Becoming an Egg Donor: The Recruitment and Screening Process
Knowing what to expect can help you navigate terms you are comfortable with and advocate for yourself.
Becoming an egg donor requires a series of steps, from navigating the initial decision from selecting and signing up with an agency or clinic, going through the screening process and meeting their criteria, being selected by intended parents, signing legal and medical consent forms and going through hormone injections and surgery to retrieve the eggs.
From first signing up to be matched with recipients, to the egg retrieval surgery date, it could be a matter of weeks, months or longer. Knowing what to expect in the egg donation journey can help you navigate terms you are comfortable with and advocate for yourself in an often confusing, sometimes overwhelming, process.
Different clinics, agencies and egg banks may have different criteria for recruiting, screening and approving egg donors for their programs. Some are more restrictive than others, and many do not include things like genetic screening or testing. But from beginning to end, the egg donation process generally includes:
- Filling out an egg donor application, Including personal and family medical history
- If accepted, building a donor profile, with photos, education information and personal statement
- Getting selected by recipients
- Psychological screening
- Genetic screening or testing
- Medical pre-screening
- Signing legal contracts and consent forms
- More medical exams, blood tests, and screening
- Starting birth control and hormone injections
- Egg retrieval surgery under local or general anesthesia
- Post-retrieval recovery, payment and being asked to donate again
As you can see, becoming an egg donor is not a quick and easy process. Some people considering egg donation think that as soon as they sign up with an agency, clinic or egg bank, they will start the process and receive a check-in as little as a few weeks. In fact, while some donors are chosen quickly, others may wait years before being selected, or not ever be selected at all.
1. Decide What Kind of Egg Donation Arrangement you Prefer
The first step is identifying whether you want to choose to donate through a clinic, agency, egg bank or to a private party. If you plan to go through an egg bank, you will not need to wait to be matched with a recipient and will start the medical and psychological screening process right away. (You can read more about the difference between these options here: Becoming an Egg Donor: Agencies, Clinics & Private Arrangements).
Once you decide which kind of egg donation practice is right for you, you can contact the clinic or agency of your choice to inquire and begin the application process. They will likely ask you to complete an application in person or online, with questions about your Body Mass Index (BMI), family health history, age, weight, height, education, and other criteria.
Assuming you meet all the initial requirements, you will then proceed to the next step. Filling out the initial paperwork and forms can take about a week or so, depending on how much information you have to collect. Most agencies and clinics will connect you with an egg donor coordinator to facilitate the application process.
2. Creating an Egg Donor Profile
The donor profile is often described as being like a Facebook profile or a profile for an online dating site. The idea behind the profile is to present yourself in a way that an intended parent chooses you to be their donor. For the agency or clinic—and even for donors—the profile can be seen as a marketing tool.
Egg donor profiles used to be stored in physical catalogs and categorized by hair color and ancestry; for example, blondes, brunettes, Asian, African descent and so on. Now that most agencies and clinics have their profiles online, intended parents can search the database by donor characteristics they desire—whether hair color, eye color, ancestry, education level, and other traits. Your profile will have your donor ID number, and possibly a fake name, but not your real name.
To create a profile, you will likely be required to upload current photos and photos of yourself as a child or infant. Some agencies have professional photographers do photoshoots with their donors.
You will probably also provide a biography, about your likes and dislikes, height and weight, your hobbies, aspirations, what you study in school, any sports you may play, love for music, or other things that describe who you are. Part of your written information may include your reasons for becoming a donor, or any message you would like to give to the children born from your eggs.
Once you finish your profile you can make it go “live.” When your profile is live, an intended parent could choose you the next day, or you may end up waiting a while. It is possible that multiple potential recipients will choose the same donor at the same time. If that is the case for you, it is advisable to not commit ahead of time to multiple recipients.
If this is your first cycle, you do not know how your body will respond, or if you will want to donate again. It is ideal to go through the process first so you know how your body responds and to make sure that you like working with the people at the agency or clinic you chose. While recruiters may try to encourage you to commit to multiple cycles right away, this is likely not in our best interest, for the reasons mentioned above.
3. Matching With a Recipient
When someone selects you to be their egg donor it can feel pretty exciting to know that someone wants your eggs. Most donors report that it feels like a huge compliment and how happy they are to be chosen.
Some agencies/clinics require that you have little information about who gets your eggs. The recipients, though, may receive a lot of information about you from your profile and medical information. The amount of information you receive about them varies from practice to practice.
