After a few months delay in my appointment, due to the Coronavirus lockdown, I was so excited to get a call inviting me in for my consultation. I am glad that after someone's chance to have a baby has been put off by such a long period of time that it can now commence again. I didn’t even have a chance to get nervous, as my appointment was less than a week after the call.
Thursday morning came and I was prepped with clothes I was comfortable in; ready for the blood tests and the internal scan, as well as my face mask due to the extra precautions currently in place in the hospital.
I had to wait for a call once I was in the car park before going up to the clinic and meeting with my doctor.
(As a prerequisite, this may not exactly reflect another’s personal experience due to the adjustments from the virus).
My doctor sat me down and proceeded to ask me a lot of questions, and I mean a lot. The purpose of this section of the process is to make sure that you are in a fit state to donate: to check medical history, to get an idea of the family you will be matched up to, as well as giving you a chance to ask anything you need to.
Your age, weight, height and relationship status are first to be noted. You need to be honest about your partner here as they will be involved later on in the process when a counsellor decides if you are ready for this or not.
Whether the point was to keep contact time as minimal as possible, I was immensely pleased that the next questions went as followed-
“Do you have children?”
“No I do not.”
“Do you want to have children?”
“No I do not.”
“Are you going to change your mind on that?”
And that was it, he moved on. I know that my personal feelings about having children do not match many people’s ideals, but I was very happy that I was not made to feel as if my decision was wrong, especially in the environment I was in.
Next up was the past medical and family history questionnaire. As bizarre as this is going to be for me to write, I promised transparency and honesty throughout this process and these answers are important and will affect the donation, so here goes!
I am very fortunate that I was able to answer “No” to the majority of the medical history questions, such as the fact that epilepsy, cystic fibrosis, cardiac diseases and other genetic diseases do not run in my family. My twin sister is asthmatic so that was noted down, along with the fact that my father is diabetic. The hardest note for me to see personally was the circle around mental health. Very few people know that I was diagnosed with depression about 8 months ago, and that I am currently being treated for it. Luckily for me, my letter of recommendation had come back from my GP to the clinic, saying that in their opinion I am of a strong enough mental state to go through this process. As you know, this process means a lot to me and this was the one thing that I was worried would affect the outcome. Not only does the clinic have to decide how much of a risk it will be for a mental health condition to be passed on within your genes, but also if going through what is essentially half of the IVF process is going to be too mentally taxing. Relief is the best word I can use to describe that other people see me as strong enough to continue.
Following on, I am lucky to have never had surgery, and the only allergy I have is hayfever- so no problems there. I had to bring in a list of my current medications, and these were noted down as well. Some more general information about my lifestyle was taken, then the risks and outcomes were explained to me.
I am doing this for someone else, and once the eggs have been extracted I will have no legal right to any child born from them. The process is anonymous, so I will be allowed to know if an unnamed individual has become pregnant thanks to my donation, and then whether a baby is born from it. But I will not know anything about who I am donating to, and I will never be able to request information about the child. It is up to the parents if they want to tell the child that they were born from egg donation, and then the child may request my information from the HFEA (Human Fertilisation Authority) if they want to know more about me or to get in contact when they reach 18 years of age.
This is fine for me, as I am of the view that just because it’s my egg, does not mean it’s my child, but I imagine that some people may take issue with this. Obviously if you choose to donate to a person you know, the anonymity does not apply.
Next I was warned of some of the health risks - these include having menopausal symptoms due to the normal function of the ovaries being disrupted, having bloating and tenderness due to the ovarian stimulation injections, with the most serious being Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which is when the body over-responds to the medication and ovaries become enlarged causing fluid build up and discomfort. The severe form occurs very rarely, which involves nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and breathlessness, which can require hospital admission. As scary as that sounds, it is extremely rare and is treatable - very few cases have been reported in recent years.
I was made aware that I will be sedated for the collection of the eggs, and that a needle will be passed through the wall of my vagina to collect up to ten eggs from the ovaries under ultrasound guidance. I will be under for approximately half an hour, with a few hours total hospital time. I will need to be picked up afterwards as it is unsafe for me to drive myself from the appointment.
I was told that expenses will be covered for my hospital trips, up to the value of £750 which I need to keep receipts for. This will be different with different clinics.
He then went on to confirm that my fertility level result from my AMH test last time I was at the clinic is 13. To be viable for egg donation it needs to be between 6 and 15, so all is good with that!
The last section of paperwork surprised me. It was about characteristics, of which skin colour and hair colour I expected, but it went into further detail. Along with extra specifics such as eye colour and build, my complexion (porcelain pale) and personal interests were also noted down. The doctor explained that this is so that they can match you up to a receiver family based on personal compatibility which I thought was absolutely fantastic. I can imagine that after going through IVF it would be wonderful to find that your new child is still going to have similar characteristics to you even though it is someone else's genes.
