day and fitting in blood tests and scans. It’s all getting on top of me today, so it was welcome news when the clinic got in touch with me after my scan this morning to tell me that egg collection will be on Friday. I know this is very selfish, but I’m ready for this to be over now.
Thursday 7th September
I’m HUGE!! I literally look I’m six months pregnant.
Friday 8th September
Today is the big day. We head down to Wellington. I was under orders not to eat anything from midnight Thursday and to take three Panadol at 10am. We had to be at the clinic at 10.15am. I was so nervous! After being weighed (I’m 5kgs heavier than usual…those are some weighty eggs! God, I hope it’s the eggs…)
I get a line put in my arm and I’m given a very stylish gown to change into. I have a quick chat with an embryologist who double checks that I still want to go through with the whole thing. I’m shown the profile of the recipient couple again to make sure that we’ve got the right people. Soon after that we head into the procedure room. I was feeling more or less OK until I was faced with the sight that makes any female balk…stirrups. Oh god, this is all a bit real now.
Up on the table, some friendly chit chat from the lovely doctor and nurses and we’re starting. I’m given a light sedative that makes the room spin for a minute, but soon enough we’re chatting again about snacks and weekend plans. The collection itself is a bit painful, but nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be and it was all over really quickly.
Before I know it, I’m up and walking back to our little cubicle to recover with a cup of tea, a couple of biscuits, and the news that they managed to collect 25 eggs. I’m over the moon…fingers crossed at least one of those suckers grows into a lovely little embryo over the next wee while.
Our journey home was uneventful, but I was shattered by the time we got home and went straight for a nap. I was a bit uncomfortable for the rest of the evening – kind of like bad period pain combined with a really weird pressure so I take another couple of panadol before bed.
Saturday 9th September
I woke up today feeling absolutely fine! In fact, I helped stack our newly delivered load of firewood early this morning. That may have been a step too far too soon though because I’ve now had to take a couple of panadol and I’m spending the rest of the afternoon binge watching old episodes of Sex and the City and coveting Carrie’s wardrobe and Charlotte’s hair.
And peeing. Oh my god, I don’t think I’ve ever peed as much as I have today – maybe all the fluid that I’ve been holding onto?
I feel like it was a privilege to go through this experience. The frustrations, impatience, disappointments…they were all just a small glimpse of what a couple going through infertility deal with. I’m a big believer in putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and this journey has definitely given me so much respect and empathy for the silent path walked by those who are going through infertility treatment.
Would I do it again? I don’t know. I’d do it for someone I know in a heartbeat. Absolutely 100 percent. I just don’t know if I’d do it again for strangers. Maybe…I’m just not sure. It’s hard – emotionally and physically. I’d love to say yes, but I’m 37, so I’m at the upper limit of the age preferred for donors anyway. I’ve had to rely on friends and family to help out with my children while I’ve been doing this. If I were to do it again, I’d have to seriously consider the impact that it has on all of those around me.
What happens next? Well, the rest of the story isn’t mine to tell. Whether or not the recipient couple have a baby is their tale, not mine. I wish them all the best and send them all the luck in the world. They deserve it. We know, however, that having children isn’t determined by what is fair. There are far too many couples who would make wonderful parents who are on waiting lists for IVF, donors, surrogates and adoption.
More information about egg donation from the Ministry of Health
You can donate sperm or eggs to someone you know, or you can contact a fertility clinic to apply to be a donor for someone you don’t know. If you’re considering donating eggs or sperm, you should contact a fertility clinic to find out what’s involved.
Donors in New Zealand cannot be paid. You’ll usually be repaid for costs you incur during treatment — the fertility clinic will confirm what’s covered. If you become a donor, you have to provide identity information to the fertility clinic, and this information will be included on the Human Assisted Reproductive Technology (HART) register if a child is born from your donation.
The HART register lets people conceived from donated embryos, eggs or sperm find out about their genetic origins and ask to find out about any others conceived from the same donor. Donors can ask to find out the name of any children born from their donation, but the child has to be 18 or older and give permission.
To become an egg donor, you generally have to:
- be between 20 and 37
- be a non smoker
- have a Body Mass Index in the healthy range
- agree to release identifying information about yourself to any children conceived from your eggs (this is a legal requirement).
As part of the egg donation process, you’ll have:
- a number of blood tests
- ultrasound scans to check your reproductive system
- IVF treatment to stimulate egg production
- surgery to harvest your eggs.
You also have to have at least two counselling sessions. These are usually with a counsellor at the fertility clinic, and must include your partner if you’re in a relationship. You can choose to put restrictions on who can use your eggs. For more information visit the Ministry of Health page on egg and sperm donation.
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Leigh-ann Griffiths is mum to three school-aged children, wife to a military husband, and a trained counsellor. She can usually be found avoiding housework with the help of a good book and likes nothing more than a nice glass of red. You can find her blog at dorothynada.com.
For more information about Egg Donation in New Zealand contact Fertility Associates.
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