Less than a year after my donations, I was diagnosed with Stage IV endometriosis. I was young, single, and still dreaming of motherhood at the time.

By Leah Campbell
February 06, 2019
Leah and daughter
Leah Campbell and her daughter.
| Credit: Courtesy of Leah Campbell

I went to a college that was littered with advertisements for egg donation. "Make up to $10,000 and help a family in need," these fliers would scream out, all in happy pastels with pictures of beautiful co-eds presumably making a family's dreams come true.

I was always intrigued. So my senior year, I decided to take the leap, donating my eggs to two different families. In exchange for pumping my body full of hormones and subjecting myself to general anesthesia so that a doctor could collect my fertile 20-something eggs, I was given a total of about $13,000 and sent on my way.

What I never could have predicted was what would come next.

About six months after my second donation, I started to experience complications. First, my period disappeared. For months and months, I went back and forth to the doctor trying to figure out what was going on. When it finally returned, it was excruciating. I ran a fever, couldn't stand upright, and found myself vomiting from just how bad the pain was.

I had never experienced a period like that in my life, but over the next several months, each period I got was worse than the last.

After an ultrasound revealed a belly full of cysts, my doctor scheduled exploratory surgery right away. And less than a year after my donations, I was diagnosed with Stage IV endometriosis. I was 25 years old at the time.

What Is Endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a disease where endometrial implants occur outside the uterus. At Stage I, those implants are usually minor and confined to the pelvic region. By Stage IV, they've spread to other parts of the body. I've had endometriosis discovered as high up as my spleen and just behind my lungs.

Those implants shed and bleed every time a woman with endometriosis gets her period. Only, the rest of the body isn't equipped to handle that shedding like the uterus is. The result is pain and scar tissue and more pain.

Endometriosis also happens to be one of the leading causes of infertility.

I was young and single when I received my diagnosis. Every one of my pre-donation medical records revealed a girl who had been in perfect health. The doctors who have reviewed my before and after records have all come to agree on one thing: I likely always had an underlying case of endometriosis, one that was probably kept under control by the birth control pills I'd been on since my teens. But the hormones involved in egg donation caused the disease to spread at an abnormally aggressive pace.

Endometriosis, Pregnancy and Infertility

I wish I could say I was the only egg donor this has happened to, but in the years since, I've been connected to more than a dozen women with similar experiences.

At the urging of my doctor, I did initially pursue fertility treatments. I was young and single, but I wanted desperately to be a mother. And she thought this might be my only chance.

By the time I was 27, I had two failed rounds of IVF under my belt, and a medical team that didn't seem to have much hope for my future fertility.

In the three years following my initial diagnosis, I had five major abdominal surgeries. I had to travel out of state for three of them, as there are only a few true endometriosis specialists in the country. I went on drugs that made me violently ill, tried alternative therapies like acupuncture and cupping, and even spent months drinking a tea formulated by a "healer" specifically for me that apparently contained squirrel poop.

At one point, I considered applying for disability—getting out of bed and going to work had become that difficult for me. The pain was no longer contained to just my periods. I hurt all the time now. Scar tissue had bound my insides together and everything from eating to walking caused me pain.

Eventually, though, my surgeon was able to get me to a healthy place. I was lucky. I'd been able to afford seeing one of the best of the best doctors—Andrew Cook, M.D., of Vital Health Institute in California. Not every woman with endometriosis is as blessed. I truly credit him with giving me my life back.

But the money I spend in those three years on my quest for health added up. In the end, the $13,000 I made off donating my eggs turned out to be just a dent in the over $60,000 I accumulated in out-of-pocket medical bills.

And that doesn't even begin to touch the emotional turmoil of losing my ability to conceive so young.

Life After Endometriosis

I eventually adopted, and my daughter is the love of my life. I will never be able to regret donating my eggs, because I know I would never have found my way to her otherwise. And there is at least one family out there with ten-year-old twins because I replied to those fliers on my college campus. But I do wish there was more transparency in the egg donation industry. I do wish more efforts were being made to protect the young women who are essentially being bribed with cash to take on unknown risks.

Today, I'm 35 and the pain is starting to return. My periods are becoming rough again, and because scar tissue has repeatedly fused my uterus to my bowels, digestion is a little more difficult with each passing month. I can hardly eat when I get my period now.

I know another surgery is in my future. This time will hopefully be the last—the full hysterectomy I've put off until now (a big part of me still holding out hope for the miracle baby I'd been told to stop praying for). This disease has taken so much from me, but this is the last blow I'll allow it to throw. I'm hoping to say goodbye this summer.

Ten years of fighting seems like enough.