If you’ve decided to start your family using an egg donor, then you are probably already familiar with the basics. Egg donation happens when eggs are harvested from a healthy woman and then fertilized for implantation into the uterus of another woman. In some cases, the fertilized egg will be implanted into the uterus of the woman who intends to be the mother of the child. In other cases, it may be implanted into a surrogate mother’s uterus who will then carry the child on behalf of a person or couple who cannot.
If you’ve chosen to donate your eggs — or to become the recipient of a donated egg — you likely have a number of questions about the process. One of the biggest questions most people have is: “What types of screening does an egg donor go through?” This is a great question to ask, but it’s also a loaded one.
Egg donors go through an extensive screening process designed to identify any potential genetic conditions or health issues that might arise in a child conceived with their eggs. Not only that, but they receive extensive psychological counseling to make sure they are able to handle the short- and long-term implications of donating their eggs.
What Can You Expect During the Egg Donation Process?
While the exact order of each step may vary at each clinic, in general, this is what you can expect when undergoing the egg donation process.
1. Fertility Evaluation
When a woman expresses interest in becoming an egg donor, she will be required to undergo an evaluation that includes an ultrasound to check on the condition of her ovaries. While talking with a physician, she will be asked a series of extensive questions about her health and medical history, as well as social history — smoking, drugs, drinking, etc. All of this is done to determine whether or not the woman is a viable candidate for egg donation.
During the evaluation process, a potential donor may also undergo a transvaginal ultrasound to determine the health of her ovaries. A transvaginal ultrasound is performed internally. A small probe is inserted into the potential donor’s vagina, and the probe is used to look at her ovaries to determine how healthy they are. While this may sound strange to someone who hasn’t experienced it before, rest assured that a transvaginal ultrasound, while slightly uncomfortable, is not painful and will be no more uncomfortable than a traditional pap smear.
To do this most effectively, it has to be done at a certain point during the menstrual cycle, so it may not be completed at the time of the initial evaluation. However, it may be scheduled during the evaluation for an upcoming date.
During this evaluation, the physician and/or team of medical professionals at the clinic will also spend time outlining what’s involved with egg donation. They will provide the potential donor with information about the process, as well as its risks and requirements. At this point, if the woman’s medical history, as well as her understanding of the procedure, seems to be a match for the program, she can agree to continue on in the testing process for a more detailed look into her health and well-being.
2. General Medical Testing
If a woman’s initial screening looks good, she may be placed on the list as a potential donor. Then, once she is selected by an interested individual or couple, she will be required to undergo a more detailed series of screenings and tests to ensure she is still a good match. These medical tests are designed to examine the donor’s overall health and well-being, as well as identify any health or genetic issues that might arise later on.
3. Physical Exam
Yes, some of this is done during the evaluation stage of the process, but once you are selected to become an egg donor, you will be required to undergo additional testing at the IVF clinic chosen by the potential parents. At this step, a physical exam will be performed to evaluate a potential donor’s overall physical health. This part of the process is important because it will set the stage for a donor’s ability to continue with the process and provide a healthy egg donation with the high potential for success during the IVF procedure.
During a physical exam, a potential donor can expect to go through the same steps she would encounter at her annual physical with her physician. But, besides that, a potential donor will also spend time with the doctor discussing the various medications that are required for egg donation. In the weeks leading up to the actual donation, an egg donor is required to take a cocktail of several different hormones designed to stimulate the growth of her egg follicles and synchronize her menstrual cycle with that of the woman who will receive the egg. The hormones are also intended to help the donor’s body produce and prepare high-quality eggs that will have a higher likelihood of successfully being implanted in the recipient.
4. Infectious Disease Testing
During the physical exam, a potential donor will be asked to have blood drawn, as well as submit to a urine drug screening. Blood tests are used to test forinfectious diseases, blood type, drug use or other potential health problems. Bloodwork is also used to test for the presence of sexually transmitted diseases or illnesses, as well as detecting the possibility that a potential donor is a carrier for a specific genetic disorder, which we’ll discuss later.
Bloodwork is used to screen for certain illnesses, including:
- HIV 1 and 2
- RPR (Syphilis)
- HTLV I/II
- CMV IgG/IgM
- Hepatitis B surface antigen
- Blood Typing
- Hepatitis B Core Antibody (IgG/IgM)
- Gonorrhea/Chlamydia culture
- Hepatitis C Antibody
The urine drug screening is also done to detect any current recreational drug use in a potential egg donor. If it is detected, drug use will disqualify a woman from being eligible to be an egg donor.
It’s important to note that these illnesses are ones that have been established as red flags through guidelines with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is not a comprehensive list of all the medical conditions that may disqualify a potential donor. Each individual clinic will be able to provide a more comprehensive list of the conditions that they deem to be a “deal breaker” when it comes to egg donation.
5. Genetic Testing
In addition to testing for a variety of infectious diseases in a potential donor, bloodwork is also used to screen a donor for a variety of genetic disorders, including:
- Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA)
- Cystic fibrosis (CF)
- Sickle cell anemia
- Tay Sachs/Hexosaminidase A deficiency
- Fanconi anemia Type C
- Canavan disease
- Gaucher disease
- Niemann Pick disease Type A
- Bloom syndrome
- Mucolipidosis Type IV
- Fragile X
There are some very serious genetic conditions included on this list. What happens if/when a potential donor is found to have markers that indicate she is a carrier for one of these genetic diseases? Does it automatically disqualify her from egg donation?
