A Growing Business Courts College Students
By Dennis Martin
Photograph by Tong Wu
Images of smiling newborns hang on the wall right next to a “used books for sale” sign on college campuses throughout New York City. The advertisements have something in common: the transfer of something of value from one person to another.
“I chose 30 colleges in the five boroughs,” says Hilary Marshak, who had posters of her egg-donation agency, MyDonor, placed at Baruch and 30 other four-year institutions.
A licensed social worker and psychotherapist, Marshak sees herself as a “matchmaker,” because she gets to decide “who’s a good match for each other and bring them together.”
MyDonor is an agency, licensed by the New York State Department of Health, that matches women who donate their eggs with women who will use in vitro fertilization to become pregnant.
MyDonor has only been operating for two years, but Marshak says that business is growing.
“In a normal day, I’ll get two or three … maybe four or five” applications, she says.
Ninety-eight percent of her clients are college students, she says, so MyDonor pays companies that specialize in advertising at colleges.
Potential donors can apply online at mydonor.net where they must answer some very personal questions, ranging from the number of abortions they’ve had to sexual encounters the’ve experienced. Once the application is completed, an interview is scheduled, where applicants are informed of the procedure, which requires self-injection of fertility medication for up to 21 days to stimulate ovarian production. Next, a psychological evaluation is performed. Applicants who are approved are sent to fertility clinics where they are matched with recipients.
Women can earn $5,000 to $9,000 at the completion of a cycle, depending on the fertility clinic and prior donation experience, while brokers like Marshak receive $2,000 from a client.
According to mydonor.net, participants are called “donors” because the American Society of Reproductive Medicine does not allow participants to be paid for their eggs, only their time.
“Money corrupts people in every part of this industry,” says Julia Derek, a former egg donor.
At 24, Derek, a Swedish exchange student at George Mason University in Virginia, donated her eggs 12 times as a way to earn cash.
“I did it so many times I got a hormone imbalance and I got severely depressed,” says Derek, now a fitness expert in New York City. “I couldn’t stop crying and I had severe headaches. It took months to get back to normal.”
Derek chronicled her experience in Confessions of a Serial Egg Donor published by Adrenaline Books in 2004.
She says agencies like MyDonor that target college students for their eggs are unethical.
“They should only target women who are more emotionally mature, from 28 and above,” says Derek.
At MyDonor, Marshak accepts donors ages 20 to 29 and says college students are most desired because women in their 20s are the most fertile and because many recipients believe their baby will inherit “smart” genes.
She says barren women often seek someone else’s eggs, because the procedure allows them to experience pregnancy. “There is a real drive in women to actually bear a child,” she insists.
One MyDonor client, who asked that her name not be disclosed, says she can’t imagine women missing out on childbirth. The 25-year-old says she donated 20 eggs last year because she wanted infertile women to have a chance to experience childbirth. She
“I am proud of myself for giving something so special to another woman,” says the donor, a graduate of Marymount Manhattan College. So would she do it again?
“In a heart beat.”
But Justine D’Amour, 20, a junior at Baruch, is skeptical about the procedure, saying, “The thought of a ‘little me’ running around somewhere” is bothersome.