(Okay, I have been told I need an egg donor. Now what?)
Your doctor tells you that you need an egg donor. First of all, take a deep breath. This is bound to be one of the biggest decisions you are going to make in your life, and it can feel very overwhelming.
Because this news can be so mind boggling, give yourself time to wrap your mind around egg donation, what it means, and the steps it will take to complete an egg donor cycle from start to finish.
To begin with, it’s important for us as women and mothers-to-be to know that it is normal to be sad about losing our genetic link to our future child. For some women, it can be a lengthy grieving process. We encourage you to give yourself time to grieve this loss. Sometimes seeing a counselor a therapist can help sort through complicated feelings.
Remember that no matter which egg donor you select, a DE (donor egg) child will be one you and your partner (if you should have one) create and give life to. The child will be exclusive and special to your own family, and he or she wouldn’t be coming into this world if not for the love that you have to give. It is also important to focus on the fact that you are going to love, honor, and cherish this child regardless of eye color, hair color, height, or other physical characteristics.
Where do we start? And what’s important?
First, you need to decide if you want to select an anonymous donor or a known donor. For some parents it’s important to make a personal connection with their egg donor. They may want to select a donor who will be willing to meet their child one day in the future. Others choose the anonymous donor route, not wanting to know anything other than what a profile states about their donor.
When selecting a donor, pay close attention to the egg donor’s profile. Read carefully, taking into account how the donor portrays herself. Look for a donor that you can relate to, that you could call your friend, or that you imagine could fit in with your own family.
Some recipient/intended parent(s) place value on the GPAs, SAT scores, and college education of their donor. Some recipient/intended parent(s) place value in egg donors who have excelled in athletics, music, science, or other areas. Some recipient/intended parent(s) require their donor to be the same faith as themselves. The majority of recipient/intended parent(s) we talk to also tell us they would prefer an egg donor to have a physical resemblance with the recipient mother, so that the baby “looks like Mom and Dad.”
In addition, it is not uncommon for us to hear: “I want an egg donor who’s drop-dead gorgeous and incredibly bright!” This is not an unreasonable request – let's face it, who doesn't want their child to be beautiful and brilliant? Therefore, the demand for attractive, exceptional college girls who are willing to donate eggs is high. However, not all attractive, intelligent, college-age girls are going to make good donors. That's why medical and psychological testing is required and paying close attention to the results of those tests is important.
As a recipient/intended parent, the characteristics you desire in a donor are unique to you and based on your personal priorities and choices. There is no right or wrong way to go about this! Just keep in mind that as a recipient/intended parent, you are investing a good deal of money in this process. Being a pro-active, smart consumer armed with information is imperative when selecting an egg donor.
I’m just starting this process and I feel like I’m reading another language!
Here is some terminology for those who are just starting out:
An anonymous egg donor is an egg donor you do not meet, selected with the help of a clinic or an agency. You do not know her name or anything else about her that is not stated on her profile. You may or may not see a photo of the donor. The donor would know nothing about the recipient/intended parent(s) or the cycle other than how many eggs were retrieved, and in some instances, whether or not a pregnancy resulted.
A semi-known egg donor is an egg donor who knows the recipient/intended parent(s’) first name(s) and the state in which they live. The donor and recipient/intended parent(s) might exchange emails and photos; however, no specific personal information is provided about the donor or the recipient/intended parent(s).
A known egg donor can be a friend, family member, or someone selected by the recipient/intended parent(s) with the intention of meeting face-to-face. The donor may know the recipient/intended parent(s’) first and last names and/or where they live, and in addition the two parties may be willing to exchange email, telephone calls, and personal information as well as to continue to keep in contact with one another. The donor and the recipient/intended parent(s) may agree upon the child meeting the donor at a future point in time. The recipient/intended parent(s) may or may not send photos of their child with updates to the egg donor as well. The arrangement regarding exchange of information is agreed upon and put into place between the egg donor and recipient/intended parent(s) at the time of the cycle. In many instances, information is shared for medical purposes.
All egg donors should complete an in-depth egg donor profile compiled of several pages of questions covering their medical history, personal history, social history, and reproductive history. You do not want to do business with an egg donor agency, broker, or clinic that does not require their egg donors to complete at least a medical profile. All egg donors should meet with a psychologist to be administered an MMPI* and a psychological evaluation.
*The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI, is the most frequently used clinical personality test. It is an easy test to administer and provides an objective measure of personality. It provides clear, valid descriptions of the test subject’s characteristics in broadly accepted clinical language. It also provides information about any potential psychological problems or symptoms that may deem a potential donor inappropriate to proceed with the egg donation process. It always needs to be scored, evaluated, and interpreted by a licensed clinical psychologist at the PhD level.
