The price of eggs
May 18, 2023
Season 8 | Episode 1

The price of eggs

Ashleigh Griffin hoped the fertility industry could put her on the road to financial stability. But the decision to donate her eggs would lead her down an unexpected path.

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate turning 21. For Ashleigh Griffin, there were about 10,000.

During her freshman year of college, Ashleigh spotted a flier on campus offering up to $10,000 for potential egg donors. That was a mindblowing number to a teenager who was all too used to water or electricity being cut off in her childhood home. And as Ashleigh continued on through undergrad, that number would ring loudly in her mind. But she needed to wait until she was 21 years old before she could qualify.

Whenever things got a little overwhelming, Ashleigh would tell friends and family that “Yeah, student loans suck, but it’s not gonna matter cuz I’ll donate my eggs, and then I’ll get money!” 

Once Ashleigh turned 21, the process seemed pretty straightforward. She applied online, found a clinic, and traveled to California for her first procedure. Ashleigh remembers how much trouble the doctors and nurses went through to reassure her about the procedure: “I specifically remember them saying, ‘No study has shown that there are any negative side effects from egg donation.’ I remember them saying there was one very, very, very rare complication called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome,” she said.

Shortly after the egg retrieval, Ashleigh experienced excruciatingly painful swelling in her abdomen. She had ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, the condition medical professionals had told her was very rare. Ashleigh’s case was so intense that she was hospitalized.

After recovering from her first donation, she did more research and found that the industry around egg donation had quite a few complications – and not just with the health of the donors. “I feel like egg donors should unionize,” she told us. “That was the first time it was real to me, the power differential between me and the clinic.”

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A previous version of this story included a  misspelling of Ashleigh Griffin’s first name name.

This is Uncomfortable May 18, 2023 Transcript


Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.


Reema Khrais

One day her freshman year of college, Ashleigh Griffin was leaving the dining hall when she saw a poster


Ashleigh Griffin: There was like a bulletin board that had different campus activities and clubs on them. And there was one flier on there that was like, become an egg donor make up to like $10,000


Reema Khrais

Ten thousand dollars? And all you have to do is sell your eggs? It kinda blew Ashleigh’s mind. 


She was just 18– most clinics require donors to be at least 21– so she’d have to wait. 


But in the meantime it became a bit of a running joke among her friends and family


Ashleigh Griffin: yeah, student loans suck, but it’s not gonna matter cuz I’ll donate my eggs and then I’ll get money or like,, maybe I’m not gonna or pass my classes or graduate or get whatever job. But good news: sounds like people want our eggs


Reema Khrais

It felt way too good to be true, an easy way to solve all of her money  problems. 

Growing up, Ashleigh watched her family go from one financial crisis to the next.


Ashleigh Griffin: yeah, not infrequent to have water or electricity shut off in our home. Not infrequent to be, we were evicted a few times. So I heard those stressors.


Reema Khrais

But her parents, they did everything they could to give Ashleigh and her four siblings a normal childhood… her dad worked multiple jobs and would get creative to make ends meet 


Ashleigh Griffin: I remember hearing him talking about donating plasma so we could have extra money around Christmas, right?


Reema Khrais

Ashleigh waited patiently for three years, until she was 21…And by then she was even more confident


Ashleigh Griffin:  I was like, I have donated a plasma. I’ve donated blood, I’ve donated hair. Yeah, this checks out. This is next.


Reema Khrais

Like yes, obviously, why wouldn’t she sell her eggs. 


Ashleigh Griffin: 21 year old me felt so, like eager and hopeful and like this was maybe gonna change everything and make like all the dreams I had possible. And on top of it, I’m doing a good thing that will make people happy. 


Reema Khrais

I’m Reema Khrais, and welcome to This is Uncomfortable, the show where we talk about how money makes life messy. 


People who sell their eggs can stand to make anywhere from $3,000 to really as much as someone is willing to pay, there’s no limit. 


Egg donation is a multi-billion dollar industry and it’s only growing, but what’s interesting is that there’s virtually no federal regulation around how donors are treated or paid, and there haven’t been many studies on their experiences.


For years now, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of egg donation and what it’s like for donors to make this life-altering transaction…which btw I should say, even tho within the industry it’s called egg donation, these are not donations, there’s an exchange of money happening. 


I’ve spent weeks talking with dozens of young women who’ve sold their eggs, and Ashleigh’s story especially stuck with me…

Ashleigh began donating eggs at 21, and to this day, she has no idea how many kids are out there with half her DNA. Each time she donated, her view on the industry, and her role in it, evolved. 


And eventually, it forced her to grapple with seemingly impossible questions about her own future and family. 



When Ashleigh was 17 and finishing up high school, she was, for the first time, thinking about what would come next for her.


