Myth vs. Fact: Donor Conception and Surrogacy

Have you heard that a surrogate can decide to keep the baby, that an egg donor is only in it for the money, or that you won’t know anything about your child’s background? Read on for the realities that disprove these myths.

egg donor

MYTH: If you have a baby using donor embryos, donor eggs, and/or donor sperm, it isn’t “your” baby.

FACT: Any donor (sperm, egg, embryo) should be expected to relinquish all rights to the gametes (or the embryos), as well as to explicitly relinquish parental rights to children resulting from the donation. With sperm donation, this is typically done through consent at the cryobank. With egg and embryo donation, it is recommended that relinquishment of donor rights be documented in a direct contract between the donor and the recipient.

Of equal concern, though, is whether or not the parent who lacks a genetic connection with the child will feel a parental connection, and this should be explored with a mental health professional before people pursue assisted reproductive technology. One parent of a donor-conceived child said: “The child who came into my life is the most beautiful, spirited child…he is the child I was meant to have, and he fills me with love every minute of the day.”

“I am so grateful to the two couples who donated their embryos and gave us our children. My only regret is that I never had the opportunity to thank them for our two miracles.” —MAGGIE

MYTH: Since we won’t be genetically related to the child, we won’t have a medical history for him.

 FACT: Intended parents routinely receive extensive medical (both personal and family) and genetic information about the donor. In addition, many donors agree to be reached, in the future, should a physician treating a donor-conceived child need additional medical history.

MYTH: Your donor could show up at your front door someday.

 FACT: Prospective recipients of donor gametes (egg or sperm) or donor embryos generally receive extensive demographic, health, and genetic information about donor candidates. Donors, on the other hand, receive little, if any, information about the recipients. Although this may change as technology and social media continue to evolve, the recipient family is at a much lower risk of being found than a donor is. If you are working with a known donor, your contract should address the expectations of both parties with respect to future contact (for example, the donor may want to know the outcome of the donation) and/or the expectation of long-term anonymity.

MYTH: Egg donors are exploited. / Egg donors are only in it for the money.

FACT: We frequently hear both myths in the media. Thus, prospective parents considering donor egg conception may have concerns early in the process (sperm donors are typically offered very low compensation and donors of embryos are rarely compensated). In fact, egg donors contend with a tremendous amount in exchange for their compensation. Although some donor applicants are lured by the idea of quick compensation, these women are generally deterred by the time commitment, the invasive medical screenings and other clinical procedures, and the disruptions to their lifestyle. Egg donation is not an easy process.

MYTH: Embryo donation is really “embryo adoption,” and adoption laws apply.

 FACT: Although some programs and media articles use the term “embryo adoption,” embryo donation is a unique family-building option. Long-standing, state-specific laws govern the adoption of a child. Parents must go through a homestudy process, and birth parents have a specific deadline for revoking consent. These laws do not apply to embryo donation. Fewer than 10 states currently have any statute on embryo donation; the majority of these consider it donation, like egg and sperm donation, and clearly indicate that recipients are considered the legal parents of the child at birth. Only two states (Louisiana and Georgia) currently refer to embryo donation as “embryo adoption.”

Confusing language obscures the concepts, and “embryo adoption” language is often used as a thinly veiled argument to promote the pro-life position that life begins at conception and to restrict IVF and embryo freezing.

 “People who go through all of this to have a baby must really want one. They’ll probably be really good parents.” —AN EGG DONOR when asked, “Why are you donating eggs?”

MYTH: Only married, religious couples can choose embryo donation. After conception, you aren’t allowed to terminate the pregnancy or practice selective reduction, regardless of medical complications or other reasons.

 FACT: Embryo donation is available from a wide-ranging group of medical and matching programs and individual donors, and practices or restrictions vary considerably. Yes, there are faith-based matching programs that use the terminology of “embryo adoption” and impose restrictions on the intended parents’ procreative choices (no abortion or multi-fetal pregnancy reduction, and, usually, the mandatory return of any unused embryos to the donors or the matching program). There are also IVF medical programs, non-faith-based matching programs, and many people seeking to donate embryos who do not place such restrictions on the recipients.

MYTH: Embryo donation is just as expensive, and complicated, as a donor egg pregnancy.

 FACT: Embryo donation is usually easier and less expensive than IVF with donor egg because the embryos already exist, there are no IVF fees and no stimulation medication fees, and embryo donors—unlike egg donors—cannot be compensated. It is also easier because donor and recipient don’t have to coordinate their cycles.

MYTH: Our child from embryo donation will have siblings all over the country, maybe all over the world, and we won’t know it!

FACT: It is unlikely that there will be a large number of donations from the same donor. The donors will probably have used many of the “highest grade” embryos themselves, and, legally, your children and theirs will not be siblings. Nonetheless, sensitivity to this issue will help you in considering this option now, and will help you parent any children you have through embryo donation. Some programs tell you of all other children born either to your donors or other recipients; other programs keep everything anonymous. As with adoption and egg and sperm donation, however, anonymity today does not mean anonymity forever. Laws change, societal norms change, and grown children may seek biological connections (searches that are becoming easier through the Internet).

MYTH: Surrogacy is only for the rich or celebrities.

FACT: This myth exists because there is no set cost for surrogacy, and the costs can run high. Surrogate fees and expenses vary substantially, depending on several factors, such as whether you’re using your own eggs or using donor eggs, whether you work with a surrogacy center or have a friend or a family member willing to carry your baby. Health insurance is a huge consideration. If the carrier does not have insurance, or if her policy excludes surrogacy, the parents must purchase a policy that is specifically for surrogacy. (Even if the carrier does have insurance, intended parents are sometimes advised to purchase backup insurance.) Such a policy adds a substantial amount — typically, $20,000 to $40,000, and maybe more — to the total cost.

On the other hand, some fertility centers offer in-house financing, payment plans, or cash discounts to assist their patients. Some intended parents have family members (often their parents) who are willing to help with the costs. Others have cashed in stocks, applied for a home loan, or borrowed against their retirement.

MYTH: The surrogate could decide to keep the baby.

FACT: This may be a risk in traditional surrogacy, which is why this option is strongly discouraged. In gestational surrogacy, the carrier is not genetically related to the embryo. The intended parents generally file a pre-birth order that names them as the sole legal parents of the child.

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