By Elizabeth King, Internationally Certified Fertility Health Coach, Master Certified ICF Life Coach, Birth & Bereavement Doula, New Parent Educator
Using donated eggs or sperm to get pregnant is more common than you may realize. About 12% of IVF cycles in the United States use donor eggs.
The use of donor sperm is not tracked in the US, but a study from the National Library of Medicine found that nearly half a million pregnancies between 2015 and 2017 were conceived using donor sperm.
It’s important to remember that if you’re looking for donor egg or sperm, you’re not alone—and that there is support to help you navigate the process, starting with this article.
When is receiving donated eggs/sperm right for you?
You may be a candidate for donor egg in vitro fertilization (IVF) if you are of advanced maternal age, have poor egg quality or a low reserve, are lacking ovaries but still maintain a healthy uterus, to avoid passing a genetic disease, or if you’ve gone through multiple failed rounds of IVF.
Sperm donation may be an option for those couples experiencing male factor infertility or genetic conditions, single women, and female same-sex partners who wish to become pregnant.
How does sperm donation/egg donation work?
The sperm donation process is fairly simple. A donor will visit a sperm bank where the semen sample is collected in a sterile environment and preserved for future use. Sperm donors are extensively screened prior to approval (only around 5% are approved!).
Egg donation is typically a more involved retrieval process, where a donor receives hormone injections to trigger the release of multiple eggs in an ovulation cycle. These eggs are then harvested and prepared for a fresh embryo transfer or frozen for use at a later time, otherwise known as an egg retrieval process. Egg donors also go through rigorous screening to check their medical history, do any necessary genetic testing, and ensure excellent physical health, as well as a strong ovarian reserve.
How to find a sperm donor/egg donor
Donors may be anonymous (unknown) or known to the intended parent(s). Anonymous donors can be found through donor programs or agencies, while known donors (also called directed donors) are generally a close friend or family member of the recipient.
If you’re ready to pursue egg or sperm donation, there are a few ways to find your donor and even find a donor near you:
- Egg donor bank: An egg bank offers a database of fully screened donors from which to choose frozen eggs. This is often the least expensive option for donor egg IVF, though frozen eggs may have a slightly lower success rate (53.9% vs. 45.8% live births)
- Fertility clinic: Your fertility clinic may provide a database of donor eggs and support in choosing your donor (but it’s likely a more limited pool)
- Egg donation agency: An egg donor agency can provide you with a large donor pool and connect you to the attributes you’re most looking for in a donor. This tends to be the most expensive option for egg donor IVF
- Sperm bank: Also known as cryobanks, these facilities perform the screening process for donors and store the sperm for donation
No matter which route you go, it’s important to find a reputable organization with strict screening processes, as well as determine the insurance and/or financing options available. Legal counsel may also be important depending on the option you choose for donor egg or sperm.
Factors to consider about an egg or sperm donor
Egg and sperm donors typically receive comprehensive medical, physical, and psychological screening prior to donation. When you are selecting your pre-screened donor, you may want to consider the following factors when looking at donor profiles:
- Age (egg donors are typically between 21 and 34 years of age and sperm donors between 21 and 39 years of age)
- Physical characteristics and appearance (physical features, ethnicity)
- Medical history (though donors are pre-vetted for certain issues, you’ll want to consider any noted personal medical history as well as family history)
- Blood type
- Personal background (education level, athletic ability)
- Fresh vs frozen
- Known donor vs anonymous donor
- The option to have more children with this donor if you continue your family building in the future
Legal rights & contracts
Before receiving your donor selection, it’s important to consult with an attorney to understand the parentage laws in your state. In most states, parentage rights are released with the donation of the eggs or sperm through a licensed organization, but a donor agreement is recommended to ensure the legal rights of all parties are protected.
Process for an egg or sperm recipient
- An intrauterine insemination (IUI) occurs when sperm is inserted into the uterus at the time of ovulation. Prior to an IUI, a recipient may receive medication to support ovulation and the release of multiple eggs to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy
- Donated sperm can also be used for an IVF cycle. In this case, the egg is fertilized with the sperm outside of the body and the embryo is transferred to the uterus
- Prior to donor egg IVF, a recipient should expect to receive a series of tests and screenings, including a sonogram, blood tests, and routine health screenings (eg, a pap smear and/or mammogram) to identify any potential issues prior to a transfer. If a fresh egg is used, the recipient’s cycle must be synced with the donor’s cycle with the help of birth control pills
Egg donor IVF and the role of epigenetics
If you’re going through an egg donor IVF cycle, you may wonder how your genes will play a role in your pregnancy and within the child(ren) you’re carrying. This is where epigenetics, or the impact of your behaviors and environment on your genes, comes into play. As a donor egg recipient, your lifestyle and nutrition can have a direct impact on your child in utero and the expression of their genes.
Fertility support for egg or sperm recipients
Fertility treatments such as IUI and IVF can be taxing, both physically and emotionally. There are multiple outlets for support including in-house counselors at fertility clinics, online and in-person support groups, fertility coaches, and mental health professionals. Mindset is a critical component of a successful IVF journey. According to a Harvard study, mindset work was associated with increased pregnancy rates.
To prepare for your journey as an egg or sperm donor recipient, you can also look to others who have built their families through donor conception. Simple searches online or through social media can connect you to families with similar journeys to parenthood. Though there may be feelings of loss surrounding the need for a sperm or egg donor, research and personal stories show that donor-conceived children are well-adjusted and highly attached to the families they are born into and vice versa.