Becoming an Egg Donor

What Will Be Required—Physically and Emotionally—If You Become an Egg Donor

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Egg donation is a wonderful gift to a couple who cannot have a baby without your help. It's an opportunity not only to help bring a new life into this world but also to help create a new family. The financial compensation is nice, too.

Still, egg donation is not for everyone. You should first make sure you understand what is involved. It takes weeks of commitment. You will need to feel comfortable submitting to many medical procedures, some of which come with potentially serious risks. Just getting through the egg donor approval process can be emotionally taxing. 

By no means comprehensive, the following will give you an idea of what’s involved in donating your eggs.

Note: It’s vital that you also consult or speak with a psychologist, a lawyer familiar with reproductive law, and your primary care physician or personal gynecologist before proceeding with egg donation.

What It Takes: Is Egg Donation for You?

Egg donation is an invasive medical process that takes place over many weeks. There can also be psychological challenges with egg donation, which is why psychological screening and consultation is part of the pre-donor process. While agencies frequently reassure potential donors that egg donation is “completely safe,” there are some serious risks, even if those risks are rare. There is also a lack of long-term research on egg donors, so doctors don't know how egg donation may impact your health in the long-term.

Women decide to donate for a number of reasons, with the best one being the desire to help a couple have a baby. If your first exposure to egg donation is through an egg donor wanted ad, there may be a tendency—at least at first—to focus on the cash. The cash for egg donation is given in exchange for all the time and effort you go through when donating your eggs, and there's a good reason for that.

Before donation, you’ll need to have basic fertility and gynecological exams. This will involve pelvic exams, transvaginal ultrasounds, blood work, and sexually transmitted disease testing. You may also be asked to have genetic testing (you can choose not to see the results of those tests if you desire) and may be given an unannounced drug screening at some point in the process.

During the donation cycle, you'll need to attend many doctor appointments and have multiple ultrasounds and blood tests (almost daily for a few weeks). You'll be injecting yourself with fertility drugs, also daily, and sometimes multiple injections in one day. You'll eventually go through a surgical procedure, where an ultrasound-guided needle is used to retrieve the eggs. The needle will go through your vaginal wall and up to your ovaries. There is risk involved with these medical procedures.

The fertility drugs you'll be taking—if you are accepted and go through with it—also come with serious potential risks to your health. They are the same drugs women going through IVF treatment themselves take. One of the biggest risks comes from ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS. Fertility drugs cause your ovaries to become swollen and heavy with fluid. This can swing out of control and cause serious medical problems.

In rare cases, OHSS can become fertility-threatening (you could lose an ovary) or even life-threatening. Your risk of OHSS is higher than a woman with fertility problems because your ovaries are eager to produce follicles.

There are other risks to IVF and the various fertility drugs, most of them more inconvenient than dangerous. Still, getting headaches, feeling bloated, experiencing hot flashes, or having mood swings are not fun.

Finding Opportunities for Egg Donation

Some women learn about egg donation after seeing an advertisement in a college newspaper or flyer, looking for possible donors. Others are asked by a friend or family member if they’d be willing to donate their eggs. And some read about or have heard about egg donation, and actively seek out an opportunity themselves.

If you’re actively looking to donate, you should consider contacting…

  • Local fertility clinics: Many clinics have egg donor programs. They will match you with clients who come to their clinic and are in need of egg donor IVF.
  • Egg donor agencies: Egg donor agencies will usually contract with many different fertility clinics and clients. Some agencies work with families over large geographical areas, and so travel may be part of the egg donation process. 

Whether you find an egg donor wanted ad, or you seek out a donation opportunity on your own, it’s important you carefully research the clinic or agency. Also, keep in mind that there are scammers out there and not every ad you see is legitimate.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

Research the agency or clinic online. A professional looking website isn't a promise of anything, but it helps. Look to see how much information is provided on the website.

Is the egg donation process clearly explained? Does the website look like someone put a lot of thought into it, or does it look quickly slapped together? Are they upfront about compensation and egg donor requirements and risks? (Yes, there are serious risks. It's important you know them, and even more important that they explain them all clearly to you.)

Call the agency or clinic and interview them. When you call up the agency or fertility clinic, ask about the staff. How long have they worked in assisted reproduction? What training and credentials do they have? Ask them for references. If they won't give you the names of women who have donated in the past for them, be wary.

It’s natural to want to be chosen as a donor, and this desire to be accepted can make you forget that you have a choice here, too. Good egg donors are in high demand. Make sure they are the right clinic or agency for you before you let them judge if you’re the right fit for them.

Ask about compensation. Find out how the compensation for egg donation is handled. Is it held in escrow by a legal firm in good standing? You should not be in a position of "just trusting" that they will pay you.

Speaking of compensation, how much are they offering? Average compensation for egg donation is between $3,500 and $8,000. If the clinic, agency, or ad offers $10K or more, keep in mind that this isn’t common. You should be very suspicious of compensation promises above $25,000.

Ask people you know about the agency or clinic. Ask other students, ask your gynecologist. They may have heard good (or bad) things about a particular clinic or agency.