What should I look for in an egg donor?
The following is a list of important qualities to look for in a potential egg donor. Ideally, egg donors should:
Be between the ages of 21 and 30** and exhibit maturity, responsibility, and dependability
Be in good physical health as documented by history and testing
Be in good psychological health as documented by history and testing
Be of proportionate height and weight [being overweight may affect egg quality, as well as necessitate higher doses of stimulation drugs to create follicles, which translates to additional costs for the recipient/intended parent(s)]
Be drug free
Be a non-smoker of tobacco and marijuana
Have regular menstrual periods and is not using Depo-Provera
Have an FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) level on cycle day three (3) of no more than eight (8), preferably under six (6)
Have an E2 (Estradiol) level on cycle day three (3) of less than fifty (50)
Have an Antral follicle count*** of at least fifteen (15) combined count.
** Donors younger than 21 may not be emotionally mature; donors older than 30 are not at peak fertility. Always follow your reproductive endocrinologist's advice regarding age.
***Antral follicles are small follicles (about 2-8 mm in diameter) that a reproductive endocrinologist can see, measure, and count with ultrasound. Antral follicles are also referred to as resting follicles. Vaginal ultrasound is the best way to accurately assess and count these small structures. The antral follicle counts (in conjunction with female age) are by far the best tool that we currently have for estimating ovarian reserve and/or chances for pregnancy with donor eggs through IVF.
Specific questions to ask an egg donor (or to ask the clinic/agency about an anonymous donor):
1. Do you have or does anyone in your family have a tendency towards any particular illnesses, i.e., allergies, intestinal problem, cancer, heart disease or psychological problems? Who had one or more of these illnesses, and at what age did the onset occur? (These questions should be answered completely within the donor profile.)
2. Are your blood relatives living, i.e., parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles? If not, how old were they when they died, and what did they die of? (These questions should be answered completely within the donor profile.)
3. Have you or any member of your immediate family ever smoked, drank alcohol to excess, or used illegal substances? To what extent are any of these, or have any of these ever been, a problem? Note: Some agencies don’t like to ask this question. However, it is a reasonable and important question, as studies have shown that some forms of addiction have hereditary components. (These questions should be answered completely within the donor profile.)
4. Have you ever been pregnant? What was the outcome? (These questions should be answered completely within the donor profile.)
5. Have you ever donated eggs before? If you have, how many follicles developed? How many eggs were retrieved? How many successfully fertilized? Was there a resulting pregnancy or multiple pregnancy, and a live birth(s)? Note: The donor may or may not have this information.
6. What can you tell us about your family of origin? Who are they and what are their ages? What are their vocations and vocational interests, hobbies, talents and dispositions? What are their physical characteristics, such as coloring, size, weight and height? (These questions should be answered completely within the donor profile.)
7. Do you have any children? If yes, how old are they now? When did they learn to sit up, walk and talk? Were there and are there any significant health issues we should know about? What are their sleeping and eating habits? What are their special abilities and interests? What was their birth weight and length? (These questions should be answered completely within the donor profile.)
8. What is your family’s genealogical heritage or history? What country(s) did your ancestors come from, where did they settle here, and when? (These questions should be answered completely within the donor profile.)
9. Why do you want to help us have a baby using your egg(s)? What do you think you will get out of it? If you have already donated, what did you get out of it? If you do not already have children, have you considered the unlikely circumstance that at a later date you might be unable to conceive? (This should be discussed with a psychologist before the donor donates.)
10. If we get pregnant, will you tell your family members including your children? If so, how will you tell them, and when? Would you want your children to know that our child would share half of their genetic heritage? How will you handle their questions?
11. May we see or have pictures of your family, siblings, and children? If we desire [in an known donor agreement], may we meet with your immediate family, including your children?
12. Have you thought about how you'd feel if, after all this interaction and sharing, we don't get pregnant?
13. Have you thought about whether you would like any ongoing contact such as pictures, phone calls or meeting the child?
14. Is your job or school situation flexible enough to do this procedure? Do you have childcare available, if you have children?
A few last words about choosing a donor
Do your homework, research, ask questions, and if something doesn’t sit well, listen to your gut. Don’t be led to believe that if you pay a top price for an egg donor, you will get a premium donor. That’s not the way it works. Also, while we are talking about it, don’t believe that paying a higher fee to an agency or a donor is going to create or produce a top quality (or even a better quality) egg – or, for that matter, increase your chances at becoming a parent. Again, that’s not the way it works.
At the end of the day, we believe that the child you have via this process is the child you are meant to have, and will be the most amazing, beautiful, perfect child you have ever laid on eyes on.