DoubleX is starting a new partnership with The Washington Post Magazine . Each week our contributors will argue over a certain question, and we invite you to join in. This week: Is donating your eggs a smart way to make cash, or should women’s bodies never be for sale?
Kerry Howley : Up until my mid-20s, my ability to reproduce had been almost entirely a burden: the cost of contraception, the worry of pregnancy, the unsettling presence of blood. With that track record, padding my bank account seemed like the least my ovaries could do for me. My mother cried when I sold my ova. Friends said, “I would never do that.” Older women swore I’d regret it. But I do not miss those 12 eggs, hardly ever think of them, wouldn’t know them if I passed them in the street. I think instead of the long, thrilling trips I took with the money-to Bangkok, Istanbul, Cape Town. Devaluing my body, you say? It sure didn’t feel like that in first class.
Dana Stevens : Kerry-I wouldn’t think you were horrible even if your genetic offspring could read what you write (and I think going to Bangkok first-class is an awesome thing to do with your hard-earned cash). I’m just overly aware of my image, even among those who may not exist! I have a feeling my eggs were duds because when I tried to donate a second time, they said no, thanks. Just as well, I suppose.
Amanda Marcotte: In college, I considered donating eggs to make some extra money until I looked into and saw what an enormous physical strain it puts on your body. Your sex life is restricted, you have to take all these hormones that can make you moody, and at the end of it all, you have to go through a painful extraction process. It seemed like a lot of work for $5,000. In general, I find the low amounts of money paid to women for reproductive services to be insulting. If a surrogate mother receives $20,000, for instance, she’s being paid a little less than $3 an hour to gestate a baby. I don’t have a moral issue with providing these kinds of services, but it’s sad how women’s work is devalued, even when it’s something as important as giving life.
Jessica Grose : Amanda, $5,000 wouldn’t have been worth it for me, either. In my college newspaper there were ads offering $50,000 dollars for eggs from a woman with the following characteristics: Four Jewish grandparents, high SAT scores, BMI on the low side. Since I belong to that very narrow pool, I definitely considered it. And had I really needed the money, I would have done it. However, I was lucky enough to have my parents pay for college, and so I dismissed the idea. If the fee were less ample, I would probably have been less hypothetically eager. Not because I thought it devalued my body as a woman, but because a low fee wouldn’t have been worth the physical cost of extraction.
Victoria Bosch: I didn’t go to an Ivy League school, so the starting value of my ovaries was lower to begin with. But $5,000 would have been worth it for me. I considered entering the egg market in college, too, when I was trying to find a way to pay for study abroad without having to go into even more student-loan debt. But as I looked into the process, I realized that I was ineligible because of my familial medical history. The fact that my eggs were apparently without monetary value because a treatable illness had wound its way through my genetic code was somehow upsetting. I understand why parents wouldn’t want to take a risk with their precious offspring after shelling out all that money, but knowing that my genetic material was worthless was surprisingly insulting. I never ended up studying abroad-but now I wish I had just sucked it up and taken out more loans.
Samantha Henig: I’m with Jess: I had those qualities-Jewish, Ivy League, high SATs-that egg-seekers seem to think are worth up to $100,000, the figure I saw quoted in one Brown Daily Herald ad. It’s funny, Torie, because as silly as those particular traits always seemed to me to single out (especially given how unbearable some of the Jewish Ivy Leaguers I know are), I never thought about how insulting it would be to be told your eggs are worth less because you lack them. I think it’s a sign of the desperation that infertility can spark, and how it can bring people to make these borderline-eugenic demands. And that’s why I never donated eggs, though I did consider it: I was scared that all those hormones might affect my own long-term fertility and that down the line I’d be the one placing elitist ads in college newspapers.
KJ Dell’Antonia : Something about fertility-about having and parenting babies-makes people desperate for control. I’ll get pregnant in April and have the baby in January , goes the first thought, and then February is OK, and then cough syrup, cervix stitching, and so on throughout the infertility cycle. Finally, those ads, which sound so obnoxious and are really just a last-ditch effort to manage the unmanageable-the how, when, and what of having a baby. At least those high price-tags on “genetically desirable” donors prevent the creation of a black market in ova.
Alison Buckholtz: When I think about all that has been done to, for, with, and against women’s bodies throughout history, I pick myself up off the floor by remembering Lucille Clifton’s poem, ” Homage to my Hips .” She writes: “they don’t fit into little pretty places/these hips are free hips/they don’t like to be held back/these hips have never been enslaved/they go where they want to go/they do what they want to do.” The joy in her words comes not just from celebrating her body, as it does for male poets like Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsburg, but from the certainty that she alone is in charge of it. The egg-sellers among us may be enslaved by money, but I’m for it if it translates into a greater independence.