There are a number of reasons you might consider donating your eggs. For some, the choice is monetary, as you may be well-compensated for your donation. For others, it’s the act of helping a couple have a baby. And it can certainly be both.
Whatever your motivation, the egg donation process is relatively straightforward and takes place over a 2-month period. Once you pass the initial application and legal hurdles, you’ll use medications to prepare your eggs for the egg procedure.
Keep reading to learn more about the egg donation process, including the possible risks and some tips for ways to prepare yourself before, during, and after the procedure.
What is egg donation?
Egg donation involves a donor who provides eggs to a recipient for the purpose of getting pregnant. Sometimes this recipient is the intended parent, and other times, it may be a surrogate who will carry a pregnancy for the intended parents.
A 2017 study showed that typically, between 5 and 24 eggs will be retrieved per cycle. The number of eggs retrieved is based on how many you produce and any specific guidelines the clinic follows.
What exactly happens during the egg retrieval process?
The egg donor will receive various injectable medications throughout their menstrual cycle. These medications stimulate your ovaries to produce multiple eggs. Specific medications may include:
. Lupron (leuprorelin) controls certain hormone levels in your body.
. Cetrotide (cetrorelix) and Antagon (ganirelix), also known as GNRH antagonists, prevent eggs from being released from your ovaries.
. Follicle stimulating hormones help create more eggs/follicles and help mature them.
First, you will receive a dose of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is sometimes called a “trigger shot.” A doctor will remove the eggs in a procedure called egg retrieval. This is performed using a special needle attached to a transvaginal ultrasound device. The needle is passed through your vaginal wall and into your ovary. The eggs are suctioned (aspirated) out and sent to an embryologist for evaluation before fertilization.
Here is a step-by-step overview of the entire process:
. Application. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says that before you can donate, you must meet certain criteria set by the fertility center. Generally, people who wish to donate eggs must be between 21 and 34 years old. Some facilities will provide additional compensation to people who’ve already had children or have already successfully donated eggs.
. Screening. You may have a few medical appointments before you are accepted as a donor. These appointments may include:
. Physical exams
. Gynecological exam
. Blood and urine tests
. Collecting your family medical history
. Psychological evaluation
. Acceptance/matching. You must also match with a family that is seeking donor eggs. You may then give your consent before proceeding to the actual egg donation process.
. Medications. The National Health Service (NHS) says that for the first 10 to 12 days of your donation cycle, you will take hormonal medications that help stimulate your ovaries and mature your eggs. These medications are given via injection that you administer yourself. You will receive in-person instruction on how to give yourself the shots before doing it on your own. You may also have blood tests to check your hormone levels.
. Egg retrieval. Once your eggs are ready, a doctor will administer a trigger shot of hCG. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine says that approximately 34 to 36 hours later, you will go in for the retrieval. The NHS also says that the needle carefully suctions the eggs out of your ovaries over the course of 15 to 20 minutes. Retrieval is performed under sedation, so you won’t feel pain during this process.
. Recovery. You may feel dazed as you come out of sedation. The doctor will give you instructions to follow during your recovery. In general, you’ll want to take it easy and rest the day after the retrieval procedure.
Next, the eggs can either be frozen or mixed together with the intended father’s sperm to create embryos. The embryos are then transferred and implanted into the uterus of the birth parent or surrogate.
Is egg donation safe?
Yes. Egg donation — when closely supervised by a medical professional — is generally a safe process and does not carry any long-term health risks. This includes fertility issues, provided you don’t develop complications.
A 2015 research review showed that most young adult females have around 400,000 eggs. So, taking even up to 24 eggs per donation cycle for several cycles will leave many to spare for the future.
However, there are some short-term risks to be aware of during the donation cycle. These risks include:
. Pregnancy. If you have sex without a condom or other barrier method during your medicated cycle, you may risk becoming pregnant. The medication you take to prepare your eggs enhances your fertility, making pregnancy more likely.
. Weight gain. InVia Fertility says that while temporary, you may see a slight gain of 3 to 5 pounds while you’re taking medications for egg retrieval.
. Medication side effects. Some side effects you may experience with the injectable medications may include:
. Mood changes
. Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). Swelling of your ovaries is possible as well. A 2013 research review showed that if you do experience this rare complication, you may expect it to crop up around 3 to 9 days after your trigger shot. Symptoms of OHSS include:
. Pain near your ovaries
. Abdominal pain
. Ovarian torsion. If the ovaries swell, they may begin to twist. This is known as ovarian torsion. You may experience severe pain and will need surgery to treat this rare complication.
. Infection. It is possible to develop an infection after the egg retrieval. In one 2010 study, the rate of infection after retrieval was just 0.4 percent. However, it was reduced to 0 percent with the use of prophylactic antibiotics. Speak with a doctor if you are concerned about infection.
How painful is recovery?
It’s not easy to predict the discomfort you may experience before, during, and after the retrieval process. Many factors may contribute to pain, including your personal tolerance level, your body’s reaction to the different medications, as well as any complications you may experience.
Symptoms you may have after the egg retrieval include:
. Vaginal soreness
. Abdominal cramping
The good news is that you can expect your discomfort to improve as soon as the day or a few days after the retrieval procedure.
Your doctor will advise you about over-the-counter (OTC) medications you can take for pain, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. A heating pad may also help ease abdominal discomfort.
If you develop a fever, heavy bleeding, or any other symptoms of infection, call your doctor as soon as possible.
What are some tips to prepare for egg donation?
Preparing your body for egg donation is similar to preparing your body for the in vitro fertilization process. First, you’ll want to take good care of yourself by following a healthy lifestyle.
Fertility clinics, recommend paying special attention to the following areas for 3 months before retrieval for the best quality eggs:
. Eat a balanced diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, etc. Make sure you’re staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water and other noncaffeinated beverages.
. Get regular moderate exercise, like walking, swimming, or yoga. You can also ask for specific exercise guidance around your egg retrieval procedure.
. Abstain from tobacco products, recreational drugs, and excessive alcohol intake.
It’s also a good idea to create a support network for yourself. Egg donation can be challenging both physically and emotionally, so having trusted friends or family members nearby can help. Your support network can also help if you need transportation to and from appointments or any other assistance during the process.
Above all else: Ask questions. A 2020 survey of egg donors revealed that 55 percent of women did not feel they were well educated on the long-term risks of donation. Your doctor or fertility clinic can give you specific advice and resources to both understand and lower your risk of complications.
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