Egg Donations: A Honolulu Woman's Story

A Good Egg: Why one Honolulu woman has donated her eggs, six times.


Published:

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Each of Jennifer Meleana Hee’s egg donations have required intensive rounds of synthetic hormone injections to supercharge her fertility.

I am vegan. I am a Harvard graduate, a returned Peace Corps volunteer, a former counselor who has worked with severely emotionally disturbed teenage girls. I am a woman who spends hours running alone in the mountains. I am an amateur photographer who turns her lens out into the world. I am a writer always trying to slow her synaptic shutter and let in more light. Today, in an upper-middle-class Honolulu suburb far from the Third World, I am a baker and a cook at Kale’s Natural Foods.

I am also an egg donor, a 32-year-old woman who has never been pregnant, but who has given her genetic material to strangers six times.

Number of cities: five.

Number of couples: six.

Number of children I’ve helped create: unknown.

I’m entering my last two donation cycles. As I write this, I’m in the Bay Area, belly swollen with enlarged follicles, waiting for them to be just the right size, so that a doctor can remove as many as possible, and two fathers can create a family. I may never see these children, they will have only my DNA. I am not their mother. I am just one variable in a complex reproductive equation. A donor coordinator in one clinic told me: Once a woman donates more than four times, they question her intentions. What are my intentions? What should they be? Will giving make me more, or less, whole?

The Beginning

The first time I donated, I was 28. I had recently left the Peace Corps for a brilliant man who wooed me with his words and suddenly made volunteering in a developing country with impoverished youth seem very meaningless. Sorry, orphans, love conquers all, except poverty.

We were both from Hawaii, but were living in Seattle. Our lives could be broken down as such: 70 percent life paralysis due to unemployment/depression, 29 percent inspired writing/creating/performing together, 1 percent walking the dog I brought back from the Peace Corps.

As an Ivy League graduate, I knew I could donate my eggs to a couple hoping that my DNA would result in a doctor, lawyer or social-media billionaire. I knew that donating my eggs could do something we were having a hard time doing ourselves: pay the bills.

My first donation, in 2008, was quick: I answered an ad seeking egg donors on the back of The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly newspaper. The fertility clinic was located in a modern, sleekly antiseptic hospital, and every woman, from the clinic coordinator to the nurse practitioner, was incredibly warm, professional and not likely to snatch a kidney along with my eggs. I decided to drink their women-helping-women Kool-Aid, especially since donating, with its appointments and medication regimen, offered me a steadying structure during groundless times. I was openly adored by clinic staff for being their ideal donor: responsible, attractive, intelligent and athletic, which threw my self-esteem an infant-size life jacket. It took the spotlight off the elephant in the room, the uncomfortable truth that I couldn’t motivate myself enough to hold a decent job, one that wouldn’t make egg-selling so financially compelling.

After the egg-retrieval procedure, waking up from anesthesia to a gift bag containing a thank-you note, a check and a container of Vicodin gave me hope that I could provide—pain-free, even. Cue music: I was lost, and the business of procreation found me.

Before I left Seattle to move back to Hawaii, the clinic staff recommended I find an egg agent. Fertility clinics have their own donor databases, and each donor is compensated equally, often between $4,000 to $8,000 per donation cycle, depending on the city. Egg agents, however, specialize in matching donors with couples willing to pay more for donors with traits that they consider valuable, which usually means similar to traits of their own.

Getting accepted by an agency is like applying for a job, except you don’t get a job, you eventually get your eggs sucked out of your body through the side of your vagina. The hormone injections that supercharge egg production are simple compared to the rigorous screening process, the needle that pierces one’s ovaries less invasive. My college application didn’t need to know if I’d ever had sex with a man who’d had sex with a man, or how many men I’d slept with in the past six months. Besides interviews with psychologists, there are genetic tests, submissions of college transcripts and SAT scores, and physical exams. Although one’s entire character is under review, with an agency I have been able to receive the higher end of compensation, have had the same fantastic agent wholeheartedly invested in my reproductive well-being, and I’ve gotten all-expenses-paid travel for each retrieval, to San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and even Shady Grove (Maryland!).
 

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