In the USA many women choose to donate their eggs to couples or single women who want to start their family. However, finding an egg donor in Canada or in the UK, as well as in numerous other countries, can be more complicated due to the fact that donors are rarer.
Consequently, the waiting lists are long for those who need an egg donor in order to conceive. In certain cases, couples have no option but to wait for months, sometimes even years. Why is this? Why aren’t there more women willing to be egg donors?
It’s a long and demanding process
Donating eggs or sperm is an amazing selfless act that can allow infertile couples and single people, as well as gay couples using a surrogate, to finally start their family. However, egg donation is in many ways more demanding than sperm donation.
Firstly, the whole procedure is much more time consuming. The actual process, including injections and egg retrieval, can last two weeks or more. The screenings, which involve medical appointments, blood tests and multiple ultrasounds, can last up anywhere up to six weeks.
Additionally, donating eggs entails daily injections. For ten days, you must inject yourself with fertility drugs to stimulate egg production. Finally, the donor must undergo surgery under anesthetic and recovery time is necessary.
As if that wasn’t already enough, this exhausting procedure can also have annoying side effects including mood swings, cramping, and abdominal swelling. These are just a few of the reasons that there aren’t more women willing to go through this long and complicated process.
It requires time and lots of organization
Donating eggs requires you to go to the fertility clinic several times, whether this is for a medical appointment, a screening or the actual collection of your eggs. This means that you will have to take days off from work, perhaps find someone to replace you, hire a babysitter, or book accommodation, if needed.
In the end, some people are unable to donate because the clinic is too far from their home or because they simply cannot find any free time.
It involves surgery and the process can be painful
As mentioned earlier, egg donation involves surgery under sedation to perform the egg retrieval procedure. Anesthesia is necessary, as the doctor uses an aspiration needle to go through the vagina and into the ovaries in order to retrieve the eggs.
Although the process is short (about 30 minutes in total) it can be painful and rather uncomfortable. You must rest for an hour or two at the clinic and wait for the effects of the anesthesia to wear off. Once it is finished, you also need to arrange to be driven home by a friend or a family member. You can return to your normal routine the following day. However, exercising or doing arduous physical activity is a no-no.
It’s common for donors to feel crampy after the surgery. You might need to take painkillers the day of the egg retrieval, as well as the following day.
A possible risk for your health and fertility
Donating eggs, more particularly the use of fertility drugs, may increase health and fertility risks. However, as the procedure is still quite new, there is a dearth of studies concerning the eventual long-term risks.
Possible risks of taking fertility drugs include weight gain, headaches, stomach pressure, and allergic reaction. There is also a 5% chance per cycle of Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which makes the ovaries swell and can cause blood clots, necessitating hospitalization.
There is also a small possibility that donating eggs may lead to an irregular menstruation cycle and reduced fertility. In some cases, donating eggs can also lead to death, although this is very rare. Additionally, the use of fertility drugs may also provoke uterine and ovarian cancer. However, this has not been proven conclusively.
Finally, there are the potential risks inherent to anesthesia and the surgery procedure (an ovarian artery could be nicked during the retrieval procedure, for instance).
To minimize any inherent risk, the ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) recommends women donating a maximum of 6 times.
Not everyone can donate their eggs
Only a few of those interested in donating their eggs are actually eligible.
According to FDA regulations, those who got a tattoo or piercing within the last twelve months through an unsterile procedure (or there is some doubt regarding the sterility) are unable to donate. Those who have traveled to areas at risk of Zika in the past six months can also be disqualified.
You won’t be able to donate if you have been treated for chlamydia or gonorrhea within the last twelve months. This also applies to those who have tested positive for Hepatitis B or C, syphilis or any other infection that might be passed on to the baby and the mother. Carriers of the cystic fibrosis gene or other genetic conditions that could be passed on to the child can also be considered ineligible.
Moreover, smoking can prevent a woman from being eligible to donate. Finally, BMI and age requirements, which can differ from clinic to clinic, are other important criteria to consider. As fertility is affected by age, egg donors are usually women aged between 21 and 34. Some clinics won’t accept donors over the age of 32.
It’s not just about the money
In the UK and Canada, receiving money for donating your eggs is illegal, although in the UK donors are compensated £750 per cycle to cover their expenses. This is another reason that there aren’t more women donating.
In the USA, the situation is quite different, as it’s not illegal to pay a donor. On average, an egg donor can earn about $5,000 to $10,000 per cycle. According to Marie Claire UK, in some cases, couples might even pay up to $100,000 for a ‘top-notch’ donor.
However, it’s not just about the money (although this certainly helps!). Once you’ve donated your eggs, you cannot take them back. You must fully accept the fact that you will be biologically related to children that will never be yours and whom you will never meet.
No matter how generous they might be and regardless of how strongly they may want to help another woman to have a baby, many women just aren’t ready to commit to something like this.
Donating your eggs to another woman or a couple, gay or straight, is a beautiful and noble gesture. If you’re interested in becoming an egg donor, good for you! Just make sure that you fully understand what the process entails and what’s at stake, before going any further.