Caitlin* sat at her computer, diligently answering questions.
Hair: Blonde. Eyes: Blue. College Degree: Bachelor of Science. Activities: Theater, hockey, and knitting.
It could have just been another dating profile. After all, she was single and just out of college. But this profile was much more in depth. It asked intrusive questions about issues like her medical history and family’s health record.
In truth, this wasn’t an ordinary profile. It was intended to attract potential parents who were having trouble conceiving. Caitlin was filling it out because she had made the decision to sell her eggs.
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Two years earlier, Caitlin’s sister-in-law had tried for a year and a half to conceive, undergoing expensive and often painful procedures. It became clear that the best option was to receive a donor egg through an agency specializing in linking donors and parents in need.
Caitlin watched as her brother and sister-in-law scanned through the list of donors. They selected ones that looked closest to the sister-in-law and who had the best medical history. Intrigued, Caitlin asked a question: What do these donors get in return?
Egg and sperm donors are typically compensated for both their time and the “donation” itself. For people like Caitlin who are looking for a bit of extra money, the commitment can be rewarding — especially when it comes to paying down debt.
How Much Does Egg Donation Pay?
As an unemployed college student during the recession, Caitlin had managed to rack up over $8,000 in consumer credit card debt.
“I had made some major mistakes when it came to my finances, and I wanted to fix it fast before I had to move home or find a very low-paying job. This looked like a way for me to continue looking for a job while making money.”
Caitlin was shocked to hear how much a donor could make — that figure can be as high as $14,000 per egg donation in 2021. In contrast, the time commitment was relatively short. This got me thinking, are eggs more valuable than sperm?
“The truth is that eggs are a more scarce resource largely due to quantity and quality,” says Thomas Molinaro, M.D., director of IVI America and a reproductive endocrinologist at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey.
“Women are born with all of their eggs, while men make new sperm their whole lives. Every month a woman uses eggs, whether she is trying to get pregnant or not,” Molianaro states.
Because of the high demand, patients are willing to pay a pretty penny for in vitro fertilization.
“An in vitro fertilization cycle without preimplantation genetic testing is about $12,000 to $15,000. These numbers do not include the cost of medications, which could be as high as $5,000 per cycle,” Molianaro continues.
Patients who wish to get pregnant are looking at a pretty steep bill. On the other hand, people like Caitlin can actually profit from selling eggs to the cause.
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The Process of Donating an Egg
The payoff, however, didn’t come quickly. After Caitlin was preselected by a local egg donor company, she had to attend several screenings both for medical and psychological reasons. About a month or two later, she then had to travel across the state to meet with the doctor who would then run his own medical and genetic testing.
Then there were lawyer meetings, compensation agreements, and paperwork that Caitlin estimated took another 10 to 20 hours. Then came the medicated cycle, 10 days’ worth of visits to the doctor, and the actual extraction.
Once the retrieval was confirmed a success, she received a check from the company for $7,500 within three business days.
On the flip side, Caitlin’s friend Eric* was also becoming interested in donating part of his body. After hearing from a friend that he was making roughly $100 per week at a sperm bank, Eric was intrigued. Like Caitlin, he had recently graduated and was unemployed. The $100 per week could pay for his gas and groceries, as well as cover his student loan payments each month.
“I always thought it was something really gross… But then I started to think about what I could offer to parents who actually needed it, and I felt better about selling a part of me.”
The Sperm Bank of California pays their donors $125 for each sample. This can help people like Eric quickly rack up some serious cash, as some donors make up to $600 a month.
The Emotional Toll of Donating an Egg
As Caitlin went through her donor process, she was frequently asked by doctors: What is your motivation for doing this? She had many conversations with counselors about having eggs out there in the world after selling them.
These eggs would not be carried by her; the doctors wondered how she would handle having children down the road. But like Eric, Caitlin eventually saw donating a part of herself not just as a money-making scheme, but as a way to help those who were not as fortunate to have her health.
Caitlin ended up donating twice over the span of two years.
She made roughly $18,000 and paid off all her personal debt as well as some student loans.
Eric, on the other hand, continues to donate to this day. He does this despite having a family of his own and no debt to worry about. Both of them are hopeful that the children that may have been produced from their donations are happy, healthy, and well-loved by deserving parents.
When asked what advice Eric would give for those considering selling eggs or sperm for money, Eric answered, “Stop thinking about the payment. That’s not how you should go about it. Sure, that’s great in the end, especially if you need quick cash. But you have to do this for the greater good, too, or else it will catch up to you.”
* Names have been changed to protect privacy