Jennifer Lahl, CBC President—and Executive Producer, Director, and Writer of Eggsploitation—recently interviewed Linda about her egg donation experience.
Lahl: You told me you saw the ad on Craigslist’s posting by the fertility center, looking for Asian egg donors. What made you answer this ad?
Linda: I thought I fit the description very well: Great grades, college educated, great looks, and genetics. The list could go on for all the ego reasons I would want to do this.
Lahl: Were you in need of money?
Linda: Yes! I had spent $30k to renovate my parents’ old house because it was falling apart, and they did not have the money to fix it themselves, and it was not in living condition for anyone to live in, not even myself. It was in my grandfather’s deed to fix the estate if he were to pass away. He died three years ago, the year before I decided to be a donor.
Lahl: Were you wanting to help someone out?
Linda: I was sitting in the lobby, waiting to get my blood work done for my pre-screening to become an egg donor, and I saw an older couple sitting and waiting to talk to the doctor. Seeing them in the lobby waiting made me realize I was doing something for older Asian couples who could not have children. I figured if I give an act of kindness, I’m saving this couple’s marriage, because I understand in my culture a woman who cannot bear a child is useless. I remembered my mother’s best friend going through this procedure, and this was the only way she was able to bring a baby into this world. I felt like I could help other older Asian women in her shoes.
Lahl: Would you have answered the ad and just “donated” your eggs?
Linda: I probably would have if I knew that there weren’t such horrible, long-term side effects, and if I knew exactly who my eggs were going to (relatives or family). But, I would not just have answered the ad if the money factor wasn’t a part of the equation. I needed the money because my parents were not going to contribute to the renovation.
Lahl: You did three donations in all: one in April of 2009, one in April of 2010, and the last in December of 2010. All three donations were done with the same agency. How did each of the donations go?
Linda: The first time went very easy; the pain wasn’t that bad. However, it still hurt and I had pain in my abdomen, and I couldn’t walk afterward. It took me four hours to wake up. The second time, it hurt a lot almost right after I woke up two hours after the egg retrieval. [I had] the same pain in my abdomen, and I couldn’t walk after. The third time was by far the worst. I woke up two hours after, but the pain hit me four hours later. It hurt so bad I couldn’t walk! Five days later, I had retained so much fluid inside my body, I could not breath right and I could not sleep from the pain in my abdomen. I had to go to the hospital because I felt like I was going to stop breathing and my heart was going to stop. I looked pregnant. This third time, my body just did not want to take the hormones anymore. I know it just wanted to shut down on me.
Lahl: You mentioned that the director of the agency at first was very friendly and pleasant, and then she got very pushy and the doctor wanted to just “pump” you up with drugs to get as many eggs as possible. Tell me more about that, how you were feeling about the treatment.
Linda: I felt used and just like an egg producer. I felt like that all they cared about were my eggs, and not me and my health and well-being.
Lahl: Were you able to advocate for yourself? Did you feel they listened to you and were concerned for your health?
Linda: I don’t think so. They wanted me out of the hospital as soon as possible to take the liability off their shoulders.
Lahl: Tell me about your concerns about where your eggs ended up?
Linda: I have no clue what has become of my eggs. They could have brokered them to many people, and they could be capitalizing on them even more. Supposedly, a couple who really needed my eggs got them to make a baby, however, they harvested 12 eggs the first cycle, 12 eggs the second cycle, and 15 the third time. That’s a total of 39 eggs. But looking at the pictures on my ultrasounds showing the formed eggs, it looked like a lot more eggs each time.
Lahl: Do you know if you have children out there?
Linda: The director of the clinic, who was also my egg broker who paid me at the end of each donation, said that the baby boy was beautiful, but she could be lying. I really could not ask any more questions though, because I know psychologically it’s not healthy for my mind to really want to know. I have no rights to want to know because of the contract I signed with the clinic.
Lahl: What are your thoughts on the children created by your eggs?
