Many people know about in vitro fertilization (IVF) as a way to get pregnant if you are having trouble conceiving, but less commonly known is that you can use donated eggs for this procedure. There are many reasons why couples choose this pathway, but if you are considering being an egg donor, there are a number of health and medical issues that you should think about first.
Egg donation was first carried out successfully in 1984, which is relatively recent when compared to other assisted reproduction methods, such as sperm donation (published reports go back as far as 1945). Egg donation is becoming increasingly common, and is used primarily in cases where women suffer from ovarian failure as the result of disease, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. In some cases, a woman may be born without ovaries. Other women choose to receive eggs from a donor if they suffer from a genetic condition that they don’t want to pass on to their children.
If you decide to be an egg donor, you can donate in several ways. First, you can donate anonymously through an egg donation program or an agency. Second, if you are already known to the recipient (e.g. you are a friend or relative) you can donate eggs, or you may meet a recipient through an advertisement placed in a newspaper or online. Finally, if you are undergoing IVF yourself and having eggs harvested, you can donate excess eggs to another woman.
To donate eggs, you should preferably be between the ages of 21 and 34. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) notes that the lower age limit is to ensure that the donor is mature enough, and the upper age limit is in place due to the fact that younger women respond more favorably to ovulation induction, and produce more eggs, resulting in high-quality embryos. If you are within this age bracket and you decide to proceed, you will be subject to extensive medical testing: if any risk factors of a communicable disease or infection are uncovered, you are unable to donate.
Once you’ve got this far, and are seen to be an eligible donor, the eggs are retrieved from your ovaries. First, a hormonal medication is given to stimulate egg production (ovulation induction). The medication can have side effects, such as weight gain, headaches, moodiness, or Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS). Mayo Clinic recommends contacting your practitioner if you are having these treatments, and you experience any symptoms such as the above, or abdominal pain, nausea, dizziness, or shortness of breath. The likelihood of OHSS occurring in any given ovulation cycle stimulated by the medication is 5%.
34-36 hours after your ovaries have been successfully stimulated, the eggs can be harvested. The harvesting is performed by placing a needle through the vaginal wall and into the ovary. Mayo Clinic notes that during the egg-retrieval process, complications can arise, such as bleeding, infection, or damage to the bowel, bladder, or blood vessels.
After the eggs have been harvested, they will be inseminated with the partner’s sperm, and implanted into the recipient’s uterus. The pregnancy rate using donated eggs appears to be independent of the age of the recipient: this means that if an older woman is having trouble conceiving, using donor eggs may be a viable way for her to have a baby. ASRM provides statistics from the Center for Disease Control showing that the average live birth rate per fresh embryo transfer (as oppose to frozen embryos) is 55.1%. The largest risk for the recipient woman is having multiple embryos implant, and having a multiple gestation pregnancy (a rate of 39.9% of pregnancies from embryo donation).
Egg donation is a selfless way to help another couple to have a child, but there are a number of risks. In most cases, however, the risk of complications is relatively low. In all cases, speak further to your local fertility provider and medical practitioner for more information if you are interested in donating eggs.
About This Blogger: Leah Hamilton
Leah Hamilton is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about technology, family and health, travel, gaming, and books. You can find her personal blog at leahalexandrahamilton.tumblr.com, and you can also follow her on Twitter @Leah_A_Hamilton.