In honor of June being Pride Month in the United States, today’s blog post is an interview with one of our gay couples. Brian and Ken* are from the Bay […]
In honor of June being Pride Month in the United States, today’s blog post is an interview with one of our gay couples. Brian and Ken* are from the Bay Area and worked with AsiaWest last year. Here they discuss how they began their journey egg donation, finding AsiaWest, how they chose their perfect donor, and what they thought of the whole process.
*Names changed for privacy
So how did you guys get started with egg donation and with AsiaWest?
Brian: Well we started – there was a conference called Men Having Babies. So a couple years ago we went to that. I believe that was 2018 when we went to the first one of those in San Francisco and that’s where we became familiar with several of the providers in California, Oregon, and whatnot.
At the end of April that year we did make a trip out and we had a mission to visit ORM fertility which is there in Portland. At the same time we went over to Northwest Surrogacy Center. We were kind of interviewing different groups and we had some phone interviews and stuff, but this was the first on-site interview and we were just sold on the whole Portland package, is what it amounted to.
And then I can’t remember when AsiaWest really kicked things off or when we heard about them, but we were specifically looking for a Chinese egg donor. If you know anything about the business, finding an Asian egg donor is one thing but finding a Chinese egg donor was another one altogether in level of difficulty.
Brian: Really we’d looked at all the egg donation agencies in the United States – fresh, frozen and everything else – trying to figure out what was going to work best for us. But we just really liked the whole Oregon vibe.
Where are you guys from?
Brian: We live in Mountain View which is on the peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose. So although ideally everything would’ve been right around here in California, we really thought the Portland stuff really measured up. And so AsiaWest seemed to be the best bet for the egg donation situation.
So you went to the conference in 2018 and that’s how you sort of got connected and then, it sounded like it did work out since you both connected with NWSC and since you were also looking for a Chinese egg donor AsiaWest was right there.
Ken: Great fit. Yeah that was a great fit for us. Very quickly, within a month, Amie from AsiaWest introduced us to a donor that we liked. She had a family emergency after we initially matched so she had to back out.
Brian: Yeah, her grandmother had a heart attack or something in Taiwan and she had to leave.
Ken: So she could not do it.
Brian: Really crazy timing, real weird situation. But that was it for that one.
Ken: Yeah, and then it took probably another six months for us to come across another donor that we liked. And while we were going along the process, I guess her boyfriend had a second thought about it so she really didn’t feel comfortable becoming an egg donor. So she had to back out.
Brian: He thought it might affect her fertility for them as a couple. So it’s kind of like as time went on he got cold feet about it and that influenced her deciding to end it.
Ken: And then eventually we got introduced through Amie to our donor. That was late last year, maybe fall last year. But she was already selected by another family.
Oh my goodness!
Ken: I know we’ve been waiting for almost two years!
Brian: There was also another one in there that had some hepatitis stuff. And we were kind of uncomfortable with that and just not sure with that situation. We really went through several. They refunded our deposit and everything. They were just like, we just cannot seem to find somebody for y’all. They were trying, but really we ran into a lot of problems.
Ken: So our donor was eventually second in line. Last December she donated for the first family and then I guess January/February this year we were working with her for our donation. And then Covid hit.
Brian: She had gone to ORM fertility and got checked out because she had not been seen by them before in the first donation. So she went out there, everything was great. And then all of a sudden that was the end of that.
Oh my gosh!
Brian: This was like the fourth time and we were like how many times does it take, right?!
And then when I think they were kind of opening back up, her father had kind of a problem and she had to go out of state to take care of him and we didn’t know when she would be back, she didn’t know. It was crazy. And she couldn’t leave to go to Portland and come back because she didn’t want to expose her parents to Covid or anything. So it was just one thing after another and finally one day she comes back and she’s ready to go and she went to Oregon and everything was fine!
Ken: Yeah, this was two and a half years to get to this point. It took that long.
Ken: But I’ve seen people who can do the whole thing, meaning going to the conference and have it a year later. Some people move really quickly and it took us two and a half years to get to this point. But you know at least we have made progress.
Well I’m glad that it eventually worked out. I’m curious, could you tell me more about how you went about choosing your donor? Did you have an idea, going in, of what you were looking for or did you kind of just go on the database and find it as you went along?
Ken: I think I had some ideas. As Brian said, we were looking for a Chinese egg donor.
Brian: So let me just add the backstory to that. It was always an Asian egg donor, which was wonderful for me, no issue with that. But when we got to ORM and talked to the psychologist, the psychologist figured out that when Ken said Asian, it really meant Chinese. So when we got to that point in April 2018, that made it much more clear what we were trying to do, which was great. It just so happened that that limits the field a little bit.
So we had a pretty specific starting point, right? And then there were lots of other qualifications. We wanted somebody who was educated, or you know reasonably on track with their education. And of course happy and healthy and all those kinds of things. Good family. Supportive boyfriend!
