I cannot put this book down. Liza Mundy, a journalist for the Washington Post, has written a thoroughly researched, easy-to-read book examining the recent history of infertility and treatments in all their forms in the Western world. I was turned on to the book during the course of research for my own book and, just 60 pages in, I have filled an entire page of notebook paper with my own chicken scratch. Some of my notes are reminders of things I want to piggyback my own research on. Others are simply things I have found shocking. As a woman who decided to get pregnant, went off the pill after sixteen years of taking it religiously and was pregnant within 45 days, I have absolutely no understanding of what infertility can do to a person or their relationships. My second pregnancy occurred even easier and my husband and I used to joke that he had better not hold my hand and look into my eyes soulfully or we'd be a much larger family.
One of the most striking sections I've read thus far pertains to egg donorship. Ms. Mundy relates that, in the early days of this technique, eggs were donated largely by women in their twenties whose motives were purely altruistic. Fast forward to the current century and there are 'egg banks' who can charge up to $20,000 for a single egg, and that is before any sort of background checks for genetic anomalies or illnesses are performed. Having read about the struggles so many women are engaged in as they attempt to start their own families and knowing that my eggs seemed perfectly useful, I toyed with the notion of donating an egg or two. Actually, to say I toyed with it is probably an overstatement. The truth is, I had a gut reaction at the thought of another child entering the world with half of my genetic code being raised by a family I will never know. Although I have decided that I personally have borne all the children I wish to, the tightness in my stomach stoppped me from contemplating this further. I couldn't imagine knowing that there was a child on the face of the planet that started from an egg that came from my ovary but wasn't known to me or raised by me. It seemed like an irresponsible act in some irrational way.
As I think about the possibility of donating an egg to scientific research, however, I experience no such qualms. The idea of using my genetic material to unlock some of the secrets of stem cell research and debilitating diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's or diabetes doesn't bother me at all at first look. I must admit I am mystified by the vastly different reactions I have to each of these hypothetical situations. Having experienced the joy of parenthood, I can only imagine the desperate desire another couple might have to bear their own children. Ironically, before I ever had my own children, or even thought I wanted any, I don't believe I would have hesitated a moment before donating an egg to another woman. Especially as a starving college student who might be paid for it.
At this point in my life, in my late thirties having started menopause at a freakishly young age, it is not likely that anyone will be beating down my door in an effort to harvest anything from my ovaries. I do wonder, though, what will happen with some of my dearest friends who are currently busy with their careers and are putting off getting married and/or having children. There is a part of me that thinks it might have been nice to have the opportunity to donate an egg to one of them should they find themselves having difficulty getting pregnant at some point. I think I might be able to get used to being an "auntie" to a child with some of my own DNA. And I would have done it for much less than $20,000. For a really good friend I could probably be bought for some really good dark chocolate....