Gemma Page*, a 21-year-old university student and tutor, first heard about egg donation when visiting a website called Gumtree, a local Cape Town online advertising community. The ad asked for egg donors, which struck a chord with Gemma. A few months later, after reading an article in SL magazine on the topic, Gemma decided to look into it.
Deciding to become an egg donor
“I have never wanted my own children and have always felt guilty about this because I am healthy and fertile and there are so many couples out there who can’t have children. It seems unfair. Obviously the financial compensation was also attractive but I can’t say I felt desperate for money. Although I’m a student I am largely supported by my mother.”
Gemma decided to Google “egg donation” and came across EggDonationSouthAfrica. After contacting the agency, she was put in touch with a fertility clinic in Cape Town.
At the clinic, she underwent a physical examination and blood test.
She says, “I also had to fill in loads of forms checking my medical history, as well as give details about my height, hair and eye colour. I also had to supply a baby photo.
“I visited a psychologist at the clinic who asked me questions to see whether or not I had any reservations. I guess they wanted to check that I wouldn’t pull out at the last minute and let down the couple going through the fertility treatment. The psychologist also asked whether or not I was depressed, and whether there was any history of mental illness in my family.”
Gemma was given the all clear and told that there was a couple from the United States who might be interested in her as a donor. Gemma recalls, “It all happened very quickly after that initial visit. I was surprised at how simple and fast everything happened.”
The hormone treatments
Gemma had to give herself hormone injections everyday for 12 days. "I was shown how to do this using a pen-like injection, which stimulated my egg production. Although I was warned of negative side-effects, like feeling depressed, I felt fine."
Harvesting the eggs
"I did feel quite nauseous towards the end and because the hormones made quite a few eggs ripen there was also a bit of abdominal discomfort." At ovulation time, Gemma returned to the clinic to have her eggs extracted. In her case, 14 healthy eggs were removed. The 10-minute procedure was performed under general anaesthetic.
"The nurse told me not to worry, that it was like picking grapes, which didn’t really reassure me. I didn’t feel great after the anaesthetic but a friend took me home and I spent the day in bed. I felt like I had mild period pains, but recovery was very quick. I asked the doctors if the treatment had been successful for the couple, but they weren’t allowed to tell me. I was a bit disappointed but otherwise there were no negative aspects to having done the procedure."
Repeating the procedure
After a month’s rest, Gemma decided to do the procedure again when a German couple expressed interest in using her eggs. The second time around was just as straightforward, although the couple did delay the procedure a little after hearing about the xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
"By the end of the second procedure, I was a bit tired of all the injections but I would definitely do it again in the future," she said.
Dealing with the decision to donate
Gemma feels positive about her decision to have donated eggs. "I don’t really think of the children. It’s more about donating tissue. If I donated a kidney after I died I wouldn’t think that it was me still walking around. When I was going through the procedure I only told my boyfriend and best friend, who was very supportive. My boyfriend surprised me by saying, ‘Oh, my sister did that last year.’
He knew more about the procedure than I did. I haven’t told my mother, although I might one day. I think she would worry about the fact that I was putting hormones into my body, and I don’t want her to get worried."
Gemma feels that having donated eggs has given her more sympathy for people who struggle to have children. "I believe that I won’t ever have children but if I do, I will remember this time and feel proud that I helped other couples. And I will always remember those women waiting so expectantly at the fertility clinic".