Ashleigh Griffin: I had a teacher in high school who will come up again in this conversation,who I remember like very seriously pulled me aside and he said like, don’t assume your parents have money for college saved for you, they might not. And I thought that was the funniest thing,  it never once crossed my mind that my parents might be like providing me any money once I was out of the house. 


Reema Khrais

The teacher Ashleigh’s referring to was her English teacher, he was a really big mentor in her life. She could see herself having a life like his one day, teaching high school, having a family. 


First, she’d have to get a degree. 


Ashleigh decided to go to a college not far from where she grew up in Washington state. 


She got some financial aid, but like so many of us, ended up taking out student loans. After graduating, she’d owe $40,000. Ashleigh didn’t think too much about that number, she just wanted independence.


With student loan money and financial aid, for the first time ever, she had real money at her disposal.  


Ashleigh Griffin: I felt briefly rich by student loans, living on campus meant you had to have a meal plan


Reema Khrais: Love those


Ashleigh Griffin: I, yes, and I had the unlimited meal


Reema Khrais:Oh my gosh. You were rich, rich,


Ashleigh Griffin: Oh my gosh, My friends, I remember complained about the dining hall food all the time, and I was like, what are you talking about? I haven’t had this much salad in my life. 


Reema Khrais

Despite the hardships her family had gone through Ashleigh had never thought that they were poor. She just figured, growing up in a big family….it makes things tight. 


That changed once she started opening up to her friends about her childhood


Ashleigh Griffin:  And so many of the stories I had, I didn’t realize were strange until I saw people’s reactions.


Reema Khrais

She wasn’t ashamed, but she did start to look back on her past and see how money made things unstable. They’d get stuck in a cycle: be in crisis, find a way to get some money, and then they’d face another crisis. And over and over. Now that she was out on her own, Ashleigh was determined to find lasting stability.

Step one was filling out an application to sell her eggs. Ashleigh lived in Washington and decided to look out of state, to California. She’d learned that fertility clinics there tend to pay more… 


Reema Khrais: can you walk me through the application process? Like what kinds of questions did they ask you 


Ashleigh Griffin: it’s like the worst dating profile. It’s [laugh] It’s so intense.


Reema Khrais

There are the simple questions: how old are you, what color are your eyes, do you understand that this is a medical procedure. And then the more thorough questions – her medical history, her family’s medical history, her grades in high school. They wanted to know whether she was athletic, did drugs, was on birth control. 

Ashleigh Griffin: what do you like to do for fun? What are your goals with school? What was your childhood like? What, tell me about the relationships with each of your siblings. What would you want to communicate to any future offspring? 


Reema Khrais: Well, it sounds like, in answering these questions, you’re selling yourself


Ashleigh Griffin: A hundred percent.


Reema Khrais

Still, she snuck in a few comments about her values– she didn’t want children born of her eggs to be spanked and it was important that prospective parents were accepting of all sexualities. 


This time in Ashleigh’s life felt so full of possibility. She was studying English and Linguistics, with the hopes of becoming a teacher. She also dreamed of eventually becoming a parent. herself. She just didn’t want to start that journey with student loans. 


Ashleigh Griffin: It was hugely weighing on my mind that I shouldn’t have kids unless I could afford it. So it felt like here’s a chance to help somebody else have a family and make it so maybe I can someday have a family


Reema Khrais

Selling her eggs would open all those doors for her. 


Ashleigh remembers when she heard back from the clinic. She’d been couch surfing and working at an elementary school between semesters. She was standing on the playground waiting for her shift to start, when she got the email.


They told her she’d been accepted into the egg bank program and they wanted her to donate eggs twice, and she’d get eight thousand dollars each time.


Ashleigh Griffin: $8,000. I could, I wonder if my sister could go to college if she wanted to. I wonder if like, okay, I could take out fewer student loans, or I could still take out student loans and then have $8,000. 


Reema Khrais

The whole shift was a blur, Ashleigh started daydreaming of all the possibilities. 


Ashleigh Griffin: And then it dawned on me partway through work, I pulled my phone out again to check. I was like, oh my gosh. They said for two cycles, that’s $16,000. Like that was like, an unbelievable amount of money to me


Reema Khrais

She wouldn’t have to worry about being a burden on her family, or whether she could afford another semester at school. Maybe she could even do something fun, go on a trip. 


Ashleigh said yes, sign me up. 


Before her procedure, doctors sent her hormone-filled syringes to inject herself with…to help prepare her body

Ashleigh Griffin: I felt nauseous. I wasn’t throwing up but I felt very sick. I was starting to feel pretty bloated and I felt very sore in my abdomen. 


