The $4,000 Egg

Women aren't just consigning clothes or getting a second job to pay the bills these days

When twenty-six-year-old Kelly, a University of South Carolina Upstate graduate, needed to make payments on her school loan and mortgage, she didn't look to her credit cards for a quick cash advance. She looked to her ovaries.

"I donated [my eggs] four times, and that money went straight to making a mortgage payment and buying a laptop for school," she says. While Kelly didn't depend on egg donation as her sole cash source, she says it was a decent cushion that provided financial relief. "It was definitely beneficial to my finances, and the experience was actually kind of fun and interesting."

Kelly's not alone in the egg-donation-for-quick-cash crowd. Despite the strict criteria for donors, rigorous physical and mental examinations, and time commitments, Pat Buetow from Reproductive Endocrinology Associates of Charlotte (REACH) says there's been a spike in egg donor applicants since the recent economic downturn—the $4,000 per donation likely playing a role in that increase. In January 2009, REACH had thirty-one applicants, its highest monthly total. The clinic usually gets between eleven and fifteen applicants per month. (Donors must be between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-two and must be willing to self-inject hormones two to five times daily. They must be willing to make a six- to nine-month time commitment for the donor-pairing process, egg stimulation, and egg retrieval.) "Right now there is a waiting list with less than forty egg recipients, which is down from eighty-two in 2007, due to an increase in donors," says Buetow.

But is the $4,000 worth it? Unlike sperm donation, which requires less time and is generally less invasive, 16 percent of egg donors complained of subsequent physical symptoms and 20 percent reported lasting psychological effects, according to a study from the University of Washington. About three out of 100 donors experience hyperstimulation, a common side effect of and most serious complication from egg collection, which can cause hot flashes, sweats, dizziness, and increased heart rate.

Despite the negatives, Kelly recommends egg donation as a source of alternative funding for women if it doesn't compromise their personal morals, but suggests limiting to donating two or three times. Kelly's biggest concern after donating is her fertility. "I do think donating four times was probably too many, because it slightly decreases the likelihood I will get pregnant," she says. "I hope I didn't ruin my chances."

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