For those of us who face Egg donation will know it is a complex and emotional process for both the egg donor and the recipient.
In this post, I will explore the egg donation cycle from both perspectives, discussing the medical, emotional, and ethical aspects of this procedure. Using my own experience as an Egg Donor Recipient and the experience of a very dear friend (Debbie, that's her in the photo) who has been an egg donor 3 times in the past.
Egg donation is a selfless act of generosity that can help couples struggling with infertility to conceive a child. However, the process of egg donation can be physically and emotionally challenging for the donor. Let's take a closer look at what egg donation involves from the donor's perspective.
The Screening Process
The first step in the egg donation process is the screening process. This involves a comprehensive medical and psychological evaluation to ensure that the donor is healthy and a suitable candidate for egg donation. The screening process includes blood tests, ultrasounds, and a review of the donor's medical history. The donor is also interviewed by a psychologist to ensure that she fully understands the process and is emotionally prepared to donate her eggs.
Once the donor has been approved for egg donation, she will begin a series of injections to stimulate her ovaries to produce multiple eggs. These injections can be uncomfortable and may cause bloating and other side effects. The donor will need to attend regular monitoring appointments to track her progress and adjust her medication as necessary.
The final step in the egg donation process is the egg retrieval procedure. This is performed under sedation, and involves inserting a needle into the ovaries to collect the mature eggs. The procedure itself is relatively quick, but the donor will need to rest for several hours afterward to recover from the sedation.
Egg donation can have a significant emotional impact on the donor. While many donors feel a sense of satisfaction from helping others to start a family, others may experience feelings of loss or regret. It's important for donors to have access to emotional support throughout the process, both from the fertility clinic and from their loved ones.
Debbie's experience in her own words:
Back in December 2015 I was preparing for my eldest daughter’s upcoming boxing day birthday, I had my mum over and we got to reminiscing about her birth. As with any conversation I’m part of we got sidetracked and got onto the subject of a friend of mine who was struggling to conceive and was considering IVF. Mum said that she considered egg donation in the early 90’s after my youngest sister was born, I knew a little about it but not much. The conversation moved on and that was the end of it, or so I thought.
In case there was any doubt that phones listen to our conversations….two days later an ad came up on my Twitter feed. The ad was asking for egg donors which I thought was bizarre as I was literally discussing it with my mum only two days ago. As I said I didn’t know much about it other than it was far more complex than the man’s way of donating body fluid (spoiler alert: the magazines are far less interesting). What the hell, I thought, it’s not like donating a kidney or anything, so I filled in the enquiry form. One of the questions was “Why are you considering donating your eggs” so me being me (blunt and to the point as you can get) wrote “Why not? I’m not using them anyway”
A day later I had a call from Alison who owned Altrui, and she started the conversation with a 5-minute speech on how I was this incredible person and how much she appreciated me filling in the enquiry form. After being in a bit of shock and then confirming it was indeed me she was talking about we ended up having a chat like we were old friends. She explained the process step by step, the tests I’d need to do, various scans, daily injections at one point, and I’d need to head to London a couple of times with the grand finale being the actual egg collection. Seemed like standard stuff and not much different from what I was expecting. Again, she asked the question “Why are you considering donating your eggs” and I sat for a while. Because the only answer I could think of was my typical jokey “why not”. But we chatted more after about 10 minutes. My daughters (9 and 4) came running in as they were being put to bed. I kissed them and told them both “I love you” and “night night”, like every single night since they were born. I watched them bounce out of the room, as they disappeared from view I returned to Alison – who had been waiting patiently on the other end of the phone - and said “that’s why”.
Alison asked me if I wanted some time to think about everything we’d discussed but to be honest I’d made up my mind before the phone call even started. With many women and fertility – time is not your friend nor a luxury.
You see I didn’t have to try for my girls, they just happened. No planning, no examinations, no Doctors. I realised that was why I wanted to do this. I could help give someone those night time kisses that I had taken for granted all these years. What would only be a few weeks of my time would mean giving someone a whole new life, a life that I never had to struggle or cry for.
I thought about all the women out there who were fighting these silent battles every day, and as long as there was the tiniest and wildest chance I could help someone then I couldn’t not give it a shot.
“Ok - let’s do this”
I went on to donate eggs to 3 different women. 3 times as I was conscious I could only do it so many times due to my age (yes the clock ticks for donors too!) but I probably would have gone on to do it until they were sick of me to be honest. Two babies were born because of the donations which fills me with something more than just pride. What I saw as two-three weeks of scans and injections meant that two women had babies to call their own, two women are now called Mummy. 1st Birthdays, Christmases, 1st days of school are all a reality for them now. I couldn’t have imagined saying “No, it’s hassle” or “Well I’m not a huge fan of needles so I’ll pass thanks” although I appreciate it’s not as clear cut as that for many potential donors.
All three journeys had their ups and downs of course, the side effects were minimal for me but bloody hell the hormones were wild. At one point my partner had to take the sky remote off me as I couldn’t stop crying at the RSPCA adverts.
