Egg donor shares her love of children, but not without pain to herself
Originally published in the Detroit Free Press
Becky Crawford held the angel in her hand. For the first time in months, she was going to meet the woman who gave it to her.
Becky’s angel pendant is just a bauble. But it holds a secret that only she and her husband know.
Someone believes she was heaven-sent.
Becky is 33 and lives in North Middlesex, Ontario, north of London. Five times she had donated her eggs to infertile couples she never met. She suffered over that, wondering: “What happened to the eggs I donated? What if I run into someone with my DNA? Will they look like me?”
And, worse: “Will they look like my own kids?”
Becky tried to keep it in perspective. “It’s just tissue,” she’d tell herself. “It wasn’t a person.”
But then, the sixth time, she couldn’t donate anonymously anymore. In 2003, she found a Michigan woman on the Internet who wanted to be open and available, not anonymous.
It’s not a typical arrangement. The vast majority of eggs are donated anonymously, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.
Donors almost never hear if their recipients conceive. Baby pictures never come, nor does an address to send birthday cards.
But anonymity made Becky uneasy.
So she searched on the Web and found prospective parents who wanted a relationship with the woman who would give of herself and her body. They e-mailed, talked on the phone. Becky even attended the woman’s baby shower.
“This is our angel,” the woman said as she introduced Becky to her closest friends.
But the uneasy feeling returned in January 2004. Becky was about to meet the mother and her 4-month-old child. She would stare into the eyes of a baby born of her DNA, but not her body.
What if the child reached for her? What if she wanted him back? “Please, don’t let me,” Becky thought.
Anxious, she held the angel in her hand.
It’s no mystery why a couple would ask Becky to donate her eggs.
She’s striking, with turquoise eyes. She has a bit of an overbite, but you notice only when she smiles and dimples indent her cheeks.
She runs three days a week, 30 minutes each time, through rural Ontario. Her husband, John, owns a gym. She sometimes runs on the treadmills there.
She loves to take her children, ages 10 and 11, to hockey and lacrosse practice. They are blond like her.
“The kids are my life,” says Becky, a title certification agent. “From April to August, it’s hockey.”
On summer weekends they go to Sarnia and hang out on a small boat. They call it Pilikia. That’s “trouble” in Hawaiian.
Sifting through a magazine in 2001, Becky says, she read about the criticism that California agency A Perfect Match received for advertising for a leggy, blond egg donor with a high SAT score. The donor would be compensated $50,000, the ad read.
Crazy as it seemed, Becky understood. Raising children was so important to her. She wouldn’t even want to think how bland life would be without them.
She thought that maybe she could donate close to home.
“My husband didn’t want to have more kids and I had my tubes tied,” Becky says. “So, I thought, I might as well. …”
John supported her.
“It’s her body,” he says. “She can do what she wants.”
The first time, Becky chose a clinic in Toronto, a two-hour drive. The staff gave her a barrage of psychological tests and counseling.
They asked about her favorite book. The music she likes.
And, they asked the essential question: Why did she want to be an egg donor? She told them she wanted other people to experience the joy of parenting, as she had.
That was enough: A beautiful, healthy woman who had an unselfish reason for wanting to donate her eggs. In less than a month, a donor selected Becky and she was on her first cycle. She’d be compensated $3,000.
Becky’s first hot flash came at age 29, courtesy of Lupron, a drug that suppresses ovulation. She injected herself until her menstrual cycle was timed with the menstrual cycle of the anonymous woman who would receive her eggs.
As many as four times a week, she’d drive to Toronto to have her estrogen levels checked to determine the optimum time for the eggs to be retrieved. She’d be late to her job She’d start crying. She always hated needles.
“Why are you doing this?” she recalls a nurse asking.
Her answer: “I want to help someone.”
At home, she kept the syringes for the Lupron injections in “a duffle bag in a duffle bag in a duffle bag, under her bed.”
