The choices facing couples with infertility can be both a blessing and a curse. While it’s incredible that so many options are available now, getting familiar with each option and choosing what is best for your family can be overwhelming at a time that is already emotionally demanding.
One treatment that many couples are not familiar with before it is presented as an option is in vitro fertilization with donor eggs. From the differences between donor eggs to the steps involved, here is a guide to using donor eggs to start a family.
The journey that leads couples to consider egg donation is rarely one without setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. Some people naturally want to persevere with new methods to build a family, while others may doubt if parenthood is in their life’s plan after all. That’s why fertility specialists recommend that couples or individuals looking into using a donor egg get counseling prior to finalizing their plans. Having an expert to help navigate one’s emotions can help future parents come to terms with the loss of the possibility of a child that inherits both mom’s and dad’s DNA as well as any lingering emotional questions about the process itself.
Know the donor options
One of the biggest choices when it comes to donor eggs is who the donor will be. Many couples use criteria such as ethnicity, education, interests, and appearance when selecting a donor. Some couples prefer to ask a family member or close friend to donate, while others prefer an anonymous donor. This choice also makes a big difference in the steps involved in the process.
Fresh donor eggs
When a friend, family member or local donor secured through an agency has agreed to donate eggs, also known as fresh egg donation, the couple will need to ensure that the donor is fit psychologically, medically and genetically. Then, the donor and the mother-to-be need to synchronize their menstrual cycles using medications. Simultaneously, the donor takes hormones for about two weeks to increase her egg production, while the mother-to-be takes hormones that create a more hospitable womb. The donor then goes through the egg extraction, after which the fertility clinic can fertilize the fresh eggs using a male partner’s or donor sperm. The eggs are cultured for a few days and develop into embryos before the doctor implants them into the mother.
Frozen donor eggs
Using frozen eggs follows many of the same steps as with using fresh donor eggs, except that the timeline is abbreviated because the donor has already been screened and the eggs have already been extracted. Some advantages to this:
- The couple can choose a time that works with their schedule as opposed to working within the constraints of the donor’s cycle.
- The mother-to-be only takes hormones to prepare her uterus. She does not take medication to sync her cycle with the donor’s.
- Couples can expect a certain number of eggs to be available--usually six to eight—whereas with a fresh donor the couple will not know how many eggs they will receive until the retrieval takes place.
Generally, a couple can complete an IVF cycle using frozen donor eggs in about four weeks, compared to up to six months for treatment using fresh donor eggs.
One key difference between using fresh and frozen eggs is that the fertility clinic’s experience is vital. A newer flash-freezing process called vitrification has allowed success rates for pregnancies with frozen eggs to get closer than ever to those with fresh donor eggs. Older technology that used a “slow freeze” allowed more damaging ice crystals to form inside the donor eggs than with vitrification, which uses liquid nitrogen to cool the eggs rapidly. However, couples should take care to ensure that their fertility clinic has experience thawing eggs that have been vitrified.
Different egg banks have different costs associated with donor egg IVF; however, IVF with frozen donor eggs typically costs half as much as IVF with fresh donor eggs. Individual insurance plans also differ on which parts of the process are covered through the fertility clinic.
Hope and Joy
Navigating infertility is challenging and emotionally draining, yet there can be hope and joy at the end of the journey. Egg donation provides the chance for women to experience the miracle of life developing inside, the hard work of labor and delivery, and the special bond between mother and child before and after birth.