The egg collection itself went exactly as described, the private hospitals were more like hotels, I remember angling for a night in the suites which they politely said weren’t necessary but hey a girls got to ask. I just remember feeling so excited, but also nervous as to be honest I did feel pressure on my little eggs to succeed – even though I know there’s a whole lot that goes on behind the scenes besides the collection!
The fact that two little babies have been born from my donations are mind blowing, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of them. It’s a strange feeling knowing that in years to come I may be contacted but if they decide that they do or do not want to reach out that’s fine. Either way it’s fine. I don’t know anything about them other than the gender and approx. month/year of birth, some donors don’t even know if the transfers are successful. It completely depends on what the mother is happy to share with us. Any information I received I was so grateful for, because personally I needed to know that I’d succeeded. A bizarre way of looking at it – and I know many donors won't feel the same but as I said earlier I felt like somehow it was all down to how well I could grow those eggs would equal me increasing her chances.
My children know about the donations, obviously worded very carefully when they were smaller but as they grew older I was able to share more. They are very proud even if they don’t fully understand the technicalities of it all. To be honest most people I talk to about it haven’t got a clue how it works, they’ve heard of it of course but the lack of proper awareness surrounding the journey is startling.
For couples struggling with infertility, egg donation can offer a ray of hope for starting a family. However, the process of egg donation can also be emotionally challenging for the recipient. Let's take a closer look at what egg donation involves from the recipient's perspective.
Choosing an Egg Donor
The first step in the egg donation process for the recipient is choosing an egg donor. This can be a difficult decision, as the recipient will need to select a donor whose physical and genetic characteristics match their own. The fertility clinic will provide a list of potential donors, and the recipient will have the opportunity to review their profiles and select the donor they feel is the best match.
Preparing for the Procedure
Once a donor has been selected, the recipient will need to prepare for the egg donation procedure. This may involve taking medications to prepare the uterus for implantation, as well as undergoing ultrasounds and other tests to monitor the progress of the cycle.
Fertilisation and Embryo Transfer
The donor's eggs will be fertilised with the recipient's partner's sperm in a laboratory, and the resulting embryos will be cultured for several days. The best embryos will then be selected for transfer to the recipient's uterus. This process can be emotionally challenging, as the recipient may be anxious about the success of the procedure.
Egg donation can be an emotionally challenging process for the recipient, who may feel a sense of loss or sadness about not being able to conceive a child naturally. It's important for recipients to have access to emotional support throughout the process, both from the fertility clinic and from their loved ones.
I’ve spoken before on my social media channels, in certain media publications and to those of you who have asked to know more.
Simply put, my experience of facing the need for using an Egg Donor was not an easy one.
Anyone who knows me will know I am quite a strong character and not a woman who is quiet by any means! I come from a strong gene pool of individuals who don't give up. For me the hardest part was accepting that my body had failed me and I had no control over being able to make it right and use my own eggs. Facing that our best chance of success for carrying our own child after 3 failed rounds of IVF was to use a donor was extremely hard.
That appointment with our clinic when we were told, I recall being able to hold it together, the longer the appointment went on the more that news sunk in. F@#k this was it our chance was gone, we weren't ever destined to be parents. My DNA, my genes stopped with me. It was a really bitter pill to swallow. I began blaming myself, being stubborn, repelling tradition and waiting so long before deciding to have our family, putting my career first. All the regrets that started to consume my head space in those moments.
They asked if we would like to speak with the egg donation team. I don't know why but at the time we said yes, and I was really not in the right frame of mind. The poor nurse that saw us directly after that consultant's appointment, I just lost it, the control I had initially had now gone and I just fell to pieces in that room on her. Inconsolable about how my body had failed, full of regret, guilt for Alan, and so many other things. That nurse was great though, she really was as kind and comforting as I needed in that moment. She gave me some info but ultimately told me to take myself home, digest things, take care of myself for a bit and come back when I was ready as they would always be there.
It took me 6 months to wrap my head around accepting that using an Egg Donor was our only option if I wanted to experience carrying a child myself and having our own baby as opposed to adopting, something Al and I had ruled out very early on.
At that time I spent a lot of it researching and understanding the process, talking to women I had found via groups about their experience. So many people told me once the anguish and thoughts I had would disappear the second I got to hold my baby. But I wasn't so sure. In the end it was a combination of these conversations and the research I had found from clinics in Spain (who were leading the way in this area) that allowed me to be ok with it. The research you see outlined that despite the egg donor being involved, that DNA from all 3 parties is often present, the Egg Donor, the Sperm provider, and the woman who carries the child as they provide it with its blood line. It was really interesting and mind blowing stuff!
After all this time, lots and lots of research, certain procedures I needed to have followed up on from the previous cycles discoveries, I felt mentally ready to go on this part of the journey.
