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By Mary Ellen McLaughlin

Between increased media coverage and openness by celebrity role models about their struggles with and solutions to infertility, egg donation has become more mainstream, and, as such, a more “acceptable” course for young women to take to gain financial and psychic rewards.

On the plus side, this is good for us and our intended parents, as it gives us a larger pool from which to choose. The downside, of course, is that news coverage is fairly superficial and may create expectations among prospective donors that are pretty far removed from reality.

This was brought home to me in a recent article in Jezebel entitled “Do Egg Donors Lie?”

In answer to the title question, yes, some prospective egg donors do lie, and I have caught a number of them doing so (on issues ranging like physical and mental health concerns, for example). It gets them bounced from consideration. I’ve developed a good radar for this, as a BSN who has worked with egg donors for 18 years and in women’s health for seven years before that. It helps to know what to ask and how to ask it, and our policy of interviewing egg donors face-to-face (in person and via Skype) is hugely beneficial.

Often, what they commit are sins of omission, not commission, but those still may be more plentiful because of the economic environment and, let’s face it, the prospect of “easy money” to offset the financial stresses.

And it doesn’t help that the increasingly competitive environment in our industry has driven compensation to, well, dangerous levels. The danger lies where it is less a reflection of time invested in the donation process (as per ASRM guidelines) and more one that’s essentially a bidding war for genetically ideal eggs. Is a girl who never considered donating until she wound up in dire financial straits being lured or coerced by the compensation? It’s an increasingly important ethical issue.

Of course, once prospective egg donors go beyond the media hype, they understand that egg donation may not be all so quick a buck. There’s a time commitment involved, from the medical and psychological screenings and legal consultations to medical checkups throughout the donation process, that can easily stretch past the three-month mark.

And even so, they may be accepted by the agency as a donor but still not pass the screenings. They may not get matched. They may stimulate poorly. There are no guarantees.

Egg donation is an important component of today’s fertility industry. It’s not something just any woman can do, for any number of reasons. Young women who are realistic with their expectations will happily reap both the psychic and financial rewards.

What kind of guidelines are out there for gestational surrogates and intended parents? Does it vary state by state? These questions and more are answered by Mary Ellen McLaughlin, partner and surrogacy expert at ARR. Watch her explain surrogacy guidelines in the video blog below:

Have questions about surrogacy? Mary Ellen McLaughlin, ARR partner and resident surrogate expert, has the answers. McLaughlin busts the many myths surrounding the gestational surrogacy process through her new series of online v-casts. Check out the first one here:

By Mary Ellen McLaughlin

A new documentary called “Eggsploitation” presents the stories of three women who went through the egg donation process and experienced rare complications, such as a stroke, cancer (which has not been proven to be related) and ovarian hyper-stimulation.

It claims the fertility industry does not tell egg donors of the complications and risks. Of course, it’s one-sided and shades the truth. It’s controversy that sells, right?

The fact of the matter is that any medical procedure involves some risk, and egg donation is no exception. Any woman thinking about donating her eggs certainly should be informed by her agency of the risks, and of signs that she may be experiencing complications. The agency that doesn’t explain them is extraordinarily careless and unprofessional. But given my years in the field and the number of agencies we know, I’d also say that would be the exception to the rule.

Our agency repeatedly goes over these risks and complications with prospective donors. We, like most agencies and fertility clinics, also give them pamphlets to ensure they learn the signs and symptoms of complicating health issues.

But honestly, as much as we coach and advocate and inform our donors, we’ve always found that our donors are their own best advocates, and very much aware of the downsides as well as the up. We have to wonder about the women profiled in Eggsploitation. Were they truly so unaware?

Here, because it bears repeating, are the most common complications from egg donation:

  • Ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome, which is commonly caused by fertility medications. It usually occurs after retrieval, generally within the first week. Some of the signs and symptoms are rapid weight gain, abdominal distention, difficulty or painful respirations, decreased urine output and dehydration.
  • Ovarian torsion, which is when the ovary rotates. It can occur at any time after the procedure due to increased ovarian size, this is why decreased physical activity is prescribed right before and after retrieval. Signs and symptoms are severe one-sided abdominal/pelvic pain.
  • Bleeding and/or infection, which only occur after the procedure. Bleeding into the abdomen or vaginal wall is usually followed by an infection. Signs and symptoms are abdominal/pelvic pain, increased abdominal girth and fever. Infection by itself will cause fever accompanied by abdominal/pelvic pain.

In the 15 years I have been working with egg donors, less then 1 percent has experienced any complications. Many of these women donate to help others create a family and they’re willing to forge ahead, fully informed of the risks.

by Robin von Halle

A recent New York Times article highlighted the difficulties faced by tennis star Gigi Fernandez after she discovered a long and rigorous tennis career had left her infertile. Her athletic accomplishments are impressive, but she admits that she was selfish as a young athlete, ignoring signs that her body was being affected by her intense training. Excessive exercise can lead to ovulation dysfunction, something most women ignore but a sign that their fertility could be affected.

Compounding the issue was Fernandez’s age. Pro athlete’s most fertile years are often spent focusing solely on their careers, and thoughts of future spouses and families are pushed to the wayside. After retiring at 33 Fernandez finally met the perfect partner, golf star Jane Geddes, but waited five years before deciding to have a child. Now in her late thirties, the odds were against her.

Seven unsuccessful fertility treatments and two failed adoptions later, Fernandez and her partner Geddes felt defeated. Luckily for them, hope came in the form of a friend who offered to donate her eggs. In early 2009, Fernandez and Geddes welcomed twins into their family, but it wasn’t without a struggle.

Fernandez is far from the first women to struggle with infertility after a successful athletic career. Olympic ice skater Nancy Kerrigan was able to give birth to a son after six miscarriages. Olympic swimmer Dara Torres went through IVF and artificial insemination but was unable to conceive and became a spokeswoman for American Infertility Association.

Where many women go wrong is neglecting to realize the effects of age on fertility. After age 35, a woman’s ability to conceive begins to decrease. After 40 it drops severely. More and more women are focusing on their careers, athletic or not, and putting off starting a family. Unfortunately, nature doesn’t wait for a successful career. I hope hearing stories like these will alert more women to the risks of waiting too long to start a family.

Fernandez’s advice to young women is to start planning for motherhood in their 20s, when fertility problems are much more rare. I couldn’t agree more.

Visit our Web site at www.arr1.com.

About Us

Conception Connections is a blog about alternative paths to family creation. It is maintained by Alternative Reproductive Resources. Contributors include intended parents, egg donors and gestational surrogates in addition to ARR staff. Our goal is to facilitate conversations about trends, issues, current events, technology and personal stories surrounding infertility, egg donation and gestational surrogacy. If you'd like to contribute, please e-mail shodge@hodgemediastrategies.com. We also welcome your comments and suggestions. Note: Comments are moderated and posted on approval.

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