Egg Donors: Price Fixing, Stripper Names and Screening- Oh My!

The Next Family

By: Kelly Rummelhart

Last week, I blogged about the differences and similarities between gestational surrogates and egg donors.  After several comments and subsequent discussions with various people, I want to clarify a few things.

First of all, I mentioned that both surrogates and egg donors receive additional money for each surrogacy/donation. This is only partly true.  Agencies that meet the guidelines set by The Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine will not continue to increase the compensation for serial egg donors over $10,000 (usually their second donation), no matter how many times they have donated.  Growing Generations, my agency, is compliant with the ASRM.

Some Intended Parents include outside agencies while searching for egg donors.  I have heard stories of some women asking upwards of $25,000 – $50,000 for one cycle of egg donation.  Obviously, their particular agency is not ASRM-compliant, as the report, “Financial compensation of oocyte donors” states: “Total payments to donors in excess of $5,000 require justification, and sums above $10,000 are not appropriate.”  You can read the entire report here.  Most of the agencies that I’ve heard about that pay more than $10,000 advertise Ivy League educations, Olympic contenders, and the like.  When someone is choosing their egg donor, they are usually looking at physical features, education, and health history of the donor and her family.  I’m sure a beautiful, Yale Graduate who plays three instruments, speaks four languages, and has family members with excellent health and a possible history of Nobel Prizes would catch a pretty penny.  Even I could see where she may get more than a woman who doesn’t “rate” as high . . . but is that appropriate?  Again, the ASRM says no.

As I stated earlier, sometimes IPs look for good health and overall attractiveness level.  Others are looking for physical traits that are similar to their own.  In my first surrogacy, only one father was going to be the biological father, so when they were searching for an egg donor, they were trying to find a donor that looked similar to the non-biological dad and his family, so the children would look as if they were biological product of either father.  Other IPs might pick a donor that has very simple/average features in hopes that some of their own, more unique features may be shown in their children.  I have heard several IPs say that picking an egg donor was the most exhaustive (and even hilarious) part of their journey with creating their family.

Several months after my surro girlies, Natasha and Anjali, were born, George and Sanj shared with me their egg donor’s profile.  Up until that moment, I just knew her as Jenna, the fake name on her profile.  I was able to see pictures throughout her first 23 years, including her family.  It was pretty cool to read her profile and the moment I saw a picture where she was around 8 years old, I totally saw my surro-girlies.  Yes they look like Sanj and they did a great job picking Jenna, because they also look like George.  When my other IPs asked if I wanted to see their egg donor’s pictures, I told them I’d love to, but only after their children were a few months old.  That way I could see traits that were possibly passed.  Instead, I just listened to great things that they loved about her profile.

Now some of you may be wondering why some IPs would describe the process of picking an egg donor as “hilarious”.  First off, there are the fake names, several of which had the dads thinking of strippers instead of the possible biological mom of their future child. Velvet and Crystal are two that come to mind.  I would think that a fake name like Elizabeth, Catherine, or Grace might have been a better choice.  Second, there is usually a video that is part of the profile.  Both sets of my IPs joked about this part, almost like a Miss America clip . . . where beauty sometimes takes the front seat to smart.  Whether it was answering that their favorite song was Beyonce’s Bootylicious, or that they wanted World Peace, or that the words “like”, “you know” and “yeah” were used quite frequently through the five-minute video.  I think that if you were trying to market yourself, there must be other songs that you enjoy that might have a more positive “this could be her” feel than a song most 14-year-olds had as their ring tone that month.

The other issue I had with last week’s blog was that I mentioned that surrogates were screened before their profiles were given to Intended Parents, versus egg donors who are only screened after they are picked.  I found out that I was wrong.  Currently, only two surrogacy agencies in the United States pre-screen (medically/psychologically) their surrogates, one of which is mine, Growing Generations. I assumed it was an industry standard, but it’s not – which is just one more reason why I love my agency.  My thought last week was that I was going to talk about egg donors that fail the screening after the IPs pick them and how I think that sucks. If I were the Intended Parent, I’d hate to pick a woman and then find out that she’s not an option.

As a surrogate who is matched with Intended Parents, you get really excited when your IPs pick an egg donor.  Once they pass screening, it’s just a matter of time to get your menstrual cycle matched, have the eggs harvested, and then the embryo transfer is right around the corner.  However, I have heard countless stories from surrogates about egg donors failing screenings.  From the personal stories I have heard, it seems to be sexually transmitted diseases, something that could have been caught during a pre-screening, which knocks most out of contention.  A few times, the egg donor candidate had more than one STD!  Yikes!

Another thing that happens sometimes with egg donors is that it may have been months since they filled out the application and profile.  Now that someone has picked them, when the agency calls, they have decided against it or it’s not a good time for them.  This is one reason why they don’t prescreen: the agency “eats” the costs if she changes her mind.  Another reason for not pre-screening egg donors is that the screening is only good for a certain amount of time.  If she passed in October, by March, when IPs pick her, she could’ve gotten an STD or something else that could disqualify her.  So financially, I guess it makes sense for agencies to not pre-screen egg donors.

Now, just because an egg donor passes screening doesn’t mean that the process will go without a hitch. There have been times where donors have not responded well to medication or they aren’t great producers (quality/quantity).  I even know a story about an egg donor who bailed out the night before her harvest, mere days before the transfer.  When I heard this, I was so pissed. I remember thinking, how dare she crush someone’s dream, not to mention ruin the schedules of the parents and the surrogate, who no doubt already had her flight booked for the transfer that was supposed to happen 5 days later?  I understand that someone can change her mind, but had she not thought this through ahead of time?  Shouldn’t a psychological screening have shown her lack of commitment?  In the end, things worked out when the IPs picked a different egg donor, but it did put them months behind schedule.  If there is one thing that being a surrogate has helped me get better at it’s flexibility.  If you can’t be flexible, then you are going to have a tough time being a surrogate because when you’re dealing with multiple people and factors –Intended Parents, egg donors, medical staff, your own family, pregnancy . . . you MUST be flexible!

Kelly Rummelhart writes about her experiences as a two-time gestational surrogate for gay couples.  She calls herself a “Uterine Activist” and will be the first to tell you that her uterus is an ally.  Kelly also writes at Just The Stork

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