No, it does not. Several of these conditions are inherited through recessive genes, which means there is only a substantial risk of their presence if the biological father — the one from whom the sperm is received — is also a carrier for the same genetic disease. If this is not the case, then it may be fine to continue with the screening process. Other conditions may be corrected through a common surgical procedure if they arise and if potential parents are not worried about the risks. This is where it’s important to work with an experienced, compassionate care team who can help you understand the implications of these test results.
If you’re a donor, it’s important to remember that, while the medical portion of the process may seem overwhelming, it is designed to provide peace of mind for you, as well as the couple who will receive your egg. The treatment team is dedicated to making sure you are able to produce healthy, viable eggs as well as taking care of you during this journey — so that you can complete the process feeling confident you did a good thing.
6. Psychological Evaluation and Counseling
Besides undergoing a rigorous physical evaluation, a potential egg donor will also be required to submit to psychological counseling and evaluation to ensure she is mentally prepared for the process of surrendering her eggs to another couple.
Why is this important? While the process of egg donation varies slightly between clinics, it is generally an intense cycle of appointments, hormone treatments, intrusive questions and more. It can feel overwhelming at times, which can be difficult for someone who tends to be very private or introverted. Not only that but, while egg donation is generally done anonymously, a donor needs to understand that once her egg is donated, she have no legal or emotional right to the embryo and baby that may result.
The side effects of egg donation are minor — and rare. They do exist, however, and it’s important for a potential donor to understand and be prepared for them. The recovery time can also vary, although most professionals agree that an egg donor’s recovery time will be minimal. A potential donor should be prepared to miss a small amount of time from work or school as she takes care of her body and recovers at the end of the procedure.
Besides the physical aspect of egg donation, a trained professional counselor will also want to know the reasons a donor is pursuing egg donation. There are many different — and equally noble — reasons why people pursue egg donation. Counseling can help a potential donor better understand her own reasons and prepare her emotionally for the process before it starts. It can also ensure she understands the logistics of the process and is ready and willing to submit to the rigorous schedule of appointments and evaluations that happen in the weeks leading up to the day her eggs are actually harvested.
When Might an Egg Donor Be Disqualified?
To be considered as a potential egg donor, a woman must meet the criteria established by the clinic she intends to work with. Different clinics have different criteria, but if a woman is interested in working with the Western Fertility Institute to donate her eggs, she must meet the following criteria:
- Be between 18 and 30 years old.
- Have a Body Mass Index (BMI) under 30.
- Have — or be pursuing — a college degree.
- Be generally athletic.
- Be able to provide a full, detailed family medical history.
- Meet pre-established weight and height requirements.
A potential donor may be disqualified at any point in the process if they are found to no longer meet the screening criteria of the clinic they are working with. This can happen if a urine test reveals recent recreational drug use or if the bloodwork reveals exposure to an infectious disease.
A woman can also be disqualified from the egg donation process if she becomes pregnant during the process. Because the point of the process is to prepare healthy eggs to be harvested, a woman’s body will still remain fertile during the weeks leading up to the donation. Potential donors are asked to abstain from intercourse during the entire process, but if a woman is found to be pregnant prior to donation day, she will no longer be eligible to donate.
Potential donors can also be disqualified if they are found to be a carrier for certain genetic conditions. As we mentioned earlier, the presence of a genetic condition, particularly if it is recessive and not present in the male sperm, does not automatically disqualify a donor. However, if it is determined that the presence of a certain condition puts any embryos created from her egg at risk of developing it, then her eggs will not be considered for donation.
Besides physical problems that might arise, a potential donor can be disqualified if she does not adhere strictly to the schedule of appointments and medications that comprise the egg donation process. While most women find that they can continue their regular routine of work or school during the process, a potential donor must be willing to show up to appointments on time. She must be willing and able to take medications and give herself injections at set times every day. If a potential donor cannot do this, then she will be disqualified.
Western Fertility Institute and Egg Donation
Giving someone the gift of a child is a beautiful thing. For some couples struggling with infertility, the gift of healthy, viable eggs provides a glimmer of hope where all hope seems to have disappeared. If you are interested in egg donation, we recommend that you read over the general qualifications and spend some time thinking about your interest in this noble endeavor. Then, let our expert team of professionals come alongside you as you give the gift of a child to someone who might otherwise not have one.
Based in California, the Western Fertility Institute is known as an industry leader providing the latest in technology and care for patients throughout their infertility journey. Our state-of-the-art facilities provide on-site processing for egg donations, as well as a number of other IVF-related treatments. Because of our commitment to excellence, as well as our compassion for our clients, we are proud to say that our pregnancy success rates are between 70 and 80 percent!
If you are interested in egg donation — whether you want to give the gift of life or you’re looking to start a family — let the Western Fertility Institute help you make your dreams a reality. Contact us today.