Reema Khrais

The clinic flew Ashleigh from Washington to California, they even sent someone to pick her up from the airport. 


As soon as she walked into the clinic she felt like a celebrity. They offered her coffee and tea, the staff was telling her what a good person she was for doing this, congratulating her on her high fertility count, like omg you’re the perfect candidate…


And then they got down to business, told her what would happen next. They explained to her that people with uteruses ovulate once a month, and usually ovulate just one egg. But the hormones she’d been injecting in her stomach would stimulate her ovaries to create multiple eggs.


And then once it’s time to actually retrieve them, the doctors would insert a thick needle through her vaginal tissues and then suction the eggs from her ovaries.  


They then explained the risks of the procedure. The short of it being…don’t worry. 


Ashleigh Griffin: I specifically remember them saying, no study has shown that there are any negative side effects from egg donation. I remember them saying there was one very, very, very rare complication called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.


Reema Khrais

Basically, the same hormones that make the ovaries release eggs can also cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Which means not only do the ovaries get swollen and painful, but you can get all these other symptoms, too.


Things like intense bloating, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, it’s no joke. And in severe cases, you can experience life threatening complications like blood clots or internal bleeding.


Ashleigh took the doctor’s word for it though: hyperstimulation is rare. She’d probably just have temporary cramps and nausea. 


I asked her if she had any hesitations or felt nervous, and I was surprised to hear her say no, not at all..even when the side effects from the hormones eventually got worse…


Ashleigh Griffin: And so it like, felt so surreal to me that I felt so bad, but I was injecting myself with more of the medicine that made it bad. by the last few days, I remember I could like barely walk. I had to walk very slow.


Reema Khrais: And were you also thinking in the back of your mind like, well, this is worth the money.


Ashleigh Griffin: absolutely, I was absolutely counting on it, there was no way I was backing out once I was there. 


Reema Khrais

Yes, she was in pain. But the money she’d get from this retrieval felt monumental– a couple of days of discomfort for long term security. So on the day of the retrieval Ashleigh walked from the hotel to the clinic. Then she was sedated. The goal was to retrieve 10 to 15 eggs.


Ashleigh Griffin: I woke up sore, but I don’t remember it being horrible.  um, but I remember them saying, we are very worried that you’re gonna hyperstimulate. We got 33 eggs. It was more than we thought.


Reema Khrais: 33! Were you surprised by that number?


Ashleigh Griffin: Yeah. I felt like, uh, prodigy. I was like talked about like it was a very cool thing


Reema Khrais

The fact that Ashleigh was so young and just naturally fertile, made her an ideal candidate for egg donation.


After the procedure, Ashleigh got a check for $8,000


Ashleigh Griffin:  So it was in my account before school started in September 


Reema Khrais: When you say you got the check right away I don’t know why I’m imagining you like on the hospital bed and someone’s like literally handing you a


Ashleigh Griffin: Yes. That’s what happened.


Reema Khrais: Wait, really? You’re like in a daze and they just like hand you a check??


Ashleigh Griffin: yes. I remember, cuz I remember thinking, God, I hope I don’t lose this.


Reema Khrais

The clinic sent her away with a tape measure, instructing her to measure around her abdomen to see if the swelling got worse, a sign of hyperstimulation. 


Because Ashleigh was already naturally fertile, the doctors worried that maybe the hormone dose prescribed was too high in her case, which can lead to hyperstimulation 


Ashleigh Griffin:  I remember it, it was so confusing going from being told, “this is so rare, it never happens,” to then “don’t worry, don’t worry about it. This happens all the time. It’s gonna get better soon.” 


Reema Khrais

She flew back home to Washington…but the pain and swelling weren’t going away. 


Ashleigh Griffin: every day my abdomen was bigger. Like at one point I couldn’t see my toes. Like I, I looked significantly pregnant. The advice I kept getting was drink water, not just water drink electrolytes. So I remember my friend would go to the store and buy me these huge containers of Gatorade and I drank the whole thing. Like I was, I was consuming so much fluid and I wasn’t peeing at all. It was all that fluid was just going into the third space of my abdominal cavity. And by the end, like at the worst of it, I couldn’t lay down. Cause when I laid down, I felt like I was drowning. 


Reema Khrais

Her friend eventually rushed her over to the emergency room…where doctors confirmed that fluid was now also in her chest, which I didn’t even realize was a thing that could happen. The doctors at the ER couldn’t do much to help her. 


Ashleigh Griffin: Nobody really knew what was happening. I do remember one of the nurses was a gay man, and he was like very nice to me and thanked me like, to you doing this, I might be able to have kids.


Reema Khrais

They sent her home with pain medication. That night, Ashleigh had the best pee of her life, a sign that her body was finally recovering.


