What it takes to be an egg donor

If you’ve ever wondered what comes after failed IVF treatments, using an egg donor could be an option. Tammy Jacks considers what’s involved.

Infertility rates are on the rise, with around 6.7 million women worldwide struggling to fall pregnant or carry a baby to term, and at least one in four couples facing challenges conceiving naturally.
For those who have spent thousands on failed in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments, or other fertility technologies (like artificial insemination), it might seem that all hope is lost, but this isn’t always the case. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the process of using IVF with donor eggs has the highest success rate of any fertility treatment (52% in the US, and upward of 75% at some of the top private clinics). This is primarily because egg donors are young, healthy and at a prime fertile age to produce several good-quality eggs.

ALSO SEE: 5 reasons why you’re not falling pregnant

Increased demand for egg donors

“In the past 10 years, the demand in egg donation has tripled,” says obstetrician and gynaecologist at Vitalab Dr Chris Venter, who recently compiled a report on the medical, psychological and ethical considerations of egg donation. This is mainly because women are having children later due to demanding careers and financial constraints.

Dr Venter points out that women wanting to conceive over the age of 35 are regarded as being of advanced maternal age. “With age comes a deterioration of the quantity and quality of a woman’s eggs, which has a direct effect on her ability to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy.”

According to the American Pregnancy Association, other factors that contribute to infertility include:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal imbalances (male and female)
  • Excess weight
  • Uterine problems
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles (too short or too long)
  • Endometriosis
  • Abnormal cervical mucus (prevents sperm from reaching the egg)
  • Damaged fallopian tubes
  • Previous infection

Although egg donation isn’t the answer to all these conditions, studies have found that couples may be good candidates for donor eggs in the following instances:

  • A history of failed IVF treatments where egg quality is the suspected problem
  • Premature ovarian failure (menopause starts earlier than usual, particularly under the age of 40)
  • Low-quality eggs due to advanced maternal age
  • Genetic disorders that could be passed on to the unborn child
  • Unexplained infertility due to lifestyle factors like stress, low body weight (due to eating disorders or history of drug and alcohol abuse)

ALSO SEE: 8 fights every couple has when trying to conceive

Want to donate your eggs?

If you’re considering becoming an egg donor to help couples fulfil their dreams of being parents, it’s important to do your homework and know what to expect from the process. Jenny Currie, owner of baby2mom, a local, professional egg donation agency, suggests using these steps as a guide to help you get started:

ALSO SEE: Everything you need to know about surrogacy in South Africa

Consider your safety first

The most important step is to look for a reputable egg donor agency that has many years of experience in all aspects of egg donation. “The agency should also indicate that they’ve signed and agreed to the guidelines proposed by the Southern African Society for Reproductive Medicine and Gynaecological Endoscopy (SASREG),” says Jenny. This means you should steer clear of international agencies that promise all-expenses-paid trips abroad to donate your eggs, she adds. “The truth is, reputable egg donation agencies in South Africa are discouraged from sending women abroad for egg donation. There’s really no reason for it, and we have a very conservative, professional approach in South Africa, where we always have the best interests of the donors at heart,” she continues. “Health and safety come first, and we never take unnecessary risks,” she stresses. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in some countries, with many egg donors suffering serious complications as a result of being overstimulated with hormonal medications to produce more eggs.

Another important point to consider when choosing your agency, says Jenny, is that it should have solid relationships with well-known fertility clinics in the country. “This is because the IVF process, which begins soon after your eggs have been matched with a recipient, should be carried out by the industry’s best,” says Jenny.

Decide whether you fit the profile to become an egg donor

  • Are you a healthy woman aged between 18 and 34?
  • Do you have a healthy body mass index (between 18.5 and 24.9)?
  • Are you able to commit to an anonymous egg donation programme?

Jenny says egg donors and recipients never meet, and first names and adult pictures are never shared between the egg donor and recipient. This means you may feel that becoming an egg donor is a thankless task, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Prospective parents rely heavily on egg donors to help them conceive and when a perfect match is found, and a couple finally hear the words, “You’re pregnant”, there’s nothing more rewarding than knowing that spark of hope has turned into reality.

Prepare yourself for a lengthy commitment

It takes time and dedication to donate your eggs. Although the process takes roughly two to three months (where you’re actively involved for two to three weeks only), you also need to be available to fill out legal paperwork and commit to doctors’ visits and psychological assessments.

Once you’ve been approved as an egg donor for the first time, you’ll have a full physical exam including a pelvic exam and an ultrasound to determine the health of your ovaries. You’ll also have a series of blood work done to rule out any genetic abnormalities or diseases. “In addition, you’ll need to be able to give yourself frequent self-injections, so there’s no time to be squeamish,” says author and fertility advocate Rachel Gurevich. These daily injections last about two weeks and they’re an important part of the whole process as they consist of a variety of hormones and medicines to stimulate your body’s natural ability to produce eggs. You can’t skip a step or a day in between.
You must then be willing to have your eggs retrieved. “Egg retrieval is a minor surgical procedure where an ultrasound-guided needle is placed through your vaginal wall towards your ovaries. The needle is used to aspirate the developed eggs from the ovaries,” explains Rachel. “You’ll receive IV sedation for the procedure and will probably want to take the day off work. Many women feel fine the next day, while others need to rest longer,” she adds.

Take note of the possible side effects

Although negative side effects are rare, studies have shown you may experience tender breasts, temporary weight gain and water retention, as well as abdominal pain. However, the good news is, if you go through a reputable agency, the fertility experts will always ensure your health and wellbeing is top priority, says Jenny. Should any medical issues arise, you’ll be in good hands and treated with the utmost care.

ALSO SEE: 3 common infertility issues and how to treat them

Will you get paid as a donor?

“Although you will receive a donation for your efforts and commitment to donating your eggs, you don’t get paid specifically for your eggs,” says Jenny. The donation has been approved by the Health Department and is an agreed, legal amount that is usually around R7 000. However, it’s important to remember that the choice to donate your eggs should come from your heart, with payment not being your primary motivator.

How are egg donors chosen?

“Couples select their preferred donor by considering the available donors and asking for a specific donor, or they might ask me to assist with some possible donors who meet their required criteria,” explains Jenny.

Accredited agencies and clinics in SA

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