I was able to ask my questions then, which included the following:
1- How many times am I allowed to donate?
- You are re-evaluated every 3 donations to see if you are still able to donate, that you are doing it for the right reasons, and whether you are able to handle another course of donation mentally and physically.
2- Since I don’t want children of my own, if I get sterilised in the future will that affect whether I can donate?
- No, since the process of sterilisation in a female is having your fallopian tubes clipped, it doesn't affect the future stimulation and collection of eggs from the ovaries.
3- Can I have sex during the few months that I am going through this process?
- Yes, though a form of non-hormonal contraception must be used during treatment. You also need to declare whether yourself or your partner has had sex with anyone else in the three months leading up to the donation.
4- I am donating blood for the first time at the beginning of august, will this affect the donation?
- No, but I can't get any tattoos or piercings for 3 months before it begins.
Once we had gone through these, I was given a folder with some paperwork and some reading for me to do prior to my next appointment, the pack includes:
- HFEA partner information - patient details
- A guide for donors on consent for the process and outcomes
- Egg donation consent form and information sheet
- Other consent forms specific to different parts of the process
- Permission form to freeze the embryos if suitable at the time of extraction
- A form stating I haven't done illegal drugs, had any tattoos within the last three months, that I haven't had/got HIV and various other statements.
- An information leaflet about the message you can leave for the future donor-conceived families so they can learn about you as a person.
Next up was the internal scan -I was handed off to a different section of the clinic for this bit. The nurses were so incredibly friendly so I almost forgot how nervous I was. Here comes the painful honesty again! I had been warned by a lot of people that an internal scan was incredibly uncomfortable and painful at times, and to make matters worse I was on day 3 of my bleed for the month- so I wasn’t looking forward to it.
For the internal scan you need to have a completely empty bladder, then you lay on a bed that sort of lifts your lower back up at a 45 degree angle with your feet on stirrups. You remove your underwear and have a large piece of tissue covering your lower half, I wore a skirt so I’d feel more dressed than I was. The tip of the instrument is sort of bulb shaped, and gets inserted into your vagina so that the ultrasound can take pictures of your ovaries and see how many eggs are there. The instrument looks intimidating but the nurses explained everything that they were going to do so I felt a lot more relaxed. The whole thing took about ten minutes, with them talking to me about Broadway musicals the whole time- they are clearly very good at their jobs. I was surprised/lucky because I didn’t feel any pain at all, it was just an incredibly unusual experience. I’m sure I will get more used to them as there will be a few more of these later on in the process. I apparently have 13 follicles in my left ovary, and 15 in my right, just in case you were wondering! I was fascinated, as they could tell I was on my period just from the pictures because my uterus lining has visible tears in it.
After this I got dressed and headed to yet another section of the clinic for some blood tests. The nurse doing this was the same as my first appointment so once again I was completely relaxed. 6 vials of blood were taken - all for different tests.
1- Viral test
2- Karyotype - Chromosome test
3- Cystic fibrosis screening
4- Full blood count
5- Haemoglobinopathies test for thalassemia- A inherited blood condition which can lead to anemia.
6- CMV test - a virus that most of the population has had, you are either CMV positive or negative and must be matched up with a receiver family that matches your type. CMV positive is much more common, so clinics are always on the lookout for CMV negative donors.
The main point of the blood tests is to minimise the risk of transferring any inheritable conditions that I may not be aware of at this point. If anything does come to light from them such as a condition that will have implications on me and the donation they will let me know and offer appropriate advice. On the flip side, if I become aware of anything in my family history that I haven’t already reported, I will need to let the clinic know as soon as possible.
After the bloods had been taken she explained to me that the next step will be the counselling, which due to the current pandemic will likely be either a phone or virtual appointment. The longest blood test to be returned will take up to 6 weeks, but my counselling can take place before that comes back, so I now have to keep an ear out for the phone to ring to book in that appointment. Once that has happened and the bloods are back, I will go back to the hospital for a medication consultation, to teach me how to take the medication and when to start them.
And that was that! I have lots of paperwork to fill out but it is worth it, and it feels great to be back on track with the process. I am glad to have chosen the Hewitt Fertility Centre for my donation, as they are making it a great experience and I am honoured to be sharing my story with other people through them.
In the spirit of honesty I thought it would be a lot easier to tell my story than it is, but now that I am writing it I completely understand why people choose to keep their personal stories to themselves. All I hope is that reading this is helping others understand a bit more about the topic so that they can make an informed choice about what they would be signing up for by choosing to donate.
I will continue to update as I move further along the process, and I really look forward to sharing my next steps along this journey with you.
Thank you for following my experience.