With money in the bank, life got easier– you know, she could visit her family…she could buy textbooks without overdrafting her account. 


But remember: Ashleigh had signed on for two retrievals. She’d only done one. I figured after that first awful experience, there was a good chance Ashleigh wouldn’t do it a second time, and the people in her life thought the same thing. 


But she was considering it, and there had been nice moments too. When she was in San Francisco for her first donation procedure, she started noticing queer families out and about and she’d think I’m helping build those families, that’s meaningful. 


But at the same time… her perspective on selling her eggs began to shift…


Ashleigh Griffin: I remember the language I kept using was like, why I feel like egg donors should unionize. Like, what do you mean there’s. All this like physical labor that can go so horribly wrong. That was the first time, it was like real to me the power differential between me and the clinic


Reema Khrais

She wanted to feel less alone, to talk to other people who’d gone through this. So one day, sitting at her desk, late at night, she did some research and stumbled across a Facebook group full of other donors…


And many of them…they were sharing the same symptoms of hyperstimulation, of unbelievable pain and bloating…and how they had to be hospitalized 


Ashleigh Griffin: Pages and pages of results of people describing like exactly the same sort of things I had experienced


And like Ashleigh, some of them felt like the clinics were downplaying the risks…there were also hundreds of posts exchanging tips and giving advice…


Ashleigh Griffin I was so impressed by so many of the people on the page,how it seemed like they were able to advocate for themselves and that they were sharing informations about which clinics treated them well and which didn’t.


Reema Khrais

Sitting there, sifting through the group, she started learning all these things about the egg donation industry that surprised her. They’re the same things that also first drew me to this topic. 


Like the fact that there are barely any studies about how egg donation impacts donors. Clinics often try to reassure donors of the risks by saying, there aren’t many studies showing long-term negative effects. Well, that’s because there aren’t many studies looking into the long term effects in the first place. 


Ashleigh also learned that the egg donation industry is so lucrative in part because, unlike in other countries, there are few government regulations. There are no federal laws or policies to protect egg donors, some donors I talked with told me even though they’re undergoing a procedure, they don’t always feel like the patient. Instead, the focus tends to be on the people buying the eggs, on the intended parents.


Egg donors might be the ones with the commodity – healthy plentiful eggs – but how much they get paid is largely dependent on market forces. 


Ashleigh Griffin: And that felt really like, like I think it was like relief, anger, empowerment, like was like the shift of feelings there, reading it.


Reema Khrais

On that Facebook group, Ashleigh saw comments of people who received up to 50-thousand dollars for a single donation.


For days, she found herself stewing over all of this. But she’d already agreed to a second donation and felt like she couldn’t change her mind. 


Luckily, that procedure went fine, they got forty eggs, and they’d adjusted the hormones to decrease her risk of hyperstimulation. By that point, she’d donated about 70 eggs…


Reema Khrais: So like, would anyone in your life say something like, oh, so you could potentially have like 70 kids out there who are biologically related to you,


Ashleigh Griffin: Yes. And then I’d immediately correct them. It’d be like, it’s more like 20 and they’re like, twenty’s still a lot. 


Reema Khrais

Ashfleigh wanted all of her donations to be open–  meaning that she would know the expectant parents and they’d know her. But she was told that wasn’t an option. So really, she had no idea how many of her 70 eggs would actually be used…and at the time, she didn’t think about the eggs she donated as potentially becoming children, let alone her children. 


Ashleigh Griffin:When I remember myself being in those conversations, there, there was one person who did push back more. It was that teacher. 


Reema Khrais

Her former high school English teacher, the one who’d encouraged her to plan for college. They were still close. He’d sold her a car, she occasionally babysat for him. 


Ashleigh Griffin: And I remember him saying like, how could you not think of these as your kids?  I like had a narrative I could stick to and I stuck to it,


Reema Khrais: which is…


Ashleigh Griffin: which is I like, I’ve done something that’s helpful, I’ve done something that’s a bit painful. But parenting is raising children. It’s knowing children, the genetics don’t matter that much. So like how dare I think that I have any like part of this kid’s life and I’m not even doing anything for them.


Reema Khrais

Ashleigh even felt that way when she eventually donated a third time, to close friends. They were having fertility problems, and Ashleigh was like, well I’ve done this procedure before, I can give you my eggs, free of charge. 


At the same time, that sixteen thousand dollars from her first two donations did not go as far as Ashleigh expected. She was visiting family when someone asked her


Ashleigh Griffin: how taxes go? I was like, what? I’m poor. I don’t need to pay taxes. And they’re like, what are you talking about? You made money this year, you do need to pay taxes.


That’s how I learned the money from egg donation is taxed as self-employment and then I didn’t have enough money in my bank account to pay for the taxes I owed on it.