“I wanted to keep it from the kids,” Becky says. “First, so they wouldn’t find the needles and get hurt. And, I didn’t want them to ask questions.”
The day of the retrieval, John stood at her side as the gurney was wheeled into an operating room. Doctors searched her ovaries for eggs with a tube. It felt, she says, like someone was jabbing her with a butter knife.
She remembers her husband saying, “Look at that needle! It’s huge!”
She says, “I couldn’t look. They’d jab and I’d sing my little song. Over and over, I’d sing ‘You are my sunshine.’ … That was the song I used to sing to my kids.”
Afterward, she began crying in the parking lot and cried all the way home. On and off for two weeks, she’d weep.
After a few days, a nurse called to say that the couple who had received her eggs left a card. Becky picked it up. It was adorned with flowers on the front, graced with dainty cursive inside.
“You opened the key to our family,” it read. “Thank you.”
The message touched Becky. In a small way, it eased her anxiety.
The clinic asked if she wanted to donate again. She remembered the needles, the crying. Then her mind turned to the women at the fertility clinic who brimmed with hope that they could have the children Becky had at home.
She said yes.
Each time Becky received $3,000 in what’s called compensation – not pay – for her time and trouble. The money has paid for hockey uniforms and household projects.
It influenced her decision to continue, she says. But service to others was a bigger motivator.
With each additional cycle, she says, she became more comfortable. And she found a chat room (www.surrogacy.com) where egg donors share tales.
In the fall of 2003, at another computer screen, on the other side of the border, an infertile Michigan woman logged onto surrogacy.com.
That woman didn’t want to go through an agent; she wanted to find the perfect donor herself. She posted a message: Michigan woman looking for a donor, blond-haired, blue-eyed.
Becky e-mailed her. She shared her story: how she started, why she kept on doing it, how much she hated needles.
They met at a restaurant in Canada and made an agreement. Becky’s medical work would be done in the United States, but she’d let the woman know her progress by phone. And if a child were conceived, the recipient would share news of its life.
But, for the first time, Becky’s estrogen levels dropped, making her unable to complete the egg donation.
“It was absolutely bizarre,” Becky says. “But I called her and said, ‘I’ll try, I’ll go through everything again. I really want to do this for you.’ ”
The next try was a success. The day doctors retrieved 25 of Becky’s eggs, the Michigan woman left her a note.
“Somehow I believe it was fate that brought us together and you have a very special place in our hearts that cannot be put into words,” it read. “In the box is just a little something to let you know you are our ‘angel’ and are in our hearts forever.”
In the box was the angel necklace.
Becky wore it every day, rubbing it for good luck. As she eased through the door of the restaurant on that day 13 months later, she spotted the woman to whom she gave her eggs.
She lifts up the baby boy.
His eyes are blue. As he smiles Becky sees his dimples.
She stared, then sighed with relief. “Thank goodness!” she said. “He doesn’t look like any of my kids.”
The two women laughed. They ordered food and the baby cooed throughout the meal, sitting in his mother’s lap and playing with her hair.
Becky felt no inclination to hold him. It was no different from having dinner with any friend and that friend’s newborn child.
The Michigan woman calls less often now. Once, she wanted to know if Becky had any allergies, worried about how her son might react to nuts.
That woman, who requested anonymity, says people say her son resembles her.
“I just laugh and say, ‘Really?’ she said. “I can see Becky in him, when he smiles, when he laughs.”
Sometimes, the woman e-mails baby pictures to Becky. Becky has her address, just in case she wants to send a birthday card.The child is the last baby born from Becky’s eggs. She says she’s too old now, and doctors recommend women donate a maximum of six times.
Dr. Eric Surrey, president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, says that limit is a bit contrived. It’s aimed at reducing the probability that a donor might one day run into a child born of her DNA, mothered by someone else.
Becky’s life continues, loving her children and worrying less. When a link in the chain popped in her angel necklace, Becky never fixed it.
A part of her feels like she doesn’t need to.