Cash Crop

By
October 10, 2002

Mills College Weekly

Sitting in the Orchard Meadow living room one Sunday afternoon with her black flip flops propped on the coffee table, senior Amanda Wolach spoke about her plan for paying off her student debts. For many seniors like Wolach, paying off college debt is becoming a reality as graduation approaches. For most people, maybe the only solution to reduce their debts is to get one or more jobs after graduation. However, 21-year-old Wolach is taking a different approach.

Two years ago she found a tiny ad nestled in the back section of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, which gave her some hope of paying off her college loans quickly. The Pacific Fertility Parenting Center was looking for healthy, non-smoking women of all races, ages 21 to 29, to donate their eggs to infertile couples for $5,000.

She wondered why anyone would pay money for someone else’s eggs.

“I heard about stuff like that on television but I was surprised to read about it in the back of The Guardian,” she said.

After thinking about it, she decided the procedure would be something she would go through when she was 21, the age women are allowed to donate through the Parenting Center.

Now she has started the application process in the hope that she will be able to sell her eggs and take care of her finances. If Wolach is chosen, she will be able to donate up to six times and earn up to $30,000.

“I would like to pay off my credit card debt from studying abroad my junior year and student loans,” she said. “I’m carrying an overload of classes and working on my senior thesis this semester. It would be nice to not have to work my senior year.”

Alice Francki, an egg donor recruiter for the Pacific Fertility Parenting Center, said that Wolach is not alone. In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of college women wanting to donate their eggs through places like the center. Although these women donate for a wide variety of reasons, many of them do it to pay for college while helping couples and families have children.

“We have some college girls who are going to use the money to travel,” said Francki.

Even though the money is attractive, the process of becoming a donor and then donating the eggs can be lengthy. It happens in four stages and takes anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months.

By the time the process is over, only about half of all the women that apply actually become donors and earn money, Francki said.

Wolach is in the initial stage of the process. She has already received the

purple, nine-page informational packet from

the center, which gives information about how applicants are screened and chosen and how the eggs are extracted. And currently, she’s filling out an in-depth 27 page application, which asks about her medical and family history, interests, hobbies, education, employment and fertility.

can’t leave anything blank,” she said. “They ask you every question imagineable, like how often you drink coffee.”

If the parenting center’s doctors approve Wolach’s application, her file, including a completed application and three personal photos, would be placed in the Pacific Parenting Center Donor registry so prospective parents can view it.

According to Francki, prospective parents look for different things when selecting donors.

“Some couples might want a Rhodes scholar, some might want someone who is tall and beautiful and others might not care as long as the woman is fertile,” she said.

If prospective parents select Wolach, she would have to take a psychological exam where she would meet with a therapist for an hour to discuss her motivations for donating and what to expect from the donation process.

Additionally, Wolach would have to have a health examination with blood tests. Any current sexual partners are also asked to participate.

“My boyfriend would be tested for anything I would be tested for,” said Wolach. “I have to see how he feels about this. He was all for me donating my eggs but I don’t know whether he would want to get involved.”

If Wolach passes the examinations, she would automatically move on to the second phase. For about two months, under doctor’s monitoring, she would be required to take birth control pills to put her menstrual cycle in sync with the egg recipient’s. Also, she would have to take nasal spray or injections so that the stimulation of her ovaries can be controlled, which might cause pre-menopausal side effects such as hot flashes, headaches, or fatigue.

After 7 to 20 days of using either the nasal spray or injection, Wolach would begin a 10- day series of shots, using a stimulating hormone that would help increase egg production in her ovaries. Some side effects might include allergic sensitivity, breast tenderness, abdominal bloat, headaches, mood swings and temporary weight gain.

Thirty -six hours before egg extraction, Wolach would be given a last hormone injection, which works to stimulate ovulation.

In phase three, Wolach, would have her eggs retrieved by a doctor, while under local anesthetic. An ultrasound probe, with its needle guide, would be inserted into the vagina and into the ovary. By using the ultrasound image, the doctor can accurately guide the needle into the ovary and literally suck the eggs out of their follicles, the fluid-filled sacs where the eggs are housed. The whole process of egg retrieval takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes and is supposed to be pain- free.

Although the retrieval process is considered safe, donors are not free from risk.

“Studies have been done that show that egg donation has no effect on fertility,” said Francki. “However, during the psychological examination, the donor would be asked about how she would feel if her fertility were affected as a result of this procedure.”

Additionally, the donor has less than 1 percent chance of bleeding, infection and complications as a result of the anesthesia.

In stage four, the laboratory staff would begin the process of fertilizing Wolach’s eggs. At the end of this lengthy process, the embryos would be gently deposited into the recipient’s uterus without any local anesthesia.

Wolach said that donators are guaranteed money at the end of the process, even if the recipient does not get pregnant.

In spite of the risks involved and potential side effects, she is determined to go through the process, although her parents are divided on the issue.

Wolach’s mother, Deborah, said that even though some people might think it unusual for a woman to donate her eggs, she doesn’t find it strange at all.

“My nephew had a friend at UCLA who donated her eggs,” she said. “Knowing my daughter, she’s that type of person who would do it. I’m fine with it and I want to make sure she’s medically OK to do it.”

Wolach’s father, David, has a different opinion.

“I don’t think that’s the wisest choice in the world,” he said. “What if there are medical consequences?”

With the passing of time and as a result of learning what the egg donating process would be like, Wolach’s reasons for donating have changed.

“I’d like to help other people have kids,” she said with her forehead wrinkled in a thoughtful and serious way. “I could never be the recipient. I’d rather be the donor.”

*Names in this story have been changed to protect privacy.


Cash Crop was published on October 10, 2002 in Features

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