Ken: In the database I can see specific ethnicities within the Asian culture. So for us it was specifically looking for a Chinese donor. And then also people would look at the education. So we were looking for someone with a Bachelor’s degree or higher. To me it’s always this nature vs. nurture. Ultimately being parents we will be responsible for giving a good environment for our kids to grow up in, but I think nature might play a little bit in it. So we were looking for someone who at least graduated with a university degree.
Yeah I mean it’s interesting because you have that option to see information about this person.
Brian: I’m also speaking for myself because there are some genetics in there, certain things you can’t overcome with the nurture bit, so you just gotta try and take off from the best possible spot that you can. And it’s just one of those things that you’re only going to have 50% of the input into that genetic material! So it was equivalent to online dating. Ken reviewed a million profiles probably, from all around. When I say we looked at every agency in the U.S., pretty strong on that one. I joked with him that he can have a part-time retirement job coaching people on how to write their resumes because you get a feel after looking at hundreds and hundreds of these, who is really interested, who’s investing their time and effort and putting their best foot forward. I mean, you never know in the end. Maybe someone else wrote it for them or whatever. It’s kind of like a job interview – you don’t really know until they show up. But of course, we didn’t meet our donor until it was all kind of said and done!
With your donor, was there something in particular that really stood out about her for you guys?
Ken: We were looking for someone who went to a good school. She attended UC Berkeley in the Computer Science program so that told me that she is a really smart person. And then a good mix of artistic abilities and academic abilities. In general, we loved her photos. She looked cute in her photos. And I guess that’s what it was.
Brian: She seemed athletic and she seemed musical and she seemed smart. She only quit school to do her own startup company. She didn’t quit school just to bum around or whatever. So she appeared to be a precocious person. Both of her parents were like medical researchers. She just had a good lineage it seemed like. She just seemed very secure and confident and we thought, well, this doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would at the last minute drop us because of a boyfriend or something like that. We were kind of looking for some stability and confidence, you know?
Plus she was donating already the first time so we knew if she wanted to do it again, that she did have a good experience and that she liked it. And I think there was a successful pregnancy or good news that came out of it. So just as we went along, it got better and better the more information we knew about her from that original profile.
But I think one of the other things was that whether it was Amie or Amber or whoever had met her, even people at ORM, everybody said she was so nice and you will really enjoy meeting her. So getting a lot of feedback from other people was very helpful too in ensuring that we had made a good decision, we’re ready to do the agreement, and all that kind of stuff.
Yeah, so did you guys do an open or semi-anonymous?
Ken: It was an open donation.
Ok. So how was it to meet her after?
Ken: After we met her via Zoom, I loved her! I liked her even more. Even when you see the profile you still have some questions, maybe I’m reading too much into this profile. But after meeting her via Zoom, you’re like yes this is it, this is the right choice, the right match. In a way it might be easier if we could Zoom her before the match, it would be easier to make a decision. Before we were matched, there was always some anxiety if this was really the right match. After talking to her over Zoom it was a clear decision that we went with the right donor.
I’m wondering, before you went into the egg donation process, did you have any concerns or worries? And then having gone through it, what’s your feeling about that now?
Brian: I would say just for me, knowing that these are potentially young girls who might need some money or might be in college and struggling and maybe they didn’t have their parents’ support – you don’t really know what’s going on. So in the back of my mind I was thinking, “you know I’ve never really known anybody who’s done this, but I understand it’s a lot of money and that could be a good motivator…” You just want to make sure that the person is doing it for the right reasons, you know?
So reading the profiles and seeing information and people say, “oh yeah my mom’s friend needed help and I saw how important” or whatever, that made me feel a lot more comfortable rather than, “I’m just a struggling college student, I need some cash”. Do you know what I mean? To me, the motivation behind it was kind of iffy in my mind. I just didn’t know enough about it. That improved over time. A lot of the donors did seem like they genuinely wanted to help another couple and that was it.
So what is the sort of timeline on the donation and the surrogate and all of that?
Ken: Well, we are in the process of talking to Northwest Surrogacy so we’re trying to get matched with a surrogate.
Brian: So with our donor, she had X number of eggs last December retrieved. So what we were shooting for was each of us wanted to have half of the sample of eggs. If we’re a straight couple they’re not really dividing the eggs up! It’s pretty clear who they probably will get the donation from to fertilize the eggs! But in our case we wanted to do a split cycle, they call it. So we were really concerned about the number of eggs.
So there was a lot of back and forth with the fertility group and is the medication she used the first time good enough? Should we use more? So we had to have a lot of trust in the doctor we were working with at ORM. And then they did retrieve one more egg than had previously been, but it met the minimum to do a split cycle. But then the numbers are a diminishing return also as you go through. I don’t know if you know, but we ended up with four in the end, which is great.
Ken: With the four embryos, now we are moving to the next step looking for a surrogate.
