Get educated, get married, get pregnant. So it was written from the day I was swaddled in pink. I used to stare out the window of my school bus and dream about becoming a mother. Now I stare out the window of my 2008 Corolla and dream about eating Skittles in zero gravity, taking a selfie on Everest, and visiting my shrimper friend in Nova Scotia. I traded my maternal aspirations for the wildly impractical ambitions that come with being 20-something and having an uneven work ethic and an overactive imagination.
In my family – on the Chinese side, anyway – children aren’t conceived, they’re crowdsourced. Everyone has a say. My family no longer asks me, “Do you want to have children someday?” They now ask, “Why haven’t you had children already? You’re 27. You’re not so young anymore.”
These are the thoughts that lurk in the bowels of my subconscious while I’m washing the dishes, while riding around town on my bike, or while clicking around Craigslist, which is where I found the ad that changed everything.
ARE YOU EGGCEPTIONAL? ASIAN DONORS NEEDED! EARN
and promising. That was the moment I decided to become an egg donor.
My motivations were threefold: I could help a family in need, fund my
epic adventures with my eggs, and pass on my genes without the maternal
responsibilities! Someone else could change the baby’s diapers while I roamed
around the globe, learning Thai massage in Bangkok or whatever.
If the Biological Imperative to reproduce were a Nintendo game,
selling my eggs could be the cheat code.
“What do you mean you’re donating your eggs?” my mother asked, her shrill panic so loud that I winced and held the phone a few inches away from my ear. My mother is Chinese but was born and raised in Panama, a faraway land where eggs are inseminated the old-fashioned way, not mixed together with a stranger’s sperm in a petri dish.
Well, I thought, You wanted me to have kids someday. Maybe you should have been more specific. I replied: “I basically inject myself with hormones for a few weeks to produce a lot of eggs and then a doctor removes them surgically and —”
“Oh, no,” she cut in. “That’s too much. You can donate your hair, you can donate your blood, but this is too much. It … it’s too much.”
The conversation stopped there. I didn’t mention that I’d already begun shooting up Lupron, a hormone designed to take over my pituitary gland and inhibit ovulation. I didn’t yet know that Lupron has not been FDA approved for fertility treatments. What I did know, I ignored: I told myself that my eyeballs won’t turn yellow and I won’t get clay-colored stools and my fallopian tubes won’t fold over like a kinked hose, suffocating an ovary. It’s amazing what you’ll willfully overlook when enough money is on the table.
I signed the contract with the same youthful optimism that I’ve signed skydiving and bungee jumping waivers. “I understand and agree to the possible complication, including, but not limited to decreased fertility and/or death.” Surely my doctor won’t accidentally puncture my ovary with the aspirating needle, causing my torso to pool with blood. That’s unlikely. Also unlikely is having a stroke, but shit, nobody has a cerebral vascular accident on purpose. Shit shit shit. Oh c’mon, they call them “rare-but-serious side effects” for a reason: They are rare. Just don’t think about it. You’ll be fine.
But I wasn’t fine. As it turned out, being under the influence of follicle-
stimulating hormone injections turned me into a raging asshole. It was
like I’d struck some kind of martyrish deal with god where I agreed to
take on all the PMS of the world at once. I drove my then-boyfriend,
a vegetarian, to eat a whole roasted chicken he’d brought home for me
at my request. I refused to touch it on account of it being “gross and
not organic,” and he couldn’t see me just throw it away. The next day,
I bought nonorganic chicken noodle soup from the Whole Foods hot bar
and held up the express checkout line because I insisted on calling the
manager over to settle an injustice. “What’s the problem?” he asked,
glancing wearily at the line of people behind me. I lifted the soup container
lid and showed him what I’d showed the cashier: The container was only ¾
full because the soup had run out when I was almost done filling it. I gestured
dramatically at the ¼ volume of the container that remained soup-less.
“Do you see?” I demanded, “Do you see? I am paying for the whole container
and I should be compensated with a quarter container of soup,
to make up for the volume.”
I was ready to get the eggs out of me. My ovaries swelled from the size of
walnuts to grapefruits. They felt heavy and too full, like overfilled water
balloons. I could feel them sag with each step so moving was something
I generally avoided.
Thirty-six hours before the surgery, I gave myself the final injection prepared
with a fatty needle – the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone aka the
“Trigger Shot.” As planned, the hCG in my system produced a false positive
when I peed on a pregnancy stick. I took a photo of the positive pregnancy
test and texted it to my boyfriend, with the caption “im preggo eheheheh”
He texted me back a frowny face.
This was not the life I fantasized about when I was 10 years old, dreaming about
being a mommy and a wifey and a homeowner. It felt like I was living out a fractured
version of the white picket American dream – a dystopian parody of all the conflicting
values of my tricultural upbringing. When I pictured bringing a child into this world,
it started with a wedding dress, not a hospital gown. In the preoperative room, the
nurse searched for a serviceable vein in my arm for the IV catheter and I thought
to myself: Hmm, maybe I could have been more specific about what being a successful
grown-up would look like.
I emerged from the operating room 45 minutes later and 30 eggs lighter. I spent the
next 11 days in bed, recovering from moderate ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome,
where my abdomen swelled with fluid retention. Then, weeks later, my period arrived,
A month later, my eyes welled up with tears when I heard the news that the woman who received my eggs was pregnant. She’s pregnant with my eggs! “Really? Are you sure?!” I exclaimed into my cellphone, practically shouting. I found myself taken by all the joyful emotions that they said an egg donor would feel: I was legitimately happy for the recipients – after their long struggle with infertility, they finally got pregnant with their child. “I’m over the moon for them! Can you tell them that I said congratulations? Oh my god. Oh my god. Can you tell them how happy I am for them?”
“Sure,” the egg broker said, adding in a cool professional tone: “It was a pleasure working with you, Raquel.”
Eight months later, I found myself in Bolivia on a trip paid for by my ovaries. I was en route to Salar de Uyuni, bouncing in the back of a Jeep packed with international 20-somethings. Emma, the blonde Brit turned to me, the German girl, and the Portuguese guy, and asked us: “Do you have kids back home?”
“No,” we all replied, almost in unison, as if by rote. But then I paused, looking out the window of the passing emerald green lake, frozen over and glinting in the sun. I thought of the child who would be born that month and hoped for the unlikely possibility that I’d meet her someday. She’s a girl, I decided she’ll be a girl.
“Well, I mean, yes and no,” I murmured. “It’s kind of a long story…”