July 14, 2007

Sperm Donors Work, Egg Donors Nurture: Parenting Stereotypes In The Assisted Reproduction Marketplace

Peggy Orenstein, who covers the uterus beat for The New York Times Magazine, has a long, fascinating, and somewhat frustrating article charting the socioemotional landscape of egg donation. It's all worth reading, but Orenstein's account of surfing an egg donor website with an aspiring mom jumped out at me:

I stood behind her, watching the young women go by. Each was accompanied by an assortment of photos: girls in caps and gowns graduating from high school, sunburned and smiling on family vacations, as preschoolers in princess frocks, sporting supermodel pouts in shopping-mall glamour portraits. Sperm banks rarely provide such visuals, which is just one disparity in the packaging and treatment of male and female donors, according to a study published last month in The American Sociological Review. Egg donors are often thanked with presents and notes by recipients for their generous “gift.” Sperm donors are reminded that they’re doing a “job,” providing a “sample,” and performing an act they’d presumably do anyway — which may be why many men in the study were rattled when told a pregnancy had actually occurred. And although the men could admit they were in it for the cash, ovum donors were expected to express at least a smidge of altruism.
That study, "Selling Genes, Selling Gender: Comparing Egg and Sperm Donors," by UCLA doctoral candidate Rene Almeling, is worth a story in itself. Almeling, who has been researching the US reproductive market for five years, interviewed 25 staff members at two egg agencies and two sperm banks. She found major disparities between egg donor and sperm donor experiences, including fair compensation, control of donors' sex lives, arbitrary rejection [1], and "gendered stereotypes of selfless motherhood and distant fatherhood." Men may think they're getting paid to beat off, when they're actually getting screwed.

Here's the ASR press release for Almeling's article, which came out in the June 2007 issue. Here's the abstract for her original presentation of the work at the American Sociological Association conference last August in Montreal [located in "the best part of North America," remember. -ed.] And here's her more extensive research, which includes clinical and donor observation, comprehensive materials review, and donor interviews. Fascinating stuff.

[1] Stanford professor Robert Sutton calls one sperm bank staffer's rejection of donors she doesn't like an example of "The No-Asshole Rule," which, conveniently, is the name of Sutton's latest book.

Your Gamete, Myself [nytmag]


She should take a lot at fair compensation in the UK! Here you can be paid for a sperm sample but not for egg donation which is a lengthy and invasive,unpleasant process for the woman involved. Makes no sense to me. So I think at least in the UK the portayal of a selfless female donor would be absolutely accurate.

[she looked at the time commitment; a sperm donor only gets paid when the sample passes the sperm count test, so he has to regulate his sexual activity for a year, with no guarantee of payment. In the US, even though the egg agencies pay more for things like height, SAT scores, and Ivy League degrees, they also reject women who express any interest in financial motivation. The whole system is wack, frankly. -ed.]

My husband and I used an egg donor and looked through many profiles before we chose her. The profiles were lengthy and filled out by the donors themselves. There were many questions re. the donor's attitude towards donation, including why they were donating. Along with the many expected variations on "to help someone have a baby who can't otherwise," there were several women who mentioned they were using the money to pay for undergrad or grad education. We thought that was great, and our donor was one of those women.

Granted, you could compare this to the classic stripper-putting-herself-through-school stereotype (considered so much more valid than strippers who do it because it's good money or they like it or whatever), but frankly, I found it really refreshing. And it didn't have to be college, they could've said they were using it to put a deck on their house, or to take a trip to Italy, or to buy a closet full of fancy duds.

The bottom line for us was no matter what they were doing with the money, it meant that we could have a baby, which we will, in about two weeks. I don't begrudge our donor a cent of the money we paid her (which was $8,000) and I think it's a heap of steaming bullshit that these women have to appear as angels of mercy, altruistic saints, or what have you. As far as I'm concerned, they're doing something huge and deserve to be compensated fairly for it without having to pretend they're doing it all for the poor, barren mothers of the world (or at least the U.S.)

There does seem to be a disparity between compensation of sperm donor and egg donors. But consider this: a sperm donor does his donating in a matter of minutes in the privacy of a room with a TV and videos.

The egg donor must undergo a physical with a reproductive endocrinologist, do baseline ultra-sounds and provide bloodwork. Then when she is chosen/matched, she must often undergo psychological screening, meet with various administrative & medical personnel. She must administer daily shots (sometimes 2 or 3 different kinds) into the abdominal area or thigh, take various oral meds and be monitored via bloodwork and ultra-sounds. When her eggs are ready to be harvested, she then undergoes a surgical procedure to have those eggs retrieved. Most retrievals are done under a twilight anesthesia. Donors sometimes experience weight gain, extreme hormonal changes, discomfort and frankly, put a lot of time into this donation. It is usually a 3-week to month long process where some must travel long distances. The egg donor often must take time off from work to fulfill all the different obligations that comes of being an egg donor.

Egg donors, by the very nature of what they are physically doing, undergo a much more complicated process and should be compensated differently as they currently are.

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

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