Like a lot of young women in college, Wendie Wilson's eyes began lingering over lucrative egg donation advertisements with mere curiosity. A lump sum of money for some eggs she had no intention of using for some time was appealing. But it wasn't until a short time later when she moved to Southern California at the age of 23 that she found herself finally calling the owner of an egg donation program -- a woman with twins born via a donated egg. The mother shared what one donation ultimately meant to both she and her family, her gratitude affirming for Wendie the "fantastic" gift of egg donation.
She would become an egg donor five times in the next decade.
Contrary to the media narrative of cash-starved young women selling off their eggs to the highest bidder, Wendie confirms that her interest wasn't primarily about the money. "I would say that my number one motivation was the desire to help another family, but the financial incentive was nice as well," says the co-author of The Insiders Guide to Egg Donation: A Compassionate and Comprehensive Guide for All Parents-To-Be. "I knew I was a very long way from having my own children, so to be able to help others in the interim seemed like a fantastic thing to do."
Wendie's first donation was for a breast cancer survivor in her sixth year of remission. She was offered $5,000 for the entire procedure, which included three weeks of treatments that suppressed ovulation and around two weeks of medications that stimulated the growth of eggs. The retrieval process, which she describes as only "a little bit invasive," involved a short-term Twilight Sleep anesthesia. Wendie says her doctor then used a long, thin needle to go through the side of the vaginal wall and into the ovaries.
"[Recovery] was always a little bit difficult for me," Wendie says, assuring that the recovery often varies per donor. "I was usually sore, bloated, and cramping for about 10 days after retrieval, although the majority of donors usually feel back to normal two to three days later."
Tender ovaries and bloating often increased as Wendie neared the retrieval date, a process that wasn't too uncomfortable for her as she was later personally approached by two more families while managing another egg donation program. For her fourth cycle, Wendie donated to a family without charge but in exchange for half of her eggs to be frozen for herself. Her fifth donation, which she says was her "final" procedure, was performed because a previous family very much wanted a genetic sibling for the child they had already conceived with her eggs. By that point, she was 34 years old.
The egg donation advocate was eventually encouraged to create her own California donation agency, Gifted Journeys, deemed a "reputable agency" by ABC News. Although the CEO and founder has never met the children made possible by her donations, she maintains that she would absolutely be open to such a meeting in the future. Photographs of two little boys conceived with her eggs have sufficed for now, especially considering she's already aware of the "priceless" contribution she has made to their families.
"I met all of the families I donated to and was able to see first hand the joy and hope this brings to the intended parents we help," she says.
Now a mother to a 1-year-old boy, Wendie is still in contact with two of the families she has donated to with the intention of keeping her son aware of the egg donations she made when was younger. With now over a decade of experience on every which side of the egg donation process, the mother of one maintains that misconceptions about egg donors still linger, particularly with regard to how women are treated.
"I think the biggest misconceptions about egg donation is that the women are used as commodities or lured in only by the financial motivation," the author says. "Most young women want to do this to help other people just as much, if not more, than they are motivated by the financial aspect. The money I made from my donations is long gone, but the joy of knowing someone has a family and children because of a choice I made is priceless. And while the process is not without risk, the risk is minimal and certainly worth the discomfort for the sake of the outcome. "
When asked why the stigma remains for women who donate eggs versus the utter cultural nonchalance for men who donate sperm, Wendie points to the disparity in financial incentive, "which immediately attracts the wrong kind of media attention and spin," she adds. The admittedly invasive aspect to the procedure also has a tendency to raise more questions about women being exploited, which can make for many a salacious headline. But such a runaway narrative does a severe disservice to donors, parents, and children, she says.
"It's insulting to the donors who choose to help families -- insinuating they are so one-dimensional or so desperate that they only do this for the money," Wendie comments. "It's sad for the intended parents who choose to use egg donors to have a much longed for family. And, it's particularly cruel to the children who are here in this world as a result of egg donation to make them seem as though their reason for being in this world is due to exploitation of young women desperate for money."
Nevertheless, the language politics between female egg donors and male sperm donors speaks perhaps louder than anything else.
"While sperm donors would rarely be asked if they feel they have 'children' out in this world, it is a question that is asked of every egg donor."
(photo: Denis Vrublevski/ Shutterstock)