What is egg donation?

The process of egg donation involves taking eggs from an egg donor, fertilising them and replacing them in an egg recipient. Firstly, the egg donor undergoes a course of IVF treatment, which includes ovary stimulation to produce several eggs. At the right moment, the eggs are retrieved under general anaesthetic, in a process known as egg collection. The eggs are then fertilised in the laboratory using the sperm of the egg recipient’s partner (or a sperm donor). After fertilisation, the eggs become embryos and these keep dividing to produce more and more cells. One or two embryos are put back into the womb of the egg recipient, hopefully resulting in a pregnancy. If there are any extra embryos of sufficiently good quality left, these can be frozen and used for another attempt or for the second or even third baby! If the egg recipient becomes pregnant, she will become the gestational, social and legal mother of the child. 

Egg donation IVF

In-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is the process of creating embryos outside the body. The embryos are made from a couple’s egg and sperm cells. After a maximum of 5 days, one or two embryos may be put back in the would-be mother’s womb to hopefully result in a pregnancy and a healthy baby. In normal IVF, a woman’s own eggs are grown, collected, fertilised in the laboratory and put back in her own womb. If a patient continuously fails to produce eggs or their quality is low, the eggs from another woman (an egg donor) may be used instead.

The main difference between egg donation IVF (usually just known as egg donation) and “normal” IVF is that an egg donor’s eggs are needed when the egg recipient (the would-be mother) cannot get pregnant by using her own eggs. The egg donor uses the normal IVF drugs to stimulate her ovaries to produce eggs, and when ready will have her eggs retrieved in the same way as during usual IVF treatment. After egg collection, she will spend 1-2 hours at the clinic recovering, but takes no part in the rest of the procedure. However, her role is important and cannot be underestimated.

Donor eggs are then fertilised in the laboratory, using sperm from the egg recipient’s partner, or from a sperm donor. As soon as the genetic material of the egg and the sperm merge, this becomes a zygote. A zygote starts dividing into many cells, and is then known as an embryo. The embryos are grown until they have reached the 3-day or 5-day stage. The embryologist will examine them every day to see which ones are growing best, and therefore have the best chance of implanting and creating a pregnancy. I recommend growing the embryos till the blastocyst stage (5 days after the egg collection), if a clinic has enough experience in growing embryos until the blastocyst stage. The AVA Clinic Scanfert has great experience and has achieved superb results in blastocyst culture and day 5 embryo selection. Growing the embryos to the blastocyst stage allows the embryologist to examine your embryos long enough to choose one or two that have the maximal chance of creating a successful pregnancy. Then one or two embryos will be replaced into the uterus of the egg recipient via a thin plastic straw. To support the pregnancy, the egg recipient takes hormones, which imitate the function of the ovary  and which provide the embryos with a good growth environment.

Hopefully one embryo will implant in the egg recipient’s womb and start producing HCG, the hormone that signals to the woman’s body that pregnancy has begun and also gives a positive result on urine or blood pregnancy tests. The egg recipient will keep taking her hormones until her placenta is able to produce sufficient hormones itself to keep the pregnancy going. The future mother will then nourish the growing child with her body, thereby creating a strong mother-child bond. Once she has given birth, she will be able to breastfeed as easily as other mothers, strengthening this bond and enabling her and her child to feel even closer to each other.

More and more babies are born through egg donation each year as an increasing number of women become aware of the high success rates of this form of treatment.