Egg donation at a glance
- If a woman cannot get pregnant using her own eggs, she can elect to use donor eggs to conceive. A woman who uses donor eggs is typically called a donor egg recipient.
- In vitro fertilization (IVF) can be performed to fertilize the donated eggs with a male partner’s sperm to form embryos. The resulting embryos are then transferred by a fertility specialist to the egg recipient’s uterus.
- The donor egg recipient will not be genetically related to the child, but will carry the pregnancy and be the mother on record; the male partner is often the biologic father of the child, but donated sperm can also be used in combination with donated eggs.
- Egg donor recipients can also be single women or LGBTQ couples and individuals.
- The egg donation process, in which the donor can be known by the recipient or remain anonymous, follows similar steps of the IVF process.
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Why egg donation?
As women enter their late 30s and early 40s, they experience a significant decline in the function of their ovaries, generally causing a sharp decrease in egg numbers and quality. This decrease in egg quantity and quality often results in an increased miscarriage rate and can make it less likely for a woman to conceive. In unusual circumstances, women may have a genetic disease that would be passed on to the embryo through their eggs, and so elect to use donor eggs to prevent passing on this condition.
Egg donation is also a viable option for single women or LGBTQ couples and individuals who are not able to conceive on their own. Donated sperm can also be used if there is no male partner or if there is significant male factor infertility.
Donor eggs offer a relatively high live birth rate for egg donation recipients (approximately 50 percent nationally). It follows many of the steps of the IVF process. Multiple eggs are retrieved from a donor during one donation cycle, which means that recipients may have more than one embryo after IVF. If this is the case, extra embryos may be cryopreserved for a later pregnancy attempt.
Who are the egg donors?
Egg donors undergo extensive and thorough medical and genetic screening before they are able to donate their eggs. Typically, donors are women between the ages of 21 and 30, who are in good physical and mental health. The egg donor may be someone known by the woman or the couple – perhaps a relative. An egg donor also may be someone selected through an assisted reproduction clinic, an agency or a collaborative like eggdonorshare.com. A donor can remain anonymous or make her identity known to the recipient through identity release at a later time.
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How egg donation works
Egg donation follows the usual steps of an IVF cycle: injectable hormones stimulate the ovaries, monitoring is performed and eggs are retrieved with a needle under anesthesia. However, instead of the egg being retrieved from the female of the couple, it is donated by a third party.
The egg donor recipient will not be genetically related to the child (unless the donor was a relative), but she will carry the pregnancy, give birth and be the legal mother of the child. The male partner of a heterosexual couple will be the biologic father of the child. In the case of a single woman, some LGBTQ couples or individuals requiring donated sperm, the sperm donor will be genetically related to the child.
The steps of the egg donation for the recipient typically involve sperm collection and in vitro fertilization for embryo creation. Embryo transfer, or placing the embryo in the recipient’s uterus, is an easy step after the recipient has estrogen and progesterone medication.
Egg retrieval process for a fresh embryo transfer
In the case of a fresh embryo transfer, the steps of the donor process are driven by the availability of the selected donor and the coordination of menstrual cycles of that donor and the donor egg recipient. The donor’s eggs must be retrieved at the precise time of the month when the lining of the recipient’s uterus is ready for the implantation of the embryo. Some timing steps may be required to line up her menstrual cycle with that of the woman who will receive the embryos.
Doctors monitor the production of the donor’s eggs using ultrasound and blood tests. When the ultrasound and blood testing suggest mature eggs in the ovaries, the donor receives a final hormone injection prior to egg retrieval.
During the retrieval, the donor is placed under anesthesia and the eggs are removed from the ovaries with a long needle. Eggs are then transferred to the laboratory, where the eggs are combined with the male partner’s sperm or donated sperm.
Process for embryo transfer using frozen eggs
Cryopreservation techniques using a frozen egg bank eliminates the need for the donor and recipient to sync their menstrual cycles. Storage of donor eggs allows sharing eggs in lots of six.
In this process, the donor undergoes the same hormone injection process she would during a fresh cycle, but the resulting eggs are cryopreserved for later use. Once selected, the eggs will be thawed and fertilized with sperm and implanted or cryopreserved for later use. The recipient will take estrogen and progesterone medications to prepare for the embryo transfer.
During a fresh donor egg cycle, the male will often provide a semen sample on the same day that eggs are retrieved from the donor. Alternatively, as it is just as effective, the male partner can also provide sperm in advance and have it frozen until the egg retrieval. The donor eggs have been frozen and are thawed so that they may be fertilized whenever the recipient is at the proper stage of estrogen replacement.
If a single woman, an LGBTQ individual or a couple with male infertility is utilizing donor eggs, the sperm may also be from a third party.
An embryo transfer is a short procedure that involves a fertility specialist placing the embryo into the uterus using a catheter. Women rarely feel any discomfort during the procedure, and can typically resume normal activity the next day.
Two weeks after the embryo transfer, a doctor performs a blood test to confirm if the embryo transfer was successful and resulted in pregnancy.
Counseling regarding egg donation
Using donor eggs is a complicated issue that has lifelong implications. Talking with a trained counselor who understands donor issues is essential. The licensed professional counselor will help the couple or individual make the decision to use a donor in some cases, and to navigate the treatment process. An excellent book to read to help walk through this journey is Having Your Baby through Egg Donation by Evelina Sterling and Ellen Glazer.
If a couple or individual knows the donor, both donor and recipient should speak with a counselor and an attorney. Some states also require an attorney to file paperwork with the court when donor eggs are used. Georgia law does not require such paperwork, but some legal experts advise it.
There are law firms and attorneys who specialize in assisting those considering using reproductive medicine to have a child. For those in the Atlanta area, we have a couple of law firms we recommend that can work with anyone considering using donated eggs, sperm or embryos, or those who plan to use a gestational carrier.