Navigating the Decision to Become an Egg Donor
Deciding to donate your eggs is a big decision that should be well-informed.
Egg donor advertisements are everywhere. On popular music streaming sites. On Craigslist and Facebook. In campus newspapers or even fashion magazines. Most egg donation advertisements mention the thousands of dollars you can receive to provide eggs, and how your sacrifice can bring joy to people who desperately want a child but have been unable to conceive on their own. You might think egg donation is a good way to make money in a short period of time while helping someone have a baby. But before becoming an egg donor, there are a lot of things you should consider.
The egg donation process is complicated. From first thinking about becoming an egg donor to being selected and going through hormone injections and retrieval surgery and recovery, there is a lot of information you will need to know in order to best advocate for yourself. You will be undergoing medical tests and procedures, psychological counseling, possibly genetic testing and counseling, negotiating legal contracts and having surgery under anesthesia.
Here, you will find out more information about navigating the initial decision to determine if egg donation is the right choice for you.
Why Do Women Become Egg Donors?
Most women first think about becoming an egg donor when they see or hear an advertisement that states they can get paid thousands of dollars for their eggs while helping someone else have a baby. Some may find out about it from a friend or co-worker. Or see an article in a fashion magazine or online. Or perhaps they know someone who has struggled with infertility and feels a personal calling to help ease the trauma of involuntary childlessness. Some women do not intend to have children of their own and see egg donation as a way of not letting their eggs “go to waste” and of continuing their genetic contribution without the responsibility of parenting.
While most donors receive substantial financial compensation, others do not get compensated at all and do it in order to help a friend or relative, like a sister or aunt who cannot use her own eggs. Whatever the reason, it is a personal decision that deserves serious consideration from all angles.
What Should You Consider Prior to Becoming an Egg Donor?
Current You vs. Future You
When you are considering egg donation, it is difficult to know how your perspective might change over time. While some women who donated years prior remain happy with their decisions to donate, some have mixed feelings, and others express regret. Former donors who later have their own children may have a change of perspective over time. They may wonder about the children out in the world conceived from their eggs, may want their own children to be able to meet their biological half-siblings, or may perceive their donations differently after having their own children. Some worry that their donor-conceived children will find them when they do not want to be found, but most hope to someday meet the children born from their eggs. Once you provide eggs for another person’s child, it is a decision you will never be able to take back.
Some former donors—for whatever reason—are not able to conceive their own child after helping other families have children with their eggs. Before deciding to provide eggs think about how you might feel about having genetic children being raised by other people in the event you are unable to have your own children?
Potential Health Factors
Most advertisements and information about egg donation on agency or clinic websites emphasize that egg donation is safe. Agencies and clinics advertising for egg donors often provide information on their websites that state the "risks are less than 1%." But there is no evidence derived from research with egg donors to support this claim. Different types of complications do occur and the most truthful thing an egg donor recruiter or physician could tell you is that no one knows what the risks are or how often they occur. This is important to understand when you fill out the informed consent form before becoming an egg donor.
Immediate complications directly connected to egg donation include things like Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), which is characterized by extreme bloating and in its severe form can be life-threatening. Ovarian torsion, when the ovary twists in the body, cutting off blood supply, is another immediate complication that can occur. The frequency of these complications in egg donors has not been sufficiently studied.
Potential long-term complications are even less well known. There have been no studies comparing reproductive cancer rates, endometriosis, infertility or other disorders among egg donors compared to women who have not donated their eggs or undergone hormone injections for fertility treatment.
Realistic Understanding of Egg Donor Compensation
One of the main reasons women decide to provide eggs for compensation is to pay college tuition or student loan debt. If financial need is your primary motivation for becoming an egg donor, it is important to know that while many advertisements state very large dollar amounts for an egg donation cycle—$10,000, $30,000 or even $50,000 or more—when you actually sign up at an agency advertising these amounts, they will probably offer you a much lower compensation than was originally advertised. Very rarely do agency advertisements apply to a specific set of intended parents or recipients who are ready to pay $50,000 for someone to provide eggs.
A more likely scenario is that once you sign up, your profile will be put into an egg donor online catalog and intended parents will choose from there. The going rate—regardless of the advertised amount—is usually between $5,000 and $10,000 in the United States and may vary from agency to agency, clinic to clinic and state to state. Some women with specific, high-demand traits may get paid more, as well as experienced donors whose eggs have resulted in a successful pregnancy. While it is rare to get paid more than $10,000 for a first egg donation cycle, some agencies do specialize in “high-demand donors.”
What are the Requirements for Becoming an Egg Donor?
There is a range of requirements for becoming an egg donor. First, most egg donation programs require that prospective donors be between 21 and 29 years of age; although some permit women as young as 18 and as old as 31 to be egg donors. If you are providing eggs for someone you know, you may possibly be over 30 as long as your medical tests demonstrate good fertility. In addition to age, there are a number of other minimum requirements, including:
- Have regular monthly periods
- Have both ovaries
- Physically and emotionally healthy
- An absence of reproductive abnormalities or disorders
- Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18-29
- Non-smoker or nicotine user
- No history of substance abuse or current use of psychoactive drugs
- Not using contraceptive implants or Depo-Provera injections for birth control
- No family history of heritable genetic diseases
- Able to commit time to the process and adhere to appointments and schedules
- Willing to inject fertility hormones to increase egg production and undergo surgery to retrieve them
High Demand Egg Donors
In addition to the above minimum requirements, there are also unexpressed desires for certain types of women—donors who might be considered “high demand.” High demand donors may come from specific ancestral groups, such as donors with 100% or mixed Asian heritage, or Jewish women. Blonde-haired, blue-eyed donors are also in high demand. Women who studied, or are currently students, at Ivy League or other prestigious universities are also sought after, as are women who are athletic, have specific hobbies and are considered highly attractive.
Other high-demand donors are those whose eggs have already achieved a pregnancy—who has proven fertility on a previous egg donation cycle. There are a number of agencies that specialize in specific types of high-demand donors and often offer higher compensation than many other programs.
Before You Decide to Become an Egg Donor
Do Your Research
If you are interested in donating eggs, one of the first things you might consider is to contact either a clinic or an agency with egg donation programs, an egg bank or possibly even an individual party on an online fertility forum. Rather than just responding to an advertisement, and before deciding to sign up with anyone, you should do your research. What kind of reputation does the clinic or agency have? Do you know any other women who have donated eggs there and had good or bad experiences?
Connect With Other Donors
Egg donors often express that there is little information or research available about the egg donation process or the impact of egg donation on women’s lives, health and well-being over time. Go beyond the information provided by clinic or agency websites and egg donor recruiters. You may choose to join an online forum, such as We Are Egg Donors, to find out about other women’s experiences donating eggs to help inform your decision.
Having information about every phase of the egg donation process will enable you to know how to best navigate these complex relationships and negotiations in order to determine if you want to donate eggs, know what terms you are and are not comfortable with, and ensure that you have the best experience possible with terms you are comfortable with. It is also important to know about both benefits of being an egg donor and potential risks, and how your thoughts about egg donation may change over time.
Donating eggs can indeed be rewarding, but it may also be life-changing in ways you might not anticipate. Learn what you need to know in order to advocate for yourself and your own best interests.