For many couples, achieving pregnancy through normal means might not be possible for a variety of reasons. In fact, ovulation disorders – disruptions in the way eggs form, or are released from the ovaries – are some of the most common obstacles to getting pregnant.
Although there are drug and lifestyle interventions that can improve your chances, for some women, the best option for getting pregnant is to use donor eggs.
If you are a woman over 40 with hormonal issues, such as Poly-cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), or Luteal Phase Defect, you should consider using donated eggs. If your doctor has determined that you have extremely poor egg quality, you should also consider using donated eggs. Additionally, women with healthy eggs who have a family history of certain genetic diseases, such as Huntington’s disease, might consider using donated eggs as an alternative.
How Egg Donors are Selected
If you choose an egg donor agency, just as with sperm donors, the donors are usually anonymous. However, egg donor agencies use extensive screening to ensure that the donors are healthy, and the eggs are of good quality. The screening process includes collecting a family history from each donor, as well as a medical and social history, a physical exam and lab tests as well as psychological and STD screening.
Recipients also have the option of choosing their own donors, such as a friend or family member. In these cases, the family would consult with their physician about initiating the process of egg donation. The doctor could require many of the same screening tests required of an anonymous donor, to ensure the optimum health outcome for all involved.
The Process of Egg Donation
Whether the donor is known, or anonymous, once she passes the screening she must go through a series of steps before her eggs are harvested.
In the first part of the process, the egg donor would take medications that stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs. These are the same fertility drugs that women take to get pregnant. Stimulating egg production ensures that there will be several eggs available for extraction.
While she is taking the drugs, she must also refrain from having unprotected sex, to prevent fertilizing the eggs.
The donor will also have periodic ultrasound exams, and blood tests to determine when the eggs are ready to be harvested. The doctor, or agency, must harvest the eggs before the onset of menses; otherwise they will not be usable.
Once the doctor determines that the donor is ready, he will administer hCG to the donor, and harvest the eggs approximately two days later.
If the eggs are going into a bank, they are frozen for future use.
The Process of Receiving Eggs
If the recipients are using their own donor, the doctor will try to coordinate the egg retrieval to correspond with the recipient’s cycle. This way, the lining of the uterus will be thick enough to attempt fertilization and implantation.
If the parents are considering egg donor agencies, they could have two options:
With coordinated, the recipients select a donor from a list of candidates. As previously stated, donors are anonymous but the recipients are provided with information about the donor, such as race, physical characteristics, and medical information to help them make their decision. For example, if physical resemblance is important, the recipients could pick a donor that has similar physical characteristics to the recipients.
The doctor will then attempt to synchronize the donor’s menstrual cycle to the recipient’s menstrual cycle, so that both women are ovulating and ready for implantation at the same time. Both the donor and recipient might have to take medication for several months to artificially synch their menstrual cycles, well before they begin administering the egg-stimulating drugs to the donor.
Once the cycles are synced, they begin the donation process, starting with the fertility drugs, and ending with implantation in the recipient’s uterus.
With frozen donation, recipients follow the same process for picking a donor, but there is no need to synchronize the menstrual cycle because the eggs are already available.
The recipient could also choose to have the eggs frozen, or have the fresh eggs fertilized then freeze them for future use.
Both frozen and fresh donor eggs have similar success rates. Variables to success include the age of the eggs, the quality of the semen sample, and the process used to retrieve the eggs.
The Risks of Egg Donation
Implanting donated eggs could result in multiple births because the doctor could transfer more than one fertilized egg to ensure implantation. The medications also provide risk to both the donor and the recipient. Because they are hormonal in nature, they can cause several hormone-based side effect including headaches, hot flashes, and depression. Donors can also experience painful swelling in the ovaries from the ovary stimulating drugs.
The Cost of Egg Donation
The average cost of egg donation is $15,000 to $2,000. The cost depends on how the eggs are harvested, whether or not the donor wishes to freeze any of the eggs for future use, and other factors.