In Case You’re Curious, Here’s How Egg Donation Works

It can be a gift to put your eggs in someone else’s basket.

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You may have heard of IVF, surrogacy, and adoption. If you’re 21 to 34 with a healthy egg count, you may be eligible to donate your eggs. Thanks to the wonders of science, your egg donation may be able to help another couple make their dreams of raising a child a reality.

How Exactly Does Egg Donation Work?

Perhaps you’re child-free by choice, or you simply have found yourself to be particularly fertile and willing to share your talent. Either way, it might be worth considering applying to be a donor. You may be able to help couples with fertility issues, or for male would-be parents. It’s similar to the IVF process, but in this scenario, you’ll actually be paid to help someone else start their own family. That payment could be anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on your state and facility.

Doctors refer to the process of getting your eggs from your ovaries as egg (oocyte) recovery. This procedure is a transvaginal, ultrasound-guided needle aspiration. In other words, the doctor will use a long, thin needle that goes through the vaginal wall and into the ovary. They will retrieve the eggs by aspiration—basically sucking them in like a vacuum. Egg recovery occurs in a hospital or clinic under anesthesia.

As with any procedure, there is always a low risk for complications. Knowing this, you’ll go through an extensive application process to ensure you are indeed ready for the experience.

First, you’ll fill out a series of documents recording your:

  • General health
  • Level of activity
  • Medications
  • Occupation
  • Reason for undergoing egg donation
  • Extensive family history
  • Answers to self-reflective hypothetical questions

The reason for this application process is to ensure that donors are considering the weight of their decision. Some programs prefer to use donors who’ve given birth or donated before, but not all.

Additionally, the application process helps reduce the risk of health complications or defects in the baby. For this reason, you may need to interview your family to find out if you have any history of:

  • Birth defects like cleft lip, spina bifida, or a heart defect
  • Genetic disorders like Huntington's disease, hemophilia, Tay Sachs disease, or sickle cell anemia
  • Major medical problems, surgeries, or psychiatric problems

When You’re Accepted, Tests Will Jump Off The Page

After the application process, you can expect to learn:

  • The science behind how egg donation works (more on that below)
  • The logistics of the donation process
  • Aspects that are unique to the program you’re participating in

You’ll also undergo in-person health tests, which could include a full psychiatric evaluation, a standard physical with blood testing, ultrasound, pap smear, and STI testing (including HIV). You’ll also undergo DNA sequencing, which will check for 300 genetic diseases to uncover any carrier genes.

A few weeks after orientation, you’ll receive and discuss the results of your DNA sequencing with a genetics counselor. Then, when you start your next menstrual period, you’ll return for a couple more tests to check hormone levels. Once potential parents choose you as a donor from your profile, you’ll start birth control to sync your cycle with the donation recipient.

For the next three weeks, you’ll take special medications. First, you’ll take a hormone-suppressing medication for one or two weeks. Then, you’ll take follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) shots to ramp up hormone levels (similar to the process that women use for IVF). During this time of high fertility, you should abstain from sex to prevent pregnancy of your own. After this, your eggs are ready for extraction.

What Else Do I Need to Know?

These will likely be covered in the application process described above, but it could be helpful to consider these scenarios before applying:

1. There is a low risk (around 1 percent) of potential complications. These problems may occur from the medications to sync cycles, the hormone shots, and the procedure itself. Possible complications include:

  • Anesthetic accidents
  • Hemorrhage
  • Infection
  • Hot flashes
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Fatigue, sleep problems, body aches
  • Mood swings
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headache and/ or vision problems.
  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (when a woman's ovaries swell and leak fluid into the body.)

2. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recommends that a woman shouldn’t donate eggs in certain cases. This includes if she:

  • Has a serious psychological disorder
  • Abuses drugs or alcohol or has several relatives who do
  • Currently uses psychoactive medications
  • Has significant stress in her life
  • Is in an unstable marriage or relationship
  • Was physically or sexually abused and hasn’t gotten treatment
  • Is not mentally capable of understanding or participating in the process

3. Be careful about which advertisements you answer. Do your own research to find a reputable organization. Some ads you see might be written by an egg broker on behalf of couples privately, which may turn out to pay differently than you originally thought, and put your information on the internet.

Yep, that’s a lot to take in. Deciding to start a family (or help another one begin) is a big step that requires a lot of planning. If you’re interested, speak to your ob/gyn about your history, and check out sites like Egg Donor America to find a clinic near you.