Courtesy of Lena Papadopoulos

I Paid My Student Loans By Donating My Eggs, But It Wasn't About The Money

I was in the bathroom stall, eye-level with a cleverly placed advertisement: “Become an egg donor. $6-8K for first-time donors.” As a graduate student in debt, the offer was tempting, but not tempting enough. At least, not then. Several years later, thanks to an unexpected and timely social media ad, I paid off my student loans by donating my eggs.

I’d been fortunate enough to have my undergraduate studies fully-funded by academic scholarships. But things in graduate school were a bit different. The anthropology department was one of the most underfunded departments on campus. I wasn’t granted a teaching assistantship in the second semester of my master’s degree, which would have eased the cost, and those few months of study had slapped me sideways with $12,000 in debt.

Compared to the debt many accumulate for their studies, $12,000 is pennies. But as someone who had fallen in love with traveling, the weight of it felt unbearable. I feared this debt would obligate me to become tied to a “reliable” job and limit my freedom to experience more of the world. I felt trapped. The thought of doing something so simple to erase that burden was enticing. But I also knew it wasn’t really that simple. A friend of a friend had donated her eggs, and the process seemed complex and overwhelming. While drawn to the idea, it wasn't compelling enough for me to follow through. I didn’t want this debt, but I also didn’t care about the money that much.

I begged the universe, “Please, please give me a way out of this debt.”

Even so, four years after completing my master’s in Cultural Anthropology, I found myself looking up at the stars. “Please,” I begged the universe, “Please, please give me a way out of this debt.” I’d been making payments on my loan every month for years and I'd barely made a dent in the amount owed. I’d also added several thousand dollars of debt to my credit card in the meantime. I couldn’t foresee any way of paying it off, especially considering I’d devoted myself to the field of education.

The following day, I opened Facebook and a targeted ad popped up. “Seeking an egg donor of Greek descent.” I’m a first-generation American, the daughter of two Greek immigrants. Is this a sign?, I wondered. I still had reservations about the process, but this unexpected connection to my heritage had my attention. I wrote down the contact number.

Courtesy of Lena Papadopoulos

I looked at the Post-It note again and again for days on end. As an intercultural educator, I help people contextualize and understand their identity through a cultural lens. I know full well that cultural identity is a powerful force. Our cultural identities provide a sense of connection to a greater whole. They represent a place of belonging, providing comfort, meaning, and worthiness. For many of us, our cultural identities represent a connection to “home,” even if that’s not a physical space.

It felt like fate. I knew nothing about this couple, yet I felt connected to them only because they, too, were Greek. I’d studied the various ways community is cultivated through cultural identity. Now, I had the opportunity to pay off the debt from those studies by leveraging my cultural heritage to help a couple within my own cultural community.

I believed I’d manifested this opportunity to pay off my loans, and I had the chance to do something meaningful in the process.

About a week or so after coming across the ad on social media, I called the number I’d been carrying around with me. The agent working on behalf of the Intended Parents (IPs) told me their story, and my desire to help them achieve their dreams only grew. As the agent explained the donation process in detail, it didn’t seem as complicated as I’d imagined it. Plus, the IPs were offering double the normal payment for first-time donors, since they wanted a very specific type of donor. It was the exact amount of my student loan.

I believed I’d manifested this opportunity to pay off my loans, and I had the chance to do something meaningful in the process. I filled out the application the agent had sent me as soon as we got off the phone. The IPs were initially interested in me, but I also wasn’t an ideal candidate for donation. I was already 30 years old by this point, on the cusp of no longer falling within the ideal age range for a donor. Months passed with no word from the agent, but my heart stayed with the IPs. I don’t think it’s possible to explain the connection I felt to them, and something inside told me this was meant to be.

Then one day, I received an unexpected phone call. “They want to know if you’re still interested,” the agent said. “They’ve cycled through several potential donors. No one has remained committed to the whole process. They're devastated, tired, and hopeful that your age may imply greater maturity and reliability.” It had all come full-circle. I agreed, and we moved forward quickly.

It didn’t, however, move forward smoothly. Because of how far I was from a proper fertility clinic, I had to deal with doctors and nurses who had never worked with a donor before. The lines of communication between the agent, regional clinic, and local hospital were often unclear, leading to a lot of “urgent” and unnecessary doctor’s visits and stress. I sometimes questioned if I’d made the right decision.

Just two months after signing the paperwork, I’d completed the donation cycle and received payment for the process. I entered the online portal and paid off the full $12,000 of student loan debt with the single click of a button. Despite how demanding and taxing the previous two months had been, I was overcome with gratitude and relief in that moment. All the chaos I’d experienced up to that point faded away as a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.

Courtesy of Lena Papadopoulos

About a month later, I received another call from the agent. She explained to me the parents were afraid of the possibility the process wouldn’t work for them. They had liked working with me and wanted to know if I would go through another cycle. They wanted to have more eggs available in the event they were unable to conceive. I agreed, and a few months later, I had completed the second cycle of donation.

In the end, for me, this process wasn’t only about money.

With that second payment, I paid off the additional credit card debt I’d accumulated and had a sizable sum of cash in my savings. I was now in a position to do what I’d longed to for years. I quit my job, left the United States to travel full-time, and started my own intercultural education consultancy. I would never have felt I had the means or freedom to do this without those two payments.

It feels fitting that my love for and study of culture and humanity was paid for by the innate bond created by my own cultural heritage. My whole life has centered around the importance and value of intercultural learning and the connection created through cultural ties. In the end, for me, this process wasn’t only about money. It was also about the bond of human connection. I will forever be grateful for this serendipity.

Due to the nature of our confidentiality agreement, I don’t know if the Intended Parents conceived a child. But I pray every single day that I was able to help them fulfill and realize their greatest dream. Because that’s what they've done for me.

Kelsey Cadenas/Elite Daily