It seems not a week goes by without hearing from someone who has been harmed by either egg “donation” or surrogacy. Today is no different. This morning I sat down at my desk and began reading a story from Leah who sold her eggs in June of this year for $7,000.
I asked Leah how she found me and she said she went to the internet to do research on women who had complications from this procedure. She saw the word “Eggsploitation” and thought, this sounds like what I’m looking for.
I’m just off the phone with her, providing her with a number of our great resources to help her begin the process of making sense out of her ongoing health complications. I share her story below because more and more people need to be informed in order to help us stop the eggsploitation of women.
Please read Leah’s story, tell me what you think, and pass it onto others!
My name is Leah. I donated my eggs in June. When I originally submitted my application to the fertility clinic I was very healthy, active, and thin, enjoying a promotion after three years of working for the same company as an esthetician. My husband and I were hoping to pay off some debt acquired from our wedding.
Everything seemed to be on the up and up. The clinic was eager to have me as a client and the day I was submitted I was selected. During my ultra sound visits the doctors mentioned I had a lot of eggs and praised me for it. They said they would take every precaution, and I was in good hands. Never once was hyper stimulation mentioned.
I had done my research prior on the recovery and drawbacks. There was only one, hyper stimulation, all results said less than 1%, not fatal, and recovery was relatively short. If that was the worst that could happen, and it wouldn’t happen to me, what’s to lose?
Looking back, I should’ve dug deeper.
During the process I became aggravated by the disorganization and lack of appropriate responsiveness of my sponsor. On top of that, I had to travel far for my checkups, even though I was told they would mostly be done locally. When I did them at a local clinic, the doctor questioned me rather oddly about my doctor. At another clinic that I went to when I took a short vacation, the doctor did the count and the nurse at one point asked, “do I continue?” as if shocked the count kept going up. I was new to all of this stuff, and because no one spoke up about any concerns, I figured it was fine. Surely, they were doctors . . . someone would have spoken up?
So I continued to trust them even though I questioned the professionalism of my sponsor (also the doctor’s wife.)
All signs pointed to a healthy retrieval until my last visits. I could tell everyone at the clinic, except the doctors, were behaving oddly towards me. I shrugged it off as something personal in the workplace.
Three days prior to my retrieval the nurse told me voluntarily, “You’re going to look pregnant and . . . you’re going to feel like you want to die.”
The second day another nurse told me to “expect to take 7 days off work to recover because of how many eggs you have.” I had already set my time off for work to 4 days and that was on the safe side. They originally told me no more that 3. I didn’t express it, but I was annoyed. The day before, the fill-in doctor told me, “Expect some mild period like cramping and bloating. You’ll be fine though.” That probably should have put me at ease, but at this point it just confused the sh*t out of me (sorry, that’s the best way to state it).
The day of retrieval, I’m in the bed, in my gown, with all my hookups. I haven’t seen my doctor in my more recent visits. When he appears, he tells me “You can’t drink water. Don’t worry about eating, and you will need 7 days to recover. The worst is yet to come.”
I asked him how many eggs he expected to retrieve (I asked this on prior visits too and they always said they wouldn’t know until retrieval.) He said I had a lot, but he won’t know the exact count until after. What could I do? Rip everything out, run, and pile on more debt after all this effort? No. I shrugged my head obviously annoyed but compliant.
Immediately after my retrieval, I felt fine. I was concerned about the no water thing. I didn’t know about that. I did know I was sensitive to sugar and my only alternatives were packed with it. I get headaches easily from it.
After my retrieval, I was bed bound for ten days and unable to go to work until day twelve. The second day, I couldn’t sleep, and I was dizzy and nauseated every three hours when my nausea medication wore off. I was only capable of holding down a bite of banana and coconut water. Banana, because everything else burned and made me vomit.
By day four I couldn’t hold down any food or liquid. I kept following up with the doctor and he told me, whatever you do, don’t go to the ER. He wanted me to come back to his clinic, a two-hour drive away. I could barely stand, let alone make a car ride.
Day five, my husband had taken the day off on sick leave for me. We attempted to make it to the clinic, but I started to seize dry heave uncontrollably. My husband had no choice and rushed me to the ER. At this point, while my husband is on the phone with the clinic giving them updates, the nurse finally states “she is hyper stimulating.” I didn’t know what the hell was happening except my body was failing.
At the ER they gave me some fluids as I was severely dehydrated. The doctor warned all water would expand my abdomen, which at this point was fully extended. They injected me with three forms of anti-nausea medication. None worked, and they couldn’t release me because I was unable to get up. The doctor then gave me a shot of Advent, used during labor. That drug was awesome. It allowed me to sleep three hours, the most I had slept in five days. It probably saved my life too.
Mostly likely because of IV fluid and sleep, I was able to make the trip to Newport (my husbands second day of my sick leave.) The nurse that checked me in made the comment, “I’m sorry, but I’ve never seen someone who’s donated so many eggs.” I asked her, how many did I donate? 52.
When the doctor arrived, he said he’d seen worse. He was annoyed (probably because it was his day off and that I had gone to the ER the day before).
By this time, I had physically lost weight and started to feel the nerves in my back, which prevented me from sitting comfortably or laying down (I am naturally thin at 5’ 8 ½” and 118 lbs.). There was so much weight and pressure in my abdomen (approximately 28 lbs. of water, but probably more because of my physical deterioration) I couldn’t find a sweet spot anywhere. I paced most the time. My gums and lips had yellowed and broke easily. My skin was greasy and broken out, my hair completely matted. By day nine I had slept a total of five hours since retrieval. The only medication the doctor would give me made me sick and didn’t work.
And day eleven I had lost most of the mobility in my left hand. I couldn’t open my water canteen or even a kitchen drawer.
It’s hard reliving this stuff. I’m not a trigger happy, pessimistic, or money hungry pile of trash. I was a happy, healthy, well-meaning person who did something in hindsight totally stupid and completely disruptive.
I aired my grievances to the sponsor and asked for my agreed upon compensation just hoping I could pick up the pieces.
I, fortunately, have insurance, and have seen someone about my hand. It’s been a huge and disheartening endeavor and it’s cost me. My job requires the frequent fluidity and function of both my hands. I can’t perform certain tasks that I used to, and it’s a direct result of the weakness sustained during my recovery.
I’m not sure what I am hoping for here, but any thoughts or advice on my own self-healing are welcome.
Thank you for your time, effort and information.
- Jennifer Lahl is founder and president of The Center for Bioethics and Culture Network. Lahl couples her 25 years of experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, a hospital administrator, and a senior-level nursing manager with a deep passion to speak for those who have no voice. Lahl’s writings have appeared in various publications including Cambridge University Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Dallas Morning News, and the American Journal of Bioethics. As a field expert, she is routinely interviewed on radio and television including ABC, CBS, PBS, and NPR. She is also called upon to speak alongside lawmakers and members of the scientific community, even being invited to speak to members of the European Parliament in Brussels to address issues of egg trafficking; she has three times addressed the United Nations during the Commission on the Status of Women on egg and womb trafficking.