Q & A about Being an Egg Donor

Women who choose to serve as egg donors give infertile couples a most precious gift: a baby to call their own. Egg donation is a simple medical procedure. Thousands of women donate eggs each year.

Why do many couples need an egg donor’s help to get pregnant?

There are a number of reasons why couples need donor eggs in order to have a baby. Some women suffer from early menopause in their 20’s and 30’s and run out of eggs before they have their children. Others lose their ovaries as a result of surgery for severe gynecological diseases such as endometriosis, pelvic infections, or ovarian cancer.

The most common use of egg donation is to treat women who have run out of fertile eggs and are unable to get pregnant on their own. It turns out that the age of a woman’s eggs is the main factor that determines her fertility. A woman’s peak fertility is in her teens. This is the time of her life when she ovulates her best and most healthy eggs. By the time a woman reaches her mid 40’s she will have used up her healthy eggs. The majority of eggs that remain in her ovaries have abnormal chromosomes and are incapable of producing a healthy baby. This sequence of events may happen much earlier however, and can occur as soon as the early to mid 20’s in some women.

Although a woman may run out of healthy eggs in her 40’s or lose her ovaries to premature menopause or surgery, her uterus remains a healthy place to have a baby well into her 50’s. Since it is the age of her eggs, or her lack of eggs, and not generally the health of her uterus that determines whether she can have a baby, obtaining healthy eggs from young fertile women is the perfect solution to many couple’s infertility problems.

What does egg donation involve?

Egg donation makes use of the in vitro fertilization or “test tube baby” procedure.

There are three steps in the process:

1. Evaluation and preparation

The first step is to evaluate your health and prepare you for the medical procedures. You will have an interview with the nurse coordinator of our egg donor program. This visit is designed to answer your questions concerning the egg donation process and to make sure that this is an appropriate program for you. Later you will see us for a medical history and physical examination to make sure that you have no undiscovered health problems. Laboratory tests will be performed to evaluate your fertility and check for common illnesses.

2. Administration of fertility medications

Fertility medications used to help a woman’s ovaries produce from 10-30 eggs. We use three (3) principal fertility medications to make this happen. Follistim and Menopur are purified forms of the natural hormones your body uses to regulate the production of eggs each month. Since experience tells us that women who are taking these drugs tend to ovulate their eggs before the doctor can harvest them for the in vitro process, we use a drug called Ganirelix to prevent premature ovulation.

All of these drugs are inactivated by the digestive system and must be given by injection. Don’t worry, it’s a tiny needle! We’ll be giving you the injections so you don’t have to! In most cases these drugs are given over the course of 9-12 days. You will have 4-6 visits to the clinic during this time for blood tests and ultrasound pictures of your ovaries to follow the effects of the fertility medications on egg production.

3. The “egg harvest” procedure

A minor surgical procedure is performed to remove eggs from the ovaries for the in vitro fertilization process. This safe and comfortable procedure takes advantage of the fact that your ovaries lie less than an inch from the sides of your vagina. To perform an “egg harvest” your doctor uses the picture made by an ultrasound machine to guide a needle through the wall of your vagina and into the ovaries. Eggs are removed one at a time during the course of 30 minutes – 1 hour.

The comfort and safety of our egg donors are our prime concern. To make sure that you will feel no pain, we ask an anesthesiologist to give you a small amount of a morphine-like substance and a valium-like drug through an IV line. These medications will make you sleep, and prevent you from feeling any pain. The drugs wear off quickly and you will be ready to go home within an hour. We also give you antibiotics to prevent infection.

The egg harvest procedure is usually performed in the morning. In many cases donors tell us that they are completely back to normal by the afternoon. Most women tell us that they are a little sore for 1-3 days after the procedure, but otherwise feel well. Perhaps the best testimony about the ease and comfort of the egg harvest comes from two patients that served as Maids of Honor in a wedding the night that their eggs were taken out. Both were able to enjoy the wedding, perform all of their duties, and dance the whole night.

