An Introduction to Donor Eggs

An overview of donor egg medical options, programs, agencies, and recipients.

Donor egg

Prior to the development of in vitro fertilization (IVF), no medical options for creating a family were available to women with premature ovarian failure, diminished ovarian reserve, or genetically transmittable health conditions. Now, egg donation allows women without viable oocytes to become mothers.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chance of achieving a successful pregnancy after a fresh embryo transfer is 56%. The success rate with frozen embryo transfer is 35%. The exact chance of success depends on many factors, including the age of the eggs, and the age and health of the recipient.

How to find an egg donor

Some intended parents find an egg donor who is known to them, such as a sister, a cousin, or a close friend. Egg donors should be under 35, and have no evidence of impaired fertility.

Another option is to find an anonymous donor. Some donor egg recipients take it upon themselves to find a donor through advertisements; others prefer to work through established programs. Some fertility clinics have donor egg programs, and there are donor egg agencies that help match donors and recipients.

“We were matched through our clinic with an anonymous donor. After reviewing her profile, we felt she was the right one for us. We only had a few must-haves in looking for our donor.”

—A PARENT through egg donation

Some donor egg programs recruit from all over the country; recipients who select donors from outside their immediate geographic area will need to pay travel expenses.

Most donors found through matching programs remain anonymous; however, some donors and recipients prefer to meet face-to-face. If that is the wish of both parties, matching programs often help facilitate this.

Donor and recipient evaluation

The recipient of the donor egg, who may be the intended mother or a gestational carrier, will undergo a thorough medical evaluation to make sure her health will not be significantly jeopardized by a pregnancy, and that there is nothing to prevent an embryo from implanting successfully. At some IVF centers, she will undergo a mock cycle to ensure that the prescribed medications will have the desired effect. She will also receive counseling to discuss the psychological implications of third-party reproduction.

The donor will undergo a medical and psychological evaluation. The medical exam will review her current health, as well as her genetic history. She will be psychologically evaluated to make sure she is free of mental illness and understands the commitments and risks involved.

The egg donation/IVF procedure

Both donor and recipient will be given medications to ensure that the development of the recipient’s uterine lining is synchronized with the growth of the donor’s follicles and eggs. Several medications may be used; donors and recipients are taught to administer these by themselves, and must adhere to the strict schedule set by the clinic staff.

The eggs are harvested while the donor is under anesthesia, and combined with sperm in the lab. After either three or five days, the embryos will be transferred to the recipient’s uterus. Sometimes more embryos are created than are implanted. These embryos may be cryopreserved for future use by the intended parents.

Legal considerations

Laws vary by state, and many states do not have specific laws that address the use of donor eggs. In some states, the woman giving birth is automatically considered the legal mother. In others, the rights of the egg donor are ended through the contract process. Many programs include these legal services in their fees.

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