Reema Khrais

She remembers looking at her bank account, just crying. 


A lot of the money she’d earned went towards some old medical debt she had, 


Ashleigh Griffin: I had a heart procedure done, I had knee surgery.


Reema Khrais

Plus, she was paying those hospital bills from her first donation. The clinic was going to reimburse her for it, but she’d lost track of her receipts and didn’t end up filing it…which I found very relatable. Ashleigh will be the first to tell you that she’s not the best with money. 


Suddenly, all those plans she’d had for her egg donation checks felt like a naive fantasy. 


Ashleigh Griffin: $8,000 is nothing. I thought it was a lot of money. It’s not. It all goes back


Reema Khrais

Knowing  how much would be taxed, and how hard egg donation was on her body? It made Ashleigh rethink the process entirely. Clinics, she thought, are raking in too much profit at the expense of donors and prospective parents. For parents, it can cost upwards of of 20-thousand dollars to conceive with a donor egg


Like maybe Ashleigh would do it again, but this time she’d ask herself a question first…


Ashleigh Griffin: If I don’t wanna do this, what is the amount of money that would change my mind? I’ll set that as my number. And if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. And if it does, I get the money. And that was like big mindset shift for me


Reema Khrais

So what was that “change your mind” amount of money? 


Ashleigh Griffin: I decided if somebody paid me $15,000, I would do it 


Reema Khrais

After the break…Ashleigh gets more than what she bargained for.


Reema Khrais

When Ashleigh picked that ‘change your mind amount of money– $15,000, she’s going through a lot. She’s 22, still in college. She can pay her rent, buy textbooks and take out fewer loans. but things still felt precarious. Like one misstep– an accident, an unexpected bill, could upend her life.


So when she got news that a couple saw the price she’d set and said “sure” …Ashleigh could hardly believe it. This time though she wouldn’t be donating all of her eggs to a clinic, instead her eggs would just go to this one couple…


Ashleigh Griffin: one thing I had asked for was to be notified of a live birth if it happened. I didn’t ask for like sex or detail, like I, I, I just want to know if there was a live birth. At this point, it was starting to dawn on me how many potential children could exist, and I like wanted to like, have the math in my head of what that might look like.


Reema Khrais

But the intended parents were firm: they didn’t want Ashleigh to have any information. They knew everything about her, down to her SAT scores, but they wouldn’t even tell her if they had a baby with her eggs. It stung. In my conversations with donors, they often said that was the most painful part, the fact some parents – or clinics – completely cut them out once they’d secured the eggs. 


But for Ashleigh, the money was too good to back out. It felt like an on ramp onto the financial stability she craved. 


The procedure went smoothly and she put the 15-thousand dollars towards her student debt. Occasionally she’d use the money to go out to nice dinners with her friends, or to visit her old high school English teacher. 


By now egg donation felt routine. 


Ashleigh Griffin: it didn’t feel like new and scary anymore. it just felt like a thing that I could do. Then I was like alright…I’m going to do it again but for 20 thousand dollars, I didn’t think anyone was going to say yes….


Reema Khrais: wait, wait, wait, wait. Back up.. So you’re like, you’re, you, you wanna do it again?


Ashleigh Griffin: I, yeah, it just felt like a track I was on, a thing i was able to do, a way to get a chunk of money, not  fast, but not as slow as course the job over the year.  I was gonna do it for a fifth time if somebody selected me for $20,000. Like, I felt proud of myself for upping it 


Reema Khrais

By this time, Ashleigh had graduated college.


She was couch surfing around Seattle, she’d paid off her debt, but was living paycheck to paycheck working for Americorps, barely making ends meet. A big financial cushion– $20,000, would make a huge difference.  


One of the reasons why I was drawn to Ashleigh’s story is cause you can sense the tension she feels, her desire to make a lot of money fast while also balancing all the moral and health implications of donating so many times. And it was at this point in her story where I began to wonder if there was a way she could sell her eggs and have it feel ethical and good. 


And then she told me about her fifth donation. 


Ashleigh first met the intended father on a Skype call, supervised by someone from the clinic. She took the call sitting in her mom’s closet– the most private place she could find. 


Ashleigh Griffin: and he right off the bat was like, this is kind of awkward. It’s kind of like a first date. And I, so nobody talks that way in egg donation.Like, you’re not supposed to talk, you’re not supposed to name it.


Reema Khrais

The potential father hoped that he and Ashleigh could get to know each other. That had never happened before.  


Ashleigh Griffin: he’s like, I think it’s unfair that I get all this information about you to make a decision, but you don’t get any information about me. Would you be okay with me sending you like my own like. Folder of pictures and like, stuff about me I felt it was thoughtful. It was like, I felt like I was being treated like a person in this and like naming the awkward dynamics of it too.


