Questions & Answers for Egg Donors

What is a Donor Egg Program?

Questions & Answers for Egg Donors

Northwest Fertility Connection works in conjunction with the best fertility clinics in Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Tacoma and Bellingham, Washington. I help women who are unable to produce their own eggs (oocytes) achieve a pregnancy through the use of donated eggs. The donated eggs are fertilized with the sperm of the recipient's partner and the embryos that form are then transferred to the uterus of the recipient.

Why do some women need an egg donor's help to get pregnant?

There are a number of reasons why infertile couples need donor eggs in order to have a baby. The most common use of egg donation is to treat women in their 30's and 40's who have run out of fertile eggs and are unable to get pregnant on their own. The age of a woman's eggs is the main factor that determines her fertility from her teens until her mid 30's. This is the time of her life when she ovulates her best and most healthy eggs. By the time a woman reaches her 40's, she will have used up her healthy eggs. The majority of eggs that remain in her ovaries by that time will have abnormal chromosomes and are incapable of producing a healthy baby.

Other women lose their ovaries or have damaged ovaries due to the result of surgery or treatment for various cancers, endometriosis or pelvic infections. A very small percentage of women suffer from early menopause and run out of eggs before they have their children.

Although a woman may run out of healthy eggs in her 40's or lose her ovarian function to premature menopause or surgery, her uterus remains a healthy place to have a baby well into her 40's. Since it is the age of her eggs, or her lack of eggs, and not the health of her uterus that determines whether she can have a baby, receiving eggs from a young, fertile woman is a great solution to many couples' infertility problems.

What do I do as an Egg Donor?

After being selected by a recipient family, and passing medical and psychological screening tests, you will participate in the first half of an in-vitro fertilization cycle. In-vitro, or IVF is the process of retrieving eggs and fertilizing them in a petri dish. Your job is to make eggs! You do NOT carry the pregnancy or have any other responsibilities beyond that.

Medication brand names may vary from clinic to clinic, but the process and procedure you will experience as a donor should be very similar to the description that follows.

You begin the process by taking birth control pills for 21 days which will help to "down regulate" your ovulation and synchronize your menstrual cycle with that of the woman you are donating to.

Upon completing your pill pack, you'll begin injections of fsh (follicle stimulating hormone) a hormone that women naturally produce as they ready for ovulation) for the next 12 days. Common brand names are Follistim or Gonal-F. This hormone is injected into the top fat layer of the skin (not into a vein) with a very tiny needle. Additionally, you'll take one or two supporting medications that work in conjunction with the fsh. After a short training session with a medical provider, donors become comfortable injecting themselves, but a friend or partner may also help out if they are on the same daily schedule as you. Injections need to be given between 7-9 pm each evening without fail. The medications you will be taking stimulate your ovaries to mature multiple eggs - usually about 15-20, rather than one, which is what your ovaries normally produce each month.

While you are receiving this medication, you will be very closely monitored through blood samples and trans-vaginal ultrasound to see how the follicles (eggs) are developing. The ultrasound is painless. You will need to go to the fertility clinic for a short appointment approximately 8 times over the course of a week and half for this testing. Appointments generally take place between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. You must have flexibility in your schedule to attend these appointments. They cannot be missed or rescheduled. You will be given plenty of advance notice of when these appointments will take place so you can plan for them.

When the doctor determines that the follicles (eggs) are nearing maturity (they can tell by ultrasound), you will stop taking the fsh hormone and you will receive one final injection of a different medication which will allow the eggs to become completely mature and ready for release.

Before they are released, however, the doctor will remove the eggs during your egg retrieval, which lasts about 15-20 minutes. During this procedure you are given medication to fully sedate you. You will be completely "out" and will not remember anything when you wake up. Because you are fully asleep, the procedure itself is not painful. A needle is guided via ultrasound into the ovaries to aspirate the eggs. This is done through the back of the vagina. You will be sleepy for the rest of the day because of the sedation and should not plan on returning to work or school that day. You will also need a ride home from the clinic. You'll need to rest the remainder of the day; you may have some cramping, bloating or discomfort but generally by the next day you should be able to return to school or work. Some donors will need a few extra days to start to feel back to normal, so it is best if you have a little bit of flexibility in your schedule around the time of retrieval.

