Donating My Eggs Was the Greatest Achievement of My Life

I'm not sure if achieving true altruism is even possible, but it did inspire me to do this.
January 14, 2020, 9:30am
Egg donor Milly McMahon on holiday and in hospital

I’m 33 years old and I'm single. Children always felt like a part of my future, but the reality of falling in love and maintaining a relationship seems unimaginable. In 2018, as my friends uploaded more and more IG snaps of their newborns and toddlers, I signed an agreement to donate my eggs to NHS Birmingham Women’s Hospital.

I'm not sure if achieving true altruism is even possible, but it did inspire me to do this. Everything we do is, more often than not, motivated for our own benefit. I quit my high profile job working as the music editor at i-D magazine in London to become a nurse a few years ago. I wanted to feel purpose; l needed validation. I love nursing and l have so much respect for my work. But nursing only affirms my self-worth – it isn’t a true act of altruism. (Plus: l’m paid for my time.)

It is illegal in the UK for egg donors to receive payment (in Spain, women are paid can be paid €1,000 per donor cycle). Although costs such as travel and time off work are compensated, the NHS wants to appeal to potential donors by making them think of it as a gift, rather than something you can profit off.

My first meeting in November 2018 with the fertility nurse consisted of going over the legal and genetic details. I would have no rights to my baby once they were born. Up to ten eggs would be frozen, also no longer my property – once harvested, these would belong to the parent carrying the child. My tissue would become their tissue; our baby would grow inside them, nurtured, fed and carried without any knowledge of existence. My donation was entirely anonymous. We would always remain strangers.

My nurse emanated the sort of kindness that made me want to apologise for my own existence. Over the next nine months, we saw each other for scans, tests, ultrasounds and various other appointments. Screenings are rigorous: donors can be disqualified through genetic disease or chronic illness. When l was told I’d passed, l felt a fresh sense of self-respect. My body, which l’d neglected and loathed throughout most of my life, had healed itself. I felt incapable of so much, but not of bearing life.

Questionnaire for egg donors

The pre-egg collection questionnaire. Photo courtesy of Milly McMahon

Suprecur hormone injections initiated me into IVF with a sharp shock. Introduced right before my period, the pain was incredible – I woke up one night practicing the kind of breathing techniques l saw women demonstrating throughout contractions. My 111 GP, whom l called in panic at 4AM, informed me this was quite normal. The pain passed within 24 hours. Then came Bemfola, the follicle-stimulating hormone injected to soup up my egg production. I didn’t feel much changed by this, though Google warned me l would feel like crying, screaming, laughing and sleeping all at once at any given time.

Shortly after the second set of routine shots, l attended clinic before 8 AM every morning to scan my womb so doctors could monitor the growth of my eggs and the thickening of the womb lining. My eggs looked like a honeycomb, my womb thick on the grainy grey and white monitor. I was ready to end my journey. Forty-eight hours before my egg were harvested, l injected myself with Ovitrelle at 10PM exactly, the hormone triggering the release of my fully matured eggs.

I woke up at 5 AM to travel to the hospital by myself on the train. I thought about what it must feel like to go into labour or to see your own tiny baby inside yourself – not just eggs bobbing anonymously around your uterus. I cradled my belly and wondered if an expectant parent out there was doing the same.

In the operating theatre, I watched a milky white liquid disappear into my cannula as my eyes closed under a druggy haze. Before l fell asleep, l tried to impress this moment on myself as hard as I could. This was my proudest, most ambitious achievement yet. In the one second before sleep, I’d found purpose.

When l woke up, I felt a stabbing pain in my womb and my head was woozy. I ate toast, peed and was escorted to a room full of girls about my age with partners or their parents. I wondered why they were there. I stared down at the magazine l was pretending to read and tried to stop the tears springing to my eyes. But l couldn't.

I quickly got up and stood alone in the corridor, weeping uncontrollably – I wasn’t sure why. My kind nurse from the very beginning was suddenly there, cuddling me and radiating warmth like the sun. When my friend Margaret arrived, she bundled me into her car, warm and safe. A little more of the desperation I felt for maternal love and respect was soothed.

My egg harvest happened in October of 2019 and it is and will remain to be the greatest achievement of my life. Anyone who can, both emotionally and physically, donate their eggs should do it. l’m forever changed by this beautiful journey – an incredible process fuelled by empathy and understanding.

It was altruists like my nurse and Margaret who contributed to the happiness and health of myself and the family created by my donation. In searching for acceptance for myself from a family l lost many years ago, l discovered a new love by giving to another family – supported by those who helped me along.

I’ve always searched for safety – l aspire to feel worthy and to belong – but truthfully, l’ve felt neither. My childhood was troubled and l don’t have a relationship with my mother. The responsibility of raising a happy, healthy baby and the overwhelming potential for damaging that life fills me with fear. But this? This I could do.