Linda: Well, there are a billion people in China, so what difference would it make if there was another little mini me out there or not. However, me not having any ties to any baby would be ideal. I just hope that whoever decided to have these children are going to give them the nurture that the children need to have the best potential it could have. As a child growing up, I felt like my parents didn’t give me their fullest, and I hope that these parents, who decided to bring my genetics to life, decide to give and spoil this child with their 110 percent efforts.
Lahl: You had to be admitted into the hospital for severe OHSS, indicating that you looked pregnant and that your lungs were filled with fluid. How did you end up in the hospital?
Linda: I thought it was just something little, but the pain was so bad that I could not sleep. The fluid would not escape my body, and in my stool there was blood. It just wasn’t good and not normal. I ended up staying in the hospital for four days. I did not leave the bed for those four days. I slept all four days, and they monitored me peeing and put me on monitors and gave me shots in an I.V. and all sorts of meds. They weren’t even sure what was going on with me! They had to call the fertility doctor at 4am to find out. It was the worst pain I had experienced. I still won’t forget the guy’s face who did my exam. He kept asking me if I was wearing anything under my shirt. There was fluid or possibly even blood inside my chest that didn’t belong there.
Lahl: Who paid your bills?
Linda: Their insurance company. And I’m still getting bills today and just faxing them right back to them.
Lahl: Looking back on your health before your donations, how is your health now?
Linda: My health now isn’t as great as it was. Before I began donating, I was 135 lbs. and a cross-country runner. I had no problem getting up early in the morning and jogging five miles or so before work. Now I am 158 lbs., but was 180 lbs. when I was in the hospital. Now I’m on a strict vegan diet and working out and running 5k to remind myself I’m still standing, and working hard to improve and better my health after my near-death experience.
Lahl: You contacted me and said that you wanted to tell your “near-death” story. Why do you want to tell your story?
Linda: I don’t want others to experience what I went through. It felt like I was fighting a cancer that no one knew about, and I felt so alone in this world. No one else was in my shoes, and I got into this position myself and no one would understand—not my parents, not my family, not my girlfriend. I just want people to be aware of the consequences, because it’s not something you think about before you decide to sign your life on paper to an agency who is out to just take from you for their best interest and not yours. I went through this three times, and I didn’t learn my lesson until I almost faced my death three months ago. I don’t ever want to put myself through this experience again or see others go through what I went through.
Lahl: What do you want people to know?
Linda: That you can possibly die from this, and it’s not a joke, or worth $5k or any amount of money. Losing your life would end your chances of making that money, period. I was a victim and I will stand and speak about it. They are out there preying on ones like me.
Lahl: What would you say to a woman who was thinking of donating/selling her eggs?
Linda: JUST DONT DO IT. You don’t want the psychology of the idea of a baby out there looking like you. You definitely don’t want to go through the procedure, the injections, the medication, and all the office procedures. It will ruin your relationship with your family, and if you think it’s a way to get back at them because you feel like they don’t care, this is NOT the way.
Lahl: What should be done for you, given your experience?
Linda: It’s not about me at this point, but I hope that my experience can be told and shared with the rest of the world because this egg donation operation is not something that should continue on. I hope that I can help to form a foundation and a bond to help women who have experienced these same issues that I’ve dealt with, and be there for one another in a time where maybe in the future among the group of women who have been egg donors, [if some] go through cancers or long term problems that were never foreshadowed, that we can as a group of people be there for one another in this experience.
Lahl: Do you think the agency owes you anything?
Linda: Too much, at this point. I don’t even know if a lawsuit would be enough to discuss in detail what they owe me for their wrongdoings. I can only pray that others out there don’t go through what I went through.
Lahl: Have they offered to pay you more because of all of your health complications?
Linda: Not enough to go through what I’ve gone through thus far and what I’m still going through today.
Lahl: Are you concerned for your future health or future fertility?
Linda: Absolutely! But I just have to live day by day and stand strong no matter what happens, and be thankful I am still alive today and hopefully tomorrow.
*name changed to protect identity