Reema Khrais

Asking for money from strangers who didn’t want her to know anything about them was one thing. But it was different, getting to know the kind, friendly man who’d be spending $20,000 on her eggs. She felt a little sheepish about it. And then he brought up the money. 

Ashleigh Griffin: he specifically said, that’s part of the reason he picked me cuz he like respected that I was like naming a price that like mattered to me. And like, he hoped that like if he had kids and or specifically a daughter that like, she would like demand money for like, it , like just was dreamy


Reema Khrais

After the procedure, the expectant father drove her from the clinic back to her hotel, with a care package he’d made for her recovery. She also got a check for $20,000. The money from this donation helped her finally stop couch surfing. And for the first time she could qualify for a place of her own. She built a bookshelf around the perimeter of the living space and filled the apartment with her favorite colors, sky blue and yellow. 


Ashleigh Griffin: I had this very intense job and so coming home every night to a place that was just mine and nobody else was there, it was like just peace that I’d never experienced.


Reema Khrais

Things were finally  falling into place: Ashleigh had her own apartment and her last donation had been such a positive experience, finally giving her a sense of stability. 

Ashleigh Griffin: I felt done and I felt that felt like such a good note to go out on. 


Reema Khrais

About a year later, in 2018 Ashleigh was in a new relationship– she was exploring her queerness after years of avoiding it. She’d done a total of five donations. Six is the recommended maximum for egg donors. So it felt like a good time to stop– and if something came up, like if a friend or family needed eggs, she could donate to them. 


Meanwhile her financial situation was starting to go downhill again. 


Ashleigh Griffin: I get a chunk of money and I do what I can with it for as long as I can, and then I’m desperate again.


Reema Khrais

She was struggling with her mental health and having a hard time finding consistent work. Eventually she got a job at a crisis shelter, which paid very little.


Then, one day, Ashleigh was on a walk in the park, scrolling through her phone, when she saw a news article about the clinic where she’d first donated eggs. They’d apparently had a malfunction with the freezer, causing them to lose the egg bank. She emailed them and was like….do you all by any chance want me to donate again? 


Ashleigh Griffin: And they sent me back like, yep, you could come down, like come whenever you want. We’ve upped our prices to $10,000 now instead of eight and so I did it and I, that was like absolutely just financial desperateness. 


Reema Khrais

This clinic didn’t let donors set their own prices. But not having to go through a lengthy application process seemed like a fine trade off. She  just needed money now. 


Ashleigh Griffin: My bank account hit zero every month at some point in the month.


Reema Khrais

At that point, Ashleigh was in her mid 20s…and her views on the industry had come into sharp focus. 


Ashleigh Griffin: by this point, I felt pretty critical of like the fertility industry at large and whose eggs they wanted and whose they didn’t and who got paid and who, like, all of that was like forming in my mind. I look young, I am white and blonde and don’t wear makeup, right? Like I, I see the, like, youthfulness of me combined with like a college degree that I think is exactly what the, like, fertility industry is like trying to market. And like I’m participating in that and benefiting from that


Reema Khrais

There are studies that show egg donors who are well educated are offered more money. And white and Asian donors, in particular, tend to get paid dramatically more money than Black and Hispanic donors. We’re talking a difference of tens of thousands of dollars. 


While researching for this episode we also came across very specific ads for egg donors: potential parents looking for donors with a particular height, SAT score, eye color, ethnicity. Basically if a wealthy family wants certain attributes in their egg donor. they’re likely to get it. 


And around this time, as Ashleigh was coming out as queer, she noticed that when she started disclosing that on egg donor applications, she’d be denied. 


Ashleigh Griffin: I was scared that, that my eggs were going to like bad people who raised their kids in bad ways. I’m like, if, if, if queerness influences, and maybe it didn’t, I don’t know how my application is. Who are these intended parents? Are they gonna be supportive of their kids if they’re queer?


Reema Khrais

She was legitimately torn …because taking part in the egg donation industry also felt like the only way through the crises she was facing. 


So Ashleigh made an appointment, flew down to California and walked into the clinic. Years ago, she’d originally entered that clinic full of optimism and excitement. People told her she was special and generous, making miracles happen, and she’d believed them. Now she just felt resigned.


Ashleigh Griffin: it also felt like, like circular in this like weird and powerful way. Like walking into that same place knowing so much more than I know when I was 21 and first donated there and like being a pretty different person now. Like it like I wonder how much like deep down I wanted that, like closure or something


Reema Khrais

While lying on the hospital bed that day, Ashleigh received a 10-thousand-dollar check. 


And around that same time, the father from her fourth donation had sent her photos of his newborn. looking at the pictures, she didn’t expect to feel as emotional as she did. 


