What are Donor Eggs?
Most mothers would prefer to be genetically as well as biologically related to their children; they would prefer to provide the egg and carry the pregnancy. However, in some cases, this isn’t possible. Aging, genetic diseases, or other medical problems may make it impossible for an intended mother to provide an egg that can be fertilized and develop into a viable baby. In this case, the intended mother may choose to use donor eggs to create her child. Often, she will then become pregnant with the resulting embryo; sometimes, egg donation will be used along with gestational surrogacy, and another woman will carry the pregnancy.
If you’re choosing to use egg donation to create your family, make sure you’re choosing it because you really want it, not to please someone else or to fit an imagined ideal. No one else can make the choice for you; it’s your body, and you’re in charge of it. After you do your research and understand the procedure, if you believe that the use of donor eggs is right for you, then proceed. To help you in your decision-making process, we have some information about the risks and benefits of using donor eggs at Donor Eggs: Risks and Benefits.
Please note that this page is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for qualified, individualized medical advice. You should discuss your potential elective procedure with your own doctor(s), including your primary care physician and the doctor who will perform your procedure if you decide to proceed.
How it’s done
When choosing to use donor eggs, the first step is to locate an egg donor. Sometimes, a donor is found among family and friends; such a donor may or may not expect compensation for her time, effort, and risk in donating the eggs. In other cases, an agency is used to locate a donor. Usually, the egg donor remains anonymous in such cases, although there may be rare exceptions; the intended parents can find out certain information about the egg donor, such as her physical characteristics and education level, but her identity remains confidential.
Next, the egg donor is prepared for the egg retrieval process. She usually receives hormones for ovulation induction, although in rare cases this may not be done, and her naturally-ovulated egg may be retrieved. When one or (more commonly) several ripe eggs are present in her ovaries, they will be retrieved using a needle inserted through her vagina toward each ovary; each egg is gently aspirated into the needle. The egg donation is now complete.
The intended recipient (who may be the intended mother, or a gestational surrogate) is hormonally prepared to receive the embryos at the same time as the donor is being prepared for donation. This ensures that the cycles of the donor and recipient are synchronized, so that the recipient’s body will be ready when the embryos are ready. After retrieval, the eggs are fertilized in the laboratory. This may involve the use of the intended father’s sperm, or donor sperm. The resulting embryos are incubated for several days, and then transferred into the recipient’s uterus using a needle inserted through the vagina and cervix and into the uterine cavity. The recipient is then usually given progesterone (orally or by injection) for 8-10 days to increase the chances that she will become pregnant.
Preparing for the procedure
Choosing your clinic
When choosing an assisted reproductive technology clinic (sometimes called a fertility clinic), there are several factors you may want to take into consideration. One is the physician(s) and others who will oversee your care. Make sure that your physician is board-certified; you may want to know that a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist (a specialist in the hormones involved in reproduction) is on the staff, as a consultant if necessary. You should also expect that your clinic will be a member of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (SART), and follows the guidelines of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). You might also want to consider the clinic’s success rates, which are collected and published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), but you should be aware that interpreting this data is more complicated than you might think.
For more help in your search for a reproductive medicine specialist, visit our How to Find the Best Assisted Reproductive Technology Clinic page. At Doctor Review, you can also search providers for patient reviews to help you find the very best.
Getting ready for the procedure
Before the egg donation procedure, both the donor and the recipient need to be prepared. The donor takes ovulation induction medications in order to stimulate the development of one or more eggs. The recipient takes hormones to suppress her natural cycle and align her cycle with that of the donor, so that her body will be prepared to accept the embryo that is created from the donated eggs. Egg donation thus requires planning ahead by at least a month, and usually longer.
The recipient of the embryo(s) made from the donated egg(s) should spend the day after the embryo transfer procedure resting. She will not be on bed rest, but should not engage in vigorous activity. She should support her health with adequate sleep and nutrition, to increase the chances that she will become pregnant due to the embryo transfer. She will need to take progesterone for 8-10 days after the transfer, either orally or by injection.
A pregnancy test can be performed 12-14 days after the transfer to determine whether an embryo successfully implanted. For most intended mothers, the waiting for the test will be the most difficult aspect of recovery.