Other agencies/clinics maintain that the selection process should be a two-way street, meaning that even if an anonymous donation, both you and the recipients will have some basic information about each other. Some agencies will permit open identity donations from the start if all the parties want that kind of arrangement.
Once you match with a recipient, the process can go by pretty fast. If you want to change your mind, it could feel difficult to do so once someone has chosen you as his or her egg donor as intended parents are relying on the donor to follow through. At the same time, it is your body and if you do decide not to go through with it, that is your right. No one can force you to undergo a medical process that you do not feel comfortable with.
Look for a program that meets your needs.
It is also up to you to decide what you are comfortable with, and what kind of relationship you may or may not want with the recipients of your eggs and any future children born from them, and to look for a program that meets your needs. There are plenty of agencies and clinics out there to choose from and—whether they tell you, or not—they are all competing for donors. You can have some control over the process.
3. Undergo Psychological and Genetic Screening
You will be undergoing different types of screening to make sure you’re a good candidate to be an egg donor. Usually, the medical, psychological and genetic screening happens after a recipient selects you to be their donor, but sometimes it can be done before.
Egg donor psychological screening is pretty straightforward. When you meet with a psychologist, they will ask you some basic questions to make sure you understand that the children born from your eggs are not your children and that you have no legal or other claims to them. You may or may not even know if a child was born from your eggs, depending upon the policy at the clinic/agency you go to.
Part of the screening process is to frame how you think about your eggs as “just cells,” or biological material for someone else’s baby. You may hear things like you’re providing a “missing piece of the puzzle,” and “the mother/parent is the person who carries and/or nurtures a child.” This is to ensure that you are comfortable with being detached from any children that may result and will not feel compelled to seek them out.
Most donors describe psychological screening as being very basic, and not very in-depth at all. This screening is supposed to prevent someone from donating while they are going through personal trauma. For example, if you are in a domestic violence situation and need money to get out, you might not be considered a “good candidate” at that time because you would be making a decision while experiencing trauma. Or if you just lost your job and losing your apartment, from the psychologist’s perspective, this might not be the right time to donate. If you are in an unstable time of your life, it might be better to wait and consider donating at a time when your life and emotions are more stable. The egg donation process—innately and because of the hormones you will be used to stimulate egg production—can be a very emotional time even in the best of circumstances.
The psychological screening should also screen out anyone with a personal or family history of mental illness, but depending upon who does your evaluation, these issues may or may not come up.
Genetic Screening or Testing
Some clinics may have a donor see a genetics counselor and provide information about personal and family health history. Providing a history of genetically-linked diseases in your family will help the genetics counselor build a family tree to examine how different diseases passed down both maternal and paternal lines. This helps predict to what degree the donor-conceived child might be at risk to inherit a genetic disease.
In addition to building a family history of disease, some clinics are now recommending genetic testing for certain diseases—particularly if the person who is contributing the sperm is also a carrier. Genetic tests are more expensive, but in some cases considered worthwhile if there is a question about a genetic disease being passed down.
Whether undergoing genetic screening or testing or both, this is your medical information and you have a right to know the results and have them explained to you. Some donors have reported that their donor coordinators or physicians performing the egg donation would not provide them with their genetic test results nor explain the results to them. This can cause a lot of distress for people who do not know what their test results mean. You can insist on having this information and having any test results explained to you so you fully understand your medical information.
Once you are matched with a recipient, and before you sign any legal documents or start taking any hormones to start stimulating egg production, you will undergo some medical screening tests to make sure you’re a good candidate, as far as your fertility is concerned. Sometimes medical pre-screening will be conducted even before you are matched with a recipient.
The initial medical screening includes a number of tests:
- Blood draw on the third day of your menstrual cycle to check your hormone levels (especially anti-Müllerian hormone AMH) to make sure you have a good ovarian reserve and assess how your ovaries might respond to hormone injections
- Blood tests to check for Sexually Transmitted Infections, HIV, Hepatitis, Zika, and other afflictions
- Urine drug and nicotine screening tests
- Transvaginal ultrasound to check your ovaries
If you are matched with intended parents who live a distance from you and are going through their own clinic for their IVF procedures, you may be required to travel for some or all of your tests. If so, the intended parents should be covering the costs of your travel, rather than coming out of your own pocket.
In addition to these different types of screenings, before you start taking the hormones to jumpstart your egg production, you will need to read, negotiate and sign legal contracts. These are very important to go through carefully, to make sure you understand all aspects of your contract.