Many people who wish to have children have trouble conceiving. This can feel like a terrible blow at first, but today there are many alternative paths to having children, including adoption, surrogacy, and fertility treatments. The reasons for choosing one option over another are often complex and personal, but all are equally valid.
Using donor eggs is an excellent option for women who want the experience of pregnancy and giving birth but are infertile or have some other reason for not using their own eggs. Donor eggs can be used by heterosexual couples, same-sex couples, or single people who wish to become parents. Donating can also be a rewarding experience for the woman whose eggs make it possible for others to conceive and enjoy parenthood.
Egg donation is when a healthy, fertile woman donates her eggs or oocytes so they can be used by someone else. This is usually done anonymously through an agency, but circumstances vary.
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is a blanket term for all of the medical procedures that are now available for helping people with reproductive challenges have children of their own.
Assisted reproductive technology has been available since the early 1980s and has helped millions of people experience parenthood. ART includes various procedures such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), cryopreservation of gametes or embryos, and fertility medication. Often, patients undergo multiple treatments before they succeed.
Although the act of donating itself doesn't technically fall under ART, the egg donor undergoes the superovulation and egg retrieval steps of IVF, which will be described in more detail below.
A healthy woman might choose to donate her eggs altruistically. However, most donors go through an agency that pays them generously for their eggs. The rate and conditions can vary substantially depending on the clinic providing the service and the country in which the clinic is located.
On the receiving end, there are numerous reasons a couple or a single parent might choose to use donated eggs. The most common reason is that a couple wishes to have their own biological children, but the woman has poor quality eggs. Using donor eggs makes it possible for the female partner to experience pregnancy and give birth; she will be the gestational mother and the social mother but not the biological mother. If her male partner's sperm is used to fertilise the eggs, he becomes the biological father as the child's genes are passed along.
Other reasons for choosing donor eggs include not wanting to pass along a genetic illness, having been born with no ovaries or having had them surgically removed, and having undergone chemotherapy or radiation treatment, among others. Single people and same-sex couples also use donor eggs to help them achieve pregnancy. If there is no intended parent who can carry the child, the fertilised eggs can be implanted in a surrogate mother.
A woman who wants to donate her eggs must go through a screening process. Not everyone is accepted. Common criteria include:
If you are interested in donating some of your eggs, contact a local fertility clinic to find out their terms. If you meet the criteria and the terms are acceptable to you, then you can sign a contract with the clinic. Some women choose to travel to another country where they can receive better care and higher compensation for donating their eggs.
In most countries, donors are anonymous, but there are exceptions where parents want to personally meet the donor or even introduce her to their baby in the future. Remember, as a donor, you have the right to confidentiality.
While the high compensation might be tempting, it is important for a prospective donor to understand that if she chooses to donate, she will relinquish control over her genetic material and have no say in who the parents may be. If the procedure is successful, it will result in a child who shares some of her features.
Egg retrieval is a relatively safe procedure, but it takes time. First, the donor must take medication that interferes with her natural menstrual cycle and stimulates her ovaries to produce multiple eggs at the same time to increase the chances of successful fertilisation and implantation. Usually, the ovaries produce only one egg per menstrual cycle, but when a woman decides to donate (or is preparing for IVF using her own eggs), she is given one of several fertility drugs to stimulate superovulation (also known as controlled ovarian hyperstimulation) so that at least two (but no more than four) eggs can be retrieved.
She will be monitored by a fertility specialist so that when her follicles are approaching ovulation, she can go to the fertility clinic, where a doctor will retrieve the mature oocytes for fertilisation using a special needle. She may be given sedatives or anaesthesia to minimise discomfort. Once the eggs have been retrieved, the egg donor's part is done.
Although, in most cases, there is little risk associated with the procedure, many donors experience some side effects from the fertility drugs, such as cycle irregularities, hot flashes, fatigue, cramps, bloating, and similar symptoms. An egg donor should be able to resume her normal routines a day or two after the procedure.
Unless it is a case of direct donation, the eggs are usually frozen and kept by the agency or clinic until potential parents select them based on certain characteristics. When the intended mother is ready, all the retrieved eggs are fertilised at once (using a partner's sperm or donor sperm) to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy. The fertilised eggs are inserted into the uterus of the intended mother or a surrogate. Twins and multiples are more common among IVF mothers than in the general population for this reason.
Egg donation provides a precious opportunity for those who can't conceive naturally for whatever reason. It can also be a rewarding experience for a donor who "gives the gift of life" and helps another achieve their dream of parenthood. However, egg donation is more than just a physical procedure. The emotional aspects and moral considerations should be taken into account before making such an important decision.
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