Ashleigh Griffin: oh, that’s a kid who looks like my nieces and nephews. That is a kid who looks like my baby pictures. 


Reema Khrais

She thought about pictures she’d seen of her great grandparents as children. 


Ashleigh Griffin: seeing that face like through the generations and be like, and, and these kids are a part of that too. and I don’t know how many other kids there are, and I don’t know, I, 


Reema Khrais:Hmm. 


Ashleigh Griffin: it’s out of my hands and that was like a choice that I made, but just feeling like the weight of that.


Reema Khrais: Is that something that you think about often?


Ashleigh Griffin: every day, yeah. 


Reema Khrais

Ashleigh knows of six children born using her eggs, but there could be many, many more. And with websites like 23 and Me and Ancestry Dot Com out there, it’s very possible she’ll be hearing from them as they grow up. 


Ashleigh Griffin: when I like consider the sheer number of relationships I don’t have or don’t have yet, that’s when it becomes overwhelming.


Reema Khrais

Like, if all those kids eventually want a meaningful relationship with Ashleigh, would she even have time to give them that? 


All of this: the guilt and confusion became magnified in 2020, when Ashleigh and her partner Quinn started talking about building their own family. They can’t do that biologically, so they bought anonymous sperm from a local sperm bank. They figured they’d use one of Ashleigh’s eggs.


Ashleigh Griffin: it’s still 2020, it’s still locked down. I joined like a million Facebook groups, mostly about animal crossing. Um, but one of the Facebook groups I joined was, um, for donor conceived people 


Reema Khrais: Mm-hmm. 


Ashleigh Griffin: sharing their experiences. And I like read through a couple hours worth of those stories 


Reema Khrais

She’d thought about what it must be like to be donor conceived, but scrolling through these posts, one after the other…about their experiences, about how they were grappling with big identity questions…it was completely overwhelming. 


Ashleigh Griffin: I there’s 70 siblings, so like how they, they’ll, even if they wanted to get, know all of them, they couldn’t. Not knowing if they’re going to accidentally date– which has happened– one of their genetic siblings, a lot of feelings of resentment for like their genetic parents who profited off of selling their gamuts like, and describe feeling like baby’s on an assembly line.


Reema Khrais

Of course, there are plenty of donor-conceived adults who don’t feel this way. But the volume of people she was seeing on this Facebook group sent Ashleigh into a spiral. 


Ashleigh Griffin: And like, just reading all of that and feeling it and knowing like I am a part of that, I have been a part of that


Reema Khrais

Ashleigh remembers crying that night and talking with her partner about it. 


Ashleigh Griffin: I felt like I’ve al like I’ve already used up my, I didn’t know better card. Like how dare I now use an anonymous sperm donor? Like, I, I can’t, I, and that means that any like child of mine who’s like genetically mine and who I birth would be like kind of dual donor conceived because an unknown number of siblings from their genetic father’s side and an unknown number of genetic siblings from my side. I wouldn’t use this language now, but the time it felt like I don’t get to have kids. Like I, I already like messed up too bad. 


Reema Khrais

I’ve spent hours talking to Ashleigh and there are times like when she can be really hard on herself. The idea of her child having countless half siblings was more than she could bear. 


It felt like there was no clear or right answer. She talked to a trusted medical provider about it. 


Ashleigh Griffin: and she kind of like shrugged in like a super validating way and was like, yeah, you, I don’t, I think she’s, it’s like you can’t really enter parenthood and be morally pure. Like all the soap boxes you start out on, like get demolished by the children, you’re like raising or not raising and, and I think there’s like humility there.  And I don’t think, for me at least I don’t find it helpful to try to find the exact right move that like, makes me impossible to criticize. 


Reema Khrais

Today, Ashleigh feels like the best anyone can do is be as informed as possible about their options, and be willing to embrace the beautiful and complicated things that come from the decisions they make. 


After talking through their options, Ashleigh and her partner Quinn agreed to sell the anonymous sperm back to the sperm bank, and put their pregnancy plans on hold.


Meanwhile,  Ashleigh herself didn’t want to remain an anonymous donor, if she could help it. It’s something she’d always felt strongly about and now even more so. 


She urgently called all clinics she’d donated to in the past. 


Ashleigh Griffin:I am learning a lot more about the perspectives of donor conceived adults. It please, please, please have in my file, like am up for contact.


Reema Khrais

When someone did reach out, it was through the Donor Sibling Registry, a nonprofit that helps donor families connect with each other. 


Ashleigh Griffin: part of what she told me was that she tried to get ahold of me through the clinic and the clinic, um, said that there was a fee to like pass information onto 


Reema Khrais: Oh, wow. 