Whatever you do, don't trust the information you gather from online people. Clinics and agencies have been known to place "scouts" on message boards. That online pal telling you how great a clinic or agency is might not be a real egg donor or fertility patient.

Confirm their professional associations. If they are a fertility clinic, check to see if they are members of the ASRM and Society of Assisted Reproductive Technologies (SART). You may also want to check their success rates at the Center for Disease Control's website. You may think this doesn't apply to a donor, but a good success rate for the patients may mean a better experience for the donor as well.

Use common sense and follow your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable when you call or meet with an agency or clinic, or if anything doesn't feel right, don't move forward with them.

Ask questions before you sign any contract or agree to medical screening. Be sure to ask all your questions before agreeing to medical screening and before signing any contracts. If the answers don't feel right to you, or if they won't answer your questions, don't go through with anything.

Do not meet with anyone alone or give over any information without thorough research. Do not agree to meet with anyone alone, and do not give your information to just anyone. Check them out before you disclose personal information.

What Happens Before You Donate

After you have done your research and decided that the agency or clinic is one you want to work with, they will start their screening process. Some of this is to determine if you’re a good candidate for egg donation, and some is to help the intended parents have the information they need to choose the right egg donor for their family.

The screening and intake process usually involves…

General physical and pelvic exam: Just like your yearly well check and pap smear, but perhaps a bit more comprehensive.

Detailed personal and family medical history: Be ready to answer a lot of questions on not only your health but also your family’s health. This includes sharing physical and mental health information of your biological parents, grandparents, and siblings. You also will need to be honest about any former drug use or risky sexual behavior (like prostitution.)

This step of the donation process may be a problem if you were adopted or if you're not in touch with your biological family. Because family medical history is critical, you may not be able to donate if you can’t provide this information.

Personal non-medical history: Choosing an egg donor is an emotionally complex process. The family that chooses your file will likely want to know all about your hobbies, your educational goals and achievements, and your physical characteristics. The family may be looking to find someone similar to themselves or may have other criteria for choosing an egg donor, but the bottom line is that they will try to “get to know you” through your answers to personal questions.

Blood work: There will be basic blood work, to evaluate your overall health, but also fertility specific testing. You will be tested for communicable diseases, including HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. You may also be asked to have genetic testing, especially if the intended father or sperm donor is a carrier of any genetic diseases.

Pelvic ultrasound: During the screening process, ultrasound is used to evaluate your fertility potential and the health of your ovaries. During the donation cycle itself, ultrasound is used to monitor the stimulation of your ovaries. You may have never had a transvaginal ultrasound before. Generally, it involves a slender transducer wand and an ultrasound machine. The wand is inserted vaginally. Then, the technician uses the wand to get ultrasound images of your uterus, ovaries, and other pelvic organs. 

It's not painful, but it can be uncomfortable. You will need a transvaginal ultrasound before you're approved as an egg donor. During the donor cycle, you will have several of these exams.

A psychological screening: The purpose is mainly to make sure you understand the donor process and the risks involved. It's also to help you think through the emotional and ethical aspects of donation. Psychological testing may be done to make sure the donation would not be harmful to you psychologically and to help prevent passing on certain inheritable mental illness. Also, some agencies ask for IQ and personality testing. This is just another piece of information the family can use to decide on which donor to choose.

Some aspects of donation can be emotionally distressing for some individuals. For example, unless it is an open or known donation (where contact may continue to some degree after donation), you will likely not know what happens to your eggs. You won’t know whether they result in a successful pregnancy and live birth. Also, if the donation is closed, you won’t have any contact or information about the child that results from the donation, if treatment is successful. That can be difficult for some people.

Screening of your partner: Donating your eggs involves not only you but also your partner. If you're married, testing and screening are required. If not, it may or may not be required of your partner, but it is highly recommended. Your partner will be tested for STDs and HIV. The psychological screening is to ensure that he understands the egg donation process and accepts your participation.

A detailed explanation of what egg donation entails: The egg donor process is complicated. You’ll have a schedule to follow for blood work, daily self-injection instructions, and frequent ultrasounds. You will need to abstain from sexual intercourse during the donation process, and you will likely need to take time off work.

It’s important to note that the time between screening and intake, and the actual donation, may be months apart. You won’t go through the donation process until a family chooses your egg donor file, and it’s hard to say when or if that will happen.  

Signing on the Dotted Line: Legal Considerations

An essential part of egg donation is signing legal agreements. In many cases, the clinic or agency will have a lawyer representing their side.

They may or may not mention that you have the option to hire your own lawyer. It’s highly recommended that you hire your own lawyer to protect your interests, and have that lawyer carefully review the contract before you sign. This is something you’ll likely need to pay for yourself, but it’s worth the expense.

