This post is was authored by Circle egg donor Gina Marie
As a four-time egg donor, I am often asked if the procedure is painful. What I’ve found is that this experience is different for every woman. It depends on the woman’s pain tolerance, her body’s response to the medications, the dosage of medications she takes, etc. In my opinion, the best way to explain it is by breaking down the process into three categories: (1) Injections; (2) Ultrasounds; and (3) Retrieval Procedure and Recovery.
When I think back on my experience as an egg donor, there were a lot of needles involved. Needles for blood work during the medical screening and needles for every day during the cycle. Egg donors take daily injections for roughly 21 days (the number of days varies based on the clinic’s protocol and your body’s response to the medications). This is not as scary as it may seem and neither are the needles. The needles are relatively small (similar to the size need a diabetic uses to prick his or her finger), and the injections may be given in your abdomen, upper thigh, or buttocks.
For me, the injections really were not very painful. During my first donation, I thought that one of the injections had a bit of a tingling or burning sensation, but I only remember that during my first donation. And the medications I took for my last three donations were different than the first donation. Beyond that, I did get some light bruising at the injection sight, but again it really was not bad at all.
Every woman’s body is different, and some donors think the injections are more painful than others; some donors can’t self-administer the injections and they need a friend or spouse to do it for them. I had no trouble giving myself the injections every day but I also think I have a relatively high pain tolerance. I always gave myself the injections in my stomach (except for the trigger shot, which was in the buttocks) because I thought my stomach had a little more cushion than my thighs and it just seemed easier.
Overall, I did not find the daily injections terribly painful, and that is partly why I donated four times. The process felt simple, straightforward, and relatively pain free.
During the egg donation cycle (while you are giving yourself daily injections), you will also have appointments at the IVF clinic so they can determine how your body it responding to the medications. Part of the appointment will be blood work, and the other part will be a vaginal ultrasound. The ultrasound measures follicle size and count; this gives the clinic the best idea of how many eggs you will produce and how many of them may be mature. This ultrasound (and the blood work) also helps the doctor determine if your dosage of medications needs to be increased or decreased. This is a critical piece of the process because your hormone levels need to be kept at a certain level to give the best possible chance that you will produce high quality and quantity eggs without overstimulation. By definition, a vaginal ultrasound is considered invasive. This makes sense considering a foreign object is being placed into your body to essentially look around and see how everything is going. But with that said, I never felt invaded or in any amount of pain.
For me, the ultrasounds were quick and painless, and I was always very interested to see how many follicles I had and what sizes they were measuring. Some women do find vaginal ultrasounds to be invasive. So before you decide to become an egg donor, I recommend doing your own due diligence and researching the process so you know what to expect. Before I decided to be an egg donor, I did extensive research and I was aware that vaginal ultrasounds were involved. I knew what I was getting myself into and I was ready for it. Not once did I feel uncomfortable or in pain and that is why I kept going.
Retrieval Procedure & Recovery
While the injections and appointments take place over several weeks, the egg retrieval procedure is actually the fastest part of the whole process. It takes about 15-25 minutes, and the entire time the donor is under general anesthesia. I never felt a thing during the retrieval (thanks to anesthesia).
After each retrieval, I remember feeling groggy when I woke up (again, because of anesthesia). I also felt a dulled pressure in my lower abdomen/pelvic area. There was always a nurse there with me after the retrieval to make sure I was feeling well. The day of the retrieval I did not feel much pain at all, but I was given pain medication that day and for a few days post retrieval.
The nurses always recommended that I take it easy the day of the retrieval, and I always did just that—stayed in bed and let my body rest. I wanted to recover quickly, so the most strenuous activity I did was raise and lower my arm to change the channel on the television. For me, I felt like it took my body exactly one week from the date of the retrieval for me to feel 100 percent like myself again.
During the post-retrieval week, I took it easy, too. I stayed away from the gym and took the pain medication the nurses gave me (but I only took it sparingly). The instructions I was given post retrieval were that I could resume daily activities the day after the procedure, but I did have cramping and bloating. So after work instead of going to the gym, I went home and rested in bed.
Was the procedure a pain-free experience? No. Was it so painful that I would never do it again? No! That is one of the reasons why I donated four times. The extent of my pain was cramps and bloating after the retrieval. I was happy and confident in my decision to be a donor. For me, a bit of post-retrieval pain was worth it to help give the gift of life.