As dates go, this one in 2005 was particularly emotional. I looked over the table, feeling a little nervous, and offered my eggs.
His eyes welled up. Then he turned to his wife, they grasped hands, and both said yes.
Egg donation is a little known aspect of reproductive fertility. It occurs when a woman is able to carry a pregnancy to full term but doesn't have eggs of a suitable quality. For most, this frustrating discovery happens after going through at least one arduous and expensive IVF cycle.
Australia is governed by strict laws relating to donation, and it's illegal to pay for sperm, eggs or embryos, just as it's illegal to pay for donation of any other human tissue (blood, marrow, organs). The process of even looking for a donor is regulated, with some couples having to submit their advertisements for ministerial approval prior to sharing on parenting forums or other areas. After publishing the ad, there begins the long wait – not only to find someone, but to find the right someone.
I decided to donate my eggs because I’d had my own fertility issues for years. That was thanks to polycystic ovarian syndrome, a thorny beast that means your insulin and hormones conspire to ensure you don’t release eggs. I was lucky: a regime of weight loss and diabetic medication kick-started my baby-maker.
But I discovered I’d had it easy. Others spent years on cocktails of medication, endless rounds of intrusion and intervention. For some, happiness was measured in tiny increments, waiting for the next result, waiting for things to stick, waiting for things to improve.
By the time I read Jacob and Meg’s advertisement, I had a fat and happy one-year-old on my lap. I counted down every day, trying to find the perfect couple, as doctors recommend donating after your last child turns one.
When Jacob and Meg described wanting to grow emotionally with their longed-for child, it struck within. They seemed to understand the nature of mutual unfurling between babies and their families. Physically, emotionally, you all grow together. This wasn’t about them pointing the way to their kids; they seemed to intuit that raising a child was a mad team scramble.
Naturally, they are the nicest couple you could ever meet. Getting to know them was like low-stakes dating; emails, long conversations on the phone, lunch dates where they met my daughter (very ‘here’s one I prepared earlier’).
We went straight into counseling and screening, detailing every aspect of my medical history, taking blood and notes - copious notes. I would call that process vulnerable, but everything to do with assistive fertility is exposing. When you realise that up to one in 30 Australians seek assistance to become pregnant, it's a striking thought that so many men and women go through endless potentially humiliating moments to start their families.
In case no one tells you, IVF can be hellishly brutal. If you know anyone who has or is going through it, you should damn well make them a cup of tea or get them something really awesome, like a steam mop. Think about trying to maintain your everyday life, career and relationships while undergoing the hormonal equivalent of meth.
First, there is the syncing – when you and the mum get your cycles in order. Second comes the sniffing. This is the stage where pituitary hormones are tricked into not releasing any eggs early. Sniffing comes via a nasal spray and tastes like what Heston Blumenthal would create were he trying to evoke a whimsical metallic smoothie to remind you of the meaninglessness of Year 2 geography.
Third up is the ovarian stimulation phase, where you try to fool the ovaries into developing not just one egg, but lots of them. This is done by injecting hormones into your stomach daily.
For me, this stage was exhausting. I would pick ridiculous fights (‘Why your knowledge of Citroens is inferior to mine, even though I’ve never held a licence’ should have been on pay-per-view), and I absolutely despised everyone around me. It felt like I was having the emotional journey of a nine-month pregnancy in a three-month period.
On the day of egg pick-up and sperm collection, things were fraught. We stood in the clinic awkwardly, Jacob wishing me luck, me not knowing the polite way to wish him well for sperm collection. I was placed under deep sedation and felt a mild pain on waking. They wheeled me to a private area and told me they’d picked up around six eggs. I burst into tears, ostensibly because I felt I’d failed Jacob and Meg by not giving them the average 10, but mainly because I felt more cracked out than Courtney Love on a Twitter bender.
And so my part in the process was over, reduced to glad-but-distant observer hoping for the best. I marvel at the stamina of women who go through not just one IVF cycle, but continue on to multiple implantations before a hopeful pregnancy – and then birth and caring for a newborn. Seriously, I mentioned making them a cup of tea before, but perhaps make them two ... or eleventy billion.
Meg became pregnant on her second implantation; nine months later, she and Jacob became the most doting and committed parents to one of the luckiest children ever born.
Six years later, we still catch up every few months for lunches, phone calls and emails. Jacob and Meg are, as expected, outstanding parents who’ve told their son all about the extra step that helped them get pregnant. Their son and my daughter laugh and circle each other with the glee of hyped-up cousins.
For my part, looking at him can be conflicting. He’s charming: a whirlwind, whip smart, a veritable pocket rocket – the sort of entertaining child you look upon with utter enjoyment. But I feel guilt over the markers of my genes. In him, I see my nose and eyes, the unruly hair and the unbridled energetic chaos of our personalities. I’ve also passed on my allergies and a skull size so large he’ll be cursed by all milliners. I feel intense guilt that what was meant as an gift left traces of me – even my genes are loud and pushy bastards.
Then again, this amazing family has left an indelible trace upon me. The process of egg donation completely turned my life around. After donating, I took on more challenges, lost my fears and truly engaged with life. And it’s all because of those three months we shared.
I can never thank them enough for the life they gave me.
Want to make that step? If you don’t know of a family who needs your help, visit IVF Australia to learn more.
*Names have been changed.
This article first appeared on Daily Life.