Cross-posted with Biopolitical Times on February 19th, 2013.
Young women are recruited for their eggs with just about every marketing ploy imaginable. Ads appeal to the ego and the pocket book, as well as to a sense of altruism and social activism. They promise that you too could be one of the “beautiful, accomplished superdonors,” “earn extra money while giving someone the gift of life,” or “help the LGBT community.”
Many women are understandably drawn to these ideas, but have struggled to find credible information about the true risks of egg retrieval and others’ experiences of it. The US fertility industry is minimally regulated, and there are too few studies of the long-term impacts of donation. Though some personal accounts have surfaced over the years, such isolated stories fail to provide the in-depth insights that are needed. A forum that welcomes open conversation about all aspects of the egg donor experience could help make the experience more transparent and create community with multi-dimensional discussion and the power to change the terrain.
This is the impetus behind Raquel Cool and Claire Burns’ new project, We Are Egg Donors. As egg donors themselves, both women understand what the process entails, and how alienating it can be. Cool is an artist and writer living in Santa Cruz, California who began donating her eggs in 2011. The contradictions and discrepancies she experienced inspired her recent solo exhibition, Live Nude Eggs. Burns is a playwright and performer from Toronto, Canada. After donating her eggs in 2004 she wrote the play Hatched, an investigative piece that delves into the complicated ethical and social dilemmas of egg donation.
The goal of We Are Egg Donors is to promote advocacy and support for egg donors, and to change the conversation. Women who have donated in the past, are considering it in the future (or are just curious), and experts across relevant fields are all invited to join in on the conversation. In a recent email Cool and Burns explain:
Egg donation doesn’t need to be an isolating experience when there are thousands of women around the world going through the same process. We are building a community. There are no ongoing resources for egg donors… and we want to change that.
We also believe that women should have access to support and evidence-based information presented by an entity that does not profit from her participation.
We are shifting the narrative that egg donors are voiceless biological resources or strictly doe-eyed altruists. It’s a complex experience and we’re ready to have an honest conversation about it.
Complex, indeed. Many women who have donated their eggs have nuanced views on the experience. Even if everything goes well, the implications of perpetrating certain standards of beauty and success and being paid for parts of your body can sit uneasily. Additionally, many women do experience negative physical and psychological impacts.
One danger of raising the visibility of egg donors through this self-advocacy model is that it could encourage young women to join this group of attractive and successful people. And a superficial reading of the website could lead one to imagine that if so many others have done this, it must be fine.
Hopefully, We Are Egg Donors can manage those risks and help inform women considering donation of all the potential problems that can arise. The power of access to information that doesn’t stem from a commercial entity can’t be overstated. Hopefully too, this forum will provide solace to those who have donated their eggs and have since experienced alienation, or physical or psychological harm. Lastly, the existence of this community may help raise awareness that long-term follow-up on the impacts of egg donation is sorely needed.
This is the very beginning of the project and We Are Egg Donors is still in the research phase. They are looking for insight, involvement, and resources in order to make this a thoughtful and empowering space. Reach out to them hereif you would like to get involved or learn more.