Your period will return about 2 weeks later and should resume to the normal pattern and regularity that you had before the procedure. If you were using birth control pills for your regular method of birth control you will re-start them at that time. Your personal fertility remains unchanged.

What happens to the eggs once they are retrieved?

Once the eggs are retrieved, they are "cleaned", inspected and placed in a petri dish where they will be fertilized. There, they will grow and develop into embryos. Three to five days later, one of the embryos will be placed into the uterus of the woman you are donating to. While you are taking your medications, she will be using estrogen and progesterone to prepare her uterus for a possible pregnancy. She will receive her first pregnancy test approximately 2 weeks after the embryos have been implanted. Any embryos that were not placed in her uterus will be frozen so that the recipient couple may have several attempts at getting pregnant. If a couple is lucky enough to get pregnant on their first try, they will often attempt to try again in another year or two to conceive a second child. There is a high probability that your couple will become pregnant as success rates with donor eggs is now approximately 75%.

How long does the process take?

Once you are selected by a recipient, the medical and psychological screening appointments take place over the next several weeks. If you successfully complete the medical and psychological screening, the egg donation cycle takes approximately 6 weeks to complete. Overall, please count on a 3 month commitment to the process.

How long does it take to get selected by a couple?

It varies - some donors are selected immediately, some wait several months for a match. I try to accept women I believe will have the best chances of being matched. You should be available and willing to start the process for at least 4 months from the time you complete your application. Not every donor is matched.

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

No. A woman naturally goes through more than a thousand eggs each month to select the single one that is ovulated. The eggs that don't complete the development process normally dissolve and are absorbed by the body. The fertility medication you will receive preserves a portion of these excess eggs that the body would ordinarily discard. No extra eggs are used up in the process.

Can I donate if I'm younger than 21 or older than 31?

If you are within 6 months of your 21st birthday you may begin the application process. Statistically, donors over 31 do not produce the necessary quality or quantity of eggs for this process, and therefore do not give couples the best chances of succeeding. You may still be fertile, but because our eggs age with us chronologically, traditionally "older" eggs will not work as well in this process.

Can I donate if I'm on birth control pills, the birth control patch or NuvaRing?

Yes, you may begin the screening process while on any of these types of birth control. You will generally stay on your birth control until the actual cycle begins.

Can I donate if I have an IUD in place?

Yes, if it's a ParaGard non-hormonal IUD. No, if it's a Mirena IUD which releases hormones.

Can I donate if I'm on Depo Provera?

No, you cannot donate while on Depo Provera as it interferes with ovulation. If you come off of it, you must wait 6 months and have approximately 2-3 normal periods before you proceed with the donor screening process.

Can I donate if I have my tubes tied?

Yes, you may.

Can I donate if I only have one ovary?

No, because the amount of eggs available at the time of retrieval will be greatly reduced.

Can I donate if I am breastfeeding?

No, you will need to be done nursing and have your period resume its normal pattern.

Can I have sex during the month I am donating?

No. You must abstain from sexual intercourse (unless you have had your tubes tied) during the month of egg donation. You will be highly fertile and could become pregnant very easily.

Are there any other restrictions on my activity level while I am donating?

It is important to avoid aerobic or very strenuous physical activity for approximately a week before the retrieval and for up to 2 weeks after the retrieval due to the sensitive nature of your ovaries in this time-frame.

Are there any risks associated with the egg donation procedure?

Egg donation is a low risk minor surgical procedure. There are no incisions; the eggs are retrieved by an ultrasound-guided needle which is guided through the back wall of the vagina and then into the ovaries. You will be given antibiotics to prevent infection.

It is very rare for a donor to have a serious complication from the process or procedure. Some donors feel virtually nothing during the entire process. More commonly, donors experience some lower abdominal bloating, pressure, discomfort and possible water weight gain (yes, it will go away). These symptoms may last anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks.

