For decades, the fertility industry has sought out young and healthy women to donate eggs. Previously, they advertised in college newspapers, sponsored results on search engines, and other traditional methods. But with the rise of social media, they have taken to TikTok. Out of all social media platforms, TikTok has a far younger audience, with 32.5% of their audience aged 10-19 and 29.5% of their audience aged 20-29. Egg donation clinics are notorious for preying on young women, especially broke college students, to donate to their clinics.
However, these clinics are not taking donations in the charitable sense. These donations are paid – and lucrative. In exchange for their eggs, donors are paid anywhere from $4,000 to $60,000, with some specific donors claiming that they were paid even more. At the end of the day, this is a transaction, and the advertisements shown to potential donors make that clear. In fact, in the comments of many TikTok posts promoting the process, they utilize tags such as #debtfreecommunity and #financialfreedom. Many of the posts promoting this even discuss what the money can be used for, with some citing lavish vacations, paid off student loan debt, or designer handbags.
Is It a Donation or a Marketplace?
Financial freedom and independence are goals for so many young women. For these women, egg donation is especially tempting, as it appears easy. Based on these posts, it would seem as if you simply have to fill out the form, go to the doctor, lay down on a table, and let them remove your eggs. However, this process is actually quite invasive, involved, and time-consuming. The process of donating your eggs can take up to three months. During this process, you complete an application, go through a screening process, then go through egg retrieval.
The application to donate your eggs itself is incredibly long. It requires you to provide demographic information, religious information, your medical history, and your family’s medical history. Based on your responses, the clinic will determine how much your eggs are worth, and whether or not they are worth buying at all. Does this sound like a donation? If you were to donate food to a food bank, they would only care if the food is safe to eat, not if it is of the highest quality.
The reason there is this difference is because egg donation is a marketplace. When you are given your eggs’ value, they are putting a price on you and your genetics. This is a dehumanizing process. Furthermore, when the family goes to select your eggs, they are shown a catalog with your statistics, pictures, and information. Then, when you move on to the matching phase of the process, the family who uses your eggs is not given them for free. They pay a price, which is actually higher than the price the donor is paid, meaning that the clinic is making a hefty profit on your eggs.
Undergoing Egg Retrieval
When you begin the medical process of donating your eggs, you have to undergo egg retrieval, which is the first step in IVF, or in vitro fertilization. This procedure was designed for couples struggling with infertility to help them conceive, but is also used in egg donation. When a couple seeks out IVF for infertility, they are often older or have some sort of medical reason why they cannot conceive. In contrast, egg donors are incredibly young, with most being between 18 and 25, far younger than the average IVF patient, who is 35.5. Due to this, those who donate eggs are more likely to suffer ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). When this happens, the clinic that previously gave you lots of money may not foot the bill. Since OHSS is severe, often requires hospitalization, and can put your life in danger, this medical bill can end up being even more expensive than the payout that the clinic gives you for your eggs.
Even if you do not suffer this complication, when you undergo egg retrieval, you are required to give yourself a series of injections, that you take several times every single day, that are full of hormones. These hormones are at much higher doses than those in hormonal birth control. Even at the levels in birth control pills, women can have severe side effects. When the levels are higher, as they are during egg retrieval, there are many painful side effects. In several TikToks, egg donors themselves have complained about pain, nausea, and emotional unrest. One TikToker even discussed how after the process ended, she had an incredibly difficult menstrual period.
When you finish the series of injections, and your eggs are ready for retrieval, you then undergo a surgical procedure. For this process, women are given anesthesia, while the eggs are removed via suction. After the eggs are removed, they are evaluated to see their quality. Then, the eggs are placed into a petri dish, mixed with sperm – sometimes donor sperm and sometimes the sperm of the father of the purchasing couple – and an embryo is conceived. After this, the embryo is implanted into the womb of the purchasing mother, and the baby develops (hopefully). However, since IVF produces many eggs and/or many embryos at once, not every embryo is used, and most are placed in deep freeze. Eventually, these eggs and/or embryos may be discarded by the purchasing parents and bought by another couple, used in medical research, abandoned, or destroyed entirely.
Later Down the Road
For the egg donor, it may seem as if this process ends when the cycle completes. However, for the egg, it does not. In all of these advertisements, there is constant discussion about payment and how egg donation can make families happy. This leaves one important part out – that egg donation creates a baby, a living human being, who will go through a full life. This baby is 50% the genetic material of the donor, and at the end of the day, the donor is the biological mother.
These babies become children, then adults, and many of them long for their genetic parents. This leaves them with an identity crisis and pain. For a long time, donors had the option to remain private and never interact with their donor-conceived children. But now, with the rise of home DNA tests, such as AncestryDNA and 23AndMe, many donor-conceived people are taking these tests to find out who they are. Then, they go on to try and reach out to their biological parents, and some even demand relationships. This means that the casual donation you made to pay off a bill is now suddenly an adult and wants a real relationship with you, their mother.
Since egg donation is done by fertility clinics, there is not a lot known about the long-term ramifications of the process. There have been some studies that hint that egg donation may lead to cancer. Since fertility clinics have suppressed this research, there has yet to be a large-scale study on the severity of this risk. For this reason, the advertisements themselves often claim that this is misinformation, but since these small studies and anecdotes have not been disproven, this is manipulating the truth to suit their monetary agendas.
At the end of the day, these fertility clinics are predatory. They are seeking out young women in bad financial positions to donate to their clinics without giving them proper context on what they are going to endure. For any medical procedure, you should be given proper informed consent about the risks. In this sphere, there is a massive incentive to avoid giving women accurate information, as many people would not want to go through this process if they knew the reality of what it looked like. This is not a temporary fix for a painful moment, this is a procedure that will affect you, and the life of your baby, forever.
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