Make It

This 27-Year-Old Made $18,000 Donating Her Eggs ⁠— and Used the Money to Pay for College

Photo: Allison Lau.

Kia Lauren Brown was only 19 when she learned that she could make $8,000 for a one-time egg donation to a fertility clinic. Immediately, she knew exactly how she'd use the money: her community college expenses, including tuition and books.

"I knew I needed to finish and get my degree to move forward on to the next steps in my life," Brown tells CNBC Make It. The only problem: She wouldn't be eligible to donate until she turned 21.

So, for two years, her mother paid for her education at Paramus, New Jersey-based Bergen Community College out of pocket, with no help from student loans. When Brown turned 21, with the support of both her mother and her gynecologist, she took the leap.

Initially, the family that wanted her egg expressed a desire to remain anonymous. That changed when Brown said she had no personal desire for children at the time, and didn't want parental rights ⁠— which is how she met James Cole Jr., CEO of The Jasco Group, a New York City-based investment management firm. Cole was a Black gay man who wanted a child, and Brown helped him achieve that goal.

Now 27, Brown found herself needing to pay for school again ⁠this past spring — this time, a journalism program at the Connecticut School of Broadcasting's campus in Cherry Hills, New Jersey. Most egg donors don't maintain relationships with the recipient of their eggs, but Brown and Cole instantly clicked all those years ago. When Cole and his partner said they wanted a second child, Brown's decision to donate another egg was easy.

Cole paid Brown directly for the second donation, netting her an extra $2,000. In total, Brown has earned $18,000 from the two donations, which has "helped me with so many aspects of my life and getting to where I need to be in my career and paying for my tuitions," she says. Here's what Brown says she didn't expect: The fulfillment of helping someone start a family.

"The feeling that you get when you hear that there was a successful child that came from your eggs feels better than what you did at the time with that money," she says.

The physical price of donating your eggs

Prior to becoming an egg donor, Brown scraped up money by working two part-time jobs: bartending at Public House 46 Sports Bar and Grill in Clifton, New Jersey, and assisting flight support at nearby Newark Liberty International Airport. Choosing to donate her eggs and make a lump sum of money "definitely helped relieve me of some of that stress, because being a bartender is so hard," she says.

Of course, being an egg donor isn't exactly a walk in the park. Clinics typically require that applicants take a psychological screening and meet with a genetic counselor to identify any unexpected hereditary conditions. Applicants also usually get blood tests, and a physical examination with a reproductive endocrinologist.

Suitable candidates enter a lengthy preparation process. Before the egg-retrieval procedure, a donor spends two weeks taking injectable hormone medications that stimulate the production of eggs, and takes birth control medication to temporarily regulate the menstrual cycle. The hormonal medications can lead to bloating and physical discomfort; Brown says she "hated that feeling in my stomach."

Brown also exercised 4-5 days per week to maintain a "healthy" body mass index, which some fertility clinics monitor when choosing donors.

Still, Brown says, the compensation is "super reasonable" ⁠— especially since donors can make more money after they've had a successful child from egg donation. Reproductive assistance is "a very expensive thing to do," says Katherine Benardo, an egg donor coordinator at the Northeast Assisted Fertility Group. "And that's why donors are paid pretty well."

For perspective, one cycle of in vitro fertilization (IVF) can cost a patient approximately $23,000, according to data from fertility startup FertilityIQ ⁠— and some people require multiple rounds of IVF to have a child, particularly those having a child through surrogacy.

A mutually beneficial arrangement

For Cole, the challenge of having a child through surrogacy was more than financial. As a Black gay man, Cole says, "one of the challenges I found when I started the surrogacy process was that it's very difficult to find women of color to be egg donors or surrogates." Connecting with Brown was a "blessing."

"I was just very impressed with her personality [and] her character integrity," Cole says. "She just really struck me as quite an impressive young lady."

Now, Cole sends Brown photos of his son — who bears a striking resemblance to Brown's niece — on his birthday, and around the holidays. Cole and his partner are currently in the process of having a second child with Brown's eggs again.

To Brown, it never felt weird to "have my genetics out there," she says. Rather, she says, she was "genuinely happy" to be healthy enough to help someone have a child.

As for Cole? "[Brown] helped me in a far more intimate way than I helped her, as she helped give me a child," he says. "But I can't tell you how incredibly excited I am to have helped her finance her education."

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