Ashleigh Griffin: and a fee for us to have a meeting together. she wasn’t really up for paying those fees.So decided she’d try first to find me in other ways. And I was livid, , like so angry.


Reema Khrais

Ashleigh hadn’t known that the fertility center was charging parents to have contact with her. They said that that fee was to pay a staff member to verify everyone’s identities. It was for her protection, they said. Ashleigh didn’t buy that. 

Almost ten years ago, Ashleigh knew the decisions she was making, decisions for her livelihood, would have lasting impacts, but if she’s honest with herself, she hadn’t quite grasped the weight of it…


Ashleigh Griffin:All of the crises of my twenties led to like major shifts, but specifically financial crises, like that was one major part of why I donated eggs and then continued to donate eggs. Like now those decisions mean that there are human beings in the world who wouldn’t be here otherwise.

And like the fact of that is like beautiful and nauseating and overwhelming, like all of it. 


I benefited and I was taken advantage of by the fertility industry, right? Like, and I, I, I feel comfortable holding both of those at once. Um, but, but yeah, money is relevant for every single facet of it.


Reema Khrais

Sometimes Ashleigh daydreams about the conversations she might have with the children conceived using her eggs, what they might say when they become adults. For a while, she’d imagine those conversations going terribly, what if they hate her? 


But more recently those daydreams have evolved, maybe it’ll be fine. She can’t predict what will happen, and right now she wants to focus on being more secure with herself, so she’ll be ready for those conversations. 


In terms of building her own family, Ashleigh still felt conflicted. She was sad that she wasn’t going to use her own eggs, even if it felt like the right decision for them. So instead, like a lot of queer couples, they had to come up with a creative solution.


Ashleigh Griffin: If my partner and I have a child using my partner’s eggs and my brother’s sperm, that means that child would know all of their siblings cuz either we have more kids or my brother has kids, but we’re all in each other’s lives in whatever way we are.


Reema Khrais

Ashleigh feels good about using her brother’s sperm and her partner’s eggs with her partner being the one who carries. But getting to this point, it was all so complicated. 


Queer people like Ashleigh and Quinn already have so many hoops to jump through when it comes to family building. It can be hard enough to find fertility centers that are ready and willing to work with queer families. And on top of that, it’s all so incredibly expensive. They’re gonna do IVF, which can cost up to 14-thousand dollars for one cycle.


When I asked Ashleigh how they were planning to afford that, her response completely threw me off guard.  


Ashleigh Griffin: I got a significant lawsuit settlement 


Reema Khrais: Ohh…can I ask you how much? 

Ashleigh Griffin: The settlement was for a million dollars 


Reema Khrais:  Woah

Ashleigh: YUP


Reema Khrais

Okay even though I sound surprised by that (and I was)….what she told me next, how they got  that settlement that was a story I didn’t expect. 


In fact, for weeks I kept thinking about it and talking about it with our team. We tried to find a way to incorporate the lawsuit story into this episode, until it finally dawned on us that it was too big, too complicated, and too important to just casually mention. We realized we definitely needed to do a second episode. Cause that money in a lot of ways is not just about Ashleigh’s story, it’s also about her partner Quinn’s. 


Ashleigh Griffin: if I wanted to sue a teacher and a district and a church, like what would, what do you do? 


Reema Khrais

You can find that episode in your feed, it’s called The Cost of Secrets 


Alright that’s all for this episode, if you have any thoughts about this story, or just wanna shoot us a note, you can always email  me and the team at, we love hearing from you all 


Also if you like our show, please let us know, and leave us a review, that really helps us out and it makes it easier for other people to find our show


And if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for our weekly newsletter. I usually write what’s on my mind that week or what’s going on in my life, there’s also always great recommendations in there for things to cook or listen to or watch. This week, I share a little bit about what it’s been like the past couple months working with the team on the new season.  You can sign up for that at slash comfort. 


This episode was lead-produced by Alice Wilder and hosted by Reema Khrais. They wrote the script together. 


The episode got additional support from Hannah Harris Green and Hayley Hershman. 


Zoë Saunders is our senior producer.


Our editor is Jasmine Romero.


Marque Greene is our digital producer, with help from Tony Wagner. 


I’m the team’s intern, Yvonne Marquez.


Sound design and audio engineering by Drew Jostad and Juan Carlos Torrado 


Also special thanks this week to Noha Sherif, Lauren Jade Martin and Diane Tober, also to the Facebook Group, “We are Egg Donors,” and all the donors who shared their stories with us


Bridget Bodnar is Marketplace’s Director of Podcasts


Francesca Levy is the Executive Director of Digital.


And our theme music is by Wonderly.


The second episode in this series is out now, I can’t wait for y’all to hear it. 

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