This will take about 7 minutes to read.
When you’re in the throes of finding your way to fertility, you may find yourself wondering what options you have to conceiving and carrying a child.
Women who don’t get pregnant naturally, no matter the reason, have several options to having a child:
- IVF (In Vitro Fertilization)
- IUI (Intrauterine Insemination)
- Donor Eggs
Today we’re talking about donor eggs, an option for having children that many people may not understand or know much about, but one that I think can be a wonderful option. I’ve seen in my practice that donor eggs can provide women with an opportunity to carry a child, a dream for many women, and to become a parent at an advanced maternal age.
Why Consider Donor Eggs?
As many women know, conception doesn’t always happen naturally, or easily. And the older a woman gets, the harder it is to conceive naturally. So, many find themselves looking for ways to have a child, that they themselves carry. Many women turn towards IVF, and while there have been great advancements in this field, it’s still an expensive process and success cannot be guaranteed.
After age 35, if a woman has tried for six months to get pregnant naturally without success, the next step is to go to and talk to a gynecologist who will do a blood and hormone workup. He or she will likely refer the woman to infertility clinics, where she’ll be able to work with specialists. There, the reproductive endocrinologist will do an infertility evaluation (medical history, physical exams). The male partner will also have to do an evaluation and will see a reproductive urologist.
Depending on the findings, doctors might suggest IUI, or might suggest other measures such as IVF. But the older a woman is, the harder it is for either of these methods to be successful. Starting at age 35, the quality of a woman’s eggs starts to decrease, and this means a higher rate of genetic defects and miscarriages, and a lower chance of getting pregnant with one’s own eggs.
This is where donor eggs can provide a higher chance of success.
Donor eggs provide women with an option to carry a child themselves, give their partner’s genes to the child, and have a higher chance of success. A woman who is seeking to conceive this way will go through an agency to get matched with a donor. Donor eggs are from women who are in their 20s, and, therefore, the young eggs will more likely to lead to a healthy pregnancy and outcome.
Coping with Loss of Fertility
Before making the decision to use donor eggs to conceive, women often find themselves facing the end of their options for having a genetic child. And this can lead to overwhelming feelings of grief, loss, and stress.
It’s almost always a long journey to get to the point of deciding to use a donor egg to get pregnant. Most women need to mourn the loss of their fertility. Many think, “I want my own child!” – meaning a child that carries their genes. Once the acute phase of the grieving process has passed, which can last many months, a woman is usually ready to consider proceeding with other options for becoming a mother – donor eggs, adoption – or she may decide to not pursue motherhood.
There’s so much you can’t control with infertility, and it impacts all relationships, especially with those who have children of their own. Most women isolate themselves significantly, because they are depressed, and feel like a failure. Some women start to hate their bodies, and most resent the fact that they can’t do what so many others can apparently very easily. Women protect themselves by isolating, turning down invitations to children’s birthday parties and baby showers. They cross the street when they see strollers so as to not be confronted by babies and toddlers. It’s just too painful. They become envious of others, because it feels unfair. Pregnancy is not zero sum, but when you’re grieving, it feels like it is.
When women are facing long term infertility, they often are suffering from feelings such as loss, fear, confusion, anger, and guilt. Women might think, “I shouldn’t have waited to so long to start trying” or “I shouldn’t have taken birth control for so many years”. This is where professional emotional support can be a complement to your medical care.
If you’re in this place, it’s important to allow yourself to experience these feelings of loss, because they are profound. Give yourself time to go experience your emotions before making decisions about the future in regards to children. And find someone you trust, like a friend or therapist, where you can have conversations about your experience.
Donor Eggs: What to Expect
Once you’ve gone through this process of grief and decide that you want to move forward, you may be considering using donor eggs as a way to have children.
Women often have many fears about donor eggs. They often say that they’re afraid they won’t love their children, if they use donor eggs, or that their child will always be a stranger. Yet, once women are in the process of raising their children, they’ve adjusted to this new reality, and then they just have their child. I’ve seen this over and over again with my clients. Many have a very similar set of fears about using donor eggs, but then once they settle into parenthood things tend to fall in place.
And beyond that, the research suggests that there’s no difference with donor egg children in terms of happiness, adjustment, etc. As an infertility therapist, I have a very positive view of donor eggs and the options they give to women experiencing long term infertility.
The first step of seeking donor eggs is to connect with an agency so that you can get matched with a donor. You’ll get background information, family history of illnesses, and even pictures of of the donor you’ve selected. Women might choose a donor for any number of reasons, including family history, ethnicity, education level, or appearance.
Often donors are people who want to help others start a family. They recognize that they have something that others need, and while they also do it because they could use the money, such as to pay off student loans, many, if not most, donate their eggs because they want to help others build their families.
Today, there are still options for anonymous egg donation, a situation in which neither party knows the identity of the other, although with the prevalence of genetic testing, this is likely to become obsolete quickly.
Once you’ve chosen a donor, then it’s time to move forward with the legal and medical processes. The recipient will pay for all medical costs of donor, all of their own medical costs, plus fees for the fertility clinic and agency. This is a costly process, and the agency will be able to walk you through all associated costs before you begin.
Legal considerations also happen at this time. The donors give all of their rights away for the eggs and those eggs/embryos become the property of the recipient (otherwise known as the parent).
How to Talk about Donor Eggs with your Child
Parents often worry about whether or not to tell their child that they were conceived from a donor egg. I always encourage parents to tell the child from the day they are born. Even though the child won’t understand, of course, at this age, starting talking early, from infancy, gives parents time to get comfortable. By “talking” I suggest you start reading picture books (there are some really cute books out!) about donor conceptions to your baby, and eventually, once the child is a little older, adding, “This is your story.” This approach is helpful to parents in that they get their narrative down by the time the child can understand their story, their family’s story.
Also, telling the child nips family secrets in the bud. Family secrets, once out, can provoke a crisis in a family’s life. It’s much harder to hear about being conceived via egg donation at 15 than at infancy. Knowing about how you came into the world from the start, it’s just part of your story. Keep in mind that, along with anonymous egg donation, keeping egg donation a secret from a child will become harder and harder with genetic testing. So, for all of these reasons, I highly recommend making this part of your family narrative from the very beginning.
How to Decide if Donor Eggs are Right for You
Like all decisions related to becoming a parent, choosing to use donor eggs is a major decision that requires thoughtful consideration. If you’re experiencing infertility, or considering donor eggs as an option for parenthood, find time to speak with someone you trust in a non-judgmental setting. As a therapist based in Marin County, I meet with women locally and online in digital appointments.
Photo by: Meghan Holmes