Once eggs are harvested, they are taken into the in vitro fertilization laboratory. There they are cleaned, inspected, and fertilized with sperm from the egg recipient’s husband. Several days later the fertilized eggs are placed into the uterus of the mother to begin a pregnancy.

Who makes a good donor?

We are always looking for new women for our egg donor program. They must meet the following requirements to be eligible to participate:

  • Age 18-30 years
  • Non-smokers only
  • In good health
  • Must have regular periods
  • Height/weight proportionate (Body Mass Index of less than 30)

Women in this age range are at the peak of their fertility and are best suited to help others have a baby. It is helpful for donors to have been pregnant in the past as a “check” of their fertility, but not required.

How often is the procedure successful?

Egg donation is the single most successful treatment known for infertility. Over three quarters of our couples will become pregnant with each egg donation treatment. This is extremely gratifying for the donors and the medical team participating in their care.

Will I run out of eggs if I give them to someone else?

No. It is a little known fact that a woman goes through perhaps a thousand eggs each month to select the single one that is ovulated. The body absorbs the eggs that don’t complete the development process. Fertility drugs simply allow more of these excess eggs, which the body would ordinarily discard, to mature. No extra eggs are used up in the process.

How long does the process take?

The fertility medications are usually given over the course of approximately 9-12 days. You will need to plan for 4 -6 visits to the clinic for the doctor to perform tests to monitor the progress of the medications. These visits usually last 15 to 30 minutes and are performed in the morning between 8 am and 11 am. Out staff makes every effort to accommodate your schedule.

On the day of the egg harvest procedure you should plan to be in the clinic for half of the day. The egg retrieval is performed in the morning. You should plan to spend the rest of the day after the procedure resting at home.

What are the side effects of the fertility medications?

The fertility medications are all natural hormones or simple chemical derivatives of natural hormones. Doctors have had over 30 years experience with medications such as Noveral and have found them safe and effective. Most of our patients and egg donors find that these medications have relatively few side effects. The side effects which people do notice are related to the action of the drugs. Menopur and highly purified FSH cause the ovaries to make hormones and eggs. Some women complain of mood swings on these drugs, too. Most patients tell us that they don’t feel anything other than minimal abdominal discomfort as their ovaries grow in size with developing eggs.

Can I accidentally get pregnant as a result of the egg donation procedure?

Accidental pregnancies are unlikely. There is only a several day period (around the time of the egg harvest) that you could become pregnant. We will know exactly when this “critical interval” is and advise you to avoid intercourse during this time.

What are the legal responsibilities of egg donors and patients?

The law is extremely clear on this matter. Children born as a result of the egg donation process legally belong to the couple receiving the donated eggs. Egg donors have absolutely no responsibility for the future welfare or support of these children.

Do I have to meet the couple who is receiving my eggs?

No. In most instances we perform anonymous egg donation. Neither the egg donor nor the recipient couple is aware of the identity of the other party. We do ask for you to provide us with a picture of yourself (and your children if you have any) to aid our patients in their selection of a donor.

Some recipient couples express a desire to meet their donor before the process begins. The choice to have an “open” arrangement requires agreement by both donor and recipient.

Compensation

Payment is contingent upon participation in the program. It may be prorated based on the number of steps completed in the procedure. Payment is not based on the number of eggs obtained. Current compensation ranges from $7,000 to $10,000.

About the clinic

Overlake Reproductive Health takes care of infertile patients from around the world. Dr. Kevin Johnson is a nationally recognized infertility specialist. Together, Drs. Johnson and Rehman have performed several thousand IVF cycles. Our staff takes great pride in giving personalized care to each woman they meet.

About our philosophy for taking care of patients

Overcoming infertility requires a team approach. As an egg donor, you are a critical member of the team that will bring tremendous happiness to a family’s life. Do not hesitate to call our nurses or doctors with any questions or concerns. We greatly value your input and assistance.