From Woe to Hope: The Donor Egg IVF Solution
A diagnosis of infertility was once a bleak label. It meant never being pregnant, never giving birth, and never breastfeeding a child. It meant relying on adoption or surrogacy, or giving up on having any children at all. However, becoming pregnant after an infertility diagnosis is now a genuine possibility. Innovations in reproductive technologies, specifically the successful freezing and thawing of donor eggs, enable infertile women to use another’s eggs to become pregnant. Potential parents can work with a donor egg bank to find their perfect egg match and fulfill their hope for a child. In the US, more than 8,000 babies are born each year using donor eggs and, with constantly advancing technologies, this number will likely continue to rise.
What Is a Donor Egg?
Donor eggs are provided by young, healthy women who are screened during the application process to ensure only the highest quality donors are selected. These eggs are frozen using a flash-freezing process called vitrification, enabling them to be stored, sent to the recipient, and eventually thawed in perfect condition.
Donated eggs can be fresh or frozen. While both feature similar success rates, frozen donor eggs offer several advantages over fresh: they are more economical, less medication is required, the entire process requires less time, and the procedures can be easily fit into a busy schedule.
Why Use a Donor Egg?
More women are choosing to have children in their 30s or 40s; however, as a woman ages, the quantity of eggs she has – along with their quality – diminishes. Prior medical treatments, hormone imbalances, and scarring can also negatively impact a woman’s fertility. Using donor eggs can alleviate the stress and anxiety from an ever-advancing biological clock. For older women, the success rates for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) using donated eggs can be two to three times higher than traditional IVF using their own.
In addition to older women, frozen donor eggs can also be used by those who have had multiple miscarriages, women who want to avoid passing a genetic disorder to their children, or men without a female partner (although they will also need a gestational carrier).
There are a multitude of donor egg banks in the US available to the public, and some fertility clinics also maintain their own. Most donor banks have a variety of financial arrangements available, allowing couples to choose the monetary commitment that best suits them. Frozen donor eggs are far less expensive than fresh eggs, and some frozen donor banks even offer money-back guarantees, making them a very attractive option.
Once registered with a donor egg program, couples can look through full donor profiles and choose the egg donor that is perfect for them. Some choose a donor with features and traits similar to the future mother, so the child bears a physical resemblance to both its parents. Others simply choose traits they deem desirable. Once the donor is chosen, her eggs are expedited to the couple’s fertility clinic for storage until needed.
Preparation and the Transfer Process
To prepare for a potential pregnancy, the recipient must take fertility drugs and hormones for 4 weeks before transfer. The hormones estrogen and progesterone cause the uterine wall to thicken and fill with nutrient-rich blood for a potential embryo to implant. Once the uterus is ready, the donor eggs are thawed and fertilized, either with sperm from the potential father or from a donor. This part of the treatment is the same as traditional IVF. Doctors typically use a process called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), which injects one sperm directly into each egg, rather than relying on the sperm fertilizing the eggs on their own in a petri dish.
The fertilized eggs are incubated under the supervision of an embryologist who monitors development of the embryos over the following three to five days, and chooses the best for implantation. Genetic testing can be done on day 5 to identify any embryos that have chromosomal abnormalities.
A thin catheter is inserted into the uterus to transfer one or two embryos inside, where they will hopefully implant into the uterine wall and continue to develop. About two weeks after the transfer, a blood test is performed to check for the pregnancy hormone, hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin).
Changing the Face of Infertility
Nothing levels the playing field more than infertility. It happens to countless women, regardless of race, income or social status. A wide range of emotions accompany infertility, from anger and grief at the diagnosis to jealousy and envy of women that can have children. Even using a donor egg requires some adjustment; the loss of a genetic relationship to your child can be difficult for many mothers. These emotions can potentially give rise to hope and joy as scientific advances continue to change the face of infertility.