Egg donation is a way for young women to give to older women what time has taken away from them: the ability to have a child.
Most people, especially women, imagine themselves someday starting a family. What they often do not realize is that they have a finite amount of time in which to do that.
A woman’s fertility drops off dramatically after age 35. It continues a steep decline until it reaches almost zero by age 50 and ends completely with menopause.
For generations before us women married in their 20’s and had children in their mid 20’s to mid 30’s when becoming pregnant is relatively easy.
The landscape has changed dramatically for women. They are in the workforce in larger numbers, and are pursuing higher education, and careers, not just jobs. They are becoming more selective in choosing partners. Often a first marriage ends in divorce without children and she is starting again in her 30’s looking for someone with whom to have a family.
Additionally, America’s workplaces don’t make it easy for working women to have children. Our parental leave, especially paid parental leave falls way behind that of most European countries. Thus, many women feel that they must reach a high level of accomplishment such that they can leave for one or more years and safely return and be assured of employment if they choose to spend the early years with their child.
All of that often means that a woman is not ready to start a family until her late thirties or early forties. And it is only then that she discovers that she is not able to conceive.
Why Egg Donors Are Needed
Unlike men who produce sperm throughout their lifetime, women are born with all the eggs that they will ever have—about 250,000. And those eggs began aging at birth. Most women seeking egg donors are doing so because of their age. She still has many eggs, they are just not able to produce a healthy pregnancy that will result in a live birth. It is not impossible for them to conceive, just very difficult and her probability of having a miscarriage is much higher. Women seeking egg donors have been through many years of miscarriages, unsuccessful attempts at adoption, and failed IVF with her own eggs.
Here enters the egg donor. Young women’s eggs have a much greater chance of producing a healthy embryo that results in a live birth. And by becoming an egg donor, they can help older women to have the child that they long for.
Requirements for Being an Egg Donor
A donor must be age 20 to 28. Clinics will work with donors up to age 32 if they have a prior history of successful donations, but a first-time donor should be 28 or younger.
Donors must have a healthy family history, i.e., free of genetic diseases or conditions with a strong familial history, and free of mental illness or substance abuse.
Couples are looking for someone who is similar to the intended mother… Similar in terms of physical appearance, personality and ethnicity.
Couples of every ethnicity are seeking donors, thus donors of every ethnicity are needed. There is an especially large need for minority donors, i.e. donors of various Asian ethnicities: Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Indian as well as Middle Eastern, African, etc.
Unlike the mischaracterization of those using assisted reproductive technology as wealthy individuals attempting to genetically engineer the perfect child, couples are just regular people who want to start a family.
While there are some egg donor agencies that work mostly with donors who are super-model material with high levels of education, most agencies are working with regular couples who are just looking for someone similar to themselves.
Additionally, agencies require that donors be basically weight to height proportionate for a variety of medical reasons.
Compensation for Donating Eggs
Donors are generally paid $5,000 to $10,000 per donation cycle. Some agencies will pay more for “super donors”, but most agencies pay the same fee to all donors. Compensation is slightly higher for repeat donors. An individual can donate up to six times, thus an individual can earn over $60,000 in total.
The Donation Procedure
The entire donation process, including the screening, monitoring visits and retrieval procedure is a total of about 20 hours (about 6 to 8 clinic visits) over a period of two to three months.
First a donor undergoes a medical screening which consists of a blood draw, a vaginal exam, an ultrasound, and genetic testing on a saliva sample. Next the donor is put on birth control pills for two to six weeks which are used to synchronize her menstrual cycle with her recipient.
Next, she will be on inyectable hormones for 10 to 12 days and then undergo a retrieval procedure. These are two forms of FSH (follicle stimulating hormones). The donor administers these herself at home. Normally a woman produces only one mature egg each month. The FSH meds cause 10 to 20 eggs to mature which are all retrieved at the end of the cycle. While the donor is on FSH meds she is closely monitored with blood draws and ultrasounds, and her medications are adjusted based on her own body’s response. The retrieval procedure takes about 20 minutes and is done through a catheter that is inserted vaginally. The whole process feels roughly similar to a Pap smear.
The eggs are then fertilized in the lab with the partner’s sperm and incubated for 5 days. The healthiest looking embryo will be transferred to the uterus of the intended mother and the remaining good quality embryos will be frozen. If a pregnancy is not achieved with the first transfer the frozen embryos will be transferred one at a time until a pregnancy is achieved. Obviously, this is a description of a heterosexual couple, but the medical process is the same for two women who are using a sperm donor or two men using a gestational carrier.
These days almost 100% of couples working with a donor will eventually achieve a live birth before. Some couples can even go on to have a second child with their leftover embryos.
Most donors find the process easier than they had expected and choose to donate eggs multiple times. Egg donation has been in use since the mid 80’s and is a safe procedure that is done thousands of times every month all over the country.
Some couples and their donors choose to meet. It depends on the preferences of both parties.
Egg donation is a wonderful way for young women to give a gift of immeasurable value and to be well compensated for their time. Many young women describe donating eggs as one of the most rewarding and meaningful things that they have ever done. Almost all donors choose to donate multiple times.
If you wish to find out more about the process of becoming a donor or to apply to be a donor, please visit the website of The San Francisco Donor Network. You can contact us and we will be happy to answer any questions. We have been doing this since 2004 and have matched over 600 couples with donors. Please note that we work only with local donors. There are national egg donor agencies that work with donors all over the country and they can be found with a quick search on the Internet.