A very small percentage of donors (1-2%) will still feel some discomfort a bit longer, generally related to hyper-stimulation of the ovaries, or in a few cases hyper-stimulation syndrome (OHSS). The fertility medications used to induce ovulation can cause the ovaries to become temporarily over-stimulated and create fluid build-up in the ovaries and pelvic region. If this occurs you may need to rest a few extra days, take additional medication to help with the symptoms, and go to the clinic for follow-up care. You can experience nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath and pain as symptoms.

Approximately 2 weeks post retrieval you will start your period. This returns your hormone levels to their pre-donation levels and the symptoms/side effects you may have experienced, if any, will usually subside at this point. We will discuss the procedure and risks further when we speak.

The physicians who perform this procedure in our region are highly trained and experienced in this procedure. The medical team at the fertility clinic will review the exact risks involved. Be absolutely sure to ask questions and feel satisfied that you understand the information you are given. Your comfort in participating as an egg donor is very important to me.

What are the side effects of the fertility medications?

The medical team at the fertility clinic will also give you more information about any side effects, and, as with the possibility of risks, you should be sure to ask all your questions and be satisfied that you understand the explanations you are receiving.

The most common short term side effects during the latter part of the cycle are often PMS-like in nature - bloating in the abdominal area, moodiness and fatigue related to the hormonal changes.

What if I do have a complication?

All donors are automatically covered by a special insurance policy for donors. It is paid for by the couple. It is primarily there for your and your couple's peace of mind as it is rarely needed.

How many times can I donate?

You may donate up to 6 times. At the conclusion of your cycle, your results will be reviewed by the medical team. If all looks good, you will be approved to donate again.

What should I know about financial compensation?

Donors are compensated $7,000. This sum is intended to provide reimbursement for the time and effort involved with screening appointments and tests, taking fertility medications, appointments at the fertility clinic and for undergoing the egg retrieval. You will receive your compensation check shortly after your egg retrieval.

If the cycle is canceled before egg retrieval occurs (i.e., inadequate ovarian response), you will receive partial compensation of $600 for your time and inconvenience.

Please note that you must follow the medication instructions given to you very carefully. If you have questions, you should always call the nurse or doctor on call. If you fail to develop eggs and the cycle must be cancelled because you administered your medication improperly you will not be compensated.

Will the recipient parents want to meet me?

Many recipient parents will feel that they already have a strong sense of the special person you are from reviewing your profile and through what I will relate to them about your personality and motivations. For those couples, this is often enough and they will choose not to meet. A smaller percentage of couples, however, will have a desire to meet you and learn more about you in person. If you are comfortable meeting with them, I will be there to introduce you and facilitate the meeting. Meeting a couple once does not obligate you in any way to an ongoing relationship. These meetings only take place after you have passed your medical screening and the couple is committed to cycling with you.

Either way, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have helped a couple achieve their dream of having a child.

What if I want to remain anonymous?

That is not a problem. No identifying information about you will be shared with the recipients without your permission.

What are my legal responsibilities as an egg donor?

Children born as a result of the egg donation process are considered to legally belong to the couple receiving your eggs. Egg donors in Washington State have no responsibility for the future welfare or support of these children. The recipients names will be on the birth certificate.

Will I receive any legal guidance?

Yes. You will be referred to an attorney who specializes in 3rd party reproduction to help you review and understand the egg donation agreement that will be established between you and the recipient family. This agreement will recognize your financial reimbursement, and will also clearly define the legal and custodial rights to any child/children born as a result of your egg donation. The recipient parents will pay the attorney fees.

Any child born as the result of the egg donation process will legally be the child of the woman receiving the eggs, and her partner who donates the sperm for the in vitro fertilization. The donor would neither have responsibility for the future welfare or support of any child born with the use of her eggs, nor would she have any legal right to such a child.

Can I speak to or email with a past egg donor to hear about the experience first-hand?

Yes! Once you have completed your preliminary screening with me, I am happy to connect you with a donor who can share her experience with you first hand.

Still have questions?

Please do not hesitate to call or email me. (206) 285-4855 or sharon@nwfertility.com

~ Sharon