Exactly what happens during the egg donation procedure, anyway? You’re excited about Cofertility’s Split Program, where those qualified get to freeze their eggs for free when they donate half to a family that can’t conceive. Still, you're unsure about one thing — the egg retrieval procedure itself. You want to understand what goes into maturing more eggs, and how those eggs will be retrieved. It’s a big deal — we get it!
We outlined all the details about what to expect during the procedure—including the protocol leading up to your retrieval. The stimulation and retrieval process is the same as what takes place during egg freezing or IVF. Use this guide to get a glimpse into and help you navigate the process.
How the egg donation process begins
At the start of your cycle, there are many tiny follicles with the potential to produce mature eggs. A follicle is a fluid-filled sac that continues to grow while the contained egg matures.
Usually, one follicle takes the lead. It grows faster than the rest, maturing before the others can. Once the egg inside fully develops, the follicle ruptures, releasing the egg during ovulation. This halts the other egg follicles in their tracks and never gives the immature eggs inside these follicles a chance to develop. These eggs are lost each month.
If a woman is not pregnant, the cycle restarts with a new batch of potential follicles. But with the aid of certain medications, doctors can help ensure that many - not just one - follicles mature at the same time.
The stimulation process
While the medications prescribed may be a little different for every cycle, most protocols to stimulate the ovaries during the egg donation are designed to do the following:
- Shut it down. Doctors will prescribe birth control or a progesterone-only pill to shut your ovaries down for a couple of weeks before your cycle begins. This sets the stage for fertility drugs and makes it easier to control your ovaries' response to those meds.
- Stim it up. When it's time to start the cycle, your doctor will prescribe medication to stimulate your ovaries. These drugs are similar to hormones that your body already makes, but in higher amounts. One of these hormones produced by the body is the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), while the other is the luteinizing hormone (LH). Your doctor may prescribe medication similar to either of these, or a combination of the two. These medications are injectables, but you’ll receive proper training from your clinic before you have to give your first dose at home. You’ll need to take these injections once or twice a day for about two weeks.
- Ongoing check-ins. During the two weeks that you’re taking these medications, the doctor will continually monitor your progress. Blood work will help monitor your estrogen levels while a vaginal ultrasound will be used to view follicle growth. These monitoring visits will help your doctor decide if and how to adjust your medication doses. If you've never had a vaginal ultrasound, it may sound a little scary, but the probe is slightly bigger than the size of a tampon. It’s totally comfortable, but it shouldn’t hurt.
- Prevent Ovulation. Once your follicles reach a certain size, or your estrogen reaches a certain level, your doctor may start you on a medication to prevent premature ovulation. This medication is also done via injection and, if necessary, will be added to your daily routine.
- Go time. Once the doctor decides that your follicles are ready for retrieval, you'll take what's known as a “trigger shot.” This injection will help the growing eggs mature and prepare them for retrieval.
- The egg retrieval. This is the only real “procedure” - the retrieval will be done outpatient (at the clinic, not the hospital) and will be done within 30 minutes. Your doctor will use a vaginal ultrasound with a needle attached. The needle will be guided into your ovary and used to aspirate the fluid in each follicle. With this fluid, will come eggs that can be used to create embryos. You will be under light anesthesia, so you won’t feel a thing and you will be provided medication to help you avoid any discomfort during or after the process.
- Recover. Right after the procedure, you may feel a bit foggy. The clinic will give you time to rest and your doctor will likely reiterate that you'll also need to take it easy for the next day or two. Physically, you can return to work or school the following day, but if you have the flexibility, you may want to take a day or two off to relax.
A highly-skilled clinical team will guide you through each of these steps in the egg donation process. Importantly, this team will help ensure that you don't develop any issues, such as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome is when your body responds too actively to the fertility medication and produces too many eggs. If you have symptoms of OHSS, these usually will resolve after a couple of weeks, says the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).
Navigating with ease
If you’re considering the Split program, remember that while you may be new to the process, your team is not. Your doctors and nurses (and Confertility’s community) will guide you every bit of the way and answer any questions you may have.