Questions and issues that should be addressed in your contract include (but are not limited to):

  • What legal rights or duties do you have in regards to any child that results from your egg donation? (The legal contract should be clear that you have none.)
  • How much compensation will you receive?
  • How will that money be held and at what points will it be distributed during the egg donation process?
  • What happens if the cycle is canceled? (This can occur for any number of medical reasons up to even the day of the egg retrieval. At this point, the donor will have submitted to many medical procedures and days of injections.) 
  • Who has final say over what happens to any cryopreserved eggs not used? Or the embryos that result from the eggs?
  • What happens to any unused embryos? (The intended parents may choose to keep them cryopreserved, have more children, donate them to research, or have them disposed of. You may have some limited say over what happens to unused embryos in the contract.)
  • What contact—if any—will the donor and family have before, during, and after the donation process?
  • What contact—if any—will the donor have with the child that results from the donation? What is the protocol if the child attempts to contact the donor before turning 18 years old? (With genetic services like 23andMe, even with a closed donation, this kind of situation can easily occur.)
  • Are you allowed to talk about your egg donor experience, and if yes, what can you say and what can’t you say? For example, the contract may restrict your ability to say what clinic or location the donation is happening. You will very likely be restricted from sharing any personal information about the intended parents and child.
  • What kind of health insurance is the egg donor covered by? If the policy is purchased by the intended parents, what limitations are in place? Who is responsible for the egg donor’s medical expenses that are not covered by health insurance? What about health problems that occur shortly after donation due to complications?
  • Who is responsible for the egg donor’s travel fees? Is this separate from the compensation for donation? 
  • When will the donation cycle and medical appointments take place?
  • Where will all the treatments and medical procedures take place?
  • If you’re obligated to update your medical history information, who do you need to give that information to and how often? If the child is found to have a genetic disease, will the intended parents be required to inform you? If yes, how will that information get passed along?

This is just a start to what should be covered by an egg donor contract. It really is in your best interest to consult with a lawyer familiar with reproductive family law before you sign.

What Happens During the Donation Cycle

As mentioned earlier, the donation cycle itself involves lots of medical appointments, blood work, ultrasounds, and injections of fertility drugs. You will be given very strict instructions on when to give yourself the injections. You will also most likely be told not to have sexual intercourse during and just after the egg stimulation process.

If you want to get a detailed idea of what to expect, read about IVF treatment or the process for egg freezing. As a donor, the treatment protocol is very similar to that of a woman going through IVF with her own eggs. The primary difference is that with IVF treatment, after egg retrieval, there is an embryo transfer. With egg donation, the egg retrieval is the last medical procedure for you. The embryo transfer will take place with the intended mother or a surrogate.

After Egg Donation

After the egg retrieval, you’ll go home and recover. You should be able to return to normal activities the next day, though you may be advised not to have sexual intercourse for awhile after. This is because some eggs could have been missed, and your risk of getting pregnant—with multiple babies!—is high.

You should be on the lookout for symptoms of OHSS. Excessive bloating and pelvic tenderness are the most common signs. Because this can become serious, you should let the fertility clinic know.

Most likely, the bloating and discomfort will subside on their own after you get your period. However, in rare cases, OHSS can become serious and lead to risk to your fertility or your life.

If you experience…

  • Severe pelvic pain
  • Persistent vomiting or nausea
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Decreased urination
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or redness in the leg (possibly from a blood clot)

Contact your doctor immediately.

Compensation for Egg Donation

Typical compensation for egg donation is between $3,500 and 8,000. Sometimes, agencies or classified ads may offer sums exceeding $15,000 if the egg donor possesses certain physical, academic, religious, or cultural traits. Whether this is ethically justified is highly questionable. 

Remember that you are not being paid for the eggs themselves, but the time and inconvenience of going through the procedures. In fact, it is illegal to receive payment in exchange for human organs or tissues. If your body produces fewer eggs than the clinic or family had hoped, your compensation should not be adjusted down.

You will likely need to pay taxes on the income you make from egg donation, so be sure to set aside a percentage of what you receive for tax time. Talk to an accountant for advice on how to handle this.

While you’re negotiating payment with the agency or clinic, be sure to clarify who will cover your medical expenses and any travel. This should be above and beyond what you’re receiving for the egg donation time itself.

Also, the money for your donation should be held in escrow as you go through the donor process. There should be specific dates or treatment “milestones” set for when you’ll receive portions of the payment. You should not have to “just trust” you will get paid.

Note to friends and family egg donors: Payment towards an egg donor comes out of the intended parents’ pockets. This fee isn’t paid for by the fertility clinic or agency. Sometimes, there is confusion when a family or friend offers to donate their eggs. While known-donors also give generously of their time and can be compensated financially for it, it’s important you understand that the financial burden falls on your friend or family member receiving the eggs.

A Word From Verywell

Egg donors have high responsibilities and face medical risk. If you think you can do this, then good for you! Your donation, if you pass through the screening phase, is the greatest gift you could ever give to another person.

However, if you decide after reading this article that egg donation is not for you, there's nothing wrong with that. What's most important is that you seriously considered the idea and took into account your life and feelings. Better to decide not to donate now, rather than going through the screening process only to let down a family who has their heart set on your donor file.

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Article Sources
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