For many, using donor eggs wasn’t part of the original plan. You may have simply wanted to seek some assistance with your own fertility with an eye toward in vitro fertilization (IVF). But now the doctor is saying that you have a very low chance of successfully conceiving with your own eggs, and you and your partner should consider using a donor egg.
If you’re like most people in this situation, you may not be sure what to do next. But not to worry, others have already been down this road. You will be able to navigate this situation as well. It’s just a question of breaking things down into manageable steps.
Finding an egg donor
The first thing you need to do is find the right egg donor for you. This may mean doing some research on how to find an egg donor, assuming you are not using someone you know.
Donor egg banks
One option is to use a frozen donor egg bank, which might be quicker than using an egg donor agency. The eggs in a donor egg bank are already frozen and available. With this, you have a good idea of when your embryo transfer can be. You can browse through detailed profiles of available donors, which may include everything from her interests, education, physical characteristics, and family health history.
In some cases, you may also have some flexibility in whether the donor will remain anonymous or is open to some type of contact. Keep in mind, nothing is truly anonymous in today’s day of genetic and ancestry testing.
Donor egg agencies
Another option is to use an egg donor agency that can help you identify women with specific characteristics or interests that you and your partner find important in an egg donor. An egg donor agency can function a little like a matchmaker.
With this approach, you decide the qualities you are looking for in an egg donor and the agency will look for someone who fits your description. Many agencies have a list of potential donors ready to go. Usually, though, these donors provide “fresh” eggs, meaning their eggs are not already frozen. You’ll have to wait for the donor to undergo a retrieval cycle.
Your own fertility clinic
You may also find that whatever fertility facility you are already working with has a donor egg program available. Keep in mind, however, that depending on your clinic, limited donor options may be available. So, particularly if you have a set of characteristics that you’re looking for, you may find yourself wanting more.
What to expect from a fresh donor cycle
Once you’ve selected a donor, the next steps depend on whether you are doing a fresh cycle or a frozen one. If you are using a donor who has not yet frozen her eggs in the egg bank, there will be some extra steps.
The medication involved
If you have done IVF before, you may already be somewhat familiar with the process. Your egg donor will take stimulation medications and undergo an egg retrieval similar to the process for IVF. The recipient who will carry the pregnancy will also take medications to prepare the uterus for an embryo transfer.
Often, you will first use medication to quiet your own cycle, such as birth control pills or the drug Lupron. You will then be put on estrogen to mimic what would happen during your normal cycle. Once your lining reaches a good thickness, your doctor will start you on progesterone. This progesterone will stabilize your uterine lining for embryo implantation.
The fertilization process
It's also important for the male partner to coordinate and produce a semen sample during the same day that the eggs are retrieved from the donor. Some couples use already frozen sperm, which works also. Then, using in vitro fertilization, the eggs are fertilized with this sperm and the potential embryos are created. At this point, some intended parents opt to genetically test the embryos to rule out any abnormal embryos.
Keep in mind that if there are more embryos created than you need for one cycle, some can be frozen and saved for later.
What to expect when using frozen eggs
As we mentioned earlier, if you do a frozen egg cycle, the definite upside is that these eggs are already available to use. You don’t have to worry that the donor may not produce as many as you were hoping for.
The eggs are there, ready when you are. The recipient does not have to synchronize her cycle with the donor’s, which can mean more flexibility for you. Also, you may have wider geographic choices since the bank can get egg deposits from all over. With a fresh cycle, you are limited to donors in the area or willing to travel (another expense).
Frozen donor eggs may be offered as a package with lab tests, genetic screenings, and medications bundled together at an overall lower cost than for a fresh cycle. With frozen eggs, as opposed to a fresh cycle, you know exactly how many eggs you are getting. Once your clinic receives the frozen donor eggs, they will thaw them and fertilize them with sperm. Similar to a fresh donor cycle, you will use estrogen to thicken your uterine lining, followed by progesterone to stabilize your lining and prepare it for an embryo.
Summing it up
Hopefully this helps you feel confident in knowing that, while it contains many steps, the donor egg process can be manageable. But the more informed you are, the better. Do check out our other resources that can answer other questions you might have about the donor process. Whether you’re just beginning to consider the idea of using donor eggs, or on the cusp of starting a cycle, we’re here to help make this process a little bit easier.
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