From egg donation to twins, donor Candace Whitehead shares her process.
I’ve been asked so many times since I started this: “Why donate your eggs?” I don’t have one specific answer – I have dozens of reasons – and they will change on a particular day. If I’m feeling particularly cynical, I’ll say “Well, the money’s decent” – although I would still do it for nothing at all. Most of the time, I’ll say that it’s because I want to help. I want to give somebody a chance at a family. I want to do something spectacular for somebody else. And because I hope that if I ever needed it, I would hope that somebody else would step up and donate their eggs for me. Honestly, I can think of dozens of reasons why I should donate, but not a single reason why I shouldn’t.
I’m young – 24 years old – and single, although not the Bridget-Jones-cry-into-my-wine-curse-all-men kind of single (Okay, well, not often at least). Do I see children in my future? I think so. I want a family – whether that family includes a four dogs and a life partner, or the more traditional husband and two-and-a-half-kids, I’m not sure yet. But family is, bar none, the most important thing to me. I currently have an extremely demanding career in the media – I am the entertainment editor and social media manager for one of South Africa’s major news websites. And yes, this means I do read celebrity gossip, watch movies and check Facebook six hundred times a day for a living. It also means regular thirteen hour days – and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
My journey to Nurture started almost a year before I donated for the first time. My ex-boyfriend had donated sperm before we started dating, and I was so inspired by his attitude that I wanted to do something similar. He mentioned that there was a shortage of egg donors and suggested I look into it. I started investigating egg donation agencies and found some absolutely hellish ones before stumbling across the Nurture website, bookmarking it and promptly forgetting about it.
Then a few months down the line, I was alone in the office working the weekend shift. I found the bookmark and started filling in my details. I think I got about half-way through the scary, long, tell-Nurture-everything-about-your-life form before it was time to go home – and I forgot about it again. (I’m scatterbrained, can you tell?) An email asking if I was still keen to donate came on a terrible, terrible day – one of those “I have achieved nothing with my life” days – so I said heck, yes, I’ll donate.
I had my interview/coffee date with Mel and Lee a while later and that same afternoon, I was told that I had been chosen. From there I scheduled my psychological evaluation with Leanne – we had a wonderful chat that honestly seemed like a lot less than an hour! – and my initial appointment with Dr Le Roux, who was so kind and gentle that any nervousness I had been feeling disappeared within minutes. I have also been asked so many times “Aren’t you terrified? Aren’t you scared something will go wrong? What if you can’t have your own babies later on?” Honestly, the thing I was most scared of the whole way through? Not being able to give my recipient what she’d been dreaming of. I was never truly scared of any complications (although obviously it has to be in the back of your mind somewhere) but I had so much faith in Dr Le Roux and his team that I was more worried about not being able to bring my side to the party.
And then, of course, there were the injections – which so many of my friends said would have put them off donating. Yes, the injections were probably the worst part. The first morning was awful. I needed to do them before work – and seeing as I start work at 7am, it meant pretty much the first thing I did in the morning was poke myself in the stomach. I went from half-asleep and bleary-eyed to wide awake and slightly nauseous in the space of the two seconds it took to flip off the lid of the needle. But once I got the hang of things, the Gonal-F injections (the ones they give you to stimulate your ovaries) were easy!
Somewhat more exciting were my at-home Cetrotide injections to prevent inconvenient ovulation. Dr Le Roux gave me the crash course on how to mix it up and inject – no easy-use pen here! One Sunday morning and with great gusto, I mixed the medication, marvelling at my hitherto-unknown medical skills. I sucked in the mixture with the needle, feeling like a one-woman episode of House, noticed an air bubble, misread the directions and proceeded to squirt mixture all across my bedroom. I stared at the floor for a second, then injected the remaining mixture (plus the air bubble I was trying to get rid of). Then panicked. What if there wasn’t enough medication? What if I ruined this all? I mailed the lovely Lee in a complete state – but within an hour she and Mel had calmed me down, told me not to worry – and the next day, my scan revealed that everything was on track. I was left with one heck of a bruise (air bubbles suck) and a deeper appreciation of reading the instructions.
I was fortunate in that I responded beautifully to all the medication – Dr Le Roux was always so pleased with my scans and I realised I was quite proud of myself. Strange, seeing as women are “supposed” to ovulate, but hey, I like being good at things. We were bang on track for my donation – and suddenly, somehow, the big day had dawned. I woke up in the morning with stomach pain – whether from nerves or from the donation, I’m still not sure – and was surprised that I was rather terrified. No, I wasn’t scared of the donation or the anaesthetic. I was instead worried that the friend that was taking me to the clinic was going to be extra late or forget me entirely. I have known him since university, and so I know that he’s pretty much always late. So, to be safe, I told him to come ten minutes before the time I was actually planning to leave. He was still late and we still got stuck in traffic.
Once I’d been admitted, and dressed in possibly the least sexy hospital gown of all time, I was led to the table where the anaesthetist I’d met earlier was standing by. She asked me what I did for a living, I mentioned my celebrity gossip card, and she delighted in informing me that the medication she was about to inject was the one that “Michael Jackson loved a little too much”. Then – blackness.
When I woke up, I was in a fair amount of pain. It’s different for every single woman – and even different each time, I was assured. The girl in the next bed was pretty much up and tap-dancing straight after her donation, while I was curled up in a ball in tears. Clearly, though, I wasn’t put off by the pain – seeing as I’ve signed on for another round – and I was back at work the next morning, after spending a glorious afternoon in bed watching cheesy movies.
Tertia knows that I’m positively fascinated by the whole process, and she gave me a breakdown of exactly how many “good eggs” and decent embryos they’d managed to get. A few days later, Lee phoned me while I was at the Waterfront– the reception was so bad, but I could make out one thing – my recipient was pregnant. Better news came a while later – twins! (I’m still superstitious and am keeping all fingers and toes crossed for her until her due date.)
Do I ever think about meeting my recipient’s children? Of course I do. I’d like to see that they’re healthy – and don’t have three arms or something – and obviously I’m curious about how much they resemble me. But that’s about it. A good friend of mine was shocked that I wouldn’t want to be involved in “my” children’s life – but they aren’t my children. They never were. As cheesy as it sounds, they always belonged to my recipient, who walked a terrifying, difficult road. I’m just glad that I could help pave the way a little, and hopefully make the rest of the way a little smoother.
After I came round from my anaesthetic on the morning of my donation, Dr Le Roux brought me a card from my recipient. In it, along with a tiny silver charm, were the words
“There aren’t enough words to properly express our gratitude. Thank you.”
That was all. And that was enough.