We considered travelling to Spain for our treatment as the wait time for a donor match was minimal compared to the potential 12 months that we were facing in the UK. Again I was conscious that time was not on our side once again!
I saw my consultant who advised at the time that there had been a recent influx of donors and so the wait might not be as long as we anticipated. Taking what he had said with a pinch of salt I went about life thinking it would be some time before we would hear anything (we had ruled out travelling to Spain by this point) and planned on enjoying Christmas and New Year that was coming up.
I had focused on myself during this period and planned on getting my body back to a healthy point, lost around 4 stone in weight, was eating healthily and exercising more.
Several weeks later the call from the donor team came, we were surprised! They had some potential donor profiles for us to review.
Now anyone who goes through a donor cycle will tell you how bizarre this process is, it's like blind dating but for your child!
Due to the laws and regulations around this process you have access to very minimal information when choosing your donor and you are very much reliant on the donor team to select the most compatible physical and genetic characteristics.
As recipient couples you have to provide your profiles and basic information, height, weight, hair colour, eye colour that sort of thing, as well as providing photos of the pair of you.
The donor team will then work to match your profile with those in the donor pool. Once any potential suitable candidates have been selected you are presented with their profiles to review and choose from. You are able to review the same characteristics that you all provide, but with the addition of being able to review someone's hobbies and interests profile also. You really are putting all your faith and trust into how you are being matched on physicality and characteristics by the donor teams.
Out of the profiles of the 4 initial donors we were given, we made a choice. Sadly for us that one didn't work out as the donor pulled out of the cycle and therefore we were not able to proceed.
We were back to the drawing board. It wasn't long though before there were other profiles we could review, this I recall was a tough choice but we made one. Then we just had to wait for our amazing donor to begin her treatment cycle in preparation for her egg collection.
We received an astonishing 19 eggs from that collection and went on to be able to freeze 8 really high quality embryos.
With the knowledge our miracle chances were safe in the freezer, we set about enjoying the Christmas of 2019 we had promised ourselves. I had a big trip to Vegas and New York planned for us in the new year and we looked forward to enjoying that also, knowing we would begin our FET cycle on our return.
We arrived back into the UK mid February 2020 from that trip, just as the news of Covid spreading around the globe was increasing. We began our treatment and just on the cusp of us being ready for our transfer our cycle had to be abandoned due to Covid. We were gutted.
You will all know now however that eventually we were able to get one of those incredible 8 embryos back onboard, with that first embryo resulting in the incredible birth of our beautiful rainbow Robyn.
Looking back now I will always be incredibly indebted and grateful to the amazing women like my beautiful friend Debbie, who selflessly gave someone like me and us as a couple the chance to have a family of our own. I will always be truly grateful to her. There are simply no words for this act of kindness and just like any form of medical donation you are giving someone that chance and potential gift of life and it is THE most incredible thing you can ever do for someone else less fortunate than you.
Autonomy is the right of individuals to make decisions about their own bodies and lives. In the context of egg donation, it is important to ensure that donors are fully informed about the risks and benefits of the procedure, and that they are not being coerced or pressured into donating. Donors must be able to make a free and informed decision about whether or not to donate their eggs.
- Informed Consent
Informed consent is the process of providing potential donors with information about the risks and benefits of the egg donation process, so that they can make an informed decision about whether or not to proceed. It is important that donors fully understand the potential risks associated with egg donation, including the risks associated with the medications used to stimulate the ovaries, the risks of the egg retrieval procedure itself, and the potential long-term risks of donating eggs.
- Commodification of the Human Body
There is concern that the commercialisation of egg donation may lead to the commodification of the human body, where donors are treated as a source of raw material rather than as individuals with autonomy and dignity. This is particularly concerning in cases where donors are paid for their eggs, as this can create a financial incentive for women to donate, which may undermine their ability to make a free and informed decision. Thank fully there are strong governance controls in the UK around payment for eggs donations.
- Genetic Relatedness
Egg donation can raise complex questions around genetic relatedness, particularly in cases where the recipient is not genetically related to the child. This can create a sense of loss or disconnection for the recipient, who may feel that they are not the "real" parent of the child. It is important for fertility clinics to provide support and counselling to recipients to help them navigate these complex emotional issues.
- Anonymity and Identity
In many cases, egg donors and recipients do not meet each other, and the donor's identity is kept confidential. This can raise questions around identity and the right to know one's genetic heritage. Children born through egg donation may wish to know more about their genetic background and their biological parents, and it is important for clinics to have policies in place to support donor-conceived children in their search for identity. The laws in the UK prohibit this for any child born by egg donation until the age of 18.
Egg donation is a complex process that raises a number of ethical considerations around issues of autonomy, informed consent, and the commodification of the human body. It is important for donors and recipients to have access to comprehensive information and support throughout the process, so that they can make informed decisions and navigate the emotional complexities of egg donation. By addressing these ethical concerns, we can ensure that egg donation remains a safe and ethical option for couples struggling with infertility.