Does it help that you have the NWSC/AsiaWest partnership?
Ken: Yeah we like it. After we came to the tail end of the process, Amber notified Sam or Kaitlyn that we are ready to move to the next step so it seems to be a smoother process since they are sister companies. I guess had we had a separate surrogacy agency, then we’d have to engage them ourselves and it would take a little more work. It feels good to have everyone within the same umbrella for communication.
Brian: When we originally met everybody, it seemed everybody worked with ORM, everybody worked with Northwest Surrogacy, and then AsiaWest was starting up and it was kind of part of that whole thing so it was great. I mean I’m sure y’all work with millions of different fertility clinics and surrogacy agencies and all that kind of stuff, but it was nice that we kind of knew everybody already. Like oh yeah Sam’s going to call you to set up a meeting. Ok sure, we already knew Sam! That was nice and I’m sure it made it easy for everybody. But that may not be the normal case. In our case it was nice.
You guys said that you looked at a ton of different agencies. If you had to give advice to other intended parents who are interested in egg donations, what advice would you give them when they’re looking around?
Ken: I would say from reviews and other people’s experiences. What kind of pushed us to Northwest and ORM and eventually AsiaWest was that a friend of ours also started the process with ORM and Northwest Surrogacy and they really loved the staff of both companies. We felt like someone we knew and trusted had a good experience kind of pushed us to work with Northwest Surrogacy.
First we were recommended by our friends that Northwest Surrogacy was a good agency, and then from there we got introduced to AsiaWest. And it seems like just talking to the people experienced in the industry, it seems trustworthy and reliable. And that comes through talking to Sandra and John and Sam. It comes across as a well-run company. And we look at the brochures, how well it lays out the process, explains to you what’s going on. It gives you confidence that they do a good job screening the donors for the database.
Brian: Part of the other advice is that some people might instantly find an egg donor. It’s kind of like when people are dating and they have a checklist and you have to meet everything on the checklist or they’re not going to date you, it’s kind of like that. The great thing about AsiaWest is they paid attention; they knew what we wanted. So that’s why Amie was like hey, I’m going to refund the money but I’m still going to look and let you know. It may be a while before I find the person, but she kept trying and kept communicating. You could tell that she was trying to do the right thing and put the best efforts forward.
We enjoyed working with her so much and when she told us last fall that she was going to be turning it over to Amber, we were just like crushed because we were like oh, we’ve been through so many things with her and we thought we were going to die. And then Amber turned out to be awesome! So the transition was just effortless almost, from Amie to Amber, which was unbelievable because we’d been through so many disappointments.
So some of the advice would be, though some people may find an instant answer, it took us a couple of years to get there with a lot of problems happening and adversities. But I think the key is to just keep on trying and keep your eyes on the end goal. Don’t give up.
I’m so glad you guys finally made it to this point!
Brian: Yeah. But even now when they retrieve the eggs, ok that’s one thing. But are there going to be any viable? Are there going to be any that get fertilized? Is there going to be some of his and some of mine so we have the choices to make? And then is the genetic testing going to go ok? You’re still like it’s not 100% if you put this into the gestational carrier, is it really going to work? So we have to be…
Brian: Yeah, cautiously optimistic. Because every step of the way you just have this narrowing window of opportunity and it’s great when it works out, but there may be other steps along the way so you just have to keep on trying.
Also, you know for us, a gay couple, we don’t have any fertility problems and we can pick the best scenarios and put it all together and hopefully get to the end goal if that’s what’s intended. So for us it’s all good news. But this topic in general for the rest of the world is not always good news. From what we understand there are some straight couples who would never want to meet the egg donor or talk to the egg donor and anonymity is the best thing and you just pretend it never happened or whatever. But for us it’s the exact opposite. We were very curious and wanted to know and get together and all this kind of stuff.
I think you get a lot of weird press about this subject in general. You don’t often hear about the nice wonderful stories, but you will see the sensational, crazy stories that will scare you. So you kind of have to overcome some of the things out there in the news.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Ken: I just want to say that overall the experience with AsiaWest was top-knotch. Although the egg donors back out for various reasons, it’s out of everyone’s control. The staff, everyone has been lovely, very professional and also a lot of empathy. So overall I would definitely recommend AsiaWest to anyone looking for an egg donor. Very good experience.
Brian: And we have talked to other egg donation agencies over the phone, we had several calls and stuff, and sometimes we were literally like oh my gosh, they’re just saying stuff to please us or promise us something. There were many times where we were just like, “No”.
Ken: AsiaWest doesn’t feel or come across like they’re selling a service or selling a product. Generally it feels like they are people who want to help other people and are very professional and very caring.
Brian: Yeah for sure.
Great! I’m glad you guys had a good experience and I wish you the best of luck!
Brian & Ken: Thank you!
Brian: Hopefully next year we’ll have some good news!
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity