Growing up in St. Charles, I spent ninth through twelfth grade at Francis Howell High, a school near the Nuclear Waste Adventure Trail and Museum in Weldon Spring. Described by virtualglobetrotting.com as a seven story-high pile of radioactive waste, the mound was so close to our school that during gym class, we used to jog down Highway 94 to the huge tomb and run up its stairs. I don’t remember what the view from the top was like, probably because I just wanted to get off the massive nuclear waste site.
Because playing on the not-so-distant radioactive dump that had been declared safe by the government was part of a class at the school I attended seven hours a day, five days a week, I half-jokingly resolved that this probably meant that I was going to be sick when I grew up or that my children were going to glow in the dark. As a student body, we smoothed over the fact that the lake, part of Busch Wildlife visible from the football field was a neon green color — the kind of green that would never just naturally occur — by making jokes. The unwritten rule: Don’t drink the water. I wanted to have healthy children someday, so I went four years without taking a sip from a water fountain.
In this week’s print issue of Vox and online at VoxMagazine.com, we offer a package of stories on egg and sperm donation, the risks of procedures such as in vitro fertilization, the ethics of using donor material and where different religions stand on the topic, and the future of reproductive technology. The nuclear glow surrounding the memory of my alma mater will always be synonymous with infertility for me, but it’s through these stories that I’ve learned about the country and Columbia’s reproductive rates.
According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 percent of married women in my age bracket were considered infertile in 2009. Vox reports on science aiming to help people facing infertility, but no matter how much technology advances, for some couples, it’s up to donors to help make children a reality. To me, the generosity of strangers is really what’s most interesting about these stories.
In a Q&A with an anonymous egg donor, we make giving your eggs look easy. The procedure is minimally invasive and donors are able to return to work the next day. The donor we talked to chose to give her eggs because she knew people who faced infertility. I don’t know anyone who has faced infertility, but also in high school, before becoming aware that my body probably contained enough radiation to light a bulb, I entertained the idea of donating my eggs for money after reading a story about the process in a women’s magazine. At that point, it was purely for the cash. I could make as much as $10,000 and was excited when I read that prospective parents prefer blonde, blue-eyed donors. Check and check. I was too young, however, but made a mental note to revisit the idea when I got older.
Looking at the donation agency Giving Hope Egg Donation’s website, I’m nearly perfect on paper. I’m on the low end of ages 20-28, a non-smoker and have a good health history. But now that I’m of age, I think I would consider donating my eggs only if I knew they were going to a good home — and with a donation agency, I don’t think there's any way to tell. The money is tempting, and I applaud women who can be so selfless as to go through exams, injections and surgery to help a stranger conceive, but the donor in our story didn’t even know how many of her eggs were retrieved. I can’t deal with the uncertainty.
Many people feel donating your eggs and sperm is strange because there will be a child who was conceived with your help living in a world without your knowing him or her. If I donated, I'm fine with never meeting my progeny face-to-face. I think helping couples conceive and start families is great. But I can’t live with knowing that the eggs I gave might have created a baby that grew up to be a child who was abused or neglected or didn’t have a happy life. My child and his or her parents also deserve to know who I am in case my clean bill of health turns out to be not-so-clean. I’d gladly give to a friend, relative or someone who I grew to know or somehow trusted. But until egg donation agencies give donors the right to know where their gametes end up, I’m afraid I’ll have to keep my genes to myself.
Amanda Woytus is